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Goring was in command of the Nazi Luftwaffe.

Hermann Goring.
Hermann Goring stands in front of the U.S. 36th Division (Texas flag) on day of surrendering to allied forces May 9, 1945.

Hermann Wilhelm Goring (also Goering in English) (January 12, 1893 - October 15, 1946) was a German politician and military leader, a leading member of the Nazi Party, second in command of the Third Reich, and commander of the Luftwaffe. He was tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-1946 and sentenced to death by hanging; however, he escaped the hangman's noose around two hours before his scheduled execution by taking his life through the use of potassium cyanide. Last commander of Manfred von Richthofen's famous air squadron, Goring was a war hero of World War I and for continuous courage in action was awarded the coveted Pour le Merite.

Family history

Goring was born in the Marienbad sanatorium, near Rosenheim, Bavaria. His father Heinrich Ernst Goring (October 31, 1839 - December 7, 1913), had been the first Governor-General of the German protectorate of South West Africa (modern day Namibia). , as well as being a former cavalry officer and member of the German consular service. Goring had among his patrician ancestors Eberle/Eberlin, a Swiss-German family of high bourgeoisie who were originally Jewish financiers who converted to Christianity in the 15th century and had huge progeny in German speaking countries.

Goring was a relative of such Eberle/Eberlin descendants as the German aviation pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin; German romantic nationalist Hermann Grimm (1828-1901), an author of the concept of the German hero as a mover of history, whom the Nazis claimed as one of their ideological forerunners; the industrialist family Merck, the owners of pharmaceutical giant Merck; one of the world major Catholic writers and poets of the 20th century German Baroness Gertrud von LeFort, whose works were largely inspired by her revulsion against Nazism; and Swiss diplomat, historian and President of International Red Cross, Carl J. Burckhardt.

In an ironic historical coincidence, among Goring's relatives throughout Eberle/Eberlin line was a great Swiss scholar of art and culture, and a major political and social thinker Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), an opponent of nationalism and militarism, who rejected German claims of cultural and intellectual superiority, and predicted a cataclysmic 20th century, in which violent demagogues, whom he called "terrible simplifiers," would play central roles.

Goring's mother Franziska "Fanny" Tiefenbrunn (1859-July 15, 1923) came from a Bavarian peasant family. The marriage of a gentleman to a woman from lower class (1885) occurred only because Heinrich Ernst Goring was a widower. Goring was one of five children; his brothers were Albert Goring and Karl Ernst Goring, and his sisters were Olga Therese Sophia and Paula Elisabeth Rosa Goring, the last of whom were from his father's first marriage While anti-Semitism became rampant in Germany of that time, his parents were not anti-Semitic..

Early life/Ritter von Epenstein

Goring later claimed his given name was chosen to honor the Arminius who defeated the legions of Rome at Teutoburg Forest. However the name was far more likely chosen to honor his godfather, a Christian of Jewish descent born Hermann Epenstein. Epenstein, whose father was an army surgeon in Berlin, became a very wealthy physician and businessman and a major if not paternal influence on Goring's childhood. Much of Hermann's very early childhood, including a lengthy separation from his parents when his father took diplomatic posts in Africa and in Haiti (climates ruled too brutal for a young European child), was spent with governesses and with distant relatives. However, upon Heinrich Goring's retirement ca. 1898 his large family, supported solely on Heinrich's modest civil service pension, became for financially practical reasons the houseguests of their longtime friend and Goring's probable namesake, a man whose minor title (acquired through service and donation to the Crown) made him now known as Hermann, Ritter von Epenstein.

As with many social climbers and nouveau riche businessmen of the time, Ritter von Epenstein sought the trappings of German aristocracy as well as the titles. He acquired these in part through the purchase of two largely dilapidated castles, Burg Veldenstein in Bavaria and Schloss Mauterndorf near Salzburg, Austria, whose very expensive restorations were ongoing by the time of Hermann Goring's birth. Both castles were to be residences to the Goring family, their official "caretakers" until 1913, and both were to be tremendous influences on Goring's childhood and fascination with the military and romanticized notions of history. Both castles were also ultimately to be his property.

