October 15, 1946 Hermann Göring poisons himself the night before his execution at the Nuremberg Trials.
One of his last acts was to ask his brother Albert Göring to look after his wife and daughter. Göring said he would accept the court's death penalty if they allowed him to be shot as a soldier instead of hanged as a common criminal, but the court members refused to allow him this honor. Defying the sentence imposed by his captors, he committed suicide with a potassium cyanide capsule the night before he was supposed to be hanged. Where Göring obtained the cyanide, and how he had managed to hide it during his entire imprisonment at Nuremberg, remains unknown. In the 1950s, Erich von dem Bach-Zalewski claimed that he had given Göring the cyanide shortly before Göring's death. However, this claim is usually dismissed. Later theories speculate that Göring befriended U.S. Army Lieutenant Jack G. "Tex" Wheelis, who was stationed at the Nuremberg Trials and helped Göring obtain cyanide which had likely been hidden among Göring's personal effects when they were confiscated by the Army. In 2005, former Army private Herbert Lee Stivers claimed he gave Göring "medicine" hidden inside a gift fountain pen from a German woman the private had met and flirted with. Stivers served in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division's 26th Regiment, who formed the honour guard for the Nuremberg Trials. Stivers claims to have been unaware of what the "medicine" he delivered actually was until after Göring's death. After his suicide, Hermann Göring was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Conwentzbach in Munich, which runs into the Isar river.
What I think of as his most disturbing quote:
Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine 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. ...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
Goering was second only to Hitler in power and evil in the Nazi regime. In many ways, he was quite the opposite of Hitler. Hitler was a vegetarian with an austere lifestyle from the lower middle class and served in the enlisted ranks of the military. Goering was an aristocrat with a rich appetite for the finer things in life. His military service was always as an officer. However, after WWI both felt Germany had been betrayed by the Treaty of Versailles. Both were very early members of the Nazi Party. When Hitler assumed his mantle of power, Goering had the good sense (or was just cowardly enough) not to challenge Hitler’s absolute power. There has been some evidence that Goering was personally responsible for the fire at the Reichstag.
Hitler and Goering got along well until the last few days of the war. Goering made attempt to contact the Allies in an effort to surrender and avoid the total destruction of Berlin. Hitler was furious and ordered Goering’s arrest. The war ended and Hitler committed suicide himself before Goering could be arrested. This falling out proved to be no aid in his defense at the Nuremburg Trials, as the court stated, except for Hitler he bore the ultimate guilt.
Goering’s final act of suicide was ultimately an act of cowardice. He had order the death of so many that he did not deserve death with dignity. He could not face his fellow Nazis and die like a man but did so in the privacy of his own cell. We must study Goering and Hitler in detail, and be ever vigilant for signs of similar actions in our own leaders.
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