The name “Goering” instantly brings to mind the evil and grotesquely overweight Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo, leader of the Luftwaffe, and arguably second in power in Nazi Germany only to Adolf Hitler himself. However, there is another Goering that has been all but forgotten by history—one who passionately hated Hitler, Nazism, and all that the minions of the twisted cross stood for. He was Albert Goering, Hermann’s younger brother. While Hermann was complicit in the Holocaust in many ways—even sending a memo to Reinhard Heydrich (nicknamed “the man with the iron heart” by Hitler) in July of 1941 ordering him to see to the details of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”—Albert tried to rescue as many Jews and dissidents from the inexorable Nazi machine as he possibly could.
It is a testament to the old maxim “blood is thicker than water” that in spite of Hermann’s insidious activities, which ranged from the organization of Kristalnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) to enthusiastically plundering the wealth of European Jewry, Albert and his brother were still close. Indeed, the German newspaper Der Spiegel noted recently that Albert “would have been lost without his brother. Without his support, the Gestapo—which knew exactly what Albert Goering was doing and with whom he associated—would have arrested and executed him.”
Hermann and Albert were always different—as Hermann himself explained to an interviewer during the 1946 Nuremburg Trials: “He was not politically or militarily interested; I was. He was quiet, reclusive; I like crowds and company. He was melancholic and pessimistic, and I am an optimist. But he’s not a bad fellow, Albert.”
The brothers at first had a serious falling out over Hermann’s embrace of Nazism. Hermann was wounded badly in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, attempting to seize power for Hitler. Subsequently, he became addicted to morphine and went slightly mad, even being institutionalized for a time in Sweden. According to one historian, Albert said often of Hermann during this period that, “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.”
Much to Albert’s dismay, his brother’s loyalty to the Nazi cause soon paid off as Hitler rose rapidly to power, and in 1938 Wehrmacht troops were marching into Austria, where Albert was residing. It was then that the brothers met again—Albert being, according to historian William Burke, “an exhausted mess. Ever since the first swastika appeared in Vienna he had tirelessly arranged exit visas and funds for his Jewish friends. He came head to head with Nazi thugs in Vienna, defending elderly Jewish ladies who were mocked and forced to scrub the cobblestone streets on their knees.” Burke relates how an enthusiastic Hermann met with Albert fresh from delivering a vicious anti-Semitic speech—and exuberantly offered each of his family members a gift. “His mood soured,” Burke writes, “when Albert and his sister Olga pleaded for Hermann to intervene on behalf of Archduke Josef Ferdinand…then detained at Dachau.” Nevertheless, Ferdinand was free the following day.
It is perhaps inevitable to compare Albert Goering to Oskar Schindler. Just like Schindler, Goering used his connections in the Nazi party to save Jews and other dissidents almost constantly. Whenever his own substantial finances and influence failed, he headed to his brother’s Berlin office to convince or manipulate Hermann into assisting him. Burke writes that as the war went on, “Albert became ever more audacious in his subversiveness, [and] a mountain of Gestapo reports piled up against him. Four arrest warrants were issued in his name during the war and yet he was never convicted.” Regardless of political ramifications, Albert’s Nazi brother bailed him out each time, even when a death warrant was put out for him in 1944. This, Hermann told Albert, was the last time he would help.
After Germany’s defeat, Hermann was arrested, sentenced to death, and cheated the hangman by biting down on a cyanide capsule. Albert was kept in prison for two years—mainly based on his last name—and upon his release, spent his final years a social pariah, abandoned by all and given to alcoholism. His family tried to help him, and then finally left him. Albert was destroyed by the family name that had kept him safe during the long years of the Nazi reign.
Albert Goering’s final place in history has not yet been decided. At the urging of William Burke, Yad Vashem is preparing a file on Albert Goering for examination by the commission that approves heroes for receiving the ultimate honor of “Righteous Among The Nations.” That file has not yet been completed, but for the first time in decades, Albert’s legacy is being examined once again—this time not by Nuremburg interrogators, but by historians.
Perhaps Albert’s biographer William Burke put it best. At the end of his journey researching Albert’s life, he went to visit Albert’s grave in Munich. “Etched on the grave’s copper base,” he writes, “is the Goring family motto: ‘Wir sind nicht von denen die da weichen sondern von denen die da glauben’—‘We are not among those who yield, but among those who believe.’ I take one last look and realise it was only Albert who held true to that promise.”