Berlin, Germany March 1, 1935

On this date in 1935 Adolf Hitler appointed World War I air ace Her­mann Goering, last com­mander of the famous “Red Baron” Richt­hofen Fighter Squad­ron, to the posi­tion of Luft­waffe Com­man­der-in-Chief. Goering held the post until the final days of the Third Reich. A faith­ful Nazi from the earliest days of the National Socialist Party, Goering was wounded in the upper right thigh by a high-velo­city 7.9mm slug during Hitler’s botched attempt to seize political power in Bava­ria (the Beer Hall Putsch) in Novem­ber 1923. Treated with mor­phine to relieve the ter­rible pain caused by the wound, Goering developed a life­long addic­tion to the drug, not to men­tion per­ma­nent changes to his metab­o­lism: he quickly doubled his weight, bal­looning to more than 320 pounds. Never­the­less, he per­formed yeo­man duties for the party, becoming President of the Reichstag (German Parliament) in August 1932.

After the Nazis came to power in national elections at the end of Janu­ary 1933, Goering assumed the post of Prus­sian Minis­ter Pres­i­dent. While in office he founded and briefly ran the Gestapo, the national Secret State Police, which was modeled on the long-standing Prus­sian Secret Police. In 1934 Goering handed the reins of the Gestapo to another top Nazi, Hein­rich Himm­ler, a singu­larly evil char­acter who directed the killing of six million Jews and count­less more victims in death camps he built and oversaw.

Meanwhile, Luftwaffe chief Goering, officially designated Hitler’s suc­ces­sor on Septem­ber 1, 1939, the day World War II broke out in Europe, directed the build­up of the German air force and later the air cam­paigns against Poland and France. On June 19, 1940, he was pro­moted to Reich Marshal, a military position second to none in the Third Reich.

Goering was cunning, brutal, corrupt, and ambitious, and for much of the war he remained gen­u­inely popular with the German people, who regarded him as manly, honest, and more acces­sible than the Fuehrer. Despite his popu­lar­ity, servile depen­dence on Hitler, and political power (in marked decline begin­ning in September 1940 due to his mili­tary errors in the air war against England), Goering was not among the inner circle of Hitler inti­mates. In April 1945 Hitler dismissed him igno­mi­niously from all his posts and ordered his arrest. On May 9, 1945, Goering became a prisoner of the U.S. Seventh Army.

Luftwaffe Chief and Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, 1893–1946

Hitler and Goering, Berlin, March 1938 Goering, Hitler, and Albert Speer, August 1943

Left: With Anschluss (union between Germany and Austria) awaiting only a sham plebis­cite in both countries, Hitler and Goering greet admirers from the balcony of the Reich Chan­cellery in Berlin following their triumphal return from Vienna, the Austrian capital, on March 16, 1938.

Right: Goering, Hitler, and Minister of Armaments and War Pro­duc­tion Albert Speer meet for discussions at Fuehrer headquarters, August 10, 1943.

Hitler declaring war on U.S., December 11, 1941 Goering (far left) in the Nuremberg dock

Left: Goering, in his capacity as Reichstag Presi­dent, sits in the high-back chair directly behind Hitler, who stands at the podium delivering his declara­tion of war against the United States, Decem­ber 11, 1941. Sitting next to the empty chair (left center) is Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Right: Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg Trials, 1945–1946. Front row (l–r): Her­mann Goering, former Deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribben­trop, and Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, one of two men (the other was Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl) who surren­dered Nazi Ger­many to the Allies on May 7 and 8, 1945. Goering and Hess com­mitted sui­cide years apart (1946 and 1987, respec­tively), and Ribben­trop, Keitel, and Jodl were hanged on October 16, 1946, as war criminals.

Hitler’s Henchmen: Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering

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