Why you should care
Because the Göring name is only half bad.
“I am a sow. A Jew,” read the sign around her neck. Two Nazi storm troopers hung it there before forcing the 70-year-old woman to wash the street with hydrochloric acid. Incensed by the scene, a passer-by bickered with the brownshirts. Tempers boiled over, and the passer-by punched one of the thugs. Onlookers assumed the man was doomed, but this gentleman figured he’d be all right, thanks to a secret weapon: his name.
Albert Göring grew up with big brother Hermann in a lavish Bavarian castle. World War I crashed into their lives as they became men. Albert became an unremarkable engineer and was wounded in the stomach. Hermann, by then the family patriarch, flew in the Red Baron’s Flying Circus and became one of Germany’s deadliest flying aces. After the war, Albert worked in cinema before being recruited into the industrial sector; his career shift coincided with the thunderous rise of Hitler’s war machine, which was operated by brother Hermann, the Reichsmarschall.
When Albert wasn’t banging his fists on Hermann’s desk, he was writing fiery letters.
Albert shunned Nazism from the beginning. When rumors of atrocities reached him, Albert decided it was time to put his name, and connection, to good use. James Wyllie, author of Goering and Goering, had never heard of Albert until his sister, a researcher, came to him with some curious findings: She’d discovered bank accounts that Albert opened to help fund people fleeing the Nazis. Seeing the Göring name on the paperwork shocked the Wyllies, and James was quickly taken with Albert’s story. “Albert grabbed life by the balls,” says Wyllie.
During World War II, Albert became — in his own words — “a lot of trouble” for his brother. When he wasn’t banging his fists on Hermann’s desk, he wrote fiery letters demanding the release of high-profile prisoners and the end of mass executions. In many instances Hermann let his little brother have his way, but Albert didn’t always need help. Wyllie interviewed many individuals who called Albert their savior, thanks to travel permits and foreign currency he alone secured for them. Wyllie also believes there are connections between Albert’s movements in Eastern Europe and the activities of armed resistance groups.
It didn’t take long for the Gestapo to notice Albert was up to something. Hermann warned Albert that eyes were upon him and begged him to be “tactful” in his activities. Failing mightily to heed his brother’s advice, Albert snubbed Nazi salutes, refused Party invites and openly spoke against the Führer. Arrest warrants were drawn but — thanks to Hermann — never served.
Albert loudly labeled SS Commander Heinrich Himmler a “lustmerder” — someone who enjoys killing — and Himmler demanded Albert’s head. But Hermann stepped in once again to directly oppose his archrival. Afterward, Hermann told Albert it was the last time he could intervene. The Third Reich fell soon after, and both Görings were detained by American forces.
Dominating Albert’s interrogations were questions about his relationship with Hermann. The younger sibling refused to say a word against his brother; instead he extolled the virtues of Hermann’s “warm heart” and insisted their differences were purely philosophical. Albert did admit that Hermann called him an “outsider” and the “black sheep of the family.”
Albert also seemed to believe that Hermann was detached from the most gruesome Nazi crimes. But Alan E. Steinweis, a history professor at the University of Vermont, doesn’t share this belief. “[Hermann] certainly had a lot of blood on his hands,” he says. Steinweis points to Hermann’s signing off on the Final Solution as key evidence of his involvement.
But Albert knew nothing of Hermann’s secret finances in America or his role in stealing great works of art. After a month of detention he was released, while the older Göring remained in prison until he swallowed a smuggled cyanide capsule in October 1946. Albert struggled in the years that followed, suffering from depression and failing to secure meaningful employment. He died on Dec. 20, 1966, at 71. Since then, Albert and his actions have fallen into obscurity, overshadowed by his brother’s darker, infamous history, and Wyllie believes it’s unlikely Albert will ever receive mass recognition for his good deeds. “Recognizing what Albert did means accepting Hermann’s role in humane acts,” he says. “This creates a narrative that is uncomfortable to digest.”
Wyllie feels what ultimately labeled Albert suspect and unemployable in postwar Germany is what continues to overshadow his courageous acts of humanity: his name.