According to respected biographers of both Hermann Goring and his younger brother Albert Goring, soon after the family took residence in his castles von Epenstein began an adulterous relationship with Frau Goring that may in fact have resulted in Albert's birth. (Albert's physical resemblance to von Epenstein was noted even during his childhood and is even evident to the casual observer in photographs). Whatever the nature of von Epenstein's relationship with his mother, the young Hermann Goring enjoyed a particularly close relationship with his godfather. Goring was unaware of von Epenstein's Jewish ancestry and birth until as a child at a prestigious Austrian boarding school (where his tuition was paid by von Epenstein) he wrote an essay in praise of his godfather and was mocked by the school's anti-Semitic headmaster for professing such admiration for a Jew. Goring initially denied the allegation but when confronted with proof in the "Semi-Gotha", a book of German heraldry (Ritter von Epenstein had purchased his minor title and castles with wealth garnered from speculation and trade and was thus included in a less than complimentary reference work on German speaking nobility), Goring to his youthful credit remained steadfast in his devotion to his family's friend and patron, so adamantly so that he was expelled from the school. The action seems to have tightened the already considerable bond between godfather and godson.

Relations between the Goring family and von Epenstein became far more formal during Goring's adolescence (causing Mosley and other biographers to speculate that perhaps the theorized affair ended naturally or that the elderly Heinrich discovered he was a cuckold and threatened its exposure). By the time of Heinrich Goring's death the family no longer lived in a residence supplied by or seemed to have much contact at all with von Epenstein (though the family's comfortable circumstances indicate the Ritter may have given them some financial support). Late in his life Ritter von Epenstein wed a singer, Lily, who was half his age, bequeathing her his estate in his will but requesting that she in turn bequeath the castles at Mauterndorf and Veldenstein to his godson Hermann upon her own death.

World War 1

WWI: Goring in cockpit of his Albatros D.III
WWI: Goring in cockpit of his Albatros D.III

Goring was sent to boarding school at Ansbach, Franconia and then attended the cadet institutes at Karlsruhe and the military college at Lichterfelde. Goring was commissioned in the Prussian army on 22 June 1912 in the Prinz Wilhelm Regiment, the 112th Infantry, the headquarters of which were at Mulhouse.

During the first year of World War I Goring served with an infantry regiment in the Vosges region before he was hospitalized with rheumatism resulting from the damp of trench warfare. While recovering, Goring's friend Bruno Loerzer convinced him to seek a transfer to the Luftstreitkrafte. Goring's application to transfer was immediately turned down. However later that year Goring flew as Loerzer's observer. Goring had run the risk of arranging his own transfer and was sentenced by a military tribunal to three weeks' confinement to barracks as a result. The sentence was never carried out: by the time it was imposed Goring's association with Loerzer had been regularised when they had become attached as a team to the 25th Field Air Detachment of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhem's Fifth Army - "though it seems that they had to steal a plane in order to qualify." The team flew reconnaissance and bombing missions for which The Crown Prince invested both Goring and Loerzer with the Iron Cross, first class. Goring became a Jagdflieger or fighter pilot in October 1915.

On completing his pilot's training course he was posted to Jagdstaffel 5 in October 1915. He was soon shot down and spent most of 1916 recovering from his injuries. On his return in February 1917 he joined Jagdstaffel 26, before being given his first command Jasta 27, in May 1917. Serving with Jastas 7, 5, 26 and 27, he claimed 21 air victories, being awarded in addition to the Iron Cross, the Zaehring Lion with swords, the Karl Friedrich Order and the Hohenzollern Medal with swords, third class, prior to his final award (despite never having shot down the required 25 enemy planes) in May 1918 of the coveted Pour le Merite. On 7 July 1918, after the death of Wilhelm Reinhard, the successor of Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron), he was made commander of Jagdgeschwader Freiherr von Richthofen, Jagdgeschwader 1.

In June 1917, after a lengthy dogfight, Goring shot down a novice Australian pilot named Frank Slee. The battle is recounted flamboyantly in The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering. Goring landed and met the Australian, and presented Slee with his Iron Cross. Years after, Slee gave Goring's Iron Cross to a friend, who later died on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Also during the war Goring had through his generous treatment made a friend of his prisoner of war Captain Frank Beaumont, a Royal Flying Corps pilot. "It was part of Goering's creed to admire a good enemy, and he did his best to keep Captain Beaumont from being taken over by the Army."

