Adolf Hitler. Heinrich Himmler. Joseph Goebbels. Hermann Göring. His name fits with those synonymous with nazism.
On 1 October 1946, Hermann Göring was found guilty at the Nuremberg for his crimes during the Nazi regime. What do we know about the man who committed these crimes?
1. He was born into an aristocratic family
Hermann Göring was born on 12 January 1893 to Heinrich Göring, a diplomatic consul to German South-West Africa (now Namibia), and his second wife Franziska Tiefenbrunn.
His godfather, Hermann von Epenstein, was of Jewish descendance and also Franziska’s lover. The family lived in von Epenstein’s castles, Burg Veldenstein and Burg Mauterndorf, throughout the year.
2. He was a fighter pilot in the First World War
After a childhood of military interests, and an education at military academy, Göring entered the German Army as an infantry lieutenant in 1912. He transferred to the air force and was an ace.
He reportedly shot down 22 allied aircraft during the war, and received the Pour le Merite and Iron Cross 1st class.
3. He was wounded in the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923
Göring became a member of the National Socialists in 1922 after circulating the anti-Weimar and anti-reparations scene. With his military experience, he was placed in command of the SA (‘Sturmabteilung‘ – ‘brownshirts’) in December. This fulfilled his desires for action, comradeship and power.
When the Beer Hall Putsch staged by the party in 1923 was met with police firepower, 14 Nazis were killed alongside 4 policemen, and Göring was hit in the groin and hip.
With a warrant out for his arrest he fled to Austria. He soon became addicted to the morphine prescribed for his pain, leading to his institutionalisation in Sweden in 1925 and 1926. He only returned to Germany in 1927 when a full amnesty was granted.
4. He was Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe
On 1 March 1935 Göring took on the leadership of the Luftwaffe. Without the knowledge or strategic understanding necessary, he overestimated the German force’s potential, and underestimated that of his enemies.
He made a fatal tactical error during the Battle of Britain, when his switch to massive night bombings of London on 7 September 1940 actually gave the British fighter defences time to recover – just when they were reeling from losses in the air and on the ground.
5. His brother worked in opposition to the Nazi regime
Heinrich Göring had 3 children from a previous marriage, and 5 from his marriage to Franziska. The youngest of these, Albert, was born in 1895. He was rumoured to be von Epenstein’s son because of his dark eyes and central European features, as opposed to his brother’s blue eyes and northern profile.
The differences didn’t stop there. Albert was in Vienna pursuing a career in filmmaking at the time of the Anschluss in 1938. When Nazi policies began to threaten many of his friends, he arranged and funded exit visas, sometimes by playing on his older brother’s ego, and reportedly defended Jews who were being bullied in the street.
Albert was the subject of numerous Gestapo reports, 4 arrest warrants and finally a death warrant in 1944, which called for execution on sight. He was often protected from punishment by his name, shared with his powerful brother.
This name would, however, haunt him. Albert was imprisoned for two years after the fall of the Nazi regime. This was despite producing a list of the people who he had saved during the Second World War.
In conversation with an American psychiatrist, Leon Goldensohn, Hermann said of his younger brother, ‘he was always the antithesis of myself.’
6. He quickly became one of the richest men in the country
When the Nazis enacted their Four Year Plan to provide for the rearmament and self-sufficiency of Germany in 1936, Hermann Göring was made plenipotentiary (having the full power of independent action on behalf of the government). In this role he established the Reichswerke Hermann Göring, employing 700,000 workers and profiting 400 million marks.
He lived in luxury with a palace in Berlin and a hunting mansion. He decorated both with his art collection, which was bolstered by gifts from those seeking favours and by the spoils of stolen Jewish collections.
7. He had one child
Despite his earlier groin injury, during his second marriage to actress Emmy Sonnemann, Hermann fathered a daughter, Edda. Born in 1938, she was the recipient of many gifts of artwork and jewellery, and was treated like a princess as any of the daughters of Nazi leaders were. Hitler was her godfather.
After her father’s death, she maintained connections with his former colleagues. She remained protective of her father, stating that her ‘only memories of him as such loving ones, I cannot see him any other way.’ She cited Hermann’s loyalty to Hitler as the reason for his downfall, and noted that he had always supported her uncle in his actions.
Edda was subject to a number of court cases regarding the gifts that she had been given, some of which had been acquired illegally. She unsuccessfully petitioned in 2015 for compensation for the money and possessions taken from her father when he was captured.
8. He was expelled from the Nazi party
In April 1945 Göring sent a telegram to Hitler, in anticipation of his likely death, asking permission to take up control over Germany. He had been named as successor in 1941.
Hitler and Martin Bormann condemned Göring as a traitor and rescinded the 1941 decree. Göring was forced to resign from his posts, and was expelled from the party in Hitler’s will.
9. He was convicted as a War Criminal
Göring was captured by the US Seventh Army on 9 May 1945. He was one of the highest ranking Nazi officials to be tried at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, the others having committed suicide or escaped.
Having been weaned off his drug addiction, Göring made an attempt to acquit himself. He pleaded that he had not known of many of the crimes that he was accused of and gave excuses for his role in the others.
The prosecutors were able, however, to prove his knowledge and found him guilty of all four counts – crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
10. He committed suicide
On 15 October 1946, two hours before his execution was due to take place, Goering took a cyanide capsule in his cell. His request to be shot rather than hanged had been rejected.
The former Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe’s ashes were thrown to obscurity in a river, rather than being buried in the family plot near his brother.