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Hermann Goering: Things You Didn't Know About One Of History's Biggest Monsters

World War II | October 15, 2020

Hitler with Göring on balcony of the Chancellery, Berlin, March 16, 1938. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2004-1202-504/CC-BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

As a leader of the Nazi Party, Hermann Goering was one of history's biggest monsters. Aside from serving as commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, he was in charge of Germany's economy throughout World War II, and along with the plundering of Jewish architecture and property, it made him one of the wealthiest—and most abhorrent—men in Germany.

Goering Idolized His Jewish Godfather

Born on January 12, 1893, in Rosenheim, Bavaria, Goering spent his early life on the brink of poverty as the fourth of five children born to a lifelong military man who served as the consul general in Haiti. As esteemed as that sounds, the family struggled until Hermann Epenstein, Goering's godfather, stepped in to provide the family with two homes, one in Berlin and the other near Nuremberg. Goering didn't let Epstein's Jewish heritage stop him from idealizing his godfather. After all, Epstein had long cast aside the Jewish faith in favor of Catholicism, and his success (especially in comparison to Goering's "weak-willed" father) made up for it in Goering's eyes.

Goering in 1907. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R25668/CC-BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Military Minded

Goering was obsessed with the military from a young age and never far from his father's military uniform or his toy soldiers. When he was 16, he was sent to a military academy, where he excelled in his studies before joining the Price Wilhelm Regiment in 1912. During World War I, Goering served in the infantry briefly before he was hospitalized with rheumatism.

While in the hospital, his friend, Bruno Loerzer, suggested that he transfer to the air combat forces of the German military. His transfer was denied, so he just transferred himself and started riding along on Loerzer's missions. Goering was sentenced to three weeks' confinement to the barracks for breaking protocol, but he never served his time. Instead, he started flying reconnaissance and bombing missions. Throughout the final years of World War I, Goering rose through the ranks of the German Air Force until he was eventually promoted to commander of the "Flying Circus," Jagdgeschwader 1, in 1918.

Carin (right) and her youngest sister, Lily. (Ralph Herrmanns, Carl Gustaf von Rosen/Wikimedia Commons)

Mrs. Goeing

When World War I ended, Goering was furious at the civilian leadership of Germany, whom he believed had turned their backs on Germany's military. He left the service and started working as a pilot for Svensk Lufttrafik, a Swedish airline, while taking a lot of private gigs on the side. One such job was for Count Eric von Rosen, a jack of all trades from the Swedish upper class who invited Goering to stay at his castle during a bout of particularly bad weather.

At Rockelstad Castle in Sörmland, Sweden, Goering met the sister of Von Rosen's wife, Carin von Kantzow, and immediately fell head over heels. At the time, she was married to a Swedish officer, but after much wooing, she obtained a divorce and married Goering on February 3, 1922.

Goering (left) stands in front of Hitler at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg, circa 1928. (National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)

Shortly after marrying Von Kantzow, Goering attended a speech by Hitler and was immediately into his whole vibe. Goering often hosted meetings by Nazi leadership at his home, where he entertained the likes of Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg, and Ernst Röhm.

This early connection with the Nazis made Goering a public enemy during the 1920s, and following the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed coup by the Nazis, he was smuggled into Innsbruck Austria where he was treated with morphine. This began his lifelong addiction to the painkiller. After Goering was well enough to leave the hospital he and his wife traveled across Europe, doing their best to avoid arrest in Germany.

Goering's morphine addiction was so bad that in 1925 he was placed in Långbro asylum in 1925 due to his violent outbursts. He was released after he was weaned off the drug and returned to Germany in 1927 following the announcement of amnesty for members of the Nazi party.

Hitler, Martin Bormann, Göring, and Baldur von Schirach in Obersalzberg, 1936. (Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051620-0043/CC-BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Rising Through The Ranks

After Goering's wife passed away of heart failure in 1931, Goering focused on rebuilding the Nazi Party. Following the 1932 election, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag, the home to the parliament of the German Empire, and chose Goering as their president. He held the position until the end of World War II.

Throughout the 1930s, the Nazi Party continued to stack up Ws, but even so, they were all paranoid about someone in their organization planning a coup. When it became apparent that members of the Sturmabteilung were prepping to take over the party, Hitler ordered their leaders arrested, and Goering decided which of them were to be shot.

