Hermann Goering

31.05.2016 ( Last modified: 08.06.2016 )
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facts

Hermann Goering was born on 12 January 1893 into a well off German family. He attended the Karlsruhe cadets institute followed by the Gross Lichterfelde military college from which he graduated as a second-lieutenant in the infantry.

At the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Goering served with the German infantry but was soon transferred to the air force due to problems with his knees. Here he gained a distinguished reputation as a fighter pilot and at the end of the war was awarded the medal of the Iron Cross for merit.

On the return of peace, he put his talents as a pilot to the service of several private companies in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. He became a militant in right wing organisations and was a member of the secret society of the Order of Thulé. In 1921, he returned to Germany and soon after joined the NSDAP (the National Socialist Party) after hearing one of Hitler’s speeches. Hitler quickly appointed him as chief of the SA (Sturm Abteilung) or the Brown Shirts which had responsibility for disrupting reunions of political parties which were opposed to Hitler and also for protecting him from any attacks.

He was a Hitler’s side during the failed putsch in Munich on 8 November 1923 and went into exile in Sweden afterwards to avoid arrest.

After spending 4 years in Stockholm, Goering returned to Germany in 1927, taking advantage of a political amnesty granted by President von Hindenburg. In 1928, he was one of the 12 Nazi deputies elected to the Parliament (Reichstag). After being re-elected in 1930, he subsequently became President of the Reichstag in 1932 when the Nazis carried 230 seats at the elections.

In 1930, when Hitler became German Chancellor, Goering became a government Minister. He was initially Minister without Portfolio, and then rapidly was named Interior Minister and Prime Minister of Prussia. In these positions he moved to replace most of the chiefs of police with members of the SA or the SS.

On 27 February 1933, the burning down of the Reichstag, an act for which it was said that he himself was the instigator, allowed him to set in motion a campaign of violence and arrests against German communist opponents.

It is alleged that around this same time, Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler established the first concentration camps. In addition, Goering is said to have created the Gestapo, control of which was subsequently to become the responsibility of Himmler.

In June 1934 Goering organised and set in motion the “Night of the Long Knives” in the course of which numerous SA leaders were physically eliminated.

After being named Commander of the Luftwaffe in 1935, he gave his support to General Franco in the Spanish Civil War, by sending him the renowned Condor Legion which was to become infamous during the bombing of Guernica in 1937. In 1938 Goering negotiated together with France, Britain, Hungary, Italy and Poland the Anschluss with Austria.

Goering also wielded an important influence over the economic policies of the country. In 1936, he was assigned responsibility for the “Four Year Plan” which Hitler wanted so as to prepare the country for war in 1940. In order to achieve this he extolled the virtues of self sufficiency and state planning of the economy.
In 1940, Goering was appointed Reichsmarschall by Hitler, a title which only he would hold. Until 1943 (when they fell out), he exercised a strong influence over Hitler who, moreover, had designated him as his successor by a decree dated 29 June 1941. He was awarded also the medal of the Grand Cross of the order of the Iron Cross.

During this period, Goering was also active in the “Jewish question”. He played an important role in anti-Semite persecutions and in looting of Jewish property, an act from which he personally profited through the confiscation of numerous works of art which had belonged to the Jews. After the “Kristallnacht” on 9 and 10 November 1938, Goering cynically imposed a penalty of a billion Marks on the Jews for the material damage caused by the operation. He also encouraged their enforced emigration. On 31 July 1941, he ordered Reinhard Heidrich, then responsible for security of the Reich, to take all necessary measures for “a global solution of the Jewish question”. This was to signal the beginning of massive deportations and of the extermination of European Jews.

Although he was initially opposed to the war for fear of reprisals from Britain, when war did break out he was by then Chief of the Luftwaffe and as such was responsible for the air attacks against France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and Poland. On the economic front, he organised the pillage of occupied countries and the forcible transfer of civilian workers to the Reich.

However, Goering committed several strategic errors in some of the German war campaigns, particularly during the Battle of Britain, or the Operation Barbarossa, which errors were to culminate in German defeats. These successive German defeats led to the loss of Hitler’s confidence and he was gradually pushed aside from the running of the country.

