my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.
Albert Günther Göring was born in 1895, two years after his brother, Hermann, the son of the solidly middle-class Heinrich and Fanny Göring.
Heinrich Göring was a diplomat and acted as governor-general of the German protectorate in what is now Namibia, and the consul in Haiti. While he was away on duty, Fanny took a lover, the doctor and businessman, Hermann von Epenstein, who was of Jewish heritage and acted as guardian to the two boys while their father was away.
The careers of the Göring brothers began to take different paths with World War One, with Hermann becoming the decorated Luftwaffe fighter ace, while Albert served in the trenches as an unglamorous signal engineer.
After the war, Hermann was drawn to the embryonic Nazi party, along with other disaffected nationalists, while Albert became a bon vivant, enjoying the bohemian lifestyle of the sort you would associate with the film Cabaret, and came to detest everything that the Nazis stood for.
In 1933, he moved to Vienna in protest at the actions of the Nazi regime to join a film company part-owned by two Jewish brothers, Oskar and Kurt Pilzer, and he had little contact with his brother for a decade. Then in 1938, Germany moved to annexe Austria, led by Hermann, and Albert was drawn into using his family name to help those oppressed by the Nazis.
It started on the day he came upon a group old Jewish women being forced to scrub the cobbled streets on bare knees in front of a mocking crowd. Albert took off his jacket, took the scrubbing brush from one of the women and took her place. The SS hauled him to his feet and asked him for his papers and when he realised who he was, that was the end of the scrubbing.
Soon after, Albert was arrested for helping a 75-year-old grandmother. A group of thugs had put a sign around her neck with the words ‘I am a Jewish sow’ and Göring fought his way through the crowd to free her, punching several Gestapo officers in the process.
Göring then used his influence to free Oskar Pilzer after he had been arrested and took him to the Italian border, giving him money so that he and his family could escape the country.
Despite the embarrassment that Albert surely was, he and Hermann were at least partly reconciled during a family holiday in 1938 and puffed up with his own importance, Hermann offered his brother one wish.
News had come that the elderly Archduke Joseph Ferdinand IV of the Hapsburg royal family had been arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp.
Albert later wrote: ‘I wished for the immediate release of the old Archduke. Hermann was very embarrassed. But the next day the imprisoned Habsburger was free.’
In 1939, Göring became the export director at the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia where he encouraged minor acts of sabotage and had contact with the Czech resistance. On many occasions, he forged his brother’s signature on transit documents to enable dissidents to escape.
But while Göring was a hero to many, he was no saint. While at Skoda, he divorced his second wife to pursue the Czech beauty queen, Mila, with whom he had his only child.
Of course, Göring’s activities had not gone unnoticed and the SS kept a file on his ‘acts of terrorism’, eventually declaring him an enemy of the state. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but this was quashed by Hermann. Despite their differences, he still felt close to Albert.
Perhaps emboldened by this, Albert carried out his most audacious stunt. Hearing of the atrocities taking place at concentration camps, he took a convoy of trucks to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where 33,000 prisoners died. There he demanded that he needed workers for the Skoda Works, filled the trucks, then drove the prisoners to the woods and set them free.
In August 1944, the SS commander in Prague requested permission from Berlin to interrogate Göring. Instead, an order was issued for him to be shot and Albert was forced to flee to a safe house. At the end of the war, he presented himself to the American Intelligence Service in Salzburg and was sent to Berlin for questioning. There he was given permission to see Hermann one last time before his brother committed suicide.
The authorities naturally assumed that Göring had been an active participant in the atrocities and it was only after fifteen months of interrogation that Albert’s acts of kindness were corroborated, and then by a strange twist of fate.
He was interviewed by one Major Victor Parker of the US forces and handed him a list entitled: ‘People whose lives or existence I saved at my own peril’. Major Parker recognised one of the names as his own uncle and Albert was eventually released in 1947.
Göring returned to Salzburg but was unable to get work because of his family name. He survived on a state pension and on food parcels sent to him by the many Jews he had helped to escape. Increasingly bitter, he turned to drink and died of pancreatic cancer in 1966 at the age of 71.
The story of the Good Göring remained an unacknowledged historical footnote until long after his death when the author James Wyllie published The Warlord and the Renegade in 2006. The Jewish Chronicle has called for him to be honoured at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.