The Propagander ™ FAQ

How Did Goering Manage His Suicide?

Hanging is considered to be the traditional sentence for treason, while a firing squad is considered to be a much more noble style of execution. This is a fairly universal opinion. Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, and Alfred Jodl, the three military men sentenced to be hung at Nuremberg, were unanimous in appealing their sentences and requesting to be executed by firing squad rather than the noose. All the evidence indicates that Goering would have preferred the firing squad to the cyanide.

Military men of Goering's generation considered that taking ones life by way of poison was not quite as masculine an end as the more noble method of firing squad. This is why the Nazis insist that Hitler shot himself in the head and did not take cyanide. They claim that Eva took the cyanide, while Hitler took the bullet. However, there is some evidence for both scenarios, and even a case for Hitler having shot himself while simultaneously biting on a capsule (just to make sure). This preference for bullets over capsules may explain why some of the eye-witnesses in the Bunker claimed to have heard the fatal shot while others claim that no shot was heard. If one assumes that Hitler took poison--and the fact that the Soviets played fast and loose with the truth, and thus the results of the 'Hitler autopsy' are suspect, it cannot be known with certainty either way--it suggests that those who perhaps lied about hearing the shot did so to protect Hitler's 'honor,' such as it was.

In addition, most religions consider suicide to be some sort of sin, and while Goering was not overly religious, he was fairly conservative as regards such traditions, and would thus have chosen poison only as a last resort to avoid the noose.

Of course, one cannot say for certain what runs through the mind of a man on death row. Here is some documentation detailing what is known with certainty:

October 13, 1946: Colonel Andrus informs the prisoners on this day that all appeals have been turned down. Goering, along with Keitel and Jodl, had requested that the Allied Control Council, the body ruling on the defendants' appeals, modify their sentences allowing them to be shot rather than hung. According to Maser, the defendants' counsels are informed, and they in turn bring the bad news to the defendants. It seems likely that, in the event, it was a mixture of both; those with counsel present informing their clients and Andrus telling those without. (Tusa)

October 15, 1946: Two hours before his execution is due to take place, Goering commits suicide in his Nuremberg cell, taking a capsule of poison (potassium cyanide) that he has somehow succeeded in obtaining.

October 15, 1946: Goering leaves several letters behind in his cell. This one, in two parts, is addressed to the Allied Control Council:

Would that I might be shot! However, executing the German Reichsmarschall by hanging cannot be countenanced. I cannot permit this for Germany's sake. Besides, I have no more obligation to subject myself to punishment from my enemies. Therefore I elect to die as the great Hannibal did . . . . I knew from the beginning that a death sentence would fall on me, having viewed the trial as a purely political act of the victors, but for my people's sake I wanted to stand trial and I expected that at least I would not be denied the death of a soldier. Before God, my people and my conscience I feel free from the reprehension that my enemies put on me.

October 15, 1946: Goering leaves several letters behind in his cell. This rambling tirade is addressed to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

... Should I believe you sufficiently naive as to consider this success anything more than a show, detrimental to the Great German Empire, a performance for the peoples and their Jewish and Bolshevist confederates which were maneuvered by you into the war, then my statement to you during the last hour of my life would also in the eyes of posterity be squandered upon an undeserving one. My pride as a German and as one of the foremost responsible German leaders forbids me to lose even a single word in a dispute of world-historical importance on the disgraceful lowliness of the methods employed by the victors as far as these proceedings concern my own person...

October 15, 1946: Goering leaves several letters behind in his cell. This one is addressed to "Dear Pastor Gerecke":

Forgive me, but I had to do it in this way for political reasons. I have prayed for a long time to God and feel I am acting correctly. Would that I might be shot. Please console my wife and tell her that mine was no ordinary suicide and that she should feel certain that God will take me to his grace ... God bless you, dear Pastor.

