Tag Archives: Goering

What Hermann Goering’s great-niece told me about the Holocaust this week

Hermann Goering, leader of the Nazi Luftwaffe

Hermann Goering, the Deputy Führer

This week, via Skype, I talked to Hermann Goering’s great-niece Bettina Goering in Thailand. She is writing a book.

“Hermann wasn’t really a nasty Nazi, though, was he?” I asked her. “He wasn’t identified with the Holocaust. He was simply head of the Luftwaffe. The image I have of him is an overweight man, who liked art, stamping around in rather flamboyant uniforms.”

“That’s what I thought,” replied Bettina. “That’s the image I had too, until I started digging further and it’s much more complex. The truth is that he was involved in the Holocaust too. I didn’t know that until I started the process of writing this book. He was as involved as any of them. He might have not been as gung-ho in his rhetoric about Jews. He came across as ‘the Luftwaffe guy’. But he was just as involved. I first learned that when I did a documentary called Bloodlines. He was part of the Final Solution. He co-authored it. So he was very involved. He was part of setting up concentration camps. And, when they decided to do the Final Solution, he was part of all that.”

Bettina has no children.

In the documentary Hitler’s Children, she says:

“My brother and I had the sterilisation done in order not to give life to other Goerings… I was feeling responsible for the Holocaust, even though I was born after the War, because of my family, who had an active part in it.”

“You got sterilised,” I asked her this week, “because you didn’t want to pass the genes on?”

“I think that was part of it,” she told me. “I think we had a lot of other intellectual arguments. There are enough children. We don’t want children, blah blah. I think, deep down, that was part of it too. It’s kinda complex.”

“And your relationship to Hermann Goering is…” I asked.

“He is the brother of my grandfather on my father’s side,” Bettina explained.

“You were born in the decade after he died,” I said.

Bettina Goering - currently living in Santa Fe, USA

Bettina Goering – currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“Yes. The only member of that direct family that I knew who was really involved was my grandmother. My book is also largely about her and her relationship to Hermann and her relationship to the whole family. They were a very close-knit family.

“Her husband – Hermann’s older brother – died very young when she was in her 30s. She had three young boys and Hermann took care of her. I just found out she actually looked after his household at the beginning of the Nazi times – 1932/1933.”

“So,” I said, “by the time you’re really aware of anything, it’s the early 1960s, when people are making films about the Nazi era, but it’s not the immediate past…”

“There was a bit of a limbo time in Germany,” said Bettina, “when really not much was mentioned in education or films and it really came home to me when I was about 10 or 11 and documentaries were shown and that’s when I really started to see how bad it was. Before that, I knew bits and pieces, but I didn’t know what it meant, really.”

“Which obviously,” I said, “must have had an effect on you…”

“There have been different stages to it,” replied Bettina. “I came of age around the end of the 1960s and I got into this whole ‘Anti’ movement. I became left wing, hippie and tried to somehow understand this whole dilemma more and create something else.”

“That’s roughly the time of Baader-Meinhof,” I said.

Baader-Meinhof: a troubled generation

Baader-Meinhof – in a troubled generation

“Yeah. They were around and one of my friends became one of the second generation of Baader-Meinhof. I was in a left-leaning organisation but for me to use violence was totally out of the question. But some of my friends were starting… You’d be surprised how many people were sympathetic to them (the Baader-Meinhof activists), including us, for a while. There’s a good movie that came out a couple of years ago…”

The Baader Meinhof Complex?” I asked.

“Yes. That was about the time I was growing up and I think they (the Baader-Meinhof activists and supporters) were partly in reaction to the Nazis in some ways, because most of them were born during the War. All that manifested in themselves.”

“A very mixed-up generation,” I said.

“My mother only met my father after the War,” explained Bettina. “My family was the Hermann Goering family on one side, but my mother’s family were the opposite. Very different families who married each other. My grandfather on my mum’s side was an anti-Fascist. He was once arrested. It was well-known he was supporting Jewish people. He had to be really careful.

“So here I have the Fascist side and the anti-Fascist side both in my family and that made it very… crazy. This trouble within myself was always trying to work itself out.”

“So your book is going to give an inside view of a troubled family?”

“Yes. It’s the inside view and trying to find some way to… You can’t really marry those two sides together… Also I was judging them so negatively that I was judging some part of me. Do you get that? That came to a head at some point where I realised I couldn’t really live my fullest potential  because I was really judging part of me so negatively. That is something I have been striving to overcome. Exactly that. To find some forgiveness in myself – of myself. It’s like an impossible thing to do, but just in order to feel healthy, I feel like I need to do that.

“There’s a lot been written about the Nazis on a very intellectual level but my book will be maybe a more emotional way to deal with it, which is hard for the Germans to do. There’s still all this guilt, conscious or unconscious, and I write a lot about this guilt stuff. On an emotional level, it is not resolved.”

“Who do you think would like to read your book?”

“Well, anybody who has any traumas in their closets. So far, we’ve only approached one or two German literary agents. Until now, we’ve really not been that ready.

“Maybe it will be that a British publisher will publish it first and then it will, in a roundabout way, go to the Germans. We are writing it in both languages and I have been living more in English-speaking countries than I have in Germany. I lived even in England for a couple of years.”

“You are in Thailand at the moment, but you and your husband live in Santa Fe in the US?”

“Yes, but we are moving…”

“… to where?” I asked.

“We’re not sure just now. We are sort of in flux. We have a house in Santa Fe that has still not been sold. It’s gonna take some time.”

“Could you live back in Germany happily?”

“No, I don’t think so. It’s not that I don’t like Germany. We go visit a lot. But I’ve never felt drawn to live there again. I feel it’s a bit limiting.”

