The Defense of Hermann Goring
In April 1945, Allied armies began to pour into the German state. The Soviets approached Berlin from the East. The British and American armies destroyed German defenses in the Siegfried line. Although the Third Reich was about to collapse, Hitler insisted that every ‘German soldier fought for his own family’ (Toynbee, 789). This implied that Germany should never, under any circumstances, surrender to the Allied Powers. On the 30th of April 1945, Hitler committed suicide after the Soviets surrounded Berlin on three sides. Most of the high-ranking officials were transferred to Northeastern Germany. Grand Admiral Doenitz headed the Third Reich after Hitler’s death.
For half a month, the Germans held out. On May 7, 1945, Doenitz formally announced the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich (Toynbee, 805). An order was issued to all German units outside Germany to discontinue fighting. General Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander in Western Europe, formally reported to Truman the German surrender. In Moscow, the German surrender signaled the end of the Second Patriotic War and the beginning of the Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe. In London, the German surrender was joyously received by the British parliament. All throughout the Western world, the German surrender marked the end of the most destructive war in the history of mankind.
The German Response
The German surrender deeply shocked the Nazi bureaucracy. Most of the high-ranking Nazi officials regretted the surrender. Himmler, for example, chose to commit suicide instead of surrendering to the Allies. Some German units in Italy and the Balkans failed to act on the surrender terms. Field Marshal Kesselring, for example, ordered some German divisions to ‘throw the cash on the heads of the Allies’ (Irvinga, 671). Alfred Jodl, Hermann Goring, and other high-ranking officials appealed to Doenitz to reverse the surrender terms (although this was due perhaps to personal reasons). Doenitz, however, was adamant because of the inability of the German army to continue fighting.
On May 20, 1945, the Allies formed a grand tribunal in Nuremberg (Irvinga, 699). The tribunal had the following functions:
1) To determine the extent of the crimes committed by the Nazis. The tribunal was tasked to evaluate German violations of the terms and conditions of the Geneva Convention;
2) To indict high-ranking German officials for specified crimes. The Allies argued that the high-ranking officials under Hitler’s regime committed the general crimes of omission and commission;
3) To set up new international rules on genocide and world peace. This was essentially based from the so-called Atlantic charter. The Charter called for the creation of a new set of international rules which would guarantee peace and order.
The Defense of Hermann Goring
Goring entered the halls of the Nuremberg House of Justice to answer the accusations mad against him. Prosecutor Jackson read some of the crimes purportedly committed by Goring while at tenure as Hitler’s second in command:
1) Goring willingly approved Hitler’s war against the Jews – written profusely in the secret document “Solution to the Jewish Question;”
2) Goring willingly approved of the German war plans, which evidently showed significant violations of the terms and conditions of the Geneva Convention;
3) Goring failed to act on the slave labor problem. It was evident that Goring was approved the relocation of slave labor from rural areas to highly industrialized urban areas (Irvinb, 162);
4) Goring was accused of being an accomplice in the so-called “Night of the Long Knives.” This event was a general purge of the Nazi Party after Hitler took office as Chancellor of the Weimar Republic. Goring was apparently supported Hitler’s motives(Irvinb, 167);
5) Goring imprudently ordered the destruction of the cities of Rotterdam, Belgrade, and London. According to international rules, bombing of non-military centers was restrictedly prohibited. Several times Goring ordered the nominal bombing of non-military centers;
6) Goring was accused of ordering a massacre of British prisoners in 1941. The Geneva Convention generally prohibited the killing of defenseless prisoners, unless in case of a general break out.
The Goring Response
Goring denied all the accusations made against him. In a show of audacity, he refused to recognize the authority of the High Court, arguing, “It is impossible for a victor to feel compassion for his enemies … Your authority is based on the principle of an unjust victory … victory granted by superior arms, not by justice itself” (Zaide, 117). His first was to deny that he was anti-Semitic. On April 18, 1946, he profusely argued to the court:
Sweating in his cell in the evening, Goring was defensive and deflated and not very happy over the turn the trial was taking. He said that he had no control over the actions or the defense of the others, and that he had never been anti-Semitic himself, had not believed these atrocities, and that several Jews had offered to testify on his behalf (Zaide, 128).