October 15, 1946: Goering leaves several letters behind in his cell. This one is addressed to Colonel Andrus:

Since my imprisonment I have always kept the poison capsule on my person. I had three capsules when I was committed to prison in Mondorf. The first one I left in my clothing, so that it would be found in the search. The second I left under the coat-stand while undressing and took it again when I dressed. I hid this in Mondorf and here in the cell so well that, in spite of the frequent and very thorough searches, it could not be found. During the trial I kept it in my high riding boots. The third capsule is still in my toilet case in the round container of skin cream (hidden in the cream). I had two opportunities to take the capsule in Mondorf, had I needed it. No one in charge of the searches was at fault, since it was almost impossible to find the capsule. It would have been purely by chance. PS: Doctor Gilbert told me that the Control Council rejected the change in the manner of execution to death by firing squad.

The above items are documented and beyond dispute. These letters from Goering are reproduced as they were written, but the information contained in them--particularly, the claims Goering makes in the last letter above--is less than certain.

From The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials by Telford Taylor:

I see no reason ... to question the Control Council's insistence on hanging as the prime, and indeed the only, motive of Goering's suicide. But the letter [above] ... dealing with the cyanide suicide, is not convincing. For one thing, it is vaguely written, whether or not purposely. For example, at Mondorf Goering presumably left one of his three capsules in his coat so that the authorities would find it and conclude that Goering had no more (a jejune conclusion). But Goering fails to tell us whether or not the authorities did find the capsule in his coat. If not, presumably Goering came to Nuremberg with three capsules; otherwise only two. Then Goering absolves from any "fault" anyone "in charge of searches," which, of course, fails to absolve anyone not so charged, which was most people. Goering's main purpose in this letter appears to be to crow over Andrus and his men by boasting of his own ability to hide his capsule in his cell "so well that ... it could not be found" and that the capsule "was almost impossible to find."

His secondary and avowed purpose was to protect those "in charge of searches." But Goering's examples of his skills--putting the capsule "under the coat-stand" (presumably at Mondorf and later "here in the cell") and in his riding boots "during the trial"--were utterly puerile. Granted that Andrus may not have been the sharpest of searchers, the suicide of Robert Ley in October 1945 had given Andrus due warning, and thus the guards would surely have looked in boots and under movables. Furthermore, there was a guard looking through the door window into the cell most of the time, and moving the capsule within the cell from one place to another would be about the quickest way to have it discovered . . . .

More important, the letter completely fails to prove either that Goering was as clever as he claimed or to exonerate the guards or others from assisting Goering in enabling his suicide. Those claims could have been proved only by Goering's revealing how he hid the capsule "so well that ... it could not be found," and he did not divulge that crucial matter. Goering could have lost nothing by the revelation after his death, unless someone else was involved. Indeed, unless Goering was prepared to explain his success, he would have done much better not to send the letter to Andrus and to leave the whole matter a mystery. Characteristically, though, he could not resist the temptation to crow.

So, the big mystery concerning Goering's suicide--unless one accepts Goerings own suspect story--is, who exactly slipped him the potassium cyanide capsule?

Goering was by far the most popular Nazi War Criminal with the American guards, many of whom were quite friendly with the charismatic fellow. Goering, who had an outgoing personality, was always happy to sign autographs and trade jokes with his captors, who found him likable and personable. They found him too likable, in fact, as there is circumstantial evidence that one of Goering's American guards, U.S. Army Lieutenant Jack G. Wheelis, either slipped him the cyanide capsule he used to kill himself, or gave him access to his belongings where the capsule was hidden. There is another possibility, however, and it also involves another of Goering's American guards:

In 2005, former U.S. Army Private Herbert Lee Stivers claimed he gave Goering "medicine" hidden inside a gift fountain pen from a German woman the private had met and flirted with. Stivers served in the 1st Infantry Division's 26th Infantry Regiment, who formed the honor guard for the Nuremberg Trials. Stivers claims to have been unaware of what the "medicine" he delivered actually was until after Goering's death.

Conclusion: In my opinion, Wheelis is the most likely culprit, but either way it seems likely that it was an American guard who befriended the Reichsmarshal, and thus allowed him to escape the hangman's noose. While it is doubtful that either Stivers or Wheelis were likely to have suspected that their assistance to Goering would lead to his successful suicide before the fact, the weight of probabilities indicate that that is exactly what happened.
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