Hermann Goering's Hearing at Nuremberg
In this section written by Steffi Gascon and edited by Karen Phinney there is an in depth breakdown of the individual Nuremberg trial of Herman Goering. He was considered second in line to Hitler and was the first Nuremberg trial which set precedence for the following trials, which is why I used this case as an excellent example to portray the format of the Nuremberg trials. The book I used was Nuremberg Diary by G.M. Gilbert which was a very credible source; Gilbert was a prisoner psychologist at the prison where all the accused were being held. His book contained interviews with all the indicted along with running commentary and summary of all the trials.
The trial and condemnation of Goering, second in line to Hitler, is perhaps the most significant of the Nuremberg trials. Goering had great persuasion and power during the Nazi Regime. Despite his attempts to deny responsibility during his trial, there is no mistaking his decrees and the concrete evidence of his association in many of the Holocaust events. Even though his actions alone damned him, masterful prosecution techniques were used to turn the defenses witness’s against Goering himself, which added to his prosecution. Goering's total involvement during the Hitler regime was enough to condemn him on all four accounts: Conspiracy to commit crimes alleged in other accounts, Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity. The case lasted many months and examined the twenty-one other cases being tried while bringing the first account to the world about what really happened during Hitler’s cruel rein. Goering’s defense and explanations for his actions were inadequate; regardless of any justification Goering was guilty.
Goering’s first witness, Bodenschatz, worked hard to prove that Goering was a peace loving man that did not premeditate war and actually was taking lengths to avoid it. According to Bodenschatz, in 1939 Goering attempted to negotiate with England in order to stop war behind Hitler’s and Ribbentrop’s back. Bodenschatz also said that Goering had taken many of his friends out of concentration camps showing he was not in favor of many of the Nazi actions. However, when cross-examined by Jackson it was shown that Goering had knowledge about unjustified arrests and plans for war, which brought this witness defense down considerably. After this section of the trial Goering was quoted as saying
I still cannot see how Hitler could have known about all those ugly details. Now that I know what I know, I wish I could just have Himmler here for ten minutes to ask him what he thought he was pulling off there. If only some of the SS generals had protested (Goering, March 9, 1945)
This quote shows that he was against the “Final Solution” yet he did nothing to stop it. Also, the rest of his actions contradict the ideals from this quote (Glibert 185-191).
The next witness Paul Koerner, Goering’s state secretary in Prussia, testified. Then Goering took the stand in his own defense. He told of how he took over the SA troops and got them into shape, participated in the beer-hall putsch, and became a member of the Reichstag in 1928. In 1933 he became President and helped Hitler become Chancellor. He was also responsible for setting up concentration camps, allegedly for the communists. Next he discussed how the Nazis built up their political and military power. The Nazis had tried to keep the church out of political business but Goering admitted that some clergy had been taken to camps. The Nazis started with anti Jewish antics because of hostility from the Jews towards the new regime; according to Goering they were trying to build a powerful government for Germany. In his argument, the regime was helpful because the party provided more jobs for the unemployed, and rearmed and annexed Austria, all during a time when Germany needed rebuilding. Goering also brought up the fact that independent opinion was not allowed in the military and that if opinion had been taken from every soldier and general, many wars in the world probably would not have happened. Goering tried to reiterate the fact that in the military, one does as a commanding officer tells him, not what he chooses. He explained the attacks such as the bombing of Warsaw, Rotterdam, and Coventry, as military tactics, but also admitted to having premeditated the plan to attack Russia (Gilbert 191-202).
After Goering, Dahlerus, a Swedish engineer, testified for the defense. He had been a mediator in Goering’s attempts to prevent war with England, but his testimony only proved that Hitler obviously planned on war. If Germany really wanted to avoid war the Foreign Minister would have negotiated as well. Dahlerus’ testimony was soon disheveled with the cross-examination by Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. He proved that Ribbentrop had tried to sabotage the negotiations between England and Germany and that Hitler had been planning war the entire time. From a book that Dahlerus had written he showed that Hitler had been rushing to make U-boats, and airplanes, which displayed his ruthless intent for war. Dahlerus also pointed out on a map the areas in Poland and nearby countries where Goering had shown interest in annexing. This entire testimony backfired and turned from a defense into a prosecution, digging Goering further in the hole.
