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Hermann Göring

Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring

Hermann Wilhelm Göring (also spelled Hermann Goering in English) (January 12, 1893October 15, 1946) was a prominent and early member of the Nazi party, founder of the Gestapo, and one of the main architects of Nazi Germany. His Machiavellian leadership style is summed up in one of his most famous quotes: "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders."

1 Göring's last days
2 In fiction
3 Books about Göring


Early Life

He was born in Rosenheim, Bavaria to Heinrich Ernst Göring, a lawyer and colonial bureaucrat, and Franziska. Often apart from his parents, he was educated at a school in Ansbach before attending cadet schools at Karlsruhe and Lichterfelde .

In World War I he was commissioned in the infantry. He soon fell ill with an unidentified disease and was hospitalized for some months. On his return he was deemed unfit for further service. He managed to argue a post as flying observer with the nascent air force, joining a Field Air Detachment of the Fifth Army. In mid-1915 he began his pilot training at Freiburg, and on completing the course he was posted to Jagdstaffel 5. He was soon shot down and spent most of 1916 recovering from his injuries. On his return in November 1916 he joined Jagdstaffel 26, before being given his first command. In 1917 he was awarded the Pour le Mérite. On July 7, 1918, after the death of Manfred von Richthofen, he was made commander of Jagdgeschwader Freiherr von Richthofen (Jasta 11). He finished the war as an "ace," with 22 confirmed kills. Incidentally, he was the only veteran of Jasta 11 to have never been invited to the squadron's post-war reunions.

In June 1917, after a lengthy dogfight, Göring shot down a novice Australian pilot named Frank Slee. The battle is recounted flamboyantly in The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering. Göring landed and met with the Australian, and presented Slee with his Iron Cross. Years after, Slee gave Göring's Iron Cross to a friend, who later died on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

He remained in flying after the war, worked briefly at Fokker, tried "barnstorming," and in 1920 he joined Svenska Lufttrafik. He was also listed on the officer rolls of the Reichswehr, the post-World War I peacetime army of Germany, and by 1933 had risen to the rank of Generalmajor. He was made a Generalleutnant in 1935 and then a General in the Luftwaffe upon its founding later that year.

In Stockholm he met Karin von Kantzow (née Fock, 1888-1931), whom he later married. She died in 1931, and soon after he married actress Emmy Sonnemann.

Political career

As early as 1922, Göring joined the Nazi Party and initially took over the SA leadership as the Oberste SA-Führer. After stepping down as the SA Commander, he was appointed an SA-Gruppenführer (Lieutenant General) and held this rank on the SA rolls until 1945.

Having been a member of the Reichstag since 1928, he became the parliament's president from 1932 to 1933, and was one of the key figures in the process of Gleichschaltung that established the Nazi dictatorship.

In its early years, he served as minister in various key positions at both the Reich level and in Prussia, being responsible for the economy as well as the build-up of the German military in preparation for the war. Among others, he was appointed Reichsluftfahrtminister in 1935, head of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force). In 1939, he became the first Luftwaffe Field Marshall (Generalfeldmarshal) and by a decree on June 29, 1941, Hitler appointed Göring his formal successor and promoted him to the rank of Reichsmarshall, the highest military rank of the Greater German Reich. Reichsmarshall was a special rank intended for Göring and which made him senior to all Army and Air Force Field Marshals.

The Reichstag Fire, according to the Nuremberg testimony of General Franz Halder, was the handiwork of Göring, not of 'Communist instigators.' "At a luncheon on the birthday of Hitler in 1942..." Halder testifies, "[Göring said]...The only one who really knows about the Reichstag is I, because I set it on fire!" "With that," said Halder, "he slapped his thigh with the flat of his hand."

Göring at Nuremberg
Göring at Nuremberg

Göring was known for his extravagant tastes and garish clothing. As the only major Nazi with a prominent World War I record, he was a key connection between the former corporal Hitler and the traditional military elite. Göring, married to a Swedish baroness, exulted in aristocratic trappings and built up a considerable estate, Karinhall, in Prussia during the Nazi period. Handsome and athletic in his youth, a painful injury sustained during the Beer Hall Putsch left Göring dependent on narcotic pain killers and contributed to his obesity.

