When we think about the villains of the third Reich, we’re all familiar with the worst of them. Hitler and his raving fanatism and lunatic hatred. Gobbles, slithering his way into the highest offices of the Nazi government, peddling his lies and propaganda on a gullible German populace. And then there is Hermann Goering, an oaf who could be written off as a cartoon character if he wasn’t so vile and evil.
With his ridiculous chest full of medals, ostentations sashes, and moon pie face, Goering, who helped organize the thugs of the SA in a fighting force and held the rank of Reichsmarschall during the war, became emblematic of the Nazi mindset. A vain, insecure man who blamed others for his failings and committed barbarous acts of horror to compensate for them. He was an unrepentant thief who personally enjoyed the spoils of looted Jewish homes and then had the gall to pretend he didn’t know anything about the "final solution” he helped orchestrate when brought to stand for his crimes at Nuremberg. It should have come as no surprise when he cheated the hangman the day before his execution by committing suicide, it was his last chance to steal something from the Jewish people so of course he would.
Hermann Goering was a monster. A depraved man with an inverted soul who brought nothing but misery to the world. But, he wasn’t the only Goering. While Hermann will always suffer the infamy of being of the largest villains of the century, he had a brother, one that history has almost forgotten.
Albert Goering was in many ways his brother’s polar opposite. Hermann was a physically built athlete in his army days, and later a rotund thug at the height of Nazi power, while Albert always enjoyed a lanky profile. While Hermann possessed sharp blue eyes always searching for weakness, the kind his party valued so highly, Albert’s were brown and softer, pools of mirth and empathy.
Their personalities also differed. Hermann created a name for himself in WW1 as a pilot and afterwards tried his hand at being a stunt pilot. He was obsessed with displays of bravado to compensate for the shame of being on the losing side of the war. While Hermann stewed under the conditions of the treaty of Versailles and became a bitter agitator for a delusional "return to greatness” for Germany, Albert made the best of life, eager to put the horrors of war behind him. He was a casual man known for his affable nature and quick wits. He was a promising film maker exploring the relatively new medium.
Despite all these differences, the two brothers were still fond of each other. It was this bond that would ultimately both save and doom Albert.
As Hermann and the Nazis ascended, Albert became more and more concerned for both his country, and the Jewish population of Europe. He had nothing but disdain for the Nazis’ race supremist philosophy and saw the persecution of Jews, Poles, and the disabled for exactly the kind of evil it was. He could not understand the man his brother had become and would have no part of the Nazis’ madness despite how easy it would have been for him to secure a position of prestige in the party (talented film makers were always in demand for creating propaganda, and the brother of the Reichsmarschall would not need anything more than an introduction to be given a position and comfortable salary).
Albert did not keep these concerns to himself either. As the Nazi party grew in power, Albert openly opposed its rule. He confronted injustice, using his privileged position as brother to one of the highest members of government to openly flout the law and force Nazi foot soldiers into releasing or turning a blind eye to Jews. One story illustrative of this was a time he saw a line of Jewish women being publicly humiliated by SS officers, forced to scrub the street on their hands and knees. Albert got down on his and joined them. The SS officers, not wanting to have to explain to Hermann why his brother was humiliated or get into a lengthy public debate on the street about it, quietly dismissed the Jewish women.
These small acts of defiance would embolden Albert to greater and greater acts of heroism and risk. He tried to save as many Jews as he could using an alternating strategy of flattering his brother and appealing to their shared bond for "one more favour” and throwing the weight of his family name around to bully Nazi soldiers and bureaucrats into submission. He personally secured Visas for an untold number of Jews by manipulating his brother Hermann (who enjoyed demonstrating his power for his little brother and appearing magnanimous).
In one anecdote, he pressured SS chief Heydrich to release a group of Czech resistance fighters rounded up by the Gestapo from their custody. You have to understand how unbelievable this was. The Czech’s were active war resisters, enemies of the state. The Gestapo were a merciless fascist force that existed to purge any and all threats to the Nazis’ power. Whatever Albert told them must have been a whopper because there is no way the Gestapo let them go easily.
As the war and persecution escalated, Albert moved out of Berlin but did not let that stop him from fighting the Nazi state. As the Export Director at a Skoda Works factory in Czechoslovakia, Albert committed small and large acts of defiance. From covertly encouraging his workers to "lose” important documents, drag their heels on crucial products, and commit small acts of sabotage to out going products, Albert joined a rich tradition of industrial war resistors. Anything that made the supply chain feeding the Nazi war machine less efficient, Albert and his workers did it.
If that was it, Albert would be an interesting character. A minor resistor compared against his monstrous brother. But thankfully, he went much further. On multiple occasions, Albert out and out forged his brother’s signature and sent false orders to nearby SS offices and concentration camps. He secured the safe release of hundreds of dissidents, resistance fighters, and concentration camp prisoners. Aside from forging his brother’s hand, Albert made sport of Germanic bureaucracy, constantly requesting "new labourers” from concentration camp prisoners and then releasing entire truckloads of Jewish captives when they arrived. Nobody ever seemed to check the books on how many labourers his factory actually needed.
Sadly, while Albert was responsible for many noble acts of resistance, his secret efforts paled in comparison to his famous name. When the Reich came crashing down, Albert was arrested and tried at Nuremberg just like his brother. Allied interrogators understandably thought his claims of resistance and opposition against the Nazi regime were pure fantasy. After all, many former Nazis magically became resistance fighters once Germany lost the war, it wasn’t the most believable story.
Albert was spared from imprisonment by the testimony of witnesses and people whom he saved, but the stain of his family association never left him. Despite his heroic actions, Albert was forced to flee to Argentina for his own safety. He descended into alcoholism, his life never quite recovering, and died in 1966. His deeds would go unknown in the public conscious while he was alive.
Recent evidence and the distance of time has allowed historians to view Albert as the hero he was, but there is still some resistance to his legacy. Notably, Yad Vashem has not inducted him into the Righteous Among the Nations, perhaps understandably. It is hard to reconcile the idea that the brother to one of the most monstrous figures of the holocaust could have been a decent man.
But there is also something inspiring about Albert’s tale. No matter the situation, no matter your associations, your position in life, or all the other odds stacked against you, you still have the choice to do the right thing. Albert could have easily gone with the program. He could have grit his teeth and gone with the flow like so many other Germans of the time who didn’t support the Nazis, but lacked the courage to stand against them. He could have enjoyed the prestige and luxury of his brother’s office and wormed his way into a cushy position in the Nazis ranks. But he didn’t. He did the right thing and he did it for no reward and no recognition, good for the sake of good.
As anti-Semitism rears its ugly head again in our society, it is important that we remember the courage of men like Albert who had the moral clarity to see evil for what it was and took a stand against it, no matter the cost.