When Goering joined the Nazi Party in 1922, Hitler gave him command of the SA Brownshirts. Badly wounded in the Munich beer hall putsch of 1923, Goering fled the country for four years. Upon his return, he aided Hitler's rise to power and later became No. 1 only to Hitler. As founder of the Gestapo, Goering was instrumental in creating the first concentration camps for political dissidents.
In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Goering was made commander of the Luftwaffe, Germany's air force. Through the rest of his life, he was given other important positions as well. By 1936, he controlled Germany's economy completely. As commander of the Luftwaffe, his strategies led to the conquests of Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and France, as well as the decimation of dozens of cities. He used his high position to enrich himself by looting the art treasures of the vanquished enemies.
Goering was addicted to drugs and his behavior became quite bizarre. He dressed in different uniforms; sometimes as many as four or five different ones on a given day. He wore make-up and jewelry. Sometimes he was elated. Sometimes he was incredibly depressed, but always he was bombastic and egocentric.
Even though Goering became less and less effective, and was seen less and less at Hitler's headquarters, Hitler would not "dump" him. "Der dicke Hermann" was the only Nazi leader, other than Hitler, that Germans could identify with.
Goering was put on trial at Nuremberg in 1946. During his trial Goering, who had slimmed in captivity and had been taken off drugs, defended himself with aggressive vigour and skill, frequently outwitting the prosecuting counsel. With Hitler dead, he stood out among the defendants as the dominating personality, dictating attitudes to other prisoners in the dock and adopting a pose of self-conscious heroism motivated by the belief that he would be immortalized as a German martyr.
Nevertheless, Goering failed to convince the judges, who found him guilty, and Goering was sentenced to death by hanging. On 15 October 1946, two hours before his execution was due to take place, Goering committed suicide in his Nuremberg cell, taking a capsule of poison that he had succeeded in hiding from his guards during his captivity.
The one-time Number Two man in the Nazi hierarchy was dead two hours before he was scheduled to have been dropped through the trap door of a gallows erected in a small, brightly lighted gymnasium in the gaol yard, 35 yards from the cell block where he spent his last days of ignominy.
The defendants at Nuremberg. Front row, from left to right: Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Walther Funk, Hjalmar Schacht. Back row from left to right: Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Franz von Papen, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Albert Speer, Konstantin von Neurath, Hans Fritzsche. Courtesy of the National Archives.
These leading German officials were charged on October 6, 1945 in Nuremberg, Germany. The charges included conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Tons of documents and affidavits were researched, and on October 1, 1946, the judges convicted nineteen of the defendants.
Twelve were sentenced to death by hanging, including Hermann Goering; Hans Frank, Governor General of Poland; Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi Foreign Minister; Julius Streicher, Editor-in-Chief of a Nazi periodical; Alfred Jodl, Nazi Chief of Military Operations.