The Göring Telegram was a message sent by Adolf Hitler's designated successor—Hermann Göring—asking for permission to assume leadership of the crumbling Third Reich. The telegram caused Hitler to strip his hand-picked successor of power and appoint new political successors, Joseph Goebbels and Karl Dönitz.
Hermann Göring, Adolf Hitler's political heir
Hermann Göring had been the second most-powerful man in the Nazi Party for some time before Hitler came to power in 1933. During the early years of the Hitler regime, Göring continued to pile on titles at will, including President of the Reichstag, Minister-President and acting Reichsstatthalter (governor) and Reich Minister of Aviation, and commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (air force).
On the first day of World War II, Hitler made a speech stating that Göring would succeed him "if anything should befall me." This status was underscored in a 1940 decree naming Göring as Reichsmarschall des Grossdeutschen Reiches (Reich Marshal of the Greater German Reich), a military rank second only to Hitler's rank of Supreme Commander.
On 29 June 1941, one week into Operation Barbarossa, Hitler issued a secret decree which formally named Göring his successor in the event of his death. It also stated that in the event of Hitler's incapacity, disappearance or abduction, Göring was to act as his deputy, with full freedom of action to act on the dictator's behalf.
Inside the Führerbunker and Göring's 'duty'
Following the Red Army advance on Berlin in April 1945, Göring moved to the South while Hitler, his personal secretary Martin Bormann and Joseph Goebbels remained in the Führerbunker to lead the defense of the capital against the Soviets. Not long afterward, Hitler, who had by this time concluded Germany had lost the war, suggested that Göring would be better suited to negotiate peace terms.
When the Luftwaffe's chief of staff, Karl Koller, heard this from OKW operations chief Alfred Jodl, he immediately headed for the Nazi alpine resort in Berchtesgaden to deliver the news to Göring personally. If Göring was indeed to take over the negotiation of a peace settlement, Koller felt that there was no time to waste.
Although Göring had been looking forward for some time to the day he would succeed Hitler, he was taken by surprise at this development. He thought that if he waited to act, he would be accused of dereliction of duty. On the other hand, he feared being accused of treason if he did try to assume power.
Göring gathered Koller and Hans Lammers, the state secretary of the Reich Chancellery, and pulled his copy of Hitler's secret decree of 1941 from a safe. To all present, the wording was unambiguous—Göring was not only Hitler's designated successor, but was to act as his deputy if Hitler ever became incapacitated. All agreed that by staying in Berlin, Hitler faced certain death and had incapacitated himself from governing. Therefore, they believed, Göring had a clear duty to assume power as Hitler's deputy.
On 23 April, Göring sent a carefully worded telegram asking Hitler to confirm that he was indeed to become the leader of Germany, in accordance with the 1941 decree. Göring added that if Hitler did not reply by 22:00 that night, he would assume Hitler had lost his freedom of action and would assume leadership of the Reich as Hitler's deputy.
Upon the telegram's arrival by radiogram from Obersalzberg at 00:56 on 23 April 1945, Martin Bormann, who controlled access to Hitler, seized upon it as evidence of 'treason' and Göring's attempt to launch a coup d'etat. While Walther Hewel (Joachim von Ribbentrop's liaison and a personal friend of Hitler's) attempted to justify Göring's action by saying the bunker's communications system could fail at any time and thus sever the command structure, Goebbels reinforced Bormann's argument by agreeing that it smelled of a coup.
According to Albert Speer's account (see below), the Göring Telegram initiated an important crisis in Hitler's psychological breakdown which precipitated the political disintegration of military command and control in the ultimate stage of the destruction of the Third Reich. Upon learning of other communiqués between Göring and other officers which referred to his invocation of Hitler's secret testament, Hitler flew into a rage.
On 25 April, Hitler issued a telegram to Göring telling him that he had committed "high treason" and gave him the option of resigning all of his offices in exchange for his life. However, not long after that, Bormann ordered the SS in Berchtesgaden to arrest Göring. On 28 April Hitler discovered that Heinrich Himmler was trying to discuss surrender terms with the western Allies. He ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot.
The last will and testament of Adolf Hitler was written on 29 April, prompted by Hitler receiving the telegram from Göring, combined with news of Himmler's attempted negotiations of surrender with the western Allies and reports that Red Army troops were within a block or two of the Reich Chancellery. In the document, Hitler dismissed Göring from all of his offices and expelled him from the Nazi Party. It was dictated by Hitler to his secretary Traudl Junge in his Berlin Führerbunker, the day he and Eva Braun married. They committed suicide the next day on 30 April.
The new political succession divided power between Goebbels and Grand Admiral (Großadmiral) Karl Dönitz, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy (Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine) and chief of the Naval High Command (Oberkommando der Marine), who would become President (Reichspräsident) of Nazi Germany.
Post-war discovery of the Göring Telegram
Upon its reception in the Führerbunker, the Göring Telegram was typed onto a Marinenachrichtendienst (Naval Intelligence) form with a carbon copy and classified "Geheim!" (Secret!).
After the Soviet capture of Berlin, American officials entered the Führerbunker and took away papers and documents that were analyzed by historians.
In July 1945, Captain Benjamin M. Bradin entered the Führerbunker and discovered an original carbon copy of the Göring Telegram marked with an 'F' in a group of Hitler's papers that in later years were given to Robert W. Rieke, a Professor of History at the Citadel, (the college in South Carolina, USA).
The British historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, published an early English translation of the Göring Telegram in his book, The Last Days of Hitler.
General Koller today gave me a briefing on the basis of communications given him by Colonel General Jodl and General Christian, according to which you had referred certain decisions to me and emphasized that I, in case negotiations would become necessary, would be in an easier position than you in Berlin. These views were so surprising and serious to me that I felt obligated to assume, in case by 2200 o’clock no answer is forthcoming, that you have lost your freedom of action. I shall then view the conditions of your decree as fulfilled and take action for the wellbeing of Nation and Fatherland. You know what I feel for you in these most difficult hours of my life and I cannot express this in words. God protect you and allow you despite everything to come here as soon as possible.
Your faithful Hermann Göring.
Speer's eyewitness account
Albert Speer wrote a detailed account of the Göring Telegram on the disintegrating psychology of Hitler in his book, Inside the Third Reich. The quotation below appears on pages 571-572 of the American edition of Speer's book.
. . . there was a flurry of excitement in the vestibule. A telegram had arrived from Goering, which Bormann hastily brought to Hitler. I trailed informally along after him, chiefly out of curiosity. In the telegram Goering merely asked Hitler whether, in keeping with the decree on succession, he should assume the leadership of the entire Reich if Hitler remained in Fortress Berlin. But Bormann claimed that Goering had launched a coup d’etat; perhaps this was Bormann’s last effort to induce Hitler to fly to Berchtesgaden and take control there. At first, Hitler responded to this news with the same apathy he had shown all day long. But Bormann’s theory was given fresh support when another radio message from Goering arrived. I pocketed a copy which in the general confusion lay unnoticed in the bunker. It read:
To Reich Minister von Ribbentrop
I have asked the Fuehrer to provide me with instructions by 10 p.m°. April 23. If by this time it is apparent that the Fuehrer has been deprived of his freedom of action to conduct the affairs of the Reich, his decree of June 29, 1941, becomes effective, according to which I am heir to all his offices as his deputy. [If] by 12 midnight April 23, 1945, you receive no other word either from the Fuehrer directly or from me, you are to come to me at once by air.
(Signed) Goering, Reich Marshal
Here was fresh material for Bormann. ‘Goering is engaged in treason!’ he exclaimed excitedly. ‘He’s already sending telegrams to members of the government and announcing that on the basis of his powers he will assume your office at twelve o’clock tonight, mein Fuhrer.’
Although Hitler remained calm when the first telegram arrived, Bormann now won his game. Hitler immediately stripped Goering of his rights of succession – Bormann himself drafted the radio message – and accused him of treason to Hitler and betrayal of National Socialism. The message to Goering went on to say that Hitler would exempt him from further punishment if the Reich Marshal would promptly resign all his offices for reasons of health.
Bormann had at last managed to rouse Hitler from his lethargy. An outburst of wild fury followed in which feelings of bitterness, helplessness, self-pity, and despair mingled. With flushed face and staring eyes, Hitler ranted as if he had forgotten the presence of his entourage:
I’ve known it all along. I know that Goering is lazy. He let the air force go to pot. He was corrupt. His example made corruption possible in our state. Besides he’s been a drug addict for years. I’ve known it all along.
Apparently, Hitler knew about all of this, but never planned to do anything about it.
And then, with startling abruptness, he lapsed back into his apathy: ‘Well, all right. Let Goering negotiate the surrender. If the war is lost anyhow, it doesn’t matter who does it.’ That sentence expressed contempt for the German people: Goering was still good enough for the purposes of capitulation.
After this crisis, Hitler had reached the end of his strength. He dropped back into the weary tone that had been characteristic of him earlier that day. For years he had overtaxed himself; for years, mustering that immoderate will of his, he had thrust away from himself and others the growing certainty of this end. Now he no longer had the energy to conceal his condition. He was giving up.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 923-925, 943-945.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 943-947.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 943-949, 953.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 947-949.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 953-955.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 949-950.
- Dr. Robert W. Rieke, "Goering Telegram," unpublished
- Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, 1947
- Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, New York, 1970, pp 571-572