Descendant of Goering converts to Judaism

Ruth Elkins
Sunday 05 March 2006 01:00

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."

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