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Why Didn't Hitler Fire Hermann Goering?

There are very few traits that Hitler claimed to admire more than toughness. He was constantly going on about the need to be ruthless, to put aside considerations of sentiment and be hard, tough, and unswayed by emotion. However, when reading Hitler's words on the subject, one is struck by this question: Is this a motivational speech by Hitler to buck up his audience to the need to make tough choices, or is he trying to convince himself? I suspect that, in many cases, it was the latter.

I can hear the protests now: Hitler? Not tough? How can you say such a thing? What of the Commando Order, the Commissar Order, the Nero Decree, the Holocaust? Aren't these all examples of an extreme toughness?

No, they are not. They are all acts of cowardice born of expedience and merely couched in terms of ruthlessness. The first definition for toughness is "the quality or an instance of being tough", while tough is defined as "difficult, physically or mentally challenging." In all of these cases, the victims of the action ordered by Hitler were many steps removed from him personally, making the decision to kill or persecute them in no way difficult. While these actions required that Hitler be without pity for the victims, they certainly involved no toughness to order.

By way of example, consider that Hitler's most ruthless action, one that involved making a victim of someone who was personally close to him, was the Roehm affair. Roehm and Hitler had a personal 'du' relationship, and Roehm was one of his closest collaborators. From the moment Hitler took power in January of 1933, the military leaders were clamoring for him to do something about Roehm, who was intent on replacing the military establishment with his own SA in a 'second revolution'. It was obvious that Roehm's ambitions were directly opposed to those of the German military, a force in the Reich whose acquiescence in Hitler's rule was absolutely essential.

A truly tough and ruthless leader, such as Stalin, would have immediately dealt with Roehm in order to consolidate his power. Hitler, however, dithered and vacillated for over a year before he was finally forced to face the situation by the approaching death of 86-year-old Reich President Hindenburg (who would die in August of 1934). Hindenburg, as president, was the commander-in-chief of the military, and Hitler wanted to assume Hindenburg's position and power upon his demise. The military made it clear to Hitler that this would never happen unless he eliminated Roehm's threat to their authority. On April 11, 1934, Hitler made a tacit deal with the military leaders; he would take Roehm out of the picture and give them a blank check for expansion, and they would allow him to succeed Hindenburg.

Even with this important agreement in his pocket, Hitler continued to procrastinate, while a clique led by Hermann Goering did all they could to push the issue. Roehm, confident that his friend Hitler could eventually be persuaded to make Roehm's SA supreme over the old military establishment--and indeed Hitler had been so inclined--continued to push for his second revolution. In the process, he gave Goering and his co-conspirators just enough ammunition, in addition to further incriminating material invented for the purpose, to make his position untenable.

It was not until the end of June, 1934, that Hitler forced himself to move against his old friend. The Goering clique had presented doctored 'evidence' to him of Roehm not only plotting a coup, but of saying personally unkind things about Hitler himself. Flying into a rage, Hitler flew to Munich and placed Roehm under arrest, then virtually dismantled the SA. However, he still could not bring himself to order Roehm killed. Instead, he allowed Roehm to be given access to a pistol, thus encouraging him to take his own life. Roehm refused and declared: "If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself."

A truly tough and ruthless fellow would have had no problem personally executing someone whom they had clear evidence (Hitler did not know it was spurious) of plotting a coup. Hitler could not bring himself to do so, and others did the dirty deed for him on July 2, 1934.

This episode reveals a real lack of ruthlessness on Hitler's part, even though he did eventually do the necessary action. Not only did he dangerously procrastinate in the face of a frail and fading Hindenburg, who could have passed at any time, but did not make the fatal move until compelled to do so by an emotional outburst prompted by a supposed personal betrayal by an old friend. And even then, the fellow who would order the death of millions of innocent people could not bring himself to pull the trigger himself.

When Hindenburg finally did give up the ghost barely a month later, Hitler was able to assume his offices, combine them with that of Chancellor, and thus become The Fuehrer of the Third Reich. And who was responsible for this culmination of events, brought about by the tough and ruthless pursuit of power? Hermann Goering, not Adolf Hitler. Without Goering's relentless pushing of Hitler, his behind-the-scenes maneuvering, and his cold-blooded ability to keep his eyes on the prize, Hitler may very well have found his elevation to Fuehrer blocked by the established powers-that-be in the military.

According to Goering, the two of them had entered into a sort of partnership early on ("How I Met Hitler"), with a solid promise from Hitler that Goering would be his right hand man. Goering swore personal loyalty to him with the understanding that he would have second place in the new Reich as well as being his designated successor, and this about a decade before Hitler actually assumed power. Confident fellows, indeed.

