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Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Göring forged Hitler’s mighty air arm and cheated the hangman at Nuremberg.

By Blaine Taylor

He’s not afraid to take a risk,” was one assessment of cadet Hermann Göring in his pre­World War I student days. In 1922, the former ace pilot and last commander of the famed Richthofen “Flying Circus” took the risk of joining Adolf Hitler’s embryonic Nazi Party, explaining with gusto that the former corporal was “the only one to say ‘To hell with Versailles!'” and the treaty that had humiliated the once-proud, kaiser-ruled Imperial Germany in 1919.

Wounded in Münich during the Führer’s abortive November 9, 1923, attempt to seize power in Bavaria and then the Reich, Göring (also spelled Goering) became addicted to morphine and was suicidal. To save both of their lives, his Swedish-born first wife, Carin von Kantzow, had him committed to the Langro asylum for the insane in Stockholm on September 1, 1925. It did not appear to be a good career move.

But Göring overcame his addiction and returned to Germany to help Hitler become chancellor and establish his dictatorship. By 1940, 15 years after being declared legally insane, Göring had managed to become the Führer’s designated successor, head of the economy, creator of one of the world’s great air fleets, master of the Reich’s forests and reformer of its game laws (his new laws still exist today) and president of the Reichstag (Germany’s legislative body).

Following the fall of Western Europe to Hitler’s aggressive armies and Göring’s Luftwaffe, the grateful Führer made Göring the highest ranking German military officer of all time in his July 19, 1940, victory speech to the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House in Berlin. “As a reward for his mighty contribution to victory,” Hitler said, “I hereby appoint the creator of the Luftwaffe to the rank of Reichsmarschall of the Greater German Reich and award him the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross.” Thus, Hermann Göring, at 47, was a figure unique in history–a six-star general, in effect, and the only man ever to receive the Grand Cross.

Göring’s first wife died in 1931, and four years later he married a popular German stage actress, Emmy Sonnemann. A daughter, Edda, was born in 1938. Göring was supremely happy as a family man living on vast estates across Germany proper and in annexed Austria. Beginning in 1940, however, everything went downhill for both Göring and the Third Reich.

Even as Göring’s vaunted air force lost the Battle of Britain, the Führer invaded Russia over his Reichsmarschall’s objections and declared war on the United States. Göring, meanwhile, was amassing one of the world’s great art collections–including at least 1,300 stolen paintings and worth about $180 million.

Putting aside the overt aggressions against peaceful nations, what condemned the Reichsmarschall to hang at the Nuremberg Trials at war’s end was his written authorization to SS Lt. Gen. Reinhard Heydrich to start the planned murder of Europe’s Jewish and other “non-Aryan” populations. Göring eluded the hangman’s noose by killing himself in his cell on the night before his scheduled execution. He had written to his wife, “I would at any time accept death by shooting, but the hanging of Germany’s Reichsmarschall cannot be allowed.”

All of this has been told many times before in Göring biographies from 1950 to 1987, and Angels of Death: Goering’s Luftwaffe, by Edwin P. Hoyt (Forge Books, New York, 1996, $22.95), is basically another rather standard, conventional tome that brings nothing new to light; it is simply the latest biography of the controversial Göring. It is short, concise, engagingly written and well-illustrated, however, and is a good study for any reader interested in a brief overview of this fascinating man’s life.

The prolific Hoyt is also the author of Hitler’s War, Japan’s War, The Invasion Before Normandy, 199 Days: The Battle for Stalingrad, The U-Boat Wars and many others, making him one of today’s premier writers on World War II. Angels of Death is recommended in the vein of general education and entertainment.