Göring. The surname is terrifying – a ghost of Nazi Germany roaming across historical memory. However, while Hermann Göring is synonymous with the ‘golden age’ of Nazism, history often forgets his little brother Albert, who used his surname as a shield against persecutions directed at Jews. While at the same time proving that hatred is not a matter of blood.
The Göring brothers were not really the kind whose common traits were amicably pointed at around the family table at dinnertime. While Hermann got decorated as ‘flying ace’ (Fliegerass) during WW1, with 22 aerial victories, Albert, a graduate in engineering, briefly considered a career in the cinema industry. The former was noisy, sociable and a fervent nationalist; the latter was thin, discreet, and rather pessimistic about the future. History proved him right. In 1935, Hermann Göring became Number 2 in Adolf Hitler’s hate machinery, as commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and major architect of the Holocaust. Climbing the ladder of the Nazi Party, Göring castigated his brother’s lack of patriotism, claiming Albert was ‘the black sheep of the family’.
Albert did not envy his big brother’s rise to power. Instead, he openly blamed Nazi cruelty and its anti-Semitic ideology. To this end, his family name proved his better ally. He nevertheless fled the very unhospitable Nazi Germany to settle in Vienna, and was granted Austrian citizenship in the process. The respite did not last long, however. Annexed in 1938 through the infamous Anschluss, Austria became a province of Nazi Germany and Albert yet again a German citizen. The country featured many of the violence and humiliations plaguing Berlin, Munich or Hamburg at the time: pogroms, civil rights abuses, destruction of Jewish storekeepers’ window displays… SS soldiers did not lack nasty imagination.
On the busy Wehringstrasse, in Vienna, a Jewish-owned store was sacked just as Albert Göring passed by. The brother on exile noticed a 75-year old woman, ignominiously put on display behind the store window, wearing a sign stating, “Ich bin eine Saujüdin” (“I am a dirty Jew”). Outraged, Albert walked in and freed the old shopkeeper. When her persecutors threatened to arrest the killjoy, the latter simply said his name. Göring inspired fear and respect, even amongst Nazis. Another time, soldiers forced him down on his knees to scrub the street with a toothbrush – a common punishment for ‘uncooperative’ Jews – but when the SS officer realized that he had humiliated the Luftwaffe commander’s brother, he turned pale and immediately apologized. So the name Göring was equivalent to a “get out of jail free” card. Upon realizing it, Albert used his heavy legacy to his own advantage. What he perceived as a curse on his family was soon to become his main asset.
Visiting the Nazi Theresienstadt and Dachau concentration camps, Albert obtained the release of prisoners just signing the official documents with his family name. Appointed head engineer of the Škoda industries in Czechoslovaquia, his position was key to recruit prisoners as workers – and then free them in the woods once they were far enough from the camps’ watchtowers. The factory, mainly converted into weaponry throughout WW2, dramatically changed under Albert’s supervision: the Nazi salute was banned, and sabotage activities secretly undertaken.
“Oh, I have a brother in Germany who is getting involved with that bastard Hitler, and he is going to come to a bad end if he continues that way” Albert confided in a friend of his. His rebellion deeds, despite being heroic, did not raise enough attention for him not to be suspected in the wake of WW2. “Göring”, again, was a burden on his shoulders. Albert surrendered to U.S. authorities in May 1945, and was imprisoned in a tiny cell next to his brother Hermann’s, in Augsburg. Questioning after questioning, his illicit war activities became known as freed prisoners backed his claims. Fortunately, some former Škoda employees could give evidence – most of them had fled the Nazi regime (with fake ID documents Albert himself had forged) for France, the U.S., Romania or Egypt.
How could a man with such a cumbersome family name keep on with his life? Albert never saw his brother again after the Augsburg cell, as Hermann committed suicide days before his execution. The latter had a final request – Albert should take good care of his brother’s spouse and children. The expert pilot, war hero, relentless politician of the Nazi regime had been broken. So was Göring, a name sullied by the blood of the Holocaust. His identity lost, Albert headed back to traumatized Germany, and worked as translator and part-time writer. Without money coming in, the former chief engineer soon sank into alcoholism and misery. His name was no more than a painful scar, and he passed away in 1966, without seeing his war activities publicly recognized. The black sheep of the family never really managed to clear his name, despite being as innocent as a lamb.
- François Guéroult, L’autre Göring (2017), Editions Infimes.
- Christoph Gunkel, “How a Top Nazi’s Brother Saved Lives”, 5/2/2012, Der Spiegel Online.
- Julien Arbois, Histoires insolites de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (2014), City Edition.