Hermann Göring

Background

Following the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles penalises the defeated Germany, annexing land, imposing large war reparations, limiting the size of the German Army and blaming Germany and Austria-Hungary for starting the conflict. The new German Government, a coalition of left-leaning and centrist parties, attempts to rebuild the country but faces opposition from the right and extreme left. The instability is exacerbated by the failure of the domestic and global economies.

Adolf Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) Party exploits the situation, advocating national pride, blaming the Treaty of Versailles, the left, and Jews for the political turmoil and claiming to have a solution to the economic crisis. The Nazis reach a position from which they can seize power on 30 January 1933 when Hitler is appointed chancellor. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 12 January 1893 in Rosenheim in Upper Bavaria, Germany. His family is influential and wealthy, with aristocratic pretensions. Göring is the fourth of five children.

In 1904 he is sent to a boarding school at Ansbach, Franconia. From here he begins training for a career in the military, attending cadet school at Karlsruhe and military college at Berlin-Lichterfelde.

1914 - After completing his military training Göring receives his commission as an infantry lieutenant in the Prinz Wilhelm Regiment. He serves with the infantry when the First World War begins but soon becomes involved in Germany's embryonic air force, training to become a combat pilot.

In October 1915 he is transferred to a fighter squadron. He serves with distinction, making 22 "kills", and eventually rising to assume command of the 'Flying Circus' squadron headed by Baron von Richthofen, the famous 'Red Baron', when von Richthofen dies in 1918.

By the end of war Göring has been awarded the Pour le Merite and the Iron Cross, First Class. He is considered to be a genuine war hero.

1918 - Following the war Göring leaves Germany, working as a commercial pilot in Denmark and Sweden, where he meets his future wife, the Swedish Baroness Carin von Kantzow (nee von Fock). The couple will marry on 3 February 1923 following von Kantzow's divorce from her husband.

1921 - He meets Hitler. Göring joins the Nazi Party in 1922 and is given command of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the 'Brownshirts', Hitler's storm troopers.

1923 - On 8 November he participates in an abortive attempt by Hitler and 600 armed members of the SA to seize power in Munich. Göring is badly wounded in the groin and hip and wanted by the police. The Nazi Party is outlawed. Hitler is arrested, tried for treason and sentenced to five years in prison.

Göring and his wife escape to Austria, Italy and then Sweden. He becomes addicted to the morphine he takes to ease the pain from his wounds and in 1925-26 is treated twice at the Långbro mental hospital in Sweden.

1927 - A political amnesty allows him to return to Germany and the Nazi Party. He becomes Hitler's deputy, taking one of the 12 Reichstag (parliament) seats the party wins in the 1928 elections and becoming the party leader in the lower house.

1931 - Göring's first wife Carin dies of tuberculosis on 17 October. He will remarry in April 1935, to the actress Emmy Sonnemann. The couple will have a daughter, Edda.

1932 - The Nazis win 230 seats in the elections held in July. Göring is elected president of the Reichstag on 31 July.

1933 - The Nazis reach a position from which they can seize power on 30 January when Hitler is appointed chancellor. Göring begins to set the ground for Hitler's complete assumption of dictatorial control. Following the Reichstag fire on 27 February he introduces a series of decrees suspending basic civil rights.

Germany's last election until after the Second World War is held on 5 March. Though the Nazis win only 44% of the vote Hitler persuades the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Law, allowing him to govern independently for four years.

Hitler is now the Führer, the dictator of the fascist Third Reich, an empire where the individual belongs to the state, and where the state is fully controlled by the Nazis.

All Nazis in prison are issued with full pardons; critics of the government and the Nazi Party are subject to arrest; special courts are established for the trial of political detainees. Regional governments are dissolved and then reconstituted with governors handpicked by Hitler. Leftist political parties are banned; Germany is declared a one-party state; Jews and leftists are purged from the bureaucracy; trade unions are dissolved and replaced with Nazi organisations; and the country withdraws from the League of Nations.

A program of public works, rearmament and forced labour helps bring the economy under control. Inflation comes down, the currency is stabilised and full employment achieved.

Göring is made Prussian minister of the interior, Prussian minister president, Prussian prime minister, commander-in-chief of the Prussian police and commissioner for aviation. He purges the Prussian police force, replacing thousands with recruits from the SA and Schutz-Staffel (SS), the 'Blackshirts', Hitler's personal guard. He establishes and leads the Gestapo, or secret state police, in April and, together with SS chief Heinrich Himmler, sets up concentration camps for the interment of opponents.

