The German and Israeli news media have recounted the exploits of Albert Göring recently , because he is under posthumous consideration for the highest honorary title conferred by the State of Israel, the “Righteous Among the Nations.” These are the heroes of the Holocaust, the brave individuals who risked their lives to foil Hitler’s Ultimate Solution. Since it was created in 1953, the title has been awarded to 24,356 people from 47 countries.
Göring is a strong candidate to join their ranks, for he saved many Jews from extermination during World War II. Honoring him would not be a difficult decision, except for one thing: he was the younger brother of one of Hitler’s vilest henchman, the architect of the death camps and master of the Gestapo, Hermann Göring.
Albert became disillusioned with the Nazis early in their rise to power and moved to Austria, where he frequently spoke out against Hitler and the Third Reich. He would have ended up in prison when the Germans took over Austria, but brother Hermann Goering, Hitler’s designated successor, believed that blood was thicker than genocide: he kept Albert out of the hands of the Gestapo, even though he knew his little brother was an enemy of the state.
Nobody knows exactly how many Jews and non-Jews Albert saved from his brother’s death camps, because Albert Göring himself didn’t know how many the people he helped. He rescued some from concentration camps, and helped others escape to England, Switzerland, and the U.S. by procuring travel documents. He set up bank accounts for some of them in Switzerland, so that they could survive while in exile. He helped finance the Czech resistance, and was silent when those he financed committed sabotage or stole weapons at the Czech weapons factory where Göring was a manager. On one occasion he signed passports for a Jewish family he had befriended. He exploited his connections with his brother to save Jews and others while his brother was killing them, once persuading SS chief Heydrich to release Czech resistance fighters from the Gestapo prisons. Sometimes he even persuaded Hermann to free Jews, as a brotherly favor. For example, he manipulated his brother into guaranteeing the safety of the Jewish wife of operetta composer Franz Lehar. In a classic example of good winning over evil, Albert often used his wiles to make his older brother an accomplice in his humanitarianism. Every time the good brother was arrested by the Gestapo, the bad brother made sure that he was released.
Richard Sonnenfeldt, the youngest member of the American prosecution team at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, has recalled how Reichmarshal Göring enjoyed displaying his power to Albert by freeing Jews. “Albert would go to his brother Hermann and say, ‘Hermann you’re so big and so powerful, and here’s a Jew who’s a good Jew and doesn’t belong in a concentration camp’,” Sonnenfeldt has related. ” ‘Can’t you just sign a paper?’ And Hermann would say, ‘This is absolutely the last time I’m going to do this, don’t come back’ A month later, Albert would be back,” he said. Sonnenfeldt says that a hundred people have been identified as among those freed by the strange collaboration of the Görings, all because Hitler’s murderous stooge wanted to impress his brother.
There are many anecdotes testifying to Albert’s open assistance of the Jews, and flamboyant defiance of Hitler. Some Holocaust survivors recalled how Albert once went down on his knees and scrubbed a sidewalk along with Jews ordered by the Nazis to do the job as a public humiliation. When Albert was stationed in Bucharest, Rumania, two Nazi officers recognized him as the brother of Hermann Goering and “honored” him with the Nazi salute. Albert, according to witnesses, responded to ‘Heil Hitler’ with a bitter “Kiss my ass!”
After the war, Albert was arrested and because of his name, barely escaped prosecution as a war criminal. Trying to live a quiet life in Germany, he found himself shunned because of the presumed, but misunderstood, association with Hermann. He supported himself modestly as a writer and translator, never seeking to tell his story, or profit from his remarkable conduct. Shortly before his death, when Göring was living on a pension from the government, he married his longtime housekeeper as an kindness, so she could inherit his pension. He died without having his many courageous humanitarian achievements recognized, praised or publicized.
I only learned of the story of Albert Göring this week, and I am stunned by it. So much good, nobility and heroism goes on in the world that we never know about, and this story has so many lessons to ponder that I hesitate to try to list them, for fear that I will miss a crucial one. The aspect of the story I find most compelling, I think, is that Albert was such an admirable character that his brother, who qualifies as evil if anyone does, wanted to be admired in his eyes, and so was motivated to engage in acts of kindness and mercy even as Hermann was engineering the murders of millions. And while Albert’s goodness was so strong that it succeeded in partially redeeming his horrible brother, Hermann’s evil deeds blighted Albert’s life and reputation to the end of his days, and does so still.
Pointer: Volokh Conspiracy