On this day in 1945, Herman Goering, commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, president of the Reichstag, head of the Gestapo, prime minister of Prussia, and Hitler’s designated successor is taken prisoner by the U.S. Seventh Army in Bavaria.
Goering was an early member of the Nazi Party and was wounded in the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. That wound would have long-term effects; Goering became increasingly addicted to painkillers. Not long after Hitler’s accession to power, Goering was instrumental in creating concentration camps for political enemies. Ostentatious and self-indulgent, he changed his uniform five times a day and was notorious for flaunting his decorations, jewelry, and stolen artwork. It was Goering who ordered the purging of German Jews from the economy following the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, initiating an “Aryanization” policy that confiscated Jewish property and businesses.
Goering’s failure to win the Battle of Britain and prevent the Allied bombing of Germany led to his loss of stature within the Party, aggravated by the low esteem with which he was always held by fellow officers because of his egocentrism and position as Hitler’s right-hand man. As the war progressed, he dropped into depressions and battled drug addiction.
When Goering fell into U.S. hands after Germany’s surrender, he had in his possession a rich stash of pills. He was tried at Nuremberg and charged with various crimes against humanity. Despite a vigorous attempt at self acquittal, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but before he could be executed, he died by suicide by swallowing a cyanide tablet he had hidden from his guards.