An upcoming BBC documentary is set to highlight the remarkable story of Albert Goering — the brother of Nazi minister and air force chief Hermann Goering — who is said to have saved hundreds of Jews and political dissidents during World War II.
However, despite the evidence pointing to Albert’s efforts to enable Jewish people and others to escape the Nazis, he is not in line for nomination as a Righteous Among the Nations, the highest honor bestowed by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel’s official Holocaust institute.
“There are indications that Albert Goering had a positive attitude to Jews and that he helped some people, but we do not have sufficient proof, i.e., primary sources, showing that he took extraordinary risks to save Jews from danger of deportation and death,” Yad Vashem told The Times of Israel on Monday.
Reports by the Gestapo, US Army interrogation records and survivor testimonies suggest that the younger Goering risked his life to save victims of the Nazi regime by obtaining exit permits for Jews and transferring their assets out of Germany. For instance, he is said to have secured the release of his Jewish former boss Oskar Pilzer, and to have helped Pilzer and his family escape from Germany. There is evidence Albert Goering also used his family connections to help get Jewish prisoners out of concentration camps, and to prevent the Gestapo from investigating his activities.
Veteran BBC journalist Gavin Esler details Albert Goering’s remarkable story in a Radio 4 program being broadcast on Wednesday, which is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In a preview account of his personal interest in the Goering family history published by the Daily Mail on Sunday, Esler reported a remarkable anecdote — that Albert Goering’s father was Jewish, the result of an adulterous affair between his mother, Fanny, and Hermann von Epenstein, a doctor and businessman.
Fanny’s husband, Heinrich, was in the German diplomatic service, where he served as the consul in Haiti and as the governor-general of the German protectorate in German South-West Africa — modern-day Namibia. Epenstein acted as guardian for the family while Heinrich was away carrying out his duties abroad.
Kesler wrote that Albert’s only daughter, Elizabeth Goering Klasa, has claimed her father told her mother he was not Heinrich’s son but the progeny of Epenstein, making Hermann his half-brother.
The revelation adds a twist to Albert’s wartime heroics, since under the Nazis’ genocidal anti-Semitic doctrine, having just one Jewish grandparent was enough to condemn a person as being intolerably Jewish.
Explaining why it was not ready to honor Albert Goering, Yad Vashem told The Times of Israel that “the title of Righteous Among the Nations is awarded by a special commission, comprised of Holocaust survivors, researchers and historians, and chaired by a retired Supreme Court justice, which operates according to a well-defined set of criteria and rules.
“Each rescue story is carefully examined to see whether it meets the criteria, the most basic of which is that a person risked his/her life to save Jews from deportation and murder. The stories must be substantiated with survivor testimony or archival documentation of the period. Only such documentation, i.e., primary sources, can provide a basis for recognition.
“Thus far, Yad Vashem has not received any documentation that may enable this case [Albert Goering’s] to be presented to the commission.”
Yad Vashem noted that “books or articles are works of analysis and interpretation and therefore cannot be used for the purpose of recognition as Righteous.”
After the war, Albert Goering spent two years in prison while Allied authorities sorted out his story.
His older brother, who led Germany’s air force during the war and was the second-highest-ranking Nazi tried at Nuremberg, committed suicide in 1946, on the night before he was due to be hanged.
It has been reported that the younger Goering, burdened by his notorious family name and legacy, became depressed and alcoholic following the war. He died in 1966.
More than 26,000 people have been designated “Righteous Among the Nations,” the most famous being Oskar Schindler, whose efforts to save more than 1,000 Jews were documented in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” and Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who is credited with having saved at least 20,000 Jews before mysteriously disappearing.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.