From Failure of a Mission: Berlin, 1938 - 1939 by Sir Nevile Henderson:

He [Goering] once said to me that the British whom he really admired were those whom he described as pirates, such as Francis Drake, and he reproached us for having become too "de-brutalized." He was, in fact, himself a typical and brutal buccaneer, but he had certain attractive qualities, and I must frankly say that I had a real personal liking for him . . . . Those who worked with him commented upon his great ability to study files of documents and rows of figures and to extract out of them everything which was essential . . . . He was a man to whom one could speak absolutely frankly. He neither easily took nor lightly gave offence, and he was quick to seize the point at which one was driving. ....

[Goering was] the absolute servant of his master, and I have never seen greater loyalty and devotion than his to Hitler . . . . In all the very frank talks which I had with Goering, he never once spoke of himself or the very great part which he had played in the Nazi revolution. Everything had been done by Hitler, all the credit was Hitler's, every decision was Hitler's, and he himself was nothing. Inasmuch as the enumeration of the posts which Goering filled in the Nazi regime took about five minutes to read, this self-effacement before his leader was all the more remarkable, particularly since, without Goering, Hitler would never have got where he was. Hitler's brain might conceive the impossible, but Goering did it.

The fact is that Hitler just plain admired Goering, and relied on him when the situation called for a cool head and a steady hand. Nothing impressed Hitler more than heroism on the battlefield, and Goering's Pour le Mérite--the highest military decoration of the time--had Hitler's awed respect. Hitler himself considered his own Iron Cross First Class his greatest achievement, even as he conquered most of Europe.

Hitler always expressed admiration for Goering's cunning and nerve under fire. Even as late as 1943, when Goering's growing incompetence was obvious, Hitler was still praising Goering:

July 25, 1943: Adolf Hitler, addressing his Generals:

The Reich Marshal [Goering] has been through many crises with me. In a crisis he stays completely cool. One cannot have a better adviser in times of crisis than the Reich Marshal. In time of crisis the Reich Marshal is both brutal and ice-cool. When it's make or break, I've always seen how he's the ruthless one, as hard as iron. So, you won't find a better man, there isn't a better man around. He's been with me through every crisis, the most difficult crisis, and he's always been ice-cool. Whenever things got really bad, he became ice-cool. (Shirer)

It is interesting that Hitler--who always did have a problem controlling his emotions--should so admire the ability to be 'ice-cold' in a crisis. Hitler did not possess this sort of unemotional toughness himself.

Perhaps one of Hitler's most admirable personal traits was his loyalty to close associates. It has been remarked by many of his biographers that Hitler had a tendency to pick cronies with glaring flaws and then subsequently defend them from the justified criticism of others. Ironically, this was also--I maintain--one of his biggest leadership quality deficits.

I know it sounds counterintuitive, but, in a very real way, Hitler was just too easy-going of a fellow to be an effective warlord on a personal level, though not usually on a policy level. Churchill, Stalin, and FDR all treated subordinates with much more pragmatism than Hitler, and were willing to sacrifice anyone or anything to achieve their aims. Had any commander under the orders of the Big Three been as disastrous for the war effort as Goering was post-Stalingrad, they'd have been canned.

Another of Hitler's cronies whose toughness and ruthlessness was undeniable was Josef Goebbels. Goebbels was often at odds with his Fuehrer, and he would moan and lament to his diary that Hitler was too procrastinating and insufficiently ruthless. One of the many examples of this was Goebbels' push for what he called Total War, a concept Hitler avoided until it was far too late for its implementation to have much effect. Goebbels wanted to draft German housewives into the munitions plants, and introduce severe wartime restrictions on goods and services.

Hitler had allowed hundreds of thousands of young girls from the occupied territories to be transported to the Reich to assist German woman as domestic servants. And this while every resource was needed for the war effort. Hitler fought against Goebbels' Total War idea for a very long time before finally giving in. But even then he could not help but allow so many exceptions and restrictions to the measures that they had practically no real effect. While claiming that he was defending German womanhood from the toils of the workplace, he was hiding in his Bunker as the Red Army raped its way toward Berlin. This is yet another example of a lack of sufficient ruthlessness on Hitler's part making a difficult situation worse, and demonstrates why Hitler was in fact a weak leader in this respect.

Examples of Hitler making poor decisions due to emotional considerations are many and varied; his unfortunate switch of targets from RADAR stations and airfields to ineffectual bombing of London in the Battle of Britain, which was an emotional response to a chance bombing of Berlin; the inexcusable mercy shown to the retreating British troops at Dunkirk; the nonproductive devotion of vital resources to the Holocaust to appease his hate of the Jews during a war for survival, etc.. All these, and many, many more, are examples of horrible leadership prompted by emotional considerations. A tough and ruthless leader would not have been inclined to make such disastrous mistakes. See: What Were Adolf Hitler's Major Blunders?

Hitler made similar horrible decisions in regard to the promotion and dismissal of ministers and generals, and one could make a very long list of incompetent personages kept in positions of authority long past the time where such retention could be justified. Prominent among these was Hermann Goering, who, while not as culpable for many of the supposed failings often attributed to him, was principally responsible for the disastrous decision to not attempt a breakout at Stalingrad. He assured Hitler that his Luftwaffe could supply Paulus by air, and Hitler relied on this promise to order Paulus to stand his ground.

This led directly to the greatest single defeat of Hitler's war, and the capture of 91,000 German prisoners, of which only about 5,000 ever returned to Germany. It was to prove to be a turning point, and convinced many that Hitler had no chance of winning the war after that defeat. Churchill would have immediately dismissed a commander who caused such a defeat, Stalin would have had him shot, but Hitler kept Goering on regardless. While he fell out of Hitler's favor, he retained his command and his life. Even after Bormann in the last days of the war convinced Hitler that Goering was committing treason, he could bring himself do no more than strip him of his offices and place him under house arrest.

As for Goering's drug addiction, it began when Goering was wounded during the Munich Putsch and received many months of morphine treatments during his recovery. After a few backslides, he eventually kicked the habit, and by the start of the war was no longer addicted. From all accounts, after Stalingrad, Goering deteriorated, again taking up drugs, but not morphine. However, it can hardly be claimed that Goering's on-again, off-again battle with addiction contributed to his incompetent advise at Stalingrad; the timeline doesn't demonstrate a connection.

As for his weight problem, and his many indulgences in luxury items and profligate living, this can hardly have been a factor, in any respect, as regards his professional performance. He would often go on a diet when he reached a certain weight (the number I can't recall) and would fast until he lost 50 lbs or so, and then would bulk back up before continuing the cycle. He maintained his profligate lifestyle while making occasional grand gestures to public opinion (and his own desire to appear as a stout fellow). He made one of those grand gestures in the end, when he slew his three pet bison and ordered the meat to be distributed to the long lines of refugees streaming west. A nice gesture. Of course, he had been feeding them and utilizing servants to care for his expensive pets through 5 plus years of war, which was reprehensible.

The fact is that Goering did not let himself go to a dangerous point until after he fell out of Hitler's favor, at which point his weight ballooned, his drug use increased exponentially, and he became a shadow of his previous, formidable self. Despite the showy displays in the last days, his role in the last few years was that of parasite. The fat and indulgent Goering, the one who loaded up a dozen train cars with stolen booty and headed for the Western Front in May of 1945, is the one most often to be found in the popular literature. This pudgy and pompous personage of popular perception is a caricature, and is ultimately unrepresentative of the Goering Hitler knew, or the Goering that would confront the Prosecutors at Nuremberg.

Goering's post-war rehabilitation was forced on him by Colonel Andrus, the Nuremberg jail warden, who had no use for either obesity or addiction. He put Hermann on a diet and weaned him off his amphetamine habit. More than one prosecutor would subsequently complain that Andrus's treatments had turned the fumbling druggy into the most eloquent and persuasive advocate of the Nazi era to take the stand. Jackson was overheard to curse the doctors for their success, and who could blame him? The Goering who bested Justice Jackson in the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg was certainly not the comical, self-indulgent clown he had expected. He was personable, focused, eloquent, and coldly calculating. He was again Hitler's Goering.

So, why is it that Hitler never fired Goering until the very end, when it mattered not at all? The only compelling answer for his toleration of Goering's fumbling corruption is that Hitler liked and admired him. Even through the worst of times Hitler maintained, if not respect, at least affection for him. In short, Hermann and Adolf shared a mutual affection that even the fall of the Reich could not rend asunder. For his part, Goering remained loyal to his Fuehrer to the end. Even while on trial for his life at Nuremberg, in a situation where defending Hitler defied enlightened self-interest, a trimmed down, drug-free and alert Field Marshal refused to denounce him. He remained absolutely loyal to his Fuehrer to his dying breath.

Had the Reich held out longer, I've no doubt the two would have reconciled.

Conclusion: Why Didn't Adolf Hitler Fire Hermann Goering? Hitler and Goering were pals. It is that simple.
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