Born in Bavaria, 12 January 1893, to a well-to-do Prussian family, Hermann Goring fancied himself as a cut above the rest, a cultured man, fond of fine-living, the arts and women. Indeed, as a young fighter pilot during the First World War, Goring cut a dashing figure and in June 1918, won the Pour le Mérite, otherwise known as the Blue Max, Prussia’s highest award.
At the time of his birth, Goring’s parents were stationed in Haiti, his father working for the German consul there. His mother returned to Germany to give birth, then promptly returned to Haiti, leaving baby Hermann with a friend, not to see her child again for three years.
After the First World War, Goring worked as a commercial pilot in Denmark and Sweden, where he met his future wife, the Swedish baroness Carin von Kantzow. They married in Munich on 3 February 1923. Serving as a Prussian deputy in the German Reichstag, he met the young Adolf Hitler and soon afterwards, in 1922, joined the fledging Nazi Party.
A year later, on 8 November 1923, Goring was shot in the leg and badly injured during the Munich Putsch, Hitler’s failed attempt to seize power by force. From there, together with his wife, Goring escaped to Austria. In Innsbruck, his wound was operated on but such was the pain he was given morphine, thereby starting an addiction which would last until his final days. At one point, during his forced sojourn in Austria, and later Italy, where he met Italy’s fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, Goring’s addiction had become so severe he had to be incarcerated in a mental hospital, occasionally having to be restrained by means of a straitjacket. In 1927, after four years away, Goring returned to Germany.
Following the national elections of May 1928, Goring entered the Reichstag, occupying one of only twelve seats won by the Nazis (out of a total of 491).
Following the more successful elections of July 1932, in which the Nazis gained 230 seats, Goring was made president of the Reichstag. Then, following Hitler’s appointment as chancellor on 30 January 1933, Goring established the first concentration camps for the imprisonment of the Nazi’s political opponents and founded the Nazi secret police, the feared Gestapo. (He ceded control of the Gestapo to Heinrich Himmler in 1934).
Goring’s wife, Carin, died on 17 October 1931, and four years later, on 10 April 1935, Goring married for the second time. His second wife, Emmy (pictured), bore him his only child, a girl called Edda (rumoured to have been named after Mussolini’s daughter), born 2 June 1938, who is still alive today and believed to be living in South Africa.
‘You can call me Meyer’
Goring helped Hitler in destroying the SA and liquidating its leader, Ernst Rohm (pictured with Hitler), during the Night of the Long Knives in June 1934. Hitler repaid Goring’s loyalty by appointing him in 1935 Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. The following year he was also appointed Economics Minister. Goring’s grasp of economics was questionable but, with Hitler’s prompting, he introduced the Four-Year-Plan, a more aggressive policy to prepare Germany for war.
In August 1939, a month before the outbreak of Second World War, Göring boasted about the strength of the Luftwaffe, declaring, ‘Not a single bomb will fall on the Ruhr. If an enemy plane reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Göring, you can call me Meyer.’
Initially, Goring’s Luftwaffe enjoyed a string of successes, playing crucial roles during the Nazi invasions of Poland and France during the first year of the war. However, reverses during the Battle of Britain and on the Eastern Front, particularly the Luftwaffe’s failure to relieve stranded German troops trapped in Stalingrad, saw the decline of Goring’s influence. His Meyer boast came back to haunt him as, later in the war, the Luftwaffe failed to prevent the bombing of German cities, leaving German civilians to suffer terribly under the barrage of bombing inflicted by the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, most notably in Cologne, Hamburg and, in February 1945, in Dresden.
Goring and his medals
Goring enjoyed a lavish and wealthy lifestyle. He collected art, much of it stolen from Jewish collectors, adored his uniforms and loved receiving and bestowing medals. In October 1938, he proudly presented the Grand Service Cross of the Golden Eagle award to the US aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh. (In 1941, Lindbergh was to suggest to President Roosevelt that the US struck a ‘neutrality pact’ with Hitler). Goring was the only ever recipient of Germany’s highest military award for heroism, the Grand Cross to the Iron Cross, awarded on 19 July 1940 in recognition of his services with the Luftwaffe. (Days before his suicide on 30 April 1945, Hitler revoked Goring’s medal).
Although not so furiously anti-Semitic as most of his colleagues (his godfather and mother’s lover, Hermann Epenstein, was of Jewish ancestry) Goring’s role certainly accelerated Hitler’s desired destruction of Germany’s Jewish population. Following the nationwide pogrom against the Jews, Kristallnacht, on the night of 8 – 9 November 1938, Goring didn’t see why German insurance companies should have to pay out and so ordered the Jewish community to collectively pay compensation to the tune of one billion marks. (Also, the fine was seen as a form of compensation for the Jewish murder of the Parisian-based Nazi diplomat, whose assassination had provided Berlin with the pretext to stage the pogrom.)
It was Goring who, in July 1941, ordered Reinhard Heydrich to prepare a set of proposals on how to deal with the ‘Jewish Question’; an order that led, six months later, to Heydrich chairing the one-day Wannsee Conference, in which the plans for the Final Solution were officially adopted.
In 1941, having made Goring Reichsmarschall, ‘Reich Marshal of the Greater German Reich’, Hitler named him as his deputy and successor. In the event, in his last days, Hitler declared Goring a traitor for having suggested that he take full command, and stripped him of all his decorations, titles and offices, and placing him under house arrest. In his last will and testament, dictated the day before his suicide, Hitler stripped Goring of his party membership.
Following Germany’s final defeat and surrender, Goring surrendered to the Americans. Goring was tried at the post-war Nuremberg trials charged with various accounts, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Picture: Goring is on the front row, far left. Seated next to him is Rudolph Hess. Click to enlarge).
After a trial lasting 218 days, during which he was finally cured of his morphine addiction, Goring was found guilty. The judgement described his guilt as ‘unique in its enormity’. He was sentenced to hang. Goring’s plea for death by firing squad, a ‘soldier’s death’, was refused and two hours before his execution he took his own life using poison that had either been smuggled into him or hidden all the while in a container of pomade. He was 53.
Gathered together in one collection, 60 of Rupert Colley’s history articles, The Savage Years: Tales From the 20th Century. Also available in paperback and ebook formats.