|Göring in the witness box at the |
International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
During World War I he flew in the Luftwaffe together with Manfred von Richthofen, the famous "Red Baron". He was the last commander of the Richthofen Fighter Squadron and finished the war as an 'ace', with twenty-two confirmed kills and the medals Pour le Mérite and the Iron Cross.
As early as 1922, Göring joined the NSDAP and initially took over the SA leadership. Having been a member of the Reichstag since 1928, he was its president in 1932/33 and one of the key figures in the process of Gleichschaltung that established the Nazi dictatorship. In its 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 others, he was appointed Reichsluftfahrtminister in 1935, head of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force); in a decree on June 29, 1941, Hitler even appointed Göring his formal successor.
After World War II started, Göring was the driving force behind the failed attempt to force Britain's surrender (or at least acquiescence) by the air battle known as the Battle of Britain. After that campaign he lost much of his influence in the Nazi hierarchy, exacerbated by the Luftwaffe's failings in Russia and against the Allied bomber raids.
Göring was also placed in charge of bringing into use the vast industrial resources captured during the war, particularly in the USSR. This proved to be an almost total disaster and little of the potential available was effectively harnessed for the service of the German military machine.
In his political testament just before his own suicide, Hitler expelled Göring and Heinrich Himmler from the party and from all offices of State for disloyalty to him and negotiations with the enemy without his knowledge and against his wishes, and for illegally attempting to seize power in the State for themselves. This referred to a telegram which Göring sent from Berchtesgaden to Hitler in Berlin on April 23, 1945, in which he offered to take command of the Reich as Hitler's designated successor. Hitler accused Göring of high treason, stripped him of all his offices, and had him placed under arrest by the SS on April 25.
Göring was captured by American troops on May /9, 1945 in Austria and taken before the Nuremberg Trials for war crimes. Though he defended himself vigorously, he was sentenced to death; the judgement stated that "his guilt is unique in its enormity". He managed to commit suicide with a smuggled cyanide capsule the night before he was supposed to be hanged. He was cremated and his ashes were thrown in the Isar river.
The following quote is held to be oft-stated by Göring: "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning (a gun)". Whether he used this phrase often or not, he did not originate it. The quote comes from German playwright Hans Johst's play Schlageter, "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning," "Whenever I hear the word culture... I release the safety-catch of my Browning!" (Act 1, Scene 1)
Another famous quote, said by Göring during his trial in Nuremberg, follows:
- ''Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? 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.
Willi Frischauer, The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering (Ballantine Books 1951)