Once it was clear that Hitler and Goering weren't going to be taken out easily, they mowed down anyone who opposed them. They pushed German leaders out of their positions of power through blackmail and took over Austria to gain control of its rich iron ore deposits. Goering's success within the party allowed him to establish the Gestapo and create concentration camps to dish out "corrective treatment" as he saw fit. With all of this political success came a ridiculous number of offices of state, including Master of the German Hunt, Reich Commissioner for Aviation, and head of the newly developed Luftwaffe.

Hermann Goering after his capture, May 1945. (United States Army Air Forces/Wikimedia Commons)

Lover Of Animals, Hated By People

Although Goering seemed to have no compunction about the torture and murder of humans, he condemned the "unbearable torture and suffering in animal experiments" in 1933. He threatened anyone who mistreated animals with a trip to a concentration camp.

Goering's love of animals didn't translate to people. He was so off-putting that even hardened criminals wanted to knock his block off. When gangster Bugsy Siegel met him after a botched deal to sell atomite (like dynamite but allegedly more powerful) to Mussolini, the gangster was so grossed out by Goering that he later said that he wished he killed him on the spot.

Goering with Hitler and Albert Speer, August 10, 1943. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1977-149-13/Heinrich Hoffmann/CC-BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

From BFFs To Frenemies

There's nothing like a world war to split up a couple of pals. As the Nazis found success in the early days of the war, Goering was lauded by Hitler and his subordinates. Hitler even named Goering his successor as Führer of all of Germany before the invasion of Poland in 1939—you know, just in case anything happened—even though Goering had advised him against the invasion. By 1944, however, he became the scapegoat for everything that went wrong with the German military. After the Luftwaffe failed to stop Allied bombers from entering German airspace, Hitler distanced himself from his number one, leading Goering to grow insecure about himself and his abilities as a military leader.

Carinhall, the country residence of Hermann Goering. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1979-175-10/CC-BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Criminally Fancy

While most of the Nazi Party was fighting on the front or living in relatively normal homes, Goering enjoyed the spoils of war. Throughout his time as Hitler's number one, he acquired an extraordinary collection of jewelry, artwork, and furniture, all of it stolen from the Jewish people and whatever homes he helped ransack. His many homes and cottages were stolen, and whatever art or architecture that he didn't want for himself was sold to friends or members of Axis governments who wanted in on the action.

Years after Goering's death, his daughter, Edda, attempted to recover her father's "property" from the German government with little success. In 2015, she petitioned the government to return parts of her father's art collection, but the appeal was denied. 

Goring in captivity in May 1945. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

The Telegram Heard 'Round The World

As the Allied Forces closed in on Germany in 1945, it was clear to everyone, including Hitler, that things were coming to an end. After fleeing from his hunting lodge, Goering worried that he would be branded a traitor if he took power from Hitler and attempted a peaceful end to the war. All of the Nazi higher-ups knew that Hitler planned to die by suicide, but Goering knew that whatever moves he made would be interpreted poorly.

Rather than just make a big move to grab power, Goering wrote a telegram to Hitler, asking if he could take over Germany with Hitler still acting as the main man. Hitler took this as proof that Goering was planning a coup and immediately rescinded his order from the beginning of the war naming Goering as his successor. Goering was ousted from the Nazi Party, and the German military was ordered to execute him if Berlin fell. Rather than risk execution at the hands of his own people, Goering turned himself in to members the 36th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.

Goering at the Nuremberg Trials. (Raymond D'Addario/Wikimedia Commons)

In 1946, Goering was tried at Nuremberg on charges of conspiracy, waging a war of aggression, crimes against humanity, and various war crimes, including the plundering and removal to Germany of works of art and other property. Even though he was being held accountable for the deaths of 5,700,000 Jews, Goering considered himself "in the sense of the indictment, not guilty." He claimed that he was a loyal servant to Hitler but had no idea what was happening in the camps. When shown films of concentration camps—the same ones that he threatened people with if they harmed animals—he said that the footage was fake.

After he was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death, he requested death by firing squad rather than hanging, but the court refused. Rather than see his day on the gallows, Goering died of suicide via potassium cyanide capsule on October 15, 1946, the night before his hanging.

Tags: Nazis | war crimes | world war II

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.