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.