Goring finished the war with 22 kills.

Because of his arrogance Goring's appointment as commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 had not been well received and although after demobilization Goring and his officers spent most of their time during the first weeks of November 1918 in the Stiftskeller, the best restaurant and drinking place in Aschaffenburg, he was the only veteran of Jagdgeschwader 1 never to have been invited to post-war reunions.

Genuinely surprised (at least by his own account) at Germany's defeat in the First World War, Goring felt personally violated at the surrender, the Kaiser's abdication, the humiliating terms and the treachery of the post-war German politicians who had "goaded the people [to uprising] [and] who [had] stabbed our glorious Army in the back [thinking] of nothing but of attaining power and of enriching themselves at the expense of the people." Ordered to convey the planes in his squadron and surrender them to the Allies in December 1918, Goring and other pilots in his unit intentionally grounded the planes as violently as possible in order to cause as much damage as possible upon landing while still enabling them to live, an endeavor inspired by the scuttling of ships. Typical for the political climate of the day, he was not arrested or even officially reprimanded for his action.

Post World War I

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 (German air force) upon its founding later that year.

Married life

On 21 February 1920, while in Sweden, he met Karin von Kantzow (nee Freiin von Fock, 1888-1931), who had been married for ten years and was mother of a son, Thomas von Kantzow (born 1913). Karin divorced her estranged husband, Niels Gustav von Kantzow, in December 1922 and married Goring on January 3, 1923 in Stockholm. Niels von Kantzow behaved generously providing a financial settlement which enabled Karin and Goring to set up their first home together in Germany: a hunting lodge at Hochkreuth in the Bavarian Alps, near Bayrischzell, some 50 miles from Munich. Both Karin and Goring were ardent nationalists. Karin died on October 17, 1931, aged 42, of consumption (tuberculosis).

During the early 1930s Goring was often in the company of actress Emmy Sonnemann (born 1893) from Hamburg. He proposed to her in Weimar in February 1935. The wedding took place on 10 April 1935 in Berlin and was celebrated like the marriage of an emperor. Together they had a daughter, Edda Goring (born 2 June 1938) who was then thought to be named after Countess Edda Ciano, eldest child of Benito Mussolini. Actually, Edda was named after a friend of her mother.

In 1933 Goring started construction of Karinhall (named in memory of his first wife) on his estate northwest of Berlin.

Exile and addiction

Goring joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and initially took over the SA leadership as the Oberster SA-Fuhrer. After stepping down as SA Commander, he was appointed an SA-Gruppenfuhrer (Lieutenant General) (and held this rank on the SA rolls until 1945). Hitler later recalled his early association with Goring thus:

"I liked him. I made him the head of my S.A. He is the only one of its heads that ran the S.A. properly. I gave him a disheveled rabble. In a very short time he had organised a division of 11,000 men."

At this time Karin, who liked Hitler, often played hostess at home to meetings of leading Nazis including her husband, Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg and Ernst Roehm. Despite Goring's organisational abilities in the S.A., the storm troopers' march headed by Hitler, Goring, Hess, veteran General Ludendorff and Julius Streicher on 9 November 1923 during the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich ended in failure and surrender when confronted by the police not far from the Bavarian War Ministry, at the time occupied by Roehm's men, which had been the marchers' objective. Hitler and Goring were both hurt in the melee, the latter sustaining a serious bullet wound to the groin. Karin, herself unwell with pneumonia, arranged for Goring to be spirited away to Austria; Goring was in no fit state to travel and the journeys he had to endure may well have aggravated his condition although they did avoid his arrest. Goring was x-rayed and operated in hospital at Innsbruck; Karin wrote to her mother from Goring's bedside on 8 December 1923 describing the terrible pain Goring was in: "... in spite of being dosed with morphine every day, his pain stays just as bad as ever." This was the beginning of his morphine addiction. Meanwhile in Munich the authorities declared Goring a wanted man.