2 Comments

Filed under Germany, Jewish, Psychology

The indiscreet charm of a slobbering, innocent singer at the Edinburgh Fringe

The wonderful world of sexist, slobbering Wilfredo

Wilfredo has been described as a “grotesque caricature of Falstaffian appearance: trousers pulled up to the top of a corpulent stomach, a tight flamenco shirt, a wild black mop wig and a set of prominent prosthetic teeth. Typically, the character will always hold a pint of beer on stage, even whilst dancing and singing. He smokes his way throughout songs, salivating over the audience and musicians while berating them with rich expletives.”

The character of Wilfredo was created by comedian and actor Matt Roper, whose father George Roper was on TV in my erstwhile youth with Bernard Manning et al in the ITV series The Comedians. When I went to see Wilfredo’s Edinburgh Fringe show The Wonderful World of Wilfredo this week, I was fascinated by the number of women in the audience. Wilfredo is a sort of sleazy, greasy singer who slobbers saliva as he talks, yet he has built up a female fan base.

“I don’t understand why women like the character,” I said to Matt Roper. “They certainly wouldn’t be attracted to him in reality.”

“And they certainly aren’t at point blank range,” admitted Matt. “Sometimes I flyer in the streets as the character and, when he’s presented out of context, they certainly don’t want him coming up to them.”

“So maybe,” I suggested, “they like the on-stage character because there’s a willing suspension of disbelief because they know it’s satirical. He’s sexist but they know it’s a joke.”

“I think there’s an outlandish quality to him,” said Matt, “which they find attractive. When I did a preview down in Devon which is kinda my adopted home town area – Totnes – a friend’s mother came backstage afterwards and said The thing I love about Wilfredo is that nobody seems to have taught him the rules.

“If it’s a character you can get away with being ironic. And all the peacenik stuff Wilfredo spouts is very positive; it’s so important. He says Come on you cunts, but I think Wilfredo’s positive innocence – I’m the greatest singer in the world – he believes it’s true… That’s Wilfredo for me.

“There’s a strange innocence about the character which maybe makes him acceptable. He’s slobbering and he’s grabbing his penis and he’s calling the audience cunts but it’s all undercut by a form of charm, really. The charm is the licence. If Bernard Manning were not a real person and was a character, would…”

“Bernard wasn’t charming, though,” I interrupted.

Matt knew that generation of ‘old school’ comics through his father.

“You must have mixed with alternative comedians of your generation,” I said, “who were slagging off your father’s generation of comedians.”

“Yes,” said Matt. “I think Liza Tarbuck used to have that a lot. She’d be at a bar watching comics and people would turn their back on her. The first thing I did was News Revue at the Canal Cafe in the late 1990s and, yes, when Bernard Manning is considered the apotheosis of the Northern comic… that’s pretty hard. ”

“There are a few children of famous comedians up in Edinburgh this year,” I said.

“Yes,” said Matt. “Milo McCabe is here doing a show with his father Mike McCabe who, like my dad, was an old school comic; he’s actually got his dad performing in his show with him. Phil Walker’s here: Roy Walker’s son. And Katie Mulgrew, Jimmy Cricket’s daughter. We don’t know each other but, when we do meet each other, it’s acknowledged that our parents knew each other.”

Matt’s dad George Roper, one of “The Comedians” on ITV

“Your dad was never really tarred by the ‘old school’ criticism, wasn’t he?” I said. “He never had any of the bad image that Bernard Manning had. People never criticised him for his material.”

“When I watch old footage of him performing,” said Matt, “it’s very much his own laid-back manner. He was a storyteller.”

“Did you always want to be a performer because of your dad?” I asked.

“Well, I was exposed to the business because of him,” Matt replied. “I was always doing impressions and getting in trouble at school for clowning around.”

“All comedians, to an extent, hide behind a character,” I said.

“Well, we’re all hiding behind an alter ego, definitely – even the old school, my father’s lot.”

“Have you ever done straight stand-up?”

“When I was a lot younger,” said Matt. “I stopped when I was around 24 because I had nothing to say. I started when I was about 17 or 18. What does an 18 year old have to say? I might go back to it and I have got things to say, but it’s fun to inhabit somebody else, though I think maybe it’s less ballsy to hide… I think Jo Brand was talking about this re female comics. There tends to be a high ratio of female character comics and she was saying that’s because it’s easier to stand back from it if it doesn’t work if you’re hiding behind a character.”

Matt has been playing the character of Wilfredo for the last five years. It evolved from a a character he played at festivals, singing twisted versions of songs by John Lennon, the Rolling Stones and Amy Whitehouse.

“Are you coming back to the Fringe next year as Wilfredo?” I asked.

“Maybe as Wilfredo. Maybe in some multi-character show. I know you’d like to see that.”

“I just think it would show you have more breadth,” I said. “You do have other characters.”

“Yes,” said Matt, “there’s a performance poet character, but I don’t think the other characters I have would fit in with a Wilfredo audience.”

“How do you sell him when you flyer?” I asked.

“If I am out-of-character, as myself, I stop people by saying Entertainment for the discerning!… If I’m in character, I say: Hey! Hey! Come here! The character is a complete licence to take it as far as I want.”

“He is perversely attractive,” I said.

Matt replied: “Someone Tweeted yesterday: Recommend seeing Wilfredo at The Tron – Funny and disturbingly moving.

“I still don’t really understand why the character has such a female following though” I said.

The real Matt Roper at the Edinburgh Fringe this week

“It seems to be,” said Matt, “that there’s a high proportion of women who find funny men attractive and, as far the reverse is concerned, men are threatened by funny women.”

“That’s a whole different blog,” I said. “A whole different can of comedy worms to open.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy