Göring is a name synonymous with evil.
Hermann Göring was Hitler’s right hand man – one of the masterminds behind the establishment of the Gestapo, concentration camps and the Battle of Britain. He was the most high profile Nazi to have been tried at Nuremberg, but escaped the hangman’s noose by committing suicide hours before his sentance.
Much is known about Hermann Göring’s heinous crimes against humanity and hand in Genocide. But what about his younger brother, Albert?
Albert, the largely forgotten brother of one of the most powerful Nazis, is an enigma. When captured by the allies and questioned alongside Hermann at Nuremberg, Albert stubbornly denied any activities of Nazism, insisting he had actually saved thousands of Jews… and most staggering of all, claimed that Hermann was aware of his anti – Nazi activities, and at times, even aided him. The jury were in disbelief. How could Hitler’s right hand man have a brother who helped save Jews? And perhaps more importantly – could it be true that Hermann knew about this?
There are many famous accounts of bravery from those who defied Nazism, and helped save Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime. Some have had their stories told, and others have not. The most famous of these heroic figures is Oskar Shindler, who saved the lives of over a thousand Jews by employing them in his factories. Schindler’s acts have been immortalised with books and films, ensuring he will never be erased from history. Albert’s actions however, have not been treated with the same recognition – but his story is no less incredible.
So who exactly was Albert, the ‘Good Goring’ as he has now been coined?
Albert, Hermann and their three siblings were brought up by their wealthy Jewish godfather, just outside Berlin. Early on, their differences were apparent; as a child Hermann was athletic, loud, physically imposing and developed a keen interest in military affairs, whilst Albert was introverted and interested in the arts. Despite this, the brothers were close.
Their paths continued to diverge as they grew older. Hermann enthusiastically embraced Nazism, and quickly rose in ranks within the party. He was one of the earliest party members; inspired after hearing a speech from Hitler he participated in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, created the Gestapo in 1933, and in 1934 was given command of the German Air Force. By 1939 he had been named Hitler’s successor. Albert on the other hand rejected Nazism vehemently. He fundamentally disagreed with their ideology of racial superiority, and their persecution of anyone they deemed inferior. In order to avoid joining the party, Albert moved to cosmopolitan, bohemian Vienna.
Whilst in Vienna, Albert pursued a career as a filmmaker. He enjoyed the Viennese culture – foods, wine and multiculturalism, and surrounded himself with a wide circle of Jewish friends. Albert never made his views on Nazim or his brother a secret at this time; a close friend, Albert Benbassat reported him saying: ‘oh, I have a brother in Germany who is getting involved with that bastard Hitler.’ Albert’s comfortable life in Vienna was soon brought to an abrupt halt in 1938, with the German annexation of Austria. During the German occupation, Albert had to witness the persecution of many of his Jewish friends…under the orders of his brother. It was here when Albert started to use his powerful status as a Goring to defy the Nazis.
One particularly poignant episode in Vienna occured after Nazi officials ordered several eldely Jewish women to scrub the street outside. While they complied, Albert joined them, and began scrubbing on hands and knees in solidarity. The Nazi officias immediately demanded to see his papers. Upon seeing the name Göring, the officials reacted with such fear that they instructed the entire group to stop immediately. Allowing the Hermann Göring’s brother to be publicly humiliated was a dangerous game to play. The name carried weight, and Albert repeatedly used this to help as many as he could.
As soon as the first Nazis arrived in Austria, Albert began organising funds and exit routes for his friends. When his former boss, Oskar Pilzer was arrested, Albert immediately wrote to his brother Hermann, demanding his freedom. Sure enough, Oskar was released and Albert organised his family’s emigration to America. This same pattern happened with many other Jewish friends; Albert repeatedly forged Hermann’s signature, procured travel documents, petitioned his brother directly for their freedom, and then smuggled them out of the country.
One bizarre recipient of Albert’s heroism was none other than the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand of the Royal Habsburg dynasty. After the invasion of Austria, Hermann was so elated that he granted his brother one wish. Albert immediately asked for the release of the Archduke, who was being held at Dachau. Hermann complied, and the Archduke was released.