Goring based his argument on three ‘concluding’ facts. First, Goring himself did not personally sign the extermination program of Jews, Slavs, and prisoners of war. Second, according to Goring, he opposed most of Himmler’s policies because of its seeming contradiction with Nazi ideology. And lastly, together with Hitler, Goring was never aware of the extermination program. The extermination program, according to Goring, was committed by fanatic, overtly loyal Nazis who interpreted Nazi ideology with extreme fanaticism.
The prosecution team denounced Goring’s claims. The prosecution argued that Goring knew the extermination program of Himmler. In addition, the prosecution also denied Goring’s claim that Hitler did not know the extermination program. In fact, Hitler was the prime initiator of the extermination program. The claim that the extermination program was exclusively committed by extreme fanatical Nazis, according to the prosecution, was an illusion.
In the early phases of the trial, Goring seemed to be winning against the prosecution team. Some of his staunchest claims were as follows:
1) Goring was a soldier of the German nation, accountable only to the German nation, not to a self-appointed court of justice (Frischauer, 273). Being a soldier of the German nation demanded three essentials things: 1) loyalty to the government, 2) loyalty to the party dictum, and 3) loyalty to the Fuhrer. According to him, these were the only essentials demands of a German soldier;
2) Goring was not responsible for the defense of the other prisoners. Implied, the past actions of the other prisoners had nothing to do with the policies of the other Nazi officials;
3) According to Goring, war itself is never dependent on the nature of government. He argued:
“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship” (Frischauer, 182);
4) Goring claimed that the Allied atrocities on Germans are a general violation of the Geneva Convention itself. The Allied bombings on German cities were, according to Goring, an example of Allied atrocity. It was not something different from killing Jews. The two policies were similar in essence and principle, regardless of motive;
5) Much of personal policies were directed against the imminent danger of Communism, not to Jews or Slavs (because they were apparently relocated to the East). With a brave stand, he declared to the tribunal:
“Every bullet fired from the barrel of a police pistol was my bullet. If you call that murder, then I am the murderer. Finally I alone created, on my own initiative, the State Secret Police Department. This is the instrument which is so much feared by the enemies of the State, and which is chiefly responsible for the fact that in Germany and Prussia today there is no question of a Marxist or Communist danger” (Speer, 144).
The End of the Struggle
The prosecution team denied all of Goring’s claims. The prosecution team presented the following counter arguments:
1) The so-called “Final Solution’ document was simply an implementation of official Nazi ideology. Goring was not, in effect, duped by Himmler and Heydrich (the so-called ‘Butcher of Prague’). Goring knew the specifics of the term for extermination;
2) The policy of shifting Jews to the East was initiated by Goring. In fact, it was Goring, according to the prosecution, who suggested relocating the Jews to the East. Because of his influence to Hitler, most of the Nazi officials accepted this policy;
3) Goring never reprimanded Himmler or Heydrich for being too brutal in the extermination program, even though he knew the specifics of the program. According to the prosecution, Goring’s stance on the extermination program was both an offense of commission and omission;
4) Goring denial that there was no systematic extermination was a fantasy. Goring participated in the deliberations on the future of a Jewish less Europe. Evidence presented were his purported meetings with notorious Nazis like Eichmann, Seyss-Inquart, and Heydrich.
Much of Goring’s claims were based on his lack of knowledge of the extent of the extermination program against Jews. Although his claims might be deemed as genuine, as some of the evidence presented by the prosecution team later proved to be irrelevant, it is still too impossible to imagine that Goring had no knowledge of the atrocities. The Court decided to have Goring hanged, guilty of all charges.
Frischauer, Willi. The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering. New York: Ballantine Books. 1951.
Irvinda, David. Hitler’s War. New York: Viking Press, 1977.
Irvingb, David. Göring: A Biography. New York: Morrow, 1989.
Speer, Albert. A Diary Inside the Reich. New York: Avon Books, 1955.
Toynbee, Arnold. A History of the World. London: London Publishing House, 1966.
Zaide, Gregorio. The Trial of Hermann Goring. Manila: Manila: Publishing House, 1968.