The Gorings, acutely short of funds and reliant on the goodwill of Nazi sympathisers abroad, moved from Austria to Venice then in May 1924 to Rome via Florence and Siena. Goring met Mussolini in Rome. Mussolini expressed some interest in meeting Hitler, by then in gaol, on his release. Personal problems, however, continued to multiply. Goring's mother had died in 1923; by 1925 it was Karin's mother who was ill and the Gorings with difficulty raised the money for a journey in Spring 1925 to Sweden via Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig. Goring had become a violent morphine addict and Karin's family were shocked by his deterioration when they saw him. Karin, herself suffering from epilepsy, had to let the doctors and the police take full charge of Goring who was certified a dangerous drug addict and placed in the violent ward of Langbro asylum on 1 September 1925. Biographer Richard Manvell interviewed a psychiatrist in Stockholm who had seen Goring at a private clinic before being placed in Langbro: Goring was very violent and had to be placed in a strait-jacket but he was not insane.

The 1925 reports revealed Goring to be weak of character, an hysteric, an unstable personality, sentimental yet callous, violent when afraid and as a person who deployed bravado to hide a basic lack of moral courage.

"Like many men capable of great acts of physical courage which verge quite often on desperation, he lacked the finer kind of courage in the conduct of his life which was needed when serious difficulties overcame him."

At the time of Goring's detention all doctors' reports in Sweden were in the public domain: a doctor's report on Karin and Goring was used in evidence by Neils von Kantzow to show that neither Karin nor Goring could be regarded as fit to look after Karin's son with von Kantzow and so von Kantzow defeated her suit in 1925 for custody of the child; when Goring was finally able to return to Germany, after the autumn 1927 political amnesty declared by the newly elected President von Hindenburg, Goring's political opponents including Communists used the reports against him but with mixed results.

Political career

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. For example, in 1933 he banned all Roman Catholic newspapers in Germany, despite the support the Centre Party had given to Hitler's chancellorship. In the regime's 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 other positions, in 1935 he was appointed Reichsluftfahrtminister, head of the Luftwaffe. In 1938, he became the first Luftwaffe Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) and by a decree on 19 June 1940, Hitler appointed Goring his formal successor and promoted him to the rank of Reichsmarschall, the highest military rank of the Greater German Reich. Reichsmarschall was a special rank intended for Goring and which made him senior to all Army and Air Force Field Marshals.

Goring also "collected" several other offices like Reichsforst- und Jagermeister (Chief of forests and hunting of the Reich), for which he received high wages.

The Reichstag Fire, according to the Nuremberg testimony of General Franz Halder, was the handiwork of Goring, not of 'Communist instigators.' "At a luncheon on the birthday of Hitler in 1942..." Halder testifies, "[Goring 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." Goring in his own Nuremberg testimony denied this story. It remains unclear whether or not Goring was responsible for the fire.

The following is a transcript excerpt from the Nuremburg Trials:

GOERING: This conversation did not take place and I request that I be confronted with Herr Halder. First of all I want to emphasize that what is written here is utter nonsense. It says, "The only one who really knows the Reichstag is I." The Reichstag was known to every representative in the Reichstag. The fire took place only in the general assembly room, and many hundreds or thousands of people knew this room as well as I did. A statement of this type is utter nonsense. How Herr Halder came to make that statement I do not know. Apparently that bad memory, which also let him down in military matters, is the only explanation.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: You know who Halder is?

GOERING: Only too well.

GOERING: That accusation that I had set fire to the Reichstag came from a certain foreign press. That could not bother me because it was not consistent with the facts. I had no reason or motive for setting fire to the Reichstag. From the artistic point of view I did not at all regret that the assembly chamber was burned- I hoped to build a better one. But I did regret very much that I was forced to find a new meeting place for the Reichstag and, not being able to find one, I had to give up my Kroll Opera House, that is, the second State Opera House, for that purpose. The opera seemed to me much more important than the Reichstag.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: Have you ever boasted of burning the Reichstag building, even by way of joking?

GOERING: No. I made a joke, if that is the one you are referring to, when I said that, after this, I should be competing with Nero and that probably people would soon be saying that, dressed in a red Toga and holding a lyre in my hand, I looked on at the fire and played while the Reichstag was burning. That was the joke. But the fact was that I almost perished in the flames, which would have been very unfortunate for the German people, but very fortunate for their enemies.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: You never stated then that you burned the Reichstag?

