“I am not my brother’s keeper” – Albert Goering
Albert Goering was a shy, introverted, sensitive child, given easily to tears. His adult professional life was quiet, conservative and uncontroversial. Only when his brother’s political party set about destroying everything he believed in did Albert reveal the extent his personal courage, conviction and incorruptibility: “when Goering was asked why he undertook all this assistance to the Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution he replied that he was completely disinterested in politics, that he loathed all oppression and tyranny, and that he was doing in some small way, everything in his power to atone for the evil and brutality of his brother and all the leaders of the Nazi regime.” His eternal resistance to the status quo, that is, to all that he abhorred, would see him renounce his Fatherland upon the advent of Nazism in 1933. It would lead to his declaring war on the Nazi regime. It would push him on to the road as a political exile and a fugitive of the Gestapo. And, most importantly, it would mean life for hundreds of would be victims of Nazism. “It had been the tendency all my life to help whomever I could, without looking at their nationality, their country, their age, or whether they were Jews or Christians. I have helped people from Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Germany, whenever I could, whether they were poor or whether they wanted to emigrate, or what, and I never expected or received any compensation for it, because I did it for religious reasons”. He saved hundreds perhaps thousands of people across Europe from persecution, spending nearly a decade working against his brother’s regime, rescuing humble shopkeepers and heads of state, running escape routes and assisting the Resistance. Two years Hermann’s junior, Albert loathed Hitler from day one.
Living in Vienna in 1938 it is believed Albert’s first act against the Nazis was when he helped his good friend Albert Benbassat, a Jewish business man flee from Vienna to Spain, by arranging papers for him and his family as conditions became perilous for them. The first few weeks of the Anschluss established a pattern of cooperation between the brothers. “As soon as it was necessary to involve higher authority or officials, then he had to have the support of Hermann, which he did get.” Without the protection of his brother Hermann, who was Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, Albert could not have evaded the Gestapo nor rescued as many people as he did, especially the more prominent ones. The arrival of the Nazis released the pent-up anti-Semitism of large sections of Viennese society that had festered like a boil on the city’s body politic since its Jewish population had begun to mushroom in size from the end of the nineteenth century. The result was an instantaneous pogrom. Mobs roamed the streets, flanked by Nazi storm-troopers, smashing up shops, beating and humiliating Jews at random Albert did not hesitate to get involved: “All day he was out and about saving Jews he knew and didn’t know.” He happened to walk past a baying crowd outside a looted shop and saw that, “There was an old Jewish woman… and they had fastened a sign on her that read, “I am a sow Jew”, and she was forced to scrub the floor with hydrochloric acid. I went and liberated her, and whilst I did so I, I got into trouble with two SA men and was arrested immediately … They saw my name and they realised that my brother was Hermann Goering… and I was released and warned that such a thing must not happen again.” He didn’t find this admonishment particularly threatening as his two-step of issuing and quashing arrest warrants would repeat itself a total of four times throughout the duration of the war.
As the horrors of the Anschluss continued, Albert, defender of the persecuted, and Hermann, instigator of the persecution, came together as brothers in May 1938 during a family holiday at Albert’s lodge in Grinzing. They were political and ideological rivals on the streets, but in this private world, a sanctum shut to their public lives, they remained devoted brothers. That was one of the most peculiar elements of their relationship: they could somehow detach themselves from their public roles whenever they came together. Even when they drifted apart as Hermann fell deeper into National Socialism and Albert fled to Vienna, they still tacitly loved each other as brothers and no doubt would have received each other amicably had their paths ever crossed during that period. Yet, on this occasion in Grinzing, both worlds collided when their older sister Olga brought news of Nazi thuggery into the Goering sanctum. Olga related the plight of an old Archduke peacefully living away from the politics of Vienna in Mondsee, who one morning woke up to the SA banging on his door. The thugs dragged him from his home, shaved his head bald and then carted him off to Dachau. The victim was Archduke Joseph Ferdinand IV, the last Prince of Tuscany and member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. When Hermann joined the family after ‘his parade of triumph’ in Vienna, he wanted to share his success with his family by granting each one a wish. Much to the discomfort of Hermann, Albert and his sister hijacked his offer by bringing up the plight of the Archduke. “My sister and I wished for the immediate release of the old Archduke. Hermann was very embarrassed. But the next day the imprisoned Habsburger was free.”
Albert tired of working for “party acrobats from Berlin who turn every waltzing melody into a Prussian march”, left Vienna in late 1938 to take up a post at the Tobis-Italiano company in Rome. Albert met a Jewish doctor named Kovacs who treated his wife for cancer. Albert started donating money to Kovacs “for the assistance of Jews and other refugees from Nazi tyranny’ out of the surplus from his wage packet: ‘He required no receipt or knowledge of who was helped”. Later in 1939 Albert secured a job in the Skoda Munitions Factory in Prague. This was in response to the threat that the Nazis planned to dismember and relocate their company. Bruno Seletsky, Skoda’s export director offered Albert a job in the company. Albert accepted the offer but only after he had gained the permission of his brother. Albert replaced his friend Bruno but only after getting him safely to Switzerland. Skoda was a hive of anti-Nazi activity. Plans for German cannons were stolen and transported to Slovakia where they handed them to the Russians who used them to manufacture their own weapons. Tools and gun barrels were sabotaged. Albert turned a blind eye to these activities and it is probable that he secretly supported them. According to one source Albert and a cabal of Skoda colleagues drove a truck to a local concentration camp, he said “I need workers. He filled the trucks with workers. The head of the concentration camp agreed, because it was Albert Goering. He then took them to the woods and let them out”. This was his last and possibly most audacious act of the war as his acts of defiance were catching up on him. The breaking of the Czech resistance accelerated. That summer over 3,000 were arrested over 1,000 killed and 252 friends and relatives of the agents were executed at Mauthausen. Many Skoda workers were seized. Undeterred by the horror unfolding around him, Albert insisted on their release. He made sure the families of those arrested received full salary even though it was forbidden. Albert urged all his Jewish friends to leave and afforded them all possible help in the way of passports, visas and money, transferring currency for them to accounts in Switzerland.