In the early 1940s Albert was made director of an arms factory in Czechoslovakia; but this did not stop him continuing to help victims of the Nazi regime. In fact quite the opposite. Whilst in Czechoslovakia Albert was in contact with the Czech resistance; here, he reportedly encouraged sabotage of Nazi operations, repeatedly refused to ‘heil Hitler’ high ranking Nazi offficials, and continued to risk his life to protect others. Perhaps the most daring of Albert’s rescue attempts involved him driving to concentration camps, requesting labourers (after flashing the influential Göring name yet again), and then releasing the prisoners in the forest for them to escape.
How did Albert get away with such brazen anti Nazi activities? Many were killed for far less. The answer lies in Hermann.
Hermann obviously was the key to securing many of Albert’s friends’ release. When Albert had exhausted all other options of saving his Jewish friends, he would turn to his older brother, who consistently risked his career by helping Albert. Why did he take such a risk? This guy was one of the most powerful members of the Nazi party remember, directly responsible for organising the Night of the Long Knives and countless other atrocities.
He obviously loved his brother, despite their polar opposite ideologies, which probably partially explains his help. But Albert was smart. He knew his brother loved to show off his power, and he used that arrogance to his full advantage. A member of the American prosecution team at Nuremberg reported:
“Albert would go to his brother Hermann and say, ‘Hermann you’re so big and so powerful, and here’s a good Jew and doesn’t belong in a concentration camp’. ‘Can’t you just sign a paper?’ And Hermann would say, ‘This is absolutely the last time I’m going to do this, don’t come back’. A month later, Albert would be back. We found a hundred people on Albert’s list that were freed. All because Goering had such a need to show off to his younger brother.”
Another reason that Albert got away with so much, was because Hermann repeatedly protected him from conviction. It was common knowledge that the second in command’s brother was a major disruption to the Nazi regime. Albert was constantly under surveillance and received a total of four arrest warrants, culminating in 1944 with a death warrant for his anti Nazi activities. Each and every time, Hermann bailed him out, despite the potentially catastrophic political implications for him. Albert attested to the dangerous position Hermann put himself in by helping his brother on one occasion:
“My brother told me then that it was the last time that he could help me, that his position [had] also been shaken, and that he had to ask Himmler personally to smooth over the entire matter.”
Clearly, Hermann was coming under pressure for his frequent protection of his younger brother, and had to rope in another powerful Nazi to help Albert; the notorious Himmler, the principal artichect of the Holocaust.
The jury at Nuremberg were in total disbelief when Albert recounted this tale at his defence. It made no sense; his surname was Göring. Look who his brother was! Albert’s sole piece of evidence to support his claims was a bit of paper, on which he had made a list of all the people he had saved. This list caused even more derision, as the former Chancellor of Austria and Archduke Joseph Ferdinand both made appearances. But it was this list that saved Albert’s life. Just when his case looked completely hopeless, a Jewish interrogator arrived from America to convict Albert. After consulting the list, he recognised a name; that of his Aunt. His Aunt verified the impossible story; Hermann Goring’s brother had indeed saved her family’s life. Albert walked free. And when tried in Prague a few years later due to his name, he was again acquitted, after the testimonials of several Czech Jews that he had saved their lives, too.
Albert had a sad remainder of his life. Burdened by the name that had come in so handy earlier, he struggled to find work in post – war Germany. A series of failed marriages amounted to nothing, and he sank into depression and alcoholism. Albert died in 1966, without any recognition of his bravery and heroic acts.
One last twist to this story – Albert revealed a secret to his second wife, that may have gotten himself killed and Hermann shunned by the party. Remember the wealthy Jewish godfather who raised him and his siblings? Albert alleged that he was his real father. Had that been the case, that would make Hermann’s half brother half Jewish. At a time when any familial connections to Jews was a death sentence, it is no wonder that Albert kept that piece of information deeply confidential.
In Hermann’s own words, Albert “was always the antithesis of myself.” The two brothers chose wildly different paths; one of abject evil, the other heroic bravery. Much is known about Hermann; but not many have ever heard of the extraordinary story of the younger Göring, who hated Nazism. A series of books and documentaries have been released about Albert in the last decade – so hopefully he too will join the ranks of Oskar Shindler, and reclaim his well deserved place in history as a fellow anti Nazi hero.
** Great half an hour podcast here on Albert’s story, if you’re heading out for a walk anytime soon**