Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The legacy of Goering

In the Independent (UK): (hat tip: Maven Yavin)
Matthias Goering says: "I used to feel cursed by my name. Now I feel blessed."

The 49-year-old physiotherapist, a descendant (sic) of Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler's right-hand man, is wearing a Jewish skullcap, with a Star of David pendant round his neck. After being brought up to despise Jews, he has embraced their faith. And although he has yet to formally convert to Judaism, he keeps kosher dietary rules, celebrates shabbat and is learning Hebrew.

In a Jewish restaurant in Basle, Mr Goering enthuses about Israel. "It feels like home," he says. "The Israelis are so friendly." Even when they hear his name? "Yes, they say they're so thankful I've made contact."

With the same name as the former Luftwaffe chief, who committed suicide at Nuremberg hours before he was to be executed, Mr Goering says he did not have a happy childhood. His great-grandfather and Hermann's grandfather were brothers, and that was enough to ensure problems after the fall of the Third Reich. "My siblings and I were bullied mercilessly," Matthias says. His father, a military doctor, was a Soviet prisoner of war, but returned with his anti-Semitic views intact. When times were hard, Matthias says: "Our parents would say to us, 'You can't have that, because all our money's gone to the Jews.'"

But that's not the only Goering news. Val this week tipped me off to this fascinating Wikipedia article:

Albert Göring (1900 - 1966) was a German businessman, notable for helping Jews and dissidents survive in Germany during World War II. His older brother Hermann Göring was a high ranking Nazi war criminal.

Göring was born near Mauterndorf to Heinrich Ernst Göring and his wife Franziska.

The Göring family lived with their children’s aristocratic godfather, Ritter Hermann von Epenstein, in his Veldenstein and Mauterndorf castles. Von Epenstein was a prominent physician and acted as a surrogate father to the children as Heinrich Göring was often absent from the family home. According to the author Leonard Mosley, who had interviewed Göring family members, von Epenstein began a long-term affair with Franziska Göring about a year before Albert's birth. Mosley also states that the strong physical resemblance between von Epenstein and Albert Göring led many people to believe that they were father and son. If this belief was correct then Albert Göring had a Jewish paternal grandfather.

Göring also seemed to have acquired his godfather's love of the bon vivant and looked set to lead an unremarkable life as a filmmaker, until the Nazis came to power in 1933. Unlike his older brother Hermann, who was a leading party member, Albert Göring despised Nazism and the brutality that it involved. On one occasion he is reported to have got down on his hands and knees and joined a group of Jews who were being forced to scrub the street. The SS officer in charge, unwilling to see Hermann Göring's brother also publicly humiliated, ordered the street scrubbing to stop.

Albert Göring also used his influence to get his Jewish boss Oskar Pilzer freed after the Nazis arrested him. Göring then helped Pilzer and his family escape from Germany. He is reported to have done the same for many other dissidents.

Göring intensified his anti-Nazi activity when he was made export director at the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia. Here, he encouraged minor acts of sabotage and had contact with the Czech resistance. On many occasions Göring forged his brother's signature on transit documents to enable dissidents to escape. When he was caught he used his brother's influence to get himself released. Göring would also send trucks to concentration camps with requests for labour. These trucks would then stop in an isolated area and their passengers would be allowed to escape.

After the war Albert Göring was questioned during the Nuremberg Tribunal. However many of the people who he'd helped testified on his behalf and he was released. Soon afterwards Göring was arrested by the Czechs but was once again freed when the full extent of his activities became known.

Göring then returned to Germany but found himself shunned because of his family name. He found occasional work as a writer and translator, living in a modest flat far from the baronial splendour of his childhood. He died in 1966 without having his wartime activities publicly acknowledged.

As Maven Yavin wrote, ונהפוך הוא. Purim is a time that things go topsy-turvy.