Thursday, May 10, 2012

One brother a monster, the other a savior

A book review in the English language edition of Der Spiegel introduced me to a man of whom I'd not previously heard;  Albert Göring, the younger brother of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe before and during World War II.  Hermann was tried and convicted of war crimes, but committed suicide before his death sentence could be carried out.  However, his younger brother was of an altogether different ilk.

Albert Göring in 1936

Der Spiegel reviewed a book about Albert Göring's anti-Nazi activities titled simply 'Thirty-Four'.  That's the number of names he provided in a handwritten list while in Allied custody after World War II, telling his interrogators that they could provide evidence that he had helped them.

The handwritten list of 34 names prepared by Albert Göring while in Allied custody

Here are some excerpts from Der Spiegel's review.

The life of Hermann Göring's younger brother indeed makes a fascinating story, one that has remained essentially unknown in the nearly seven decades since the end of the Nazi dictatorship. Perhaps it's because today many have the same reaction that the American investigators had then: Can it really be possible that Hermann Göring's brother was a member of the resistance? A caring person who saved Jews, helped dozens of persecuted individuals obtain foreign currency and fake papers, and even secured the release of concentration camp prisoners?

. . .

At first, Albert simply tried to keep out of the National Socialists' way. A mechanical engineer, he chose not to join the Nazi Party, instead moving to Vienna, Austria in 1928 to work as sales manager for a company that made heating boilers. He also took on Austrian citizenship. But the world-power politics Albert so hated, and which his ambitious brother promoted, caught up with him there with the 1938 annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany.

At some point, Albert decided he wanted to help instead of turning a blind eye. For example, he helped Oskar Pilzer, former president of Tobis-Sascha-Filmindustrie, Austria's largest film production company. Pilzer was Jewish, which gave the Nazis the perfect excuse to ban his studios' films in Germany -- so they could subsequently take over the company when it began to falter. When the Gestapo arrested the toppled film mogul in March 1938, Albert Göring intervened.

"Albert Göring used the power of his family name and pulled out all the stops, first to find out where my father was and then to make sure he was released immediately," Pilzer's son George later testified.

That was no isolated incident, and many people had similar testimony to present after 1945. Alexandra Otzop, for example, recalled, "My husband and his son from his first marriage were persecuted in the fall of 1939. Mr. Göring managed to get them deported, instead of being sent to a concentration camp."

It's said that Albert Göring once even got down on his hands and knees to scrub a street in Vienna, out of solidarity with women who were being bullied by stormtroopers. The women's tormentors asked his name and were horrified by the answer.

While his brother was hard at work perfecting his air force, Albert obtained fake papers, warned friends of impending arrests and provided refugees with money. Again and again, he deftly used his name to intimidate public officials.

It was a bizarre situation. The overly ambitious Hermann knew about Albert's activities, yet did nothing to stop him. Albert later testified that his brother had told him it was his "own business" if he wanted to protect Jews, so long as he didn't get Hermann in "endless trouble." Albert, meanwhile, had a nearly schizophrenic relationship with Hermann, trying to keep the private person and the politician separate. "As brothers, we were close," he said.

But as time passed, Albert Göring abandoned the caution his brother had demanded of him. In late 1939, the younger Göring himself took an influential position, becoming export manager for the Skoda automobile factory in the Czech city of Brno.

Skoda automobile factory in Brno during World War II

From this position, he also supported the Czech resistance, activists later testified. If their statements are accurate, Albert Göring revealed not only "the exact location of a submarine dockyard" but also the plan to break the non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. This sensitive information, the Czech resistance fighters stated, was successfully passed on to Moscow and London.

But even that isn't the whole story. Göring is also believed to have saved prisoners from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1944.

"He said, I'm Albert Göring from Skoda. I need workers," Jacques Benbassat, the son of an associate of Albert's, later related. "He filled the truck with workers, and the concentration camp director agreed to it, because he was Albert Göring. Then he drove into the woods and released them."

A number of notes turn up in German files that prove these stories were not simply made up. The Gestapo's Prague bureau, for example, complained that Göring's office at the Skoda factory was "a veritable nerve center for 'poor' Czechs." The general of the Prague police, SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank, considered Albert Göring "at the very least, a defeatist of the worst sort" and asked permission to arrest him in 1944 on "profound grounds for suspicion."

. . .

While Hermann Göring, sentenced in Nuremberg, escaped execution by committing suicide in October 1946, the Americans remained suspicious of Albert Göring. His name had become a burden for him. Although the last of a series of caseworkers did recommend his release, Göring was turned over to the Czech Republic and tried in Prague for possible war crimes, because Skoda had also manufactured weapons.

Only after many former Skoda employees testified on Göring's behalf were the charges dropped, and Göring was acquitted in March 1947. He died in 1966 in a Munich suburb, an impoverished and bitter man. Despite being a highly qualified engineer, he had been unable to find work in postwar Germany. Being Hermann Göring's brother, a fact that had saved his life in years past, ultimately became a curse.

There's more at the link.

I was more than intrigued by this review, so I tried to find out more about Albert Göring.  There's not much out there, but I've included links above.  I'm forced to agree with an Israeli reviewer of the book.

Albert Goering, like Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, was driven by an innate sense of justice, regardless of the consequences. Yet his brave actions have gone largely unacknowledged, his life relegated to a footnote to his brother's brutal history. William Hastings Burke has done a great service by bringing Albert's deeds to light. Many survivors and their descendants scattered across the globe owe their lives to him. It is time that he was recognised by Yad Vashem.

For those who don't know it, Yad Vashem is the "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority" in Israel.  One of its responsibilities is to recognize the contribution of Gentiles who helped Jews to escape the Holocaust.  It does so by awarding them the title 'Righteous Among The Nations'.  It's far too late for Albert Göring to receive that title in life . . . but I don't think it's too late to honor his memory in that way.



Broken Andy said...

A sad end to a man that tried to do right. Great post.

Anonymous said...

There's a book called Hell Above Earth, by an S. frater, about Goering's nephew, I believe, who flew B17's for the USAAF, and whose copilot, unknown to him, had orders to kill him if it looked like he was going to act against the Allies. I'm waiting for it in my library queue.

st Paul

Old NFO said...

Good story, thanks!

Anonymous said...

This story would make a great film.