Towards the end of the war, as the Red Army progressed further into Germany, he moved his headquarters to Berchtesgaden. When Hitler secluded himself in his bunker in April 1945, Goering wrote to him requesting, in conformity with the decree which made him Hitler’s successor, that he assume the leadership in his place. Hitler, in a fit of rage, disavowed him, expelled him from the NSDAP and stripped him of all of his titles. At first he ordered the SS to arrest him and have him executed, but this order was not applied and he was assigned to forced residence under SS supervision in view of the innumerable services rendered by Goering to the Reich.

After Hitler’s suicide and the surrender of the German Army on 7 May 1945, Goering gave himself up to the American Army in Austria on 8 May 1945 and was interned in the American camp at Mondorf on 21 May 45.

legal procedure

After Hitler’s suicide and the surrender of the German Army on 7 May 1945, Goering gave himself up to the American Army in Austria on 8 May 1945 and was interned in the American camp at Mondorf on 21 May 45.

Together with 22 other high ranking Nazis (see “related cases”), he was brought before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg which was established by the Allies to try all prominent Nazi leaders.

When the trial began on 20 November 1945, Goering was charged with: count 1 (common plan or conspiracy), count 2 (crimes against peace), count 3 (war crimes), and count 4 (crimes against humanity). He pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. However, he positioned himself as being number two in the Nazi regime, after Hitler, whose policies he adopted and defended , thereby demonstrating greater leadership than the other defendants at the trial.

According to the indictment he used his various positions and his intimate connection with Hitler to:
– promote the accession to power of the Nazi conspirators and the consolidation of their control over Germany,
– promote the military and economic preparation of the country for war,
– plan and prepare wars of aggression and also wars in violation of international treaties, and agreements,
– authorise, direct and participate in war crimes and,
– authorise, direct and participate in crimes against humanity.

Goering always denied having had prior knowledge of the policy of extermination of the Jews. Nevertheless it was established that he was present during the meetings at which the overall guidelines concerning the final solution were drawn up.

Similarly, he did not admit responsibility for the execution of 50 British airmen killed by members of the Luftwaffe in the spring of 1944, asserting that the order had come from the police. This argument did not convince the Tribunal. On the other hand he did not refute the policies of forced labour and looting which he had carried out during the war.

Throughout the trial Goering attempted to destabilise the prosecution, notably by correcting translation errors (he in fact spoke fluent English), and by replying in long winded speeches to questions put by the prosecution.

On 1st October the Tribunal found Goering guilty on all four counts and sentenced him to death. Goering then requested to be shot to death rather than hanged, but this request was denied by the Tribunal.

On 15 October 1946, two hours before he was due to be executed, Goering committed suicide in his prison cell by swallowing a cyanide pill.

context

After the Second World War numerous trials against war criminals and those responsible for Nazi crimes took place in Germany and other countries. It is not possible here to give an overview of all the trials. Below are the main facts concerning the major trials of war criminals at Nuremberg.

BASIS UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW

The German armed forces surrendered unconditionally on 7-8 May 1945. The Allies (USA, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France) took over all governmental functions in Germany, instituted the Allied Control Council and divided Germany into four zones of occupation.

After the adoption of the London Charter of 8 August 1945, the Allies set up the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in order to judge the major German war criminals. Annex III of the Agreement contains the Statute of the International Military Tribunal (IMT Statute [2]).

NUREMBERG TRIAL OF MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS

According to Articles 1-3 of the London Charter, war criminals with offenses having no particular geographical location were to be judged by the IMT. However in accordance with Articles 4 and 6 of the Convention, the principle of territoriality was to apply to the other German war criminals, with the courts of those states where crimes had been committed having the competence to try these criminals on the basis on their national laws.

Crimes within the jurisdiction of IMT:

– Crimes against peace;

– War crimes and

– Crimes against humanity (Article 6 of IMT Statute).

The IMT was composed of four judges and four substitutes who were appointed by the four Allied powers (Article 2 IMT Statute). In application of Article 13 of the IMT Statute, the Tribunal drew up its own Rules of Procedure

The IMT indicted 24 people in total. The trials took place from 14 November 1945 until 1 October 1946. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death, three were acquitted and seven others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. In one case, the procedure was suspended for health reasons and in another the defendant committed suicide before his trial.