Hermann Goering was the leader of the Luftwaffe and the second most powerful man in the Third Reich, answering only to Hitler. His brother, Albert, could have taken the same route and followed him into a twisted world of political fame and fortune, but the younger Goering sibling decided to turn his back on Nazism and condemn its inhumanity. Some consider him to be as important as Oskar Schindler in saving Jewish lives during World War II, but he is much less well known.
The two Goering brothers
Unlike Hermann, Albert was described as having a strong moral compass, and he quickly became disillusioned with the policies of the Nazis during their rise to power. After years apart, the two brothers met again at Albert’s home in Grinzing, a village near to Vienna, Austria.
Albert had been outspoken in his condemnation of Hitler and his cronies, and after the annexation of Austria by the Germans, Hermann was forced to act to keep him out of the grasp of the ever-watchful Gestapo. As the Nazi atrocities escalated, Albert could not stay quiet and used his standing to help the persecuted Jews in any way he could. He signed passports to help Jews escape the Third Reich and on one occasion even managed to persuade the notorious anti-Semite Reinhard Heydrich to release a group of Czech resistance fighters.
There is also a story about how his Jewish former boss Oskar Pilzer was freed from the grip of the Nazis. The Gestapo did get their hands on Albert on a number of occasions, but every time Hermann was there to bail him out.
In league with the Czech Resistance
As well as helping dissidents in Austria and Germany, Albert spread his web of aid to Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. He was later hired as the export director at the Škoda Works complex in Pilsen. In contact with the Czech Resistance, he encouraged sabotage and regularly forged his brother’s signature on transit documents to allow enemies of the Reich to escape. One of his greatest exploits was requesting labourers from concentration camps, and after picking them up, would drive the former prisoners to a secluded area and allow them to escape.
Albert continued to supply Jews with exit permits and helped to transport their assets out of Nazi Germany. Despite the reluctant protection offered by his brother, Albert found himself with a death warrant from the Gestapo in 1944. He hid in Prague in an attempt to avoid capture but was once again saved by Hermann. However, this would be the last time this would happen, as the older Goering brother was threatening his entire career by coming to the aid of Albert on such a consistent basis.
Richard Sonnenfeldt, chief interpreter and youngest member of the American prosecution team at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, later recalled that Hermann enjoyed lording it over his little brother, and Albert took full advantage:
“Albert would go to his brother Hermann and say, ‘Hermann you’re so big and so powerful, and here’s a Jew who’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.”
Hermann Goering committed suicide on 15 October 1946. The last time Albert saw him was in May of the previous year when they were both bundled into a transit jail in Augsburg. Hermann’s last words to Albert were:
“I am very sorry, Albert, that it is you who has to suffer so much for me. You will be free soon. Then take my wife and child under your care. Farewell!”
Perhaps the greatest revelation of this story is not the kind-heartedness of Albert, but the love and loyalty Hermann showed to the brother whose actions could have spelt the end for them both.