Aviation History

FIGHTER PILOT HERMANN GÖRING

MONDAY EVENINGS IN LATE 1922, THE CAFE NEUMAYR IN MUNICH PLAYED HOST TO A COLLECTION OF UNSAVORY, LOWER-MIDDLE-CLASS WAR VETERANS, RABBLE-ROUSERS, MALCONTENTS AND WOULD-BE REVOLUTIONARIES, GRUMBLING OVER GERMANY’S ANARCHIC POSTWAR POLITICS.

Their radical ambitions would likely have come to nothing if not for a visit that November by a true war hero: Hermann Göring, last commander of “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen’s “Flying Circus.” He had come to meet the leader of these National Socialists. “I just sat unobtrusively in the background,” he remembered, as Adolf Hitler expounded on the Nazi route to power. “You’ve got to have bayonets to back up your threats. Well, that was what I wanted to hear. He wanted to build up a party that would make Germany strong and smash the Treaty of Versailles. ‘Well,’ I said to myself, ‘that’s the party for me!’”

For his part Hitler, who had risen no further than lance corporal in the army, needed a big name to set his movement apart from the dozens of political parties rending Germany. “Splendid,” he told supporters when Göring signed up, “a war ace with the Pour le Mérite—imagine it! Excellent propaganda!”

After almost a century there’s so much propaganda about Nazi Hermann Göring that it’s hard to sift out the truth. His anti-Semitism and weakness for authority figures might well be traced to early childhood. Göring’s elderly father was a German diplomat posted abroad, and Hermann was raised to age three by family friends in Germany. It’s said that on his mother’s return, he von Epenstein, Göring enjoyed an aristocratic upbringing in several Bavarian castles. He was teased by schoolmates for his “Jewish father,” whose title (“knight”), like his castles, was purchased rather than inherited. But even when Epenstein took a new mistress and evicted the family, Göring held him in high regard, a sort of life-lesson in Nietzschean will to power.

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