The Good Goering

Anyone who has siblings, knows that it can be difficult. You love them, you hate them, you want to impress them and you want them to feel the same towards you. Not long ago I learned of two siblings during World War II, that were as different as night and day, and how the younger one used his brothers’ connections and his desire to impress his younger brother to save lives. These brothers were Hermann and Albert Goering.

Night and Day

Born two years apart to aristocratic parents Heinrich and Fanny Goering, the boys were raised in the wealth and splendor of aristocratic Germany. Their father was often away from the family. He served as a diplomatic consul to various countries including Namibia and Haiti. While he was away, Fanny had the company of Dr. Hermann von Epstein, with whom she was in love with and rumored to have been having an affair with. Von Epstein was at Fanny’s side when both Hermann (his namesake) and Albert were born. He became godfather to both boys and the Goering family lived in von Epstein’s castles in southern Germany.

Burg Veldenstein, one of von Epstein’s castles where the Goering’s lived.

Von Epstein always took the choicest rooms in his castles, which also happened to be the closest rooms to those of Fanny. This fueled rumors that the two were having an affair. It has also been rumored that Albert was the product of that affair (Albert told his daughter, Elizabeth, that he was von Epstein’s son). The rumors grew as Albert grew and began to resemble his half-Jewish godfather, von Epstein. Where Herman had his mothers’ blue eyes and Aryan features, Albert had von Epstein’s dark eyes and facial features.

Hermann was a wild child, with the nature of a warrior. He was expelled from several boarding schools, until in the last one he cut the strings to every violin and cello and fled. This earned him a trip to military school where he was able to flourish. He became an ace pilot in WWI and leader of the Wehrmacht in WWII, an early supporter of Adolph Hitler (he joined the Nazi party in 1921), one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials and the first Nazi to order the extermination of Europe’s Jewish population.

Albert was studious, he would rather read and stay indoors, than go outside and hunt with his brother. He served as a communications engineer during WWI, but it was clear that war was not for Albert. In 1919 he enrolled at the Technical University of Munich, where Heinrich Himmler was also a student. Albert did not share Himmler’s interest in the growing student nationalist movement, but he watched them closely, studied them, something that would pay off in the future.

As they grew, Hermann and Albert grew more different in their ideologies. Albert, never an ardent political student had a strong moral compass for right and wrong, while Hermann grew into a fervent follower of Adolph Hitler and his nationalist policies, chief amongst them his hatred for dissidents and Jews. Even though the brothers were close and enjoyed each other’s company, politics was the one topic that they could not discuss.

Hermann and Albert Goering

Brother versus Brother

When the Anschluss of Austria happened in 1938 the two brothers met at Albert’s lodge just outside of Vienna in the town of Grinzing. Hermann was riding high on the excitement of the Anschluss, he had been greeted in Austria as hero, with crowds, antisemitic speeches, and Nazi flags flying overhead. Albert was utterly exhausted. His work had started even before the Anschluss, from the moment the first Nazi flag began to fly in Austria, he had been working tirelessly to arrange exit visas and money for his Jewish friends. It is rumored that when Albert saw a group of Jewish women forced to scrub the cobblestone street on their knees, he joined them and helped them.

While Hermann was riding on his high, he felt benevolent and granted each family member a “wish”. Albert and their sister Olga, asked Hermann to help Archduke Josef Ferdinand of Austria, the last Habsburg Prince of Tuscany. Hermann scoffed at his siblings and felt embarrassment by the request, however, in his need to impress his siblings, the next day the Archduke was freed from Dachau. This is an act that would play out throughout the war. Albert would need a visa so someone could escape his brother’s regime, Hermann would sign the visa request telling Albert this was the last time, but before long Albert would appear with another request which Hermann would sign.

While Hermann found a calling in Nazism, he followed the ideologies of the Nazi regime and helped plan the extermination of Jews and other dissidents, Albert abhorred them. Albert hated everything the Nazi party stood for, he hated their racial doctrine, mass killing and ideals. But, having a brother, whom he was close to, would save lives.

Albert, the Good Goering

When the allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany, they gathered up and arrested all the Nazi leaders and SS that they could locate, and they arrested Albert Goering. The couldn’t fathom that anyone with the last name of Goering could be a decent fellow. Albert’s interrogators thought of him as just another “clever piece of rationalization and white trash”. When Albert was arrested he presented them with a list of 34 names, people he had saved from extermination and persecution.

Page one of Albert’s list.

Allied investigators and interrogators were highly skeptical of Albert’s list. He had already claimed that he was able to help the people because he had been under the protection of his brother, Hermann Goering, and due to this protection did not fear the SS or Gestapo. Two very, almost unbelievable, twists of fate helped Albert’s case. First, Kurt Pilzer, wrote to the Nuremberg prosecutors, telling them how Albert had helped him and his family (including brother Oskar Pilzer) escape to the United States and pleaded Alberts case. The Pilzer’s were number 24 on Albert’s list. The second twist came when a new American interrogator arrived at Nuremberg, Victor Parker. Parker, whose real name was Pachkis, was a Jewish refugee himself. His aunt, Sophie Pachkis, was married to Franz Lehar, a composer who had written the Merry Widow and was admired by Hitler. Lehar was a Catholic and Sophie had converted from Judaism to Catholicism. However, they were going to be sent to a concentration camp when Albert intervened and was able to obtain honorary Aryan status for Sophie, allowing them to escape any deportation or arrest of Sophie. They were number 15 on Albert’s list.

Anyone with association to a Jew, could have their work and homes taken away. Such as in the case of Franz Lehar above, even though his wife had converted. Actress Henny Porten was blacklisted from acting during the war because she was married to a Jewish man. Albert helped and was able to obtain a work contract for Henny.

Albert faced more problems after the allied interrogators. Authorities in Prague wanted him on charges of collaborating with the Nazi’s. Fortunately for Albert, member of the Czech resistance came forward and told the authorities how it was actually Albert who helped them in their fight against the Nazi’s by passing vital information to the resistance.

Albert remained unknown after the war. Everything he had done seemed lost to the ages. He died in obscurity in 1966. But now, people are working to uncover all the work that Albert did during the war. His list is currently in the U.S. National Archives. Historians and researchers are working to find first hand accounts of those he saved during the war and are also helping to open a case to have him included at Yad Vashem, and recognized as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations’. It is clear that Albert didn’t do his amazing acts of heroism for himself, he did them because it was the right thing to do, his moral compass always guiding his path.

Albert used his brothers need to show off and impress his younger sibling to his advantage and save lives. For two brothers who were raised together, enjoyed each other’s company and were on completely different ends of the political spectrum we can see that hate is not born into us, it is something we choose. Hermann chose hate and Albert chose love and compassion. We should all have a moral compass as strong as Albert Goering, to face hate with love.

I hope that you enjoyed learning about Albert Goering. If you did please follow my blog for weekly stories on the Holocaust and World War II. Click on the “follow via email” link on the left. See you next week!

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