1934 - Rivalry with the SA is eliminated on the night of 30 June 1934, when Göring directs the 'Night of the Long Knives' massacre of SA leaders.

1935 - He is appointed commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, or German air force, on 1 March and is promoted to Reichsmarschall.

Meanwhile, the 'Nuremberg Laws' introduced on 15 September strip Jews of the right to citizenship and restrict their relations with Gentiles.

1936 - His position as chief of the Prussian secret state police is transferred to Himmler, removing Göring of responsibility for the Gestapo and the concentration camps. In the same year Hitler confirms his intention to take Germany into war, telling his cohorts that the country must be ready to fight by 1940. Göring is placed in charge of a four-year plan to put Germany onto a war footing and given the power to bend the German economy towards that end.

Both the Luftwaffe and the army soon get an opportunity for battle experience when Germany enters the Spanish Civil War in support of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

1937 - Göring is made minister for economic affairs and given responsibility for the German rearmament program. He uses his positions to enrich himself, plundering the assets of dispossessed Jews and the state-owned Hermann Göring Works, a gigantic industrial complex employing 700,000 workers and with a capital base of 400 million marks.

Göring indulges his taste for luxury and pomp at his palace in Berlin and hunting estate at Karinhall, north of the capital. By 1945 he has collected 1,375 paintings, 250 sculptures and 168 tapestries.

1938 - Support for Hitler is further buoyed by his policy of foreign expansion. Austria is annexed on 13 March. The Sudetenland, the German-speaking area in the north of Czechoslovakia, is ceded to Germany on 29 September under the terms of the 'Munich Agreement' between Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Göring is placed in charge of the "Jewish question."

Following the Nazi-orchestrated Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) pogrom of Jews on 9-10 November Göring fines the Jews one billion marks for damages and orders their elimination from the German economy, the "Aryanisation" of their property and businesses, and their exclusion from public places. On 12 November he warns of a "final reckoning with the Jews" if Germany comes into conflict with a foreign power.

1939 - Bohemia and Moravia are occupied by Germany in March, while Slovakia is made a puppet state. Göring is appointed Reich Council chairman for national defence on 30 August. On 1 September, as German troops invade Poland, he is officially designated as Hitler's successor. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later. The Second World War has begun.

Poland is overrun within a month. Denmark and Norway fall in April 1940. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France are invaded the following month. By the middle of June 1940 France has surrendered.

Göring's Luftwaffe is a key weapon in the German offensive, launching preemptive 'blitzkrieg' (lightning war) attacks that terrorise populations and allow the German groundforces to sweep across Europe with little resistance. As head of the four-year plan, Göring directs the forced labour program to exploit the workforces of the occupied territories.

Meanwhile in Germany, the physically handicapped, mentally ill, and others with so-called "worthless lives" are rounded up and sent to designated hospitals, where they are killed. Referred to by the Nazis as mercy killing and planned by Hitler's office and the Reich Interior Ministry, the "euthanasia" program will claim up to 275,000 lives.

1940 - Hitler gives Göring the special rank of Reichsmarschall des Grossdeutschen Reiches (Marshal of the Empire) on 19 June. As the battlefront extends, cracks begin to appear in the Göring's direction of the Luftwaffe. A tactical error results in the loss of the 'Battle of Britain'. Beginning from 10 July, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) desperately combats wave after wave of aerial attacks and bombing raids by the Luftwaffe while launching counteroffensive bombing missions into Germany.

Though outnumbered by four to one the RAF is able to inflict enough damage to the German forces to cause Hitler to suspend 'Operation Sealion', the proposed invasion of Britain by sea. By the end of September the 'Battle of Britain' is effectively over. Germany has suffered its first major defeat of the war.

Pleading ill health Göring retires to his estate. He is addicted to paracodeine and requires ongoing treatment.

1941 - Germany invades the Soviet Union on 22 June.

On 31 July Göring orders the SS to begin preparations for a "total solution (Gesamtlösung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation."

He further orders that a "a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution (Endlösung) of the Jewish question" be submitted to him as soon as possible.

The United States enters the war when the Japanese air force bombs the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on 7 December. Germany and Italy declare war on the US on 11 December.

1942 - On 20 January the Nazis complete the planning for the 'Endlösung' (Final Solution), the extermination of the Jews, Gipsies, Slavs, homosexuals, communists, and other "undesirables" and "decadents" in death camps run by the SS and controlled by the Gestapo. About six million European Jews die in the following 'Holocaust'. Most (about 4.5 million) of those killed come from Poland and the Soviet Union. About 125,000 are German Jews.

