The soldier, his sweetheart and the suicide of Hermann Goering

A case of puppy love has been revealed as the key to a 60-year- old mystery surrounding the death of one of Hitler's key henchmen. David Usborne reports

It has taken almost 60 years, but historians may now have the answer to one of the oldest mysteries concerning the demise of the Third Reich. How did Hermann Goering, the former commander of the Luftwaffe and architect of the Nazi concentration camps, manage to cheat the gallows in Nuremberg by taking his own life on the eve of his scheduled execution after more than a year in captivity?

It seems that a 19-year-old American guard, charmed by a dark-haired German beauty, may have slipped him the poison.

Not provable and perhaps barely believable, but this - long-delayed - explanation of one of the last century's most teasing puzzles has come not from some scholar or researcher of the Nuremberg era but from that same guard, now a 78-year-old retired sheet-metal worker in southern California.

"I did it," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I gave Goering the vial of cyanide that dispatched him before the hangman had a chance. It does not makes me proud."

It is a version of history that contradicts a multitude of theories that have surrounded the Goering suicide over the decades. His success in cheating justice - robbing the Allies of the satisfaction of executing a man who embodied the essence of Nazi evil - spawned academic papers and books.

That this suicide should have generated so much fascination is not surprising. Goering, as vain as he was obese, did more than build the Luftwaffe from scratch and command its operations. He was Deputy Fuhrer and the most trusted member of Adolph Hitler's inner circle. He drove the effort to build Germany's concentration camps and was one of the signatories to the so-called Final Solution that called for all Jews to be exterminated. Executing such a figure was meant to be a defining moment in the process of post-war punishment and catharsis. Yet, despite all the security around him, Goering was able to short-circuit the efforts at justice by the Allies. If somebody helped him do it, it is no wonder they kept quiet about it. Especially if it was someone on the Allies' side.

In telling his story to the LA Times, Mr Stivers provides numerous intriguing details - where he got the cyanide vial that killed Goering, and what drove him to pass it to the prisoner in the first place, apparently hidden inside the barrel of a fountain pen.

All the other characters in his tale, who might have been in a position to corroborate it, have long ago died. Some scholars seem willing, though, to accept what he says.

Did Mr Stivers have some calculated intent when he so dramatically subverted the cause of post-war justice and, indeed, of post-war history? Therein lies perhaps the most startling element of his story, published by the LA Times yesterday. He gave Goering the vial, he says, for no better reason than to impress a pretty local girl.

Some Jewish scholars have asserted over the years that it was indeed an American who gave Goering the vial with which he took his own life because of some lingering sympathies for the Nazis. Other historians have posited that a guard slipped him the vial in return for a bribe, like the gift of his watch. Or maybe the poison came from the German doctor who regularly visited him, squeezed inside a bar of soap. Even more tantalising has been speculation that his wife, Emmy, passed Goering the vial mouth to mouth during a last "kiss of death".

More popular, however, has been the more prosaic theory that Goering, even though he was in solitary confinement and under relentless round-the-clock surveillance, simply managed, somehow, to keep hold of a single cyanide vial all the way through his trial. It was hidden, perhaps, somewhere on his body or under a crown on a tooth. That was the explanation given by the US Army after a formal investigation into Goering's suicide.

In their official report, the US investigators concluded that Goering had always had the suicide vial, which was standard issue to Nazi commanders as their war effort crumbled. It had been "secreted in the cavity of the umbilical" or otherwise "in his alimentary tract", they argued. Adding credence to this scenario, it was noted that Goering had refused to bathe in the prison showers for two weeks before he died.

And indeed this is what Goering himself asserted in a note written in his cell before he succeeded in taking his life on 15 October 1946, shortly after he had been convicted and sentenced to hang. He boasted in his note that he had indeed been in possession of the cyanide all along.

But still doubts persisted, and one man who never believed that this was the real story was Mr Stivers. He remained convinced that he had been instrumental in allowing Goering to frustrate the hangman - a secret that he held, with feelings of deep regret, over all these years.

"I felt very bad after his suicide. I had a funny feeling; I didn't think there was any way he could have hidden it on his body," Mr Stivers said.

And there was something else that made Mr Stivers uneasy about the official explanation. Over the months, he had got to know Goering fairly well. They chatted from time to time, often about aviation.

"Goering was a very pleasant guy," he told the LA Times. "He spoke pretty good English. We'd talked about sports, ball-games. He was a flier and we talked about Lindberg." Most of all, Mr Stivers did not see a man who seemed on the verge of suicide. "He was never in a bad frame of mind."

Fear was apparently what persuaded Mr Stivers to keep quiet about what he had done. But he had told a daughter, Linda Dadey, 15 years ago about what he thought he had done back in Germany, and it was she who finally induced him to tell the story while he was still alive. He was further encouaged to shed light on the mystery when he understood that, because the statute of limitations on the episode had run out long ago, there was no risk of the authorities stepping forward and trying to prosecute him.

By his account, it was a combination of tedium and teenage infatuation that led him to insert himself into history. Mr Stivers was one of a phalanx of young GIs who, always in green uniforms and shiny white helmets, formed a backdrop to the proceedings at Nuremberg. Their tasks were mundane, however. They escorted the defendants to and from the courtrooms in the Palace of Justice and, during testimony and arguments, stood half at attention along the back wall.

Entertainment was hard to come by for these young men. But there were always the girls. Mr Stivers, who already had one girlfriend, an 18-year- old local named Hildegaard Bruner, relates how one day he met another girl, dark-haired and beautiful, outside a building that housed a military officers' club. They talked and flirted a little and he told her that he was a guard of the defendants at the trial. A day later he proved it to her by bringing the autograph of one the less important prisoners, Baldur von Schirach.

When next he saw her, he gave her a new autograph, this time from Goering himself. At this point, the girl, apparently named Mona, said she had two friends who were anxious to meet him. They were called Erich and Mathias, and they were interested in knowing if Mr Stivers would be willing to take notes to Goering hidden in a fountain pen. He willingly acquiesced, seeing no harm in it and still intent on impressing the girl.

Then, the third time that they met, the two men said they wanted him to take something else to Goering hidden in a pen. It was medication, because Goering, they said, "was a very sick man". They told him that: "It was medication, and that if it worked and Goering felt better, they'd send him some more." Mr Stivers, apparently not thinking much of it, duly obliged, saying he would return the pen empty to Mona another day. But after the "medicine" reached Goering's hands, Mona and the two men disappeared. "I never saw Mona again, I guess she used me."

It was just two weeks later, on 15 October 1946, that the shocking news broke that Goering had taken his own life and the execution that was set for the next day had become moot. Mr Stivers immediately thought he was responsible. But investigators never interrogated him or any of the other guards, beyond asking them if they had seen anything suspicious about Goering's behaviour or activities.

The regret and anxiety never left Mr Stivers. "I would have never knowingly taken in something that I thought was going to be used to help someone cheat the gallows," he told the LA Times. But neither could he ever really believe the explanation offered by the Army - that Goering had been in possession of the cyanide all the time he was in captivity.

It is true that, when the investigation was under way, officials found another vial of cyanide in belongings that had come with Goering when he was first transferred to Nuremberg. But his baggage had been kept under lock and key in a storage room. How would the prisoner have had access to it unless taken there by one of the guards. This always seemed unlikely given how closely Goering was monitored.

In the Fifties, the late Ben Swearingen wrote a book, The Mystery of Hermann Goering's Suicide, in which he named a US Army lieutenant, Jack Wheelis, as having allowing Goering into the storeroom to retrieve a vial of poison shortly before his suicide. But the book never explains how the two could have entered the storeroom without being seen.

As for keeping a vial on his body over a period of around a year, this also stretched belief. What was true was that Goering had arrived very rotund and, as he lost weight, the folds of loose skin may have made concealing a vial a little easier. But, if he had the poison all that time, why did he wait so long to use it?

Among those who think that the confessions of Mr Stivers could be plausible is Aaron Breitbart, a researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. His story, he said, "is crazy enough to be true," adding: "Nobody really knows who did it except the person who did it."

"It doesn't sound like something made up," said Cornelius Schnauber of the University of Southern California. "It sounds even more believable than the common story about the poison being in the dental crown."

If Mr Stivers feels better now for having lifted the guilt of his actions off his chest, he has his daughter to thank. Ms Dadey, 46, explained to the LA Times, "I said: `Dad, you're part of history. You need to tell this story before you pass away.' It's been on his conscience all his life."

News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
fashionLidl to launch a new affordable fashion range
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

.NET Developer

£650 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer ASP.Net, C#.net, WCF, WPF, .N...

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment