Goering, Hermann (1893–1946)

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GOERING, HERMANN (1893–1946)


One of the most important leaders of Nazi Germany.

Hermann Goering was born in Rosenheim, Bavaria, into a well-connected, Protestant, upper-middle-class family. His father, a lawyer and diplomat, served in the Reich Consular Service and was the first resident minister plenipotentiary in German Southwest Africa. After graduating with distinction from military cadet college in Berlin, Goering fought in the First World War, first in the German army as an infantry lieutenant and then in the air force, where he was the last commander, in 1918, of the famous Richthofen Fighter Squadron. His courageous exploits as a combat pilot earned him the Iron Cross (First Class) and the much coveted Pour le Mérite.

After Germany's defeat in 1918, Goering, the war hero, worked as a show flier at home and abroad and, as an avowed anti-Semite and anticommunist, became involved in right-wing nationalist political and paramilitary circles whose aim was to destroy the democratic Weimar Republic. Having settled in Munich and married Baroness Karin von Fock-Kantzow in 1922, he joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) the same year and assumed command of the party's paramilitary organization, the Storm Troopers (SA), until the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923. Seriously wounded during this escapade, he fled abroad, finally to Sweden, where he became a morphine addict during his medical recovery program. When a general amnesty by the German government allowed him to return to Germany in 1927, Goering rejoined the NSDAP, took a sales job with Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) in Berlin, and was elected one of the party's Reichstag deputies in 1928. Henceforth, his significance for the party grew substantially, for although he did not hold formal office, he became Adolf Hitler's roving ambassador in conservative, upper-class social, business, military, and political circles, soliciting financial support and sympathy for the Nazi cause. Goering became the respectable, almost debonair face of Nazism, an image boosted by his election as president of the Reichstag in late 1932. He emerged as an influential figure in the political intrigues that culminated in Hitler's appointment as Reich chancellor in January 1933.

Goering played a conspicuous role in consolidating the Third Reich. As Prussian minister of the interior and chief of police and of the Gestapo in Prussia, he attacked political rivals, especially those on the Left, consigning many of them to concentration camps. In June 1934 he was also the mastermind of the Roehm Purge, the murder of putative "socialist" elements in the SA and other suspected opponents. Thereafter, his power base extended rapidly. In 1935 he was appointed head of the Luftwaffe and in 1936 was given overall control of the Four-Year Economic Plan, which was designed to promote autarky and establish Nazi domination over the economy. The establishment in 1937 of the state-owned Hermann-Goering-Works, a huge industrial complex employing some 700,000 workers, allowed him to quickly amass a substantial personal fortune. His antiSemitism was fully displayed during and after the infamous "Night of Broken Glass" (Kristallnacht) in November 1938, when the Nazis attacked Jews throughout Germany. It was Goering who fined the Jewish community a billion marks and who confiscated and "Aryanized" their businesses and property. A determined supporter of the Third Reich's expansionist foreign policy, he continued to accumulate offices and titles, including chairman of the Reich Council for National Defense in August 1939, Hitler's heir apparent in September 1939, and field marshal in June 1940.

As the war progressed, however, his ostentatiously lavish lifestyle, which included ownership of a palace in Berlin, a country residence, and valuable (if often stolen) works of art, began to cloud his political and military judgment, while the failures of the Luftwaffe, in the Battle of Britain and on the eastern front, and of the war economy caused Hitler not only to sideline him from 1942 onward but also, shortly before the end of the war, to strip him of all offices and membership in the party. Despite a bravura performance before the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1946, Goering was condemned to death for crimes against peace and humanity, but before being hanged he committed suicide on 15 October 1946.

Goering played an integral role in the rise and development of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich. His ruthless ambition, militant nationalism, and loyalty to Nazism made him an invaluable ally of Hitler, until his personal and political weaknesses eventually caused his downfall. A multifaceted personality who enjoyed a public persona as the jovial, almost avuncular face of the Nazi regime, Goering was incontrovertibly, nonetheless, one of its most significant, amoral exponents.

See alsoAnti-Semitism; Germany; Kristallnacht; Nazism.


Frischauer, Willi. The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering. Boston, 1951.

Goering, Emmy. My Life with Goering. London, 1972.

Kershaw, Ian. Hitler, 1889–1936: Hubris. New York, 1999.

——. Hitler, 1936–1945: Nemesis. New York, 2000.

Manvell, Roger, and Heinrich Fraenkel. Hermann Göring. London, 1968.

Mosley, Leonard. The Reich Marshal. Garden City, N.Y., 1974.

Overy, R. J. Goering: The "Iron Man." London, 1984.

Peter D. Stachura