This Day in Jewish History: The Goering Brother Who Would Save Jews Is Born

Hermann Goering was devoted to the Nazi cause but helped protect his brother, Albert Goering, who went out of his way to show his contempt for the regime.

German Federal Archive / Wikimedia Commons

March 9, 1895, is the birthdate of Albert Goering, the younger brother of Hitler’s second-in-command, Hermann Goering, who risked his life and livelihood countless times during the Holocaust to save the lives of Jews.

Protected in part by his brother, Albert went out of his way to demonstrate his contempt for Nazism and the Fuehrer, even though even symbolic actions of the kind could also have had fatal consequences.

Albert Guenther Goering was born in the Berlin suburb of Friedenau, the last of five children born to the former Franziska Tiefenbrunn and Heinrich Ernst Goering.

Heinrich himself was a diplomat whose career included being governor-general of Germany’s colony in South-West Africa (today Namibia), and later a consul-general in Haiti.

Because of Heinrich’s postings abroad, the children and, sometimes. their mother lived with, and were de facto adopted by, their godfather, Hermann Epenstein, a physician, who had converted from Judaism to Catholicism as a young man and bought himself a title of nobility.

Since Epenstein and Franziska, known as Fanny, became lovers before Albert’s birth, the question of Albert’s patrimony arose. Albert, unlike his siblings, was dark-haired and generally resembled Epenstein. But during the year before he was born, his mother was apparently abroad with her husband in Haiti, so it’s unclear how Epenstein could have impregnated her.

In any case, it is said that many family members assumed that Albert was the son of Epenstein, the converted Jew. Nonetheless, it never seemed to become an issue during the years of the Holocaust.

Moving to Austria, to get away from Hitler

During World War I, when Hermann Goering joined the German air force and distinguished himself as a flying ace, Albert served in the communications corps. Following that, he enrolled at Munich Technical University for engineering studies.

In the 1920s, Hermann became an early supporter of Adolf Hitler — and had to go into exile for four years after participating in the 1923 beer-hall putsch.

But Albert loathed the growing Nazi movement enough to move to Austria and take citizenship there.

After the Anschluss — Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938 — Albert moved again, to Czechoslovakia. The following year, he became the export manager of the giant Skoda automotive works, in Pilsen.

At Skoda, he helped individual employees who were dissidents to escape by forging his brother Hermann’s name on documents. He also requisitioned slave laborers from concentration camps, and after collecting them, he released them into the forests.

Albert also turned a blind eye to episodes of sabotage at the plant, which had major military contracts from the German occupiers. The Gestapo was often aware of his actions but was powerless to stop him.

Brave compassion

Goering showed brave compassion on many occasions. In Vienna he joined a group of Jewish women who had been forced to scrub a street clean, giving the SS officer in charge no alternative but to release the entire group so as not to be accused of humiliating Hermann Goering’s brother. He helped friends who were Jews or married to Jews to escape occupied Europe or to go into hiding.

With the war’s end, Goering was arrested by American troops. He was held and interrogated in a Salzburg prison until he could document that he had directly rescued 34 Jews from concentration camps.

He was released — but rearrested by Czech authorities and tried in a People’s Court. There, former Skoda workers and resistance fighters testified on his behalf, saying he had saved the lives of hundreds, and he was acquitted in 1947.

Brother Hermann, in the meantime, was convicted of crimes against humanity. But several hours before he was to be hanged, he killed himself by swallowing a potassium cyanide pill smuggled into his cell.

Albert died on December 20, 1966, at age 71, in Munich. He had been largely shunned in postwar Germany, even after being cleared by the courts, and was unemployed much of the time. One of his last acts was also one of compassion: He married his housekeeper so she could inherit his state pension.