The Holocaust also claims about 500,000 Gipsies, between 10,000 and 25,000 homosexuals, 2,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, up to 3.5 million non-Jewish Poles, between 3.5 million and six million other Slavic civilians, as many as four million Soviet prisoners of war, and up to 1.5 million political dissidents.

By the end of the year knowledge of the Final Solution becomes an open secret among the general community.

1943 - The Luftwaffe fails on the Russian front. The war turns against Germany in the winter of 1942-43 when the Sixth Army is defeated at Stalingrad (now Volgograd). By the end of 1943, the Soviets have broken through the German siege of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and recaptured much of the Ukrainian Republic.

The German offensive in North Africa is stopped at the beginning of November 1942, leaving the Allies free to land in Sicily and Italy.

To the west, the US and British navies gain control of the Atlantic shipping lanes, clearing the way for the 'D-Day' landings on the Normandy beaches in France on 6 June 1944 and the invasion of Germany six months later. Soviet troops, meanwhile, advance from the east.

In the skies over Germany the Allied air forces intensify their bombing raids. The strategy of indiscriminate area bombing will kill an estimated 600,000 civilians, including about 75,000 children.

The Nazis call for "total war" against the Allies.

1945 - 'Operation North Wind', an attempt by the Germans to prolong their offensive at Ardennes in the north of France, is launched on 1 January. Göring's decision to commit about 1,000 aircraft to the offensive leads to the near-total destruction of the Luftwaffe and gives the Allies complete supremacy in the air.

By March, as the Western forces reach the Rhine River, Soviet armies have overrun most of Eastern Europe and are converging on Berlin. The Soviets march under the slogan, "There will be no pity. They have sown the wind and now they are harvesting the whirlwind."

By April an Allied victory in Europe is certain. Göring destroys his house at Karinhall, north of Berlin, then moves to Bavaria.

On 23 April he attempts to assume the Führer's powers, sending Hitler a message asking that, "In view of your decision to remain at your post in the fortress Berlin, do you agree that I take over, at once, the total leadership of the Reich, with full freedom of action at home and abroad, as your deputy, in accordance with your decree of 29 June 1941?"

"If no reply is received by 10 o'clock tonight," the message continues, "I shall take it for granted that you have lost your freedom of action, and shall consider the conditions of your decree as fulfilled, and shall act for the best interests of our country and our people."

A furious Hitler responds by forcing Göring to resign from all his posts, supposedly on health grounds.

Hitler commits suicide in his Berlin bunker on 30 April as Soviet troops storm the capital. On 7 May Germany surrenders unconditionally. Göring surrenders to the American Seventh Army on 9 May.

The Second World War officially ends on 2 September when Japan formally signs documents of unconditional surrender.

Over 46 million Europeans have died as a result of the war. Worldwide, over 60 million have died.

Beginning in November 1945, 22 surviving Nazi leaders considered responsible for the crimes committed by Germany during the war are tried before an international military tribunal sitting in Nuremberg. Göring is the most prominent of the accused, who also include Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, and Albert Speer.

1946 - Göring finally cures himself of his drug addiction while waiting to stand trial at Nuremberg. He defends himself, denying any complicity in the "final solution", which he claims was the secret work of Himmler. He is found guilty on all four counts (conspiracy to wage war, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity) and condemned to hang but suicides by swallowing a cyanide capsule on the night of 15 October, just hours before he is to be executed.

Of the remaining 21 leaders brought before the tribunal, 11 are sentenced to death, seven receive prison sentences, and three are acquitted.

Following the high-profile Nuremberg trials, lower-ranking Nazi war criminals are also brought to justice.

Göring's body is cremated. His ashes are poured into a ditch in the Bavarian countryside.

Postscript

2005 - On 10 May a national memorial to the Holocaust is opened in Berlin. The 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe' is located near the Brandenburg Gate in the centre of the city. It includes a museum with exhibits on the Nazi's campaign to wipe out European Jews.

Comment

Weak, vain, egotistical, opportunistic, selfish, insensitive, brutish, cunning - a selection only of the type of epitaphs that fit Göring. One is left with an impression of a backslapping, shiny-faced bully who could charm you one minute and then have you shot the next, and think it was all a great joke. Totally corrupt, totally morally bankrupt.