World War II

Once World War II started, Göring became the driving force behind the failed attempt to force Britain's surrender (or at least acquiescence) by air battle in the Battle of Britain. After that campaign he lost much of his influence in the Nazi hierarchy, exacerbated by the Luftwaffe's failings in Russia and against the Allied bomber raids. His reputation for extravagance made him particularly unpopular as ordinary Germans began to suffer deep privations.

Göring was the only WWII recipient of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, awarded to him by Hitler for his leadership of the Luftwaffe during the conquest of France and the Low Countries. He avidly pursued getting more decorations, in marked contrast to Hitler, who wore only what he earned in WWI.

Göring also sponsored a ground combat unit, the eponymous Hermann Göring Division, which fought on various fronts with mixed success.

Göring was also placed in charge of bringing into use the vast industrial resources captured during the war, particularly in the USSR. This proved to be an almost total disaster and little of the available potential was effectively harnessed for the service of the German military machine. However, Göring became notorious among the Nazi elite for his pilfering of art and other valuables from occupied Europe.

Göring was the highest figure in the Nazi Hierarchy who had authorized on paper the 'final solution of the Jewish Question', when he issued a memo to SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich to organize the practical details (which culminated in the Wannsee Conference). It is almost certain however that Hitler issued a verbal order to Göring in the fall of 1941 to this effect.

In his political testament just before his own suicide, Hitler expelled Göring and Heinrich Himmler from the party and from all offices of State for disloyalty to him and negotiations with the enemy without his knowledge and against his wishes, and for illegally attempting to seize power in the State for themselves. This referred to a telegram which Göring sent from Berchtesgaden to Hitler in Berlin on April 23, 1945, in which he offered to take command of the Reich as Hitler's designated successor. Hitler accused Göring of high treason, stripped him of all his offices, and had him placed under arrest by the SS on April 25.

Capture, Trial, and Death

Göring surrendered to American troops on May 8/9, 1945 in Austria and was the highest ranking Nazi official brought before the Nuremberg Trials. Though he defended himself vigorously, he was sentenced to death; the judgement stated that "his guilt is unique in its enormity". One of his last acts was to ask his brother Albert Göring to look after his wife and daughter. Defying the sentence imposed by his captors, he committed suicide with a cyanide capsule the night before he was supposed to be hanged. Where Göring obtained the cyanide, and how he had managed to hide it during his entire imprisonment at Nuremberg, remains a great unknown of history. In the 1950s, Erich von dem Bach would claim that he had given Göring the cyanide shortly before Göring's death; however, this claim is most often dismissed. Modern day theories speculate that Göring had befriended a U.S. Army Lieutenant, stationed at the Nuremberg Trials, who had aided Göring in obtaining cyanide which had most likely been hidden in Göring's personal effects confiscated by the Army. In 2005, a retired Army private, Herbert Lee Stivers, claimed that he delivered "medicine" hidden inside a fountain pen to Göring from a German woman he had met and flirted with. Stivers served in the US 1st Infantry Division's 26th Regiment, who formed the honor guard for the Nuremberg Trials. Stivers claims to have been unaware of what the "medicine" he delivered actually was until after Göring's death. After his suicide, Hermann Göring was cremated and his ashes were scattered into the Isar river.

The following quotation is held to be oft-stated by Göring: "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning". Whether he used this phrase often or not, he did not originate it. The quote comes from German playwright Hanns Johst's play Schlageter, "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning," "Whenever I hear of culture... I release the safety-catch of my Browning!" (Act 1, Scene 1).

Göring's last days

Göring's last days were spent with Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Gilbert kept a journal of his observations of the proceedings and his conversations with the prisoners, which he later published in the book Nuremberg Diary . The following quote was a part of a conversation Gilbert held with a dejected Hermann Göring in his cell on the evening of 18 April 1946, as the trials were halted for a three-day Easter recess.

Sweating in his cell in the evening, Göring was defensive and deflated and not very happy over the turn the trial was taking. He said that he had no control over the actions or the defense of the others, and that he had never been anti-Semitic himself, had not believed these atrocities, and that several Jews had offered to testify in his behalf. Later in the conversation, Gilbert recorded Göring observations that the common people can always be manipulated into supporting and fighting wars by their political leaders:

Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece.
Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Göring: Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

In fiction

In Philip José Farmer's Riverworld, a reincarnated Göring becomes a missionary for the Church of the Second Chance, a pacifist religion.

Books about Göring

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Franz von Papen | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Prime Minister of Prussia
1933–1945 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Prussia abolished

Last updated: 05-10-2005 21:06:14
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