Göring's List: Should Israel Honor a Leading Nazi's Brother?
Part 2: Trials, Obscurity and Death
When the war ended, a period of suffering began for Albert Göring.
On May 9, 1945, he surrendered to the Americans in Salzburg. He assumed that he would be shown respect because of his acts of kindness during the Nazi era. He told his interrogators who he was and what he had done -- but no one believed him.
He was a Göring, the brother of the Reichsmarschall, an evil luminary within the Hitler elite, which meant that he could only be a Nazi of the worst kind. He was the type of prisoner who was desperately searching for excuses, as well as being extremely nervous, Richard Sonnenfeldt, the American chief interpreter at the Nuremberg trials, said in a TV interview.
Albert Göring must have been stunned by the American soldiers' skepticism. As proof of his actions, he compiled a list of 34 names. He neatly documented the names, previous places of residence, professions, citizenships and current places of residence of "people whose lives or existence I put myself at risk (three Gestapo arrest warrants!) to save" and specified their "race" and the "type of help" he had provided. The list includes prominent individuals such as Kurt Schuschnigg, the last Austrian chancellor before the 1938 annexation, and the wife of opera composer Franz Lehár, who was Jewish and No. 15 on the list of people Göring had saved.
He had been imprisoned for a year when a new interrogation specialist named Victor Parker reported for duty. As he was reading the list of 34 individuals, he paused when he saw the name Lehár. By a stroke of luck, the composer's wife was Parker's aunt. The Americans finally believed the story their prisoner had told them and released him from custody. But he wasn't freed altogether. Instead, they extradited him to Prague, just in case there was any evidence against him there.
Göring ended up in Pankrác Prison, together with German war criminals, looters and murderers. He was put on trial in a Czechoslovakian people's court.
As a German named Göring, being put on trial in Prague in 1947 was almost tantamount to a death sentence. But many workers from the koda plant and resistance fighters appeared in court to praise the defendant. In a letter to then-President Edvard Bene, Ernst Neubach wrote that "hundreds of men and women" had Albert Göring to thank for "being rescued from the Gestapo, concentration camps and executioners." The court acquitted him in March 1947.
When Neubach tried to bring his friend Albert Göring to the world's attention in 1962, Germans were still trying to hush up the past. No one, neither the public nor historians, was interested in a Göring who differed from the rest of his family. Twenty years later, biographies of Hermann Göring were gradually being published, heavy tomes by authors such as Richard Overy and David Irving, who mentioned the younger brother as an aside, with no appraisal of his merits as a rescuer of those persecuted by the Nazis.
Trying to Right Wrongs
Years passed. In 1998, Britain's Channel 4 aired a striking TV documentary called "The Real Albert Göring." In it, the children of people who had been rescued talked about Göring, his character and what he had done. The film also included original footage from the Nazi era. An attractive, elegant older woman chatted about the differences between her Uncle Albert, who she called Bertl, and her father Hermann. The woman was Edda Göring, Hermann's only daughter, who lives in Munich today.
The documentary was essentially a screen adaptation of Neubach's article. But it too came to nothing. Then, a few years later, a young Australian named William Hastings Burke happened upon the documentary and was fascinated. He went to Germany to study the archives, and he retraced Albert Göring's steps through Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. He also found Albert's only daughter, Elizabeth, and other relatives.
Burke embarked on a one-man crusade to make up for what had been ignored for decades. His efforts led to the book "Thirty-Four," published in Germany last year under the title "Hermann's Brother. Who Was Albert Göring?" The book was mentioned in the German publications Der Tagesspiegel, Die Welt and Focus, as well as by SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Burke had discovered how Albert Göring's life progressed after the acquittal in Prague. He was 52. His fortune was gone, and he was unable to find work as an engineer. The Göring name became a curse because no one was about to hire a Göring. He slowly fell into despair and cheated on his wife, who divorced him and emigrated to Peru with their daughter.
Göring could have changed his name, as so many Nazis did. But the relative who prefers to remain anonymous suspects that he chose to keep his name out of solidarity with the family. Heinrich Göring had treated him as a son, and Albert, a moralist, would have considered renouncing his name a betrayal, says the relative.
Göring spent his last few years living in relative poverty in an apartment building with his former housekeeper, whom he married shortly before his death. He died in Munich on Dec. 20, 1966. His grave in Munich's Waldfriedhof cemetery no longer exists. It was leveled in 2008.
Sorting Fact from Fiction
It was Burke who sent the documents to Yad Vashem two years ago. He believes that his hero deserves to become the 511th "righteous" German.
In the Café Paradiso, Irene Steinfeldt wrinkles her brow and says that Albert Göring was undoubtedly a fascinating person, a provocateur and a privileged lone wolf. She also finds it peculiar that so few people in Germany have even heard of him. Perhaps the Germans find it more difficult to reconcile themselves with a Göring than the Israelis, she says. However, she adds, it is important, that he is finally appreciated in Germany as an important historical figure.
The file on her desk has become very thick in recent months. She has spoken by phone with the son of someone who was rescued in Switzerland. She doubts whether all the information Neubach, Channel 4 and Burke have compiled is accurate. She believes that truth is sometimes transformed into legend.
Under the rules, only those who put their own lives at risk to save the lives of others can be counted among the righteous. And they cannot be Jewish. Officially, Albert Göring was not a Jew, but is that the truth or a legend? And is it even conceivable that the State of Israel would award its highest honor to someone named Göring?
Eventually, says Steinfeldt, she will present the Göring file to the commission.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Should Israel Honor a Leading Nazi's Brother?
- Part 2: Trials, Obscurity and Death
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