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About the Author
Heinrich Fraenkel was a critically acclaimed author who received access to new papers of eyewitness accounts of Joseph Goebbels. He co-wrote (with Roger Manvell) Heinrich Himmler, The Men Who Tried to Kill Hitler, and Doctor Goebbels.
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Pour le Mérite
HERMANN WILHELM GOERING was born in the Marienbad sanatorium at Rosenheim in Bavaria on January 12, 1893, the second son of the German consul-general in Haiti by his second marriage. After only six weeks his mother left him in Germany and hurried back to her husband; she was not to see her child again for three years. By this time he was already proving to be a willful and difficult boy.
In 1885 his father, Heinrich Ernst Goering, a former cavalry officer and now a member of the German consular service, had made a second marriage at the age of forty-five to Franziska Tiefenbrunn, a Bavarian girl of modest birth. He had already had five children by his former wife. His new marriage had taken place in London, where Goering had been sent by Bismarck to study British methods of colonial administration before being put in charge of the harsh and difficult territory of German Southwest Africa. His studies lasted for a few months only, and he left for Africa with his bride. His title was Minister-Resident for Southwest Africa, and he did his work well, treating the African chiefs with tact and diplomacy. Within five years he had made the area safe for German trade, and he was, in this sense, the founder of the colony. While there he had won the friendship of Cecil Rhodes, and he had also become the friend of a Dr. Hermann Epenstein. On his return to Germany, he volunteered for another post overseas and was appointed consul general in Haiti.
By the time Hermann was conceived, Franziska, who needed all the toughness of her Austrian and Bavarian blood to lead this life of constant movement and rough, violent living, had already borne three children, Karl, Olga and Paula. Shortly before the birth of this fourth child she left Haiti and traveled home alone. When she returned to Haiti she left the six-week-old baby in Fürth, Bavaria, in the hands of a friend of the family, Frau Graf, whose daughters became his playmates and remember him today as a handsome, headstrong boy.
When the child was three years old his father returned to Germany to face retirement. Hermann Goering's earliest recollection was of expressing his resentment toward his mother by hitting her in the face with his fists when she tried to embrace him after her prolonged absence. She was deeply upset.
The family were reunited in Berlin and lived for the next five years in the Fregestrasse in Friedenau, a quiet residential suburb of the capital. From this time Hermann's childish ambition was to become an officer in the German Army, and at the age of five his father gave him a hussar's uniform. Later he liked to recall how as a very small boy he would ask the family servant to bring him the swords and caps belonging to his father's military guests so that he could admire them while he lay in bed at night.
Epenstein, Heinrich Goering's friend in Africa, and, as it proved, the particular friend of his wife Franziska, had also finally settled in Germany. In contrast to Heinrich Goering, who had comparatively little money apart from his State pension on which to bring up his young family of five children, Epenstein was a very rich bachelor. He could afford to indulge his whims, among which was to let Hermann, together with his brothers and sisters, become his godchildren.
A domineering man, Epenstein was punctilious in his demands and insistent on receiving a proper degree of respect. He would lose his temper if his guests were so much as a minute late for meals. He was small, dark and fat, obsessed by the sense of class, though his father had been no more than an Army suigeon in Berlin. He liked to pretend he was the son of a court surgeon, and he acquired his title of Ritter von Epenstein by donations presented in the right quarters. His lifelong friend was a Dr. Thirring, whose two sons were later to be among his many godchildren; one of them, Professor Hans Thirring, was to become a distinguished physicist.
Epenstein remained a bachelor, traveling a great deal and enjoying life. He practiced little as a doctor, though he attended Franziska in Africa when she bore her first child. When he decided to settle, it was Dr. Thirring who found him the castle of Mauterndorf in Austria, not far from the border with Bavaria. Epenstein spent a great deal of money on the restoration and furnishing of this castle, recreating in it the heavy and pompous atmosphere of German medievalism that so stirred the young imagination of his godchild Hermann. After Heinrich Goering had returned to Germany Epenstein bought a second and smaller castle called Veldenstein, fifteen miles from Nuremberg; he offered this new property, which was a house built onto the ruins of an ancient Franconian fortress of the eleventh century, to the Goering family as a home. Here Herman Goering was finally settled with his elder brother, his two sisters and his younger brother, Albert.
Veldenstein always appeared to him to be the family seat. While the world of his father represented Prussia with its militarist etiquette, its rigorous uniforms, its pompous parades and its memories of Bismarck, the rich world of his godfather represented medieval Germany. Its romantic castles gave him his first vision of medieval splendor in the magnificent scenery of the Bavarian mountains and excited in him a desire for feudal power that he was never to lose. He was already headstrong and spoiled, dominating his elder brother and sisters and displaying his aggressive instincts at the first sign of any opposition or restraint. He lived out of doors as much as he could, his eyes on the dark slopes of conifers stretching up to the Alps that even as a child he longed to climb.
