Hermann Wilhelm Göring

The son of a colonial official, Hermann Göring was born on January 12, 1893 in Bavaria. After attending military school, Göring initially served as a lieutenant in the infantry but early on transferred to the Air Force as a combat pilot. By the end of World War I, Göring was a highly decorated and well known pilot.

As a civilian, Göring continued his flying career and took to the skies in several commercial ventures one of which was based in Sweden.

Göring returned to Germany in the early 1920s, enrolling in university in Munich where he first encountered Hitler.

Photo of Hermann Wilhelm Goring

In 1922 he joined the NSDAP and was immediately appointed commander of the Sturmabteilung (SA – Brownshirts or Storm Troopers). A year later, he fled Germany because of his role in the failed Beer Hall Putsch. Not long after his second homecoming, Göring was elected to the Reichstag.  With the NSDAP’s political victory in 1932, Göring became President of the Reichstag.

Göring held many positions within the NSDAP government -- Reich Minister without Portfolio, Prussian Minister President, Reich Commissioner for Air, and Prussian Minister of the Interior. On March 1, 1935 he was made Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Commander in Chief of the Air Force). By the next year, Hitler had made him a full general and appointed him as Plenipotentiary for the Implementation of the Four-Year Plan. This gave Göring enormous power to acquire property and direct industry as he was essentially an economic dictator for the Reich.

From 1937 onwards Göring amassed vast wealth through the Reichswerke – Hermann Göring and at the same time began to acquire a large personal art collection which grew as the Reich occupied Europe. Unlike the collection Hitler amassed for his Führermuseum, Hermann Göring accumulated artworks as a testament to himself as he was known to think of himself as a “Renaissance man.”  In his capacity as Plenipotentiary for the Implementation of the Four-Year Plan, Göring controlled several agencies well suited for plundering -- Haupttreuhandstelle Ost, Devisenschutzkommando, and the Abteilung Feind Vermögen. In addition, Göring employed and utilized a number of art experts to assist with both acquiring works and maintaining his collection – Walter Andreas Hofer, Bruno Lohse, Walter Bornheim, Kajetan Mühlmann, Karl Haberstock, and Aloys Miedl.

Confiscated works of art from “enemies of the Reich” constituted a large part of Göring collection. From the ERR alone, Göring obtained approximately 700 artworks. Always mindful of appearances, Göring masked his looting by offering token payments or promise of compensation. In addition to looted artworks, Göring was known to have purchased a significant number of works from dealers throughout Europe.  The majority of his collection was kept in his estate, Carinhall, named after his first wife who died in 1931.

Göring was captured by US troops on May 9, 1945. He was found guilty at the Nuremberg Trials on all counts -- conspiracy to commit crimes alleged in other counts, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Hours before his scheduled execution, Göring committed suicide by swallowing cyanide.

Hermann Göring's art collection, stolen from museums across Europe, is stored temporarily in building near Berchtesgaden while being catalogued, June 9, 1945. (NARA #111-SC-207820), courtesy National Archives