Descendant of Goering converts to Judaism

Matthias Goering says: "I used to feel cursed by my name. Now I feel blessed."

The 49-year-old physiotherapist, a descendant of Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler's right-hand man, is wearing a Jewish skullcap, with a Star of David pendant round his neck. After being brought up to despise Jews, he has embraced their faith. And although he has yet to formally convert to Judaism, he keeps kosher dietary rules, celebrates shabbat and is learning Hebrew.

In a Jewish restaurant in Basle, Mr Goering enthuses about Israel. "It feels like home," he says. "The Israelis are so friendly." Even when they hear his name? "Yes, they say they're so thankful I've made contact."

With the same name as the former Luftwaffe chief, who committed suicide at Nuremberg hours before he was to be executed, Mr Goering says he did not have a happy childhood. His great-grandfather and Hermann's grandfather were brothers, and that was enough to ensure problems after the fall of the Third Reich. "My siblings and I were bullied mercilessly," Matthias says. His father, a military doctor, was a Soviet prisoner of war, but returned with his anti-Semitic views intact. When times were hard, Matthias says: "Our parents would say to us, 'You can't have that, because all our money's gone to the Jews.'"

Mr Goering left home at 18 to join the circus, but eventually settled down, trained as a physiotherapist, married and had a son. But by 2000 his Swiss physiotherapy practice was bankrupt and his wife had left, taking their son. Broke and lonely, he was close to suicide, and says he prayed for the first time in his life. The same day his prayer was answered: a physiotherapy practice near Zurich offered him a job.

Mr Goering started attending Christian churches, but two years later began his journey towards Judaism. He says God told him "to guard the gates of Jerusalem", despite his name and his family history. "I knew then," he says, "I had to go to Israel."

Other descendants of Nazis have trodden the same path. Katrin Himmler, who published a book last year about the war crimes of her great-uncle, the SS commander Heinrich Himmler, married an Israeli. "It was as if we were predestined to meet," she says.

Beate Niemann, daughter of feared SS Major Bruno Sattler, made an award-winning film, The Good Father, documenting her hopeless search for a man she could be proud of, and tried to apologise to camp survivors after discovering her father had ordered the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

Monika Goeth's father was Amon Goeth, the camp commandant played by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List, who shot Jewish prisoners from the balcony of his villa. She has spent years seeking rapprochement with camp survivors. "I am completely drawn to Judaism," she says. "Jews were the real heroes. I feel nothing but contempt for those who idolise the Nazis."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: IT Recruitment Consultant

£22500 - £30000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking for experie...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Handyman

£16575 - £18785 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Dundee based butchers requ...

Recruitment Genius: Confectionery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To effectively manage a team which is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat