70 years after the suicide of Hermann Göring, who gave him the cyanide capsule?

Hermann Göering eluded the executioner and committed suicide by ingesting cyanide

“Göring hanged”. Newspapers around the world had that headline ready 70 years ago to report that the death sentences handed down by the Nuremberg International Tribunal against the Nazi leaders had been carried out. Although there were eleven former leaders of the Third Reich, politicians and soldiers, condemned to die by hanging for the atrocities committed, clearly the Reichsmarschall was going to take all the covers.

But Göring anticipated his execution a couple of hours and managed to outwit the executioner, taking his own life in his cell with a cyanide capsule minutes before 11 p.m. on October 15, 1946. “I choose to die like the great Hannibal “, he wrote in one of the three letters he left behind, found later.

Hermann Göring was arrested by the Americans
Hermann Göring was arrested by the Americans

The question of how he managed to get hold of the poison, when he was supposedly under tight security, was asked by allies at the time – with no sure answers – and by historians over the years. Fabulators appeared in the middle in search of fame, saying that they had given the cyanide capsule to Göring. But did any of them tell the truth? How did the poison get into the hands of the Nazi Air Marshal?

Fall from grace and arrest

Göring, who was able to hold numerous positions during Nazism, including the direction of the four-year plan and the leadership of the Luftwaffe, was clearly in the Nuremberg trial the maximum exponent of what had remained of the ruins of the Reich.

Hermann Göring with Adolf Hitler
Hermann Göring with Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler had committed suicide and Martin Bormann was missing. Thus, Göring was the highest-ranking Nazi left to account for one of humanity’s darkest chapters. Truth be told, his star had been slowly dimming in the latter part of the war. The failure of the Luftwaffe, with the German cities devastated by enemy planes, the mistakes of his decisions and his addiction to morphine – product of an old war wound – took him away from the center of power.

1651442338 540 70 years after the suicide of Hermann Goring who gave

Even in the epilogue of the war conflict, he was removed from all his positions and arrested by order of Hitler, after an unfortunate telegram that he sent to the beleaguered chancellery of Berlin, offering to assume the head of the government in case the Führer was unable to continue to lead the Reich. The Reichsmarschall’s suggestion hit almost as hard as the Soviet bombs in the once-imposing chancellery. Hitler, enraged, demoted him from all charges and had him arrested.

After the fall of Berlin, Göring left his guards behind and surrendered to the Americans, who at first treated him cordially, and even gave a memorable press conference. This angered the Allied high command, who quickly changed the conditions of his detention ahead of what would become the most famous trial in history. The Nazi leader entered prison defeated, in poor health and weighing 120 kilos. The harsh regimen to which he was subjected by the prison commander, Colonel Burton Andrus, made Göring lose 35 kilos. Andrus ordered the numerous medications he took to be tapered off, and gradually Göring returned to his good form and vivacity.

Göring at the Nuremberg trial
Göring at the Nuremberg trial

His image changed remarkably from the day he entered the prison and he decided to assume, based on his strong personality, the leadership of the pathetic remnants of the Nazi leadership. At times Göring even put the Allied prosecutors in trouble during the numerous sessions of the process. In any case, this was not enough for Göring and the rest of the defendants to convince the judges that they were not aware of the Nazi crimes and the Holocaust. The former Reich Marshal was found guilty on all counts and on October 1, 1946 he was sentenced to death by hanging, along with ten other defendants. The sentences were to be fulfilled two weeks later.

death and mystery
October 15, 1946 was not another day in Nuremberg. It was the prelude to the day of the executions, which were to take place at dawn on the 16th. The prisoners had noticed new faces, noises and movements in the prison. They were putting up the scaffolds in the gym.

When Dr. Ludwig Pflüker, a German who attended prisoners, entered Göring’s cell to give him sedatives like every night, the latter made a couple of comments that led him to think that he was aware of what was coming. “There is no doubt that they are preparing something,” was one of the phrases that the doctor heard. In his memoir, Pflüker said that he substituted a placebo for the sedatives to prevent Göring from going into a deep sleep, as he was to be taken to the gallows soon after. But this never happened. Minutes later, at 10:44 p.m., approximately two hours before sentencing, Hitler’s former number two, watched permanently through the peephole of the cell door by soldier Harold Johnson, bit the capsule and died shortly after. Attempts to revive him were in vain.