In Goering’s cross-examination he admitted to more association with the Nazi’s anti-Semitic movements. He claimed to be a moderating force that restrained many events during the regime. However, this could not have been true as he was responsible for many of the decrees such as taking Jewish-owned businesses and property, declaring the Nuremberg laws, charging a fine to the Jewish population for damage, and trying to eliminate Jews completely from the German economy. Goering’s harsh behavior after the Kristallnacht riots in November of 1938 and the charging of the Jews for the damage to boost the German economy, showed his definite involvement in the anti-Semitic actions of the Nazi regime. Also, when accused of stealing fine art and property from Jews, Goering defended his actions by saying he was building an art collection for the cultural interest of the German state. When accused of slave labor of Jews and prisoners of war Goering said that everything was done in the hopes of building a stronger Germany. When questioned about the murders of prisoners of war and his handing them over to Gestapo rather than changing the system, he gave evasive answers and claimed he only knew about a few instances and that neither Hitler nor he knew about many of the exterminations in camps. Despite previous claims made by Hitler and others, Goering stated that he had remained loyal to the Furhrer and was trying to enhance the German government and society. Through his whole defense Goering maintained that he was a peace loving man and was unaware of many of the killings; the prosecution was able to turn his defense around on him every time. As second in line after Hitler, Goering carried a lot of the guilt because he had the power to stop orders. His outlandish claims of being unaware and only working for the state and the economy could not mask the destruction and cruelty he imposed on millions of people (Gilbert 202-216).
Goering’s defense was not enough to diminish his responsibility. Throughout the whole regime he was Hitler’s wing man and an active part of the entire Nazi movement. Goering was also responsible for the creation of the cruel Gestapo and the concentration camps, even though he claimed in his defense that they were instated to regulate the communists. He was also the ringleader in the Austrian Anschluss, responsible for getting Blomberg and Fritsch removed from the army, for conducting the Roehm purge and much more. Goering used threats and force to get other leaders to coincide with the Nazis actions, and was intense on his use of slave laborers everywhere (Gilbert 437). Such actions were considered Crimes against Humanity. The way Goering treated the Jews, and his obsession with the German economy, his primary concern, were completely inhumane. He is even quoted as saying, “I wish you had killed 200 Jews and not destroyed such valuable property” (Goering November 1938) right after the Kristallnacht riots November 9-10 1938. It was after this that he began the mass executions of Jews in Germany and in all conquered territories.
Even though there were many others carrying out the laws, he wasn’t first in command, and Himmler was most responsible for actual executions, Goering had much influence and was an active member in all German affairs. Thus the court found him guilty without a doubt: “his guilt is unique in its enormity. The record discloses no excuses for this man” (Gilbert 437). Goering was condemned of all four counts of indictment: Conspiracy to commit crimes alleged in other accounts, Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity, and then sentenced to death by hanging.
The Goering case is an excellent example of the Nuremberg trials and of the general Nazi defense. The theme of assigning responsibility of the events during the Nazi regime onto everyone but oneself was practiced by all the Nazis and Germans involved, which made it difficult to assess blame until the final ruling. The trials focused on assessing the blame for the Holocaust on individuals, rather than the country, which made it difficult to weed out the perpetrators. However, it was a necessity to charge the guilty as to bring justice but also to ensure that nobody would try this “final solution” again. The Nuremberg trials represent the coming together of people to convict against the justly wrong, but this meeting of the minds was too late. The Nuremberg trials can never bring back the millions of people who were victimized by the Nazis. The 22 trials were minute in comparison to the people who took the cruel actions against humanity and should have been convicted, as well as compared to the high death toll as a result of the perpetrators.