On 28th October 1939, the National Holiday of Czechoslovakia the people attempted to show their solidarity against their invaders. Nazi storm troopers were deployed on the streets of Prague to intimidate the public. Later in the day the Einsatzkommandos arrived, beating passers-by with whips and steel cords. One of the victims was an eminent surgeon Doctor Josef Charvat, who was snatched at dawn with no explanation and sent to Dachau. Albert was one of his patients. Albert improvised “on a sheet of note paper which only bore the family name and crest of arms, and he wrote a message instructing the camp commander to release the newly arrived Doctor Charvat instantly…this letter he signed with the name Goering. In Dachau the letter made such an impression that nobody dared ask for further information. Since there were two Doctor Charvats from Prague in the camp, they release both to be on the safe side.” Though Albert developed a reputation as the man to seek out for help, he did not always wait to be asked. On a train journey Albert struck up a conversation with a young couple, Karel and Hana Schon. Marked by the Star of David, Hana listed the daily persecution she faced, and after learning of Albert’s own disposition towards the Nazi regime, she confided their plans to try and flee Nazi-occupied Europe. Upon hearing of their intentions, Albert provided them with a sizeable amount of Swiss francs and Italian lira to use as bribes or simply to survive. Albert would later find out from the couple’s parent that they had safely reached Buenos Aires.
The demonic energy invested in the Final Solution reached a fever pitch of intensity as the Nazi Empire contracted, creating a whirlpool effect that sucked in millions. Though Albert managed to get a few people out of the camps, including a Czech and two Soviet Prisoners from Seckenheim, he understood how futile and petty his efforts were when stacked against the enormity of the Nazi’s crimes. The final arrest order from the Gestapo was issued in Prague on January 31st 1945. Hermann had lost influence but still managed to keep Albert from the executioner. Albert was reviled as a public enemy of the Reich, an enemy worthy of constant surveillance. Silence was thus necessitated, especially in Nazi-occupied Europe. This was Himmler’s police state, an Orwellian world operating under a highly sophisticated system of surveillance and denunciation. Regardless Albert with no benefit to himself financially or otherwise spent six years of his life helping hundreds of people mainly people he did not even know.
On the 13th of May 1945 Albert was arrested by the Allies. He presented himself to the US Interrogation Centre at Augsburg and was immediately considered a high profile prisoner. In prison Albert’s interrogators, in the Allied Command Centre in Salzburg, focussed on his role at Skoda. They assumed he was Hermann’s flunkey, his job mere “window dressing”. Albert denied the accusation, stating that he only met Hermann every three to six months for a chat: “He would say, ‘Well, how is business moving along?’ However, he would not be interested in details… He might also drop a chance remark such as; ‘Did you see King Boris?” But there was never any report in the sense that they were detailed reports. It was merely general conversation. When Hermann wanted more specific information after a meeting at Obersalzberg, 25-6 March 1943, Albert’s response had been polite, respectful but totally unhelpful. Could Skoda supply 300 tanks to Bulgaria? What new anti-aircraft guns were in development? What sorts of tank? Was the factory operating at full tilt? Albert answered on 6 April: “Unfortunately we at Skoda don’t have even the smallest free capacity, not even to cover part of the tank delivery.’ Designs for a new anti-aircraft gun had been abandoned: ‘further works have been stopped’, due to technical problems. If Hermann had any other questions he should contact the General Director Vambersky.”
These are just a handful of stories about Albert’s good deeds for the Czech people. No doubt there are a whole host of other undocumented stories out there. Albert was extradited to Czechoslovakia, where he was locked up in the Pankrazi prison in 1947 accused by the allies of collaboration with the Third Reich. In prison, in a chronicle of his activities since 1933 he wrote I never was a member of the Nazi party, nor served in the Nazi military. I was a strong fighter against National Socialism. I never mistreated nor persecuted Jews; on the contrary I have helped dozens of Jews as well as non-Jews. He listed the names of 34 prominent people he had saved from the Gestapo. He could not accept being detained and punished, just because he was Hermann’s brother. Albert was arrested on the back of the crimes of his brother but in turn it was his brother that saved him repeatedly from a terrible fate at the hands of those he most hated, the Nazi’s. Albert Goering’s account lacked credibility simply because it was an unbelievable truth. He fought a battle with Nazi leaders, publicly critised Hitler, confronted despotic villains such as Himmler and Heydrich and forced the release of Czech anti-Nazi’s from the Gestapo. Albert finally came before a People’s Court on 6 November, 1947. A steady stream of Skoda personnel, from the shop floor to the boardroom testified in his defence, detailing his efforts to keep the company out of Nazi hands and its directors out of jail, “We, his friends, are unable to believe that it has been forgotten what Albert Goering did for Czech workers.”Albert’sselfless bravery during this dark period in history has gone unacknowledged however without question; Albert deserves to stand alongside Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler. His story is a fascinating one, one that deserves study. His story also reveals that not all Germans were murderers, anti-Semites or brainwashed puppets of National Socialism.