It was at Veldenstein that Franziska, Goering's mother, lived as Epenstein's mistress. Her elderly and complacent husband had to accept this situation on humiliating terms. Epenstein kept the finest bedroom in the establishment for himself, while Franziska slept in a hardly less well-appointed room situated conveniently close by. Heinrich Goering was not admitted to this part of the house; he had to sleep on the ground floor. When the family visited Epenstein at Mauterndorf, Hermann's father was lodged in a house that stood apart from the castle. He was content, or pretended to be so, with the dignity left him in the title of Minister-Resident that had gone with his colonial governorship. (His son was later to refer to him always as "the Minister President.") In his old age he found some remaining comfort in drinking and skittles, and he exercised little or no control over his second family of young children. Franziska was to remain Epenstein's mistress for some fifteen years; it was perhaps ironic that the relationship should finally break down just before Heinrich Goering's death.
Nominally Epenstein was a Christian, having been baptized in childhood. But he was of Jewish family and appearance, and his name appeared in the "Semi-Gotha" of the time, a volume in which all titled families of Jewish descent were listed. He was a man who liked to be regarded as the benefactor of numerous children, who were all encouraged to address him as Pate or Godfather. Not only the five children of the Goering family enjoyed this privilege, but the two sons of Dr. Thirring as well. He would write long letters to his friends on how to educate their sons, how to marry off their daughters and how to invest their money.
It is not difficult to see the effect of this situation on Hermann Goering as a child. His father became a nonentity living on the memories of his past service to Germany; his godfather provided the symbol of power and of possessions to which he was instinctively drawn, though he must at a comparatively early age have begun to resent the situation in which Epenstein had involved his mother.
In the authorized biography written by Gritzbach and published when Goering was in power, it was asserted that as a child he would set his dog on the local Jews to show off his innate racial integrity; but this was one of the Nazi legends which most of the leaders imposed on their biographers. Hermann, however, was willful enough and spoiled enough to do exactly what he wanted. In place of discipline and authority he found only indulgence, since the relationship of his parents had no basis of affection or respect. He was his father's favorite and he knew it. On one occasion before he could read, he stole a telegram addressed to his father while he was out and then offered it to him already opened on his return. "Ich bin doch Papas Liebling!" he used to say. "I'm Daddy's darling!"
From the beginning, Hermann was set against attending school. He failed at his first school, in Fürth, to which he was sent in 1900 at the age of seven, boarding with one of the masters. He was wild and difficult to control, ordering his companions about in his eagerness to play at soldiers. At home, like other boys, he marshaled his lead soldiers, but he added to the drama of his games by piling up rugs in order to make mountains for his maneuvers, and by using mirrors to increase the dimensions of his forces. Stories of the Boer War were current at the time, and the natural sympathies of the Germans for a whole generation to come lay with the Boers and not with the British. His father gave him a Boer uniform with khaki shorts and a broad-brimmed hat, and he wore them with pride when he was away from school, calling himself General of the Boers. The boys dreaded him as a great fighter.
At the age of eleven he was sent to a boarding school at Ansbach, which his father chose at random from an alphabetic list. From the first he hated it; the discipline was strict and the food bad. Already he was learning to love good food, and the Rindfleisch provided every day revolted him. He organized a strike among the boys. Then he sent his bedding home in a neatly packed parcel and a few hours later arrived at Veldenstein, having sold a violin for ten marks to pay for his fare. He was told he must go back, but he refused so stubbornly that his parents gave way. According to his own account later, when he had reached the stage at which he could bear the restrictions and the discipline at Ansbach no longer, he had taken to his bed and defied both teachers and doctors to get him up again until he obtained their consent to let him go. Once he was back at Veldenstein, he believed the success of his defiance was a sign of his natural heroism, the birthright of a child whose ancestors had, as his father had always told him, played a part in the greatness of German history. He knew well enough by now that Michael Christian Goering, his great-great-grandfather, had been Commissarius Loci, a sort of economic gauleiter, for Frederick the Great of Prussia. Goering was to remember this ancestor with pride when he himself became Commissarius for all of Nazi Germany.
