My most recent drivetime audio book was The Great Escape by the late Paul Brickhill, an Australian journalist, fighter pilot, and prisoner in Stalag Luft III. Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s second in command, figured in the background of the events Brickhill chronicled, and I was curious to learn a bit more about him. Though a gallant and courageous fighter pilot in the first World War, he joined the Nazi party in 1922, was condemned at Nuremberg to hang for his war crimes, and took his own life using cyanide hours before he was to be executed.
One curious detail is his American nephew, Werner Goering. During the war, the FBI investigated him for months before deciding it would be safe to allow Werner to be a bomber pilot. As a precaution, the FBI also investigated the man who would be his co-pilot, Jack Rencher. Rencher, an excellent marksman with a pistol, was asked if he would volunteer to shoot Werner should Werner try to land in Germany, which assignment Rencher accepted. Rencher says he and Werner Goering got along well.
Werner Goering was born and raised in Salt Lake City, which caused me to wonder if he were a Mormon. His co-pilot wrote that Werner “did not smoke, drink, swear, or chase women,” which is suggestive, but Mormons aren’t the only clean-living young men. Rob Morris, a high school history teacher in Ammon, Idaho, devoted a chapter of his book Untold Valor: Hidden History of the Air War Over Europe in World War II to Werner Goering and his bomber crew. “A chance encounter with Mormon missionaries set one of Herman Goering’s brothers on a different road in life. [Karl] Goering and his wife moved from Germany to the Mormon Zion of Salt Lake City, Utah.” (Page 167.) So, it looks like Hermann Goering’s brother and sister-in-law were probably Mormon converts. Among the suprising aspects of this is the Goerings’ aristocratic upbringing; not many people who grew up living in castles become Mormon proselytes.
Another detail is that the Wikipedia entry on Werner Goering gives his mother’s name as Atela, apparently taken from 1930 census records. The only Goering that the Social Security death index has for Utah is Adele Goering who was born September 13, 1885, and died in Salt Lake City in December 1981. Rob Morris credited Werner Goering and Jack Rencher among the veterans who contributed to his book, so those octogenarian aviators were still with us as of three years ago.
Hermann and Karl’s other brother, Albert Goering, is also a curious figure. He was an anti-Nazi, though he and Hermann were close. Albert used his protected position to save many Jews and Czechs. The contrast makes Hermann Goering’s crimes seem all the more optional; a choice; a horrifically wrong, evil choice.