Did Göring always have the capsule in his possession?

It was one of the first theories. Göring wrote three letters, dated October 11. One was addressed to Colonel Andrus, another to the Control Commission of the victorious powers, and the third to his wife, the actress Emmy Sonnemann. In the first, he said he had the poison “always” with him, who through a ruse hid it on a hanger when undressing and then put it in his boots when he attended the sessions. A version difficult to believe due to the exhaustive and arbitrary controls to which he was subjected. Perhaps his argument was aimed at never knowing who provided the help.

A journalist and an SS general

The first to ensure that he had supplied the poison to Göring was an Austrian journalist who was covering the trial: Petermartin Bleibtreu. He said that he managed to enter the courtroom when it was empty and that he glued the capsule to Göring’s usual seat with chewing gum. A crazy version.

A journalist said he glued the cyanide capsule to Göring's seat with chewing gum.
A journalist said he glued the cyanide capsule to Göring’s seat with chewing gum.

The second was a former SS general, Erich von dem Bach-Zeleweski. According to his account, he met Göring in a prison corridor and was able to give him a piece of soap, which contained the poison. Bach-Zeleweski’s sayings were taken for granted in the 1950s. Over the years, his story lost credibility.

SS General Bach-Zeleweski
SS General Bach-Zeleweski

the american friend
While in prison, Göring managed to captivate some of the American military with his personality, including Lieutenant Jack Wheelis, a Texan passionate about hunting, like himself. Ben Swearingen, author of The mystery of the suicide of Hermann Göring he credits Wheelis with having been the person who provided him with the poison.

Göring deliberately cultivated the friendship of Lieutenant Jack Wheelis
Göring deliberately cultivated the friendship of Lieutenant Jack Wheelis

the american officer had access to the prison locker, where Göring’s luggage was kept. That way, he would have had no problem taking one of the bullet-sized brass holsters, which concealed a cyanide capsule. One of the “bullets” was inside a pot of cream. It was not Wheelis’s only favor to Göring. He also brought some of the letters the Nazi wrote to his wife and his little daughter, Edda. The American soldier was awarded, among other things, with an autographed photo of Göring, a solid gold fountain pen and a famous wristwatch engraved with the signature of the Reichsmarshall.

Göring's signature, engraved on the watch
Göring’s signature, engraved on the watch

Wheelis died a few years later, in 1954. He took his secrets to the grave, but the version of the Texan officer helping his friend Göring avoid the embarrassment of the gallows It is still one of the most accepted among experts.

“I gave the poison to Göring”
Herbert Lee Stivers was a private at the end of the world war. He was one of the guards in charge of guarding the prisoners at Nuremberg. Nearly 60 years later, in February 2005, Stivers said he had a secret to reveal and he didn’t want to take it to his grave. “I gave the cyanide to Göring,” he assured the newspaper Los Angeles Times.

Former soldier Herbert Lee Stivers
Former soldier Herbert Lee Stivers

According to Stivers, he met a woman named Mona at a bar, who introduced him to two men. They asked her if she had access to Göring, since he was sick and they needed to send him “a medicine”. The mysterious men reportedly gave Stivers a pen with the “medicine” hidden inside. The former soldier said that it was actually cyanide, although he did not know it at the time. His story was rejected even by other former trial guards, who accused him of being an opportunist.

In this way, Stivers failed to remove the figure of Wheelis from the scene, who continues to appear as a central character in Göring’s suicide. Nor should any involvement of the doctor Pflücker be ruled out in the episode. Both could also have been related to the appearance of the three letters that Göring wrote on October 11 and that were found after his death. In one of them – the one addressed to Andrus – Göring repaid Wheelis and Pflücker for their help, assuring that no one from the prison staff should be blamed, reiterating that he always had the capsule with him and that “it could only have been discovered by chance”. It was Göring’s posthumous favor to his accomplices who helped him escape from John Clarence Woods, the executioner of Nuremberg.

Sergeant John Clarence Woods, executioner of the Nazis sentenced in Nuremberg
Sergeant John Clarence Woods, executioner of the Nazis sentenced in Nuremberg

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70 years after the suicide of Hermann Göring, who gave him the cyanide capsule?


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