Meanwhile, the only leadership he could exercise was over the children around him. Later, in his maturity, he would laugh at his recollections of hitting the heads of any boys who challenged his authority. He claimed that he first of all defended and then besieged the castle of Veldenstein, urging on his friends to show their prowess and courage as he scaled the walls at the risk of his life. The ruined castle inspired his romantic imagination. When he was eight years old, he looked at the surrounding countryside from the castle tower and had a vision of Roman chariots with plumed warriors passing through the valley below. He ran to tell his mother and sister, but they only laughed at him. It was this spectacular aspect of history that appealed to him; he was enthralled by the Teutonic legends, such as the Nibelungen saga, and by the heroes of German history, such as Charlemagne and Frederick the Great. His only interest in books was to provide his imagination with the images of chivalry. Later he was to have a fictitious genealogical table constructed which linked his family directly with Frederick the Great, Charlemagne and Saint Elizabeth of Thuringia, and he spent time impressing these legends about himself on the psychiatrists whose duty it was to study him in the cells of Nuremberg jail.
During the school holidays, young Goering's blood was roused by the sight of the mountains, and while still a boy he became a skilled climber. Knowing almost nothing, he persuaded his brother-in-law and a friend to take him up the twelve-thousand-foot peak of the Grossglockner. He insisted that they try the ascent by the more difficult route from the northwest. They started to climb at dawn, cutting their way up foothold by foothold until the morning sun warmed their faces on the first summit of the Teufelshorn. They now had to pass along a sharp ridge which led up to the peak of the Grossglockner. Roped together, they edged their way along with a drop on one side of twenty-five hundred feet and on the other of three thousand feet over the glacier of the Glockner-Kars. They reached the peak, but during the descent the boy nearly lost his life. Attempting a feat beyond his skill, he would have slipped to his death far below if his brother-in-law had not interposed his own body and caught him as he fell.
At fifteen, when he was climbing one of the needles in the Mont Blanc chain, he is said to have dislocated his shoulder during the action of swinging his body up into a cleft, and then, after readjusting the arm himself, continued his climb in spite of the pain. He seemed utterly fearless, and the stories grew of his disregard of danger. There was the occasion when, in the Austrian Alps, he encountered an avalanche. He was so struck by the spectacle of crashing rocks and boulders of snow that he was unaware of the panic among those who were with him. At another time, he was in a boat with some friends when they began to drift toward a waterfall. Goering's recollection is that he told them to stop being fools — if they were to die, that was nothing to get excited about. Goering's belief, which remained in adult life, was that nothing could happen to harm him. He was, quite literally, insensitive to physical danger.
Legends or not, these are the heroic tales which surrounded his youth and encouraged his indiscipline and lack of self-control. There is, however, no question of his physical courage and endurance in his early youth, and it justified his father and Epenstein in sending him at the age of twelve to a military academy, the Cadet School at Karlsruhe in Baden. There, they felt, he should meet his match in discipline. And there, not so strangely, he at last found a school that he considered fit for heroes to work in. His sister Paula and the Graf sisters, who were some three years older than Hermann, attended a finishing school which was also at Karlsruhe. One day, when he was about fifteen, he was invited to lunch by the headmistress, Fräulein Grüber, to visit his sister and their friends. He arrived looking erect and smart in his uniform, and presented the headmistress with a large bouquet of lilac, clicking his heels and kissing her hand. The girls were most impressed until they found later that when he took them out to a Konditorei he had no money left to pay for the cakes they ate.
At the age of sixteen, Goering went to the military training college at Lichterfelde, close to Berlin. The social life at this academy was in keeping with his tastes; he enjoyed himself at night in what he was later to insist was the most exclusive of the Kadettenkorps, to which he naturally belonged, and in the daytime he responded to the clique discipline and the uniform-wearing, which had excited his childhood imaginings. He did well and left the academy with the highest distinction, and in March 1912 he was commissioned in the Prinz Wilhelm Regiment, the 112th Infantry, the headquarters of which were at Mulhouse. His age was nineteen. Goering assumed his status as a commissioned officer with conventional pride. "If war breaks out, you can be sure I'll give a good account of myself and live up to the name of Goering," he told his family and friends when they assembled to admire him in his new uniform.
It was in the following year, 1913, that the Goerings finally broke with Epenstein and had to leave Veldenstein. The relationship between Epenstein and Franziska had worn itself out, and tedious quarrels had been developing with the old man. The situation grew impossible, and Heinrich Goering was forced to move his family to Munich. Almost immediately afterward he died, and there was an imposing funeral in Munich at the Waldfriedhof. Goering fought hard to control himself, but suddenly burst into tears and wept openly as he stood in his officer's uniform beside his father's grave.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Goering"
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Table of Contents
I Pour le Mérite 21
II Failure and Exile 46
III Fulfillment 63
IV Conquest of the State 91
V Hitler's Paladin 124
VI Peace or War 166
VII Blitzkrieg 229
VIII Maecenas of the Third Reich 280
IX Eclipse 294
X Nuremberg 328
Appendix: A Note on the Reichstag Fire 394