GOERING: No. I know that Herr Rauschning said in the book which he wrote, and which has often been referred to here, that I had discussed this with him. I saw Herr Rauschning only twice in my life and only for a short time on each occasion. If I had set fire to the Reichstag, I would presumably have let that be known only to my closest circle of confidants, if at all. I would not have told it to a man whom I did not know and whose appearance I could not describe at all today. That is an absolute distortion of the truth.

The famous quotation, "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning" is frequently attributed to Goring during the inter-war period. Whether or not he actually used this phrase, it did not originate with him. The line comes from Nazi playwright Hanns Johst's play Schlageter, "Wenn ich Kultur hore ... entsichere ich meinen Browning," "Whenever I hear of culture... I release the safety-catch of my Browning!" (Act 1, Scene 1). Nor was Goring the only Nazi official to use this phrase: Rudolf Hess used it as well, and it was a popular cliche in Germany, often in the form: "Wenn ich "Kultur" hore, nehme ich meine Pistole".

After Hjalmar Schacht was removed as minister for the Economy, Goring effectively took over, becoming Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan in 1936 to better facilitate German rearmament; the vast steel plant Reichswerke Hermann Goring was named after him. This gave him great influence with Hitler (who placed a high value on rearmament). He never seemed to accept the Hitler Myth quite as much as Goebbels and Himmler did, but remained loyal nevertheless.

The Aryanisation of Jewish Firms allowed Goring to buy them for almost nothing and he amassed himself a personal fortune. He was known for his extravagant tastes and garish clothing. Hans Rudel, the top Stuka pilot of the war, recalls in his war memoirs meeting Goring twice dressed in outlandish costumes: first a medieval hunting costume, practicing archery with his doctor, and second dressed in a russet toga fastened with a golden clasp, smoking an abnormally large pipe. As a highly decorated First World War hero and commander, Goring was a key connection between the former corporal Hitler and the traditional military elite. Goring, who had been married first to a Swedish baroness, built a vast Prussian estate, Karinhall, named after her. To avoid it falling into enemy hands, Goring had Karinhall blown up on April 20, 1945, immediately before attending Hitler's last birthday party. He exulted in aristocratic trappings, and after the Nazis conquered much of Europe, collected artworks looted from numerous museums, even some within Germany itself. Handsome and athletic in his youth, Goring sustained a painful injury during the Beer Hall Putsch, leaving him dependent on narcotic painkillers, particularly morphine. This addiction contributed to his later obesity and decline. He would finally be cured of his addiction toward the end of his life during his imprisonment at Nuremberg.

World War II

Goring was skeptical and averse to the path of war. He believed Germany was not prepared to embark on a new conflict and, in particular, he believed that Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe, whose leadership was entrusted to his own hands, wasn't yet prepared to beat the RAF. However, once World War II started, Goring was determined to win at any cost.

Initially, decisive German victories followed quickly one after the other, Goring's modern Luftwaffe destroyed the Polish Air Force within two days and after the invasion of France, Hitler awarded Goring the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for his successful leadership. Goring's political and military careers were at their peak.

The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross is based on the enactment Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 1573 which also renews the Iron Cross and established the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Article 2 of the enactment reads

"The Iron Cross is exclusively awarded for bravery before the enemy and for excellent merits in commanding troops. The award of a higher class must be preceded by the award of all preceding classes."

Thus by nature of the law a recipient of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross is also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and a recipient of the Iron Cross. Goring had already received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on September 30, 1939 as Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe.

The Luftwaffe's failure to gain control of the skies during the Battle of Britain marked Hitler's first defeat and put a stain on Goring's reputation. After that campaign he lost much of his influence in the Nazi hierarchy and faded briefly from the military scene, enjoying the pleasures of life as a wealthy and powerful man. His reputation for extravagance made him particularly unpopular as ordinary Germans began to suffer deprivation.

If Goring was skeptical about war on the western front, he was absolutely certain that a new campaign against Russia was doomed to be disastrous. After trying, completely in vain, to convince Hitler to give up operation Barbarossa, he embraced the campaign against Russia as a chance to redeem credit from the disastrous British attack. As he had foreseen, the war against the Soviet Union turned out to be Germany's most ignominious defeat. Goring's contribution, as the head of the Luftwaffe, did not match his outlandish promises, and, as a result, negatively affected his relationship with Hitler.

Goring also sponsored a ground combat unit, the eponymous Hermann Goring Division, an elite unit which fought on various fronts with success. His other units on the eastern front were not so successful. At the Oder front, he had 2 Fallschirmjager (airborne) divisions, which were partially composed of Luftwaffe's officers without any ground combat experience. He's known to have said in one of the Hassleben's planning meetings: "When my both airborne divisions attack, the entire Red Army can be thrown to hell". When the Red Army attacked, Goring's 9th Parachute Division (Germany) collapsed first.

He was also Commander-in-Chief of "Forschungsamt" ("FA"), the Nazi underground monitoring services for telephone and radio communications. This was connected to SS, SD and Abwehr intelligence services.

Goring was also placed in charge of exploiting the vast industrial resources captured during the war, particularly in the Soviet Union. 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, Goring was notorious for his role as one of the Nazi plunderers of art and other valuables from occupied Europe.

Goring 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 Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich to organize the practical details, (which culminated in the Wannsee Conference). He wrote, "submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution of the Jewish question." It is almost certain however that Hitler issued a verbal order to Goring in late 1941 to this effect.

Near the end of the war, as the Red Army closed in around the German capital on April 23, 1945, Goring sent a telegram from Berchtesgaden to Berlin in which he proposed to assume leadership of the Reich as Hitler's designated successor. Hitler considered this disloyalty and high treason, especially because Goring mentioned a time limit after which he would consider Hitler incapacitated. Hitler had Goring placed under arrest by Bernhard Frank on April 25 and in his political testament Hitler dismissed Goring from all his sundry offices and expelled him from the party. Two days before ending his own life Hitler sent orders to Frank to execute Goring, his wife and their young daughter (Hitler's own goddaughter). A combination of Goring's considerable charm, Frank's confusion and terror at the last days of the war and perhaps common decency where the death of an innocent German child was concerned led to Frank's rejection of the order. Instead the Gorings and their captors moved together, with little formality and no semblance of a captives and captors relationship, to the same Schloss Mauterndorf where Goring had spent much of his childhood and which he had inherited (along with Burg Veldenstein) from his godfather's widow upon her death in 1937. (Goring had arranged for preferential treatment for the woman after his rise to power, a consideration that guaranteed her immunity from the confiscation and arrest that may have been her fate as the widow of a wealthy Jew.)

Ironically, during World War II, Herman Goring's nephew, Capt. Werner G. Goering, piloted B-17 Flying Fortresses on 48 bombing missions against occupied Europe. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, the young Goring spoke fluent German. After an extensive background check, he was assigned to the 303rd Bombardment Group -- Hell's Angels -- of the 8th Air Force, based at Molesworth, England. This fact was kept secret by the Army Air Force during the time that young Goring flew missions against Nazi Germany. However, the AAF still assigned him a "uniquely qualified" co-pilot -- First Lt. Jack P. Rencher. Rencher was given orders to shoot him if he ever tried to land in Germany. According to Rencher, however, the only time young Goring wasn't eager to rain destruction on Nazi Germany was when he had to bomb Cologne, where his grandmother lived. "He was neat, clean, a sharp dresser and in every sense military minded," Rencher said. "While I served with him he and I got along well together and I believe made an excellent team. I know of no one I would rather serve as co-pilot with."

Capture - trial and death

Goring (first row, far left) at the Nuremberg Trials.
Goring (first row, far left) at the Nuremberg Trials.

Equally ironically, his younger brother Albert Goring was notable for helping Jews and dissidents survive in Germany during the war.

Goring surrendered on May 9, 1945 in Bavaria. He was the third highest ranking Nazi official brought before the Nuremberg Trials, behind Reich President (former Admiral) Karl Donitz and former Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess. Goring's last days were spent with Gustave Gilbert, a Jewish German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Gilbert classified Goring as having an IQ of 138, the same as he ascribed to Karl Donitz. He 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 quotation was a part of a conversation Gilbert held with a dejected Goring 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, Goring 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."

Despite claims that he was not anti-Semitic, while in the prison yard at Nuremberg, after hearing a remark about Jewish survivors in Hungary, Albert Speer reported overhearing Goring say, "So, there are still some there? I thought we had knocked off all of them. Somebody slipped up again."

Though he defended himself vigorously, he was sentenced to death by hanging. The judgment stated that:

"There is nothing to be said in mitigation. For Goering was often, indeed almost always, the moving force, second only to his leader. He was the leading war aggressor, both as political and as military leader; he was the director of the slave labour programme and the creator of the oppressive programme against the Jews and other races, at home and abroad. All of these crimes he has frankly admitted. On some specific cases there may be conflict of testimony, but in terms of the broad outline, his own admissions are more than sufficiently wide to be conclusive of his guilt. His guilt is unique in its enormity. The record discloses no excuses for this man."

Goring dispatched an appeal in which he said he would accept the court's death penalty if they allowed him to be shot as a soldier instead of hanged as a common criminal, but the court members refused to allow him this honor. Defying the sentence imposed by his captors, he committed suicide with a potassium cyanide capsule the night before he was supposed to be hanged. Where Goring obtained the cyanide, and how he had managed to hide it during his entire imprisonment at Nuremberg, remains unknown. In the 1950s, Erich von dem Bach-Zalewski claimed that he had given Goring the cyanide shortly before Goring's death. However, this claim is usually dismissed. Later theories speculate that Goring befriended U.S. Army Lieutenant Jack G. "Tex" Wheelis, who was stationed at the Nuremberg Trials and helped Goring obtain cyanide which had likely been hidden among Goring's personal effects when they were confiscated by the Army. In 2005, former Army private Herbert Lee Stivers claimed he gave Goring "medicine" hidden inside a gift fountain pen from a German woman the private had met and flirted with. Stivers served in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division's 26th Regiment, who formed the honour guard for the Nuremberg Trials. Stivers claims to have been unaware of what the "medicine" he delivered actually was until after Goring's death. After his suicide, Hermann Goring was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Conwentzbach in Munich, which runs into the Isar river.

Personal standards of Hermann Goring

Goring dressed for display, along with the other war criminals, after committing suicide by cyanide.
Goring dressed for display, along with the other war criminals, after committing suicide by cyanide.

When Goring had been promoted to the unique rank of "Reichsmarschall" on July 19, 1940, he at once decided to choose a personal standard for himself. The design in the centre of the left side displayed a German eagle embroidered in gold-yellow thread and clutching in its talons a gold swastika standing on its point. Set behind the swastika was a pair of crossed marshal's batons. The right side displayed in the centre a large black Iron Cross. It was the unique "Grosskreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes" that was bestowed on him by Hitler. Set in each of the four sections of the field was a gold-yellow Luftwaffe eagle and swastika. The basic field was light blue on both sides, which indicated that he was also the Commander-In-Chief of the German Air Force. In February 1941 he made up his mind to modify the whole design in order to look more "fashionable". The standard was used for all purposes and was carried by a personal standard-bearer.


Goring spoke about war and extreme nationalism during the Nuremberg trials in an interview with Gustave Gilbert, a Jewish German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail (see Nuremberg Diary):

Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine 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. ...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 to 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.

On August 9, 1939, two days after meeting with British businessmen, assuring them "on his word of honour" that he would do everything in his power to avert war, Goring boasted "The Ruhr will not be subjected to a single bomb. If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Goring: you can call me Meier!" ("I want to be called Meier if ..." is a German idiom to express that something is impossible. Meier (including spelling variants) is the second most common surname in Germany.) By the end of the war, Berlin's air raid sirens were bitterly known to the city's residents as "Meier's trumpets", or "Meier's hunting horns."

It has been written that Goring was one of the few Nazi leaders who did not take offense at hearing jokes about himself, "no matter how rude". Germans joked about his ego, saying that he would wear an admiral's uniform to take a bath, and his obesity (270 pounds), joking that "he sits down on his stomach".

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