Monday, May 19, 2014

How I Became the Great Niece of Emmy Göring, First Lady of the Third Reich

My father, who died one year ago, had no middle least that is what he adamantly claimed throughout most of his lifetime. My sisters and I used to joke that maybe his middle name was Adolf. We reasoned since he was born a German Jew and was one of the lucky ones of our clan not to end up losing their life in a concentration camp, perhaps that fine Deutsch name was one worth dropping considering how Hitler rather ruined it.

But, then, in his late seventies, my father started drawing up a genealogical chart and, suddenly, he had a middle name; in fact, he had two of them: Philipp August. Now my sisters and I were even more puzzled. Philipp was the name of his mother's father and August was the name of his father's father. They are lovely names and my father never had anything negative to say about either man. Why, then, would he refuse to admit to having any middle name for more than half a century?

Then, just last week, my second cousin wrote to my sisters and me (upon hearing of both my father's and my mother's deaths) and along with her condolences, asked if we wish to exchange information about our ancestry, perhaps more about my grandfather Leo and our famous great-great uncle, the famous Leopold Sonnemann, publisher of the Frankfurter Zeitung and a champion for Jewish rights and social and monetary reform.

So, this email inspired me to toss a few search terms into Google and there it was:

Emmy Göring , wife of Hermann Göring - who not only was a top dog Nazi but the major thief of European art (watch the movie, Monument Men)  - was said to be the great niece of the famous publisher, Leopold Sonnemann,...which would make her my great aunt. Oh. My. God. Yikes!

NOW it made sense why my father didn't want his middle name known. He didn't want his family name linked to Emmy Göring; after all, he had a top secret clearance and worked for the Department of Defense. He must have worried that someone might trace our family history back to the Nazi party and all the infamy of the convicted war criminal Herman Göring and of Adolf Hitler, who was best man at Hermann and Emmy's wedding.

He wasn't the only one in the family with this suspicion; I found out from my cousin that others had commented on "that horrible woman" being on our family tree.

But, then again, maybe not.

The journalists of yesteryear seem to be just as ethically challenged (anything that makes a good story) and as careless as our news reporters of today. Here is what appears to have happened: one journalist from the New York Post wrote a story which claimed Emmy Göring nee Sonnemann was Jewish and the grand-niece of Leopold Sonnemann and that her father was August Sonnemann, my father's grandfather. Then another paper, denying this story to be true, claimed that the first journalist erred in connecting her to my family because Emmy Sonnemann's father was a different August Sonnemann. But, it turns out, as far as I and my cousin have researched, that Emmy Göring's father was not an August at all nor was her father Jewish nor can I find her anywhere on the family tree! So, unless Hermann Göring really doctored up some good paperwork and our family managed to eliminate all traces of a black sheep, these 1935 journalists published stories without doing proper research or presenting any proof. The stories were good enough, though, to stir up a lot of gossip around the time of Emmy Sonnemann 's wedding to Hermann and served as a rather unnerving rumor that eventually affected my father and other relatives even though they should have had first hand (or at least second hand) information that would contradict these erroneous reports. But this goes to prove the power the press has upon people; there is a strange tendency for people to believe what they read even if it flies in the face of known facts or just seems to come out of nowhere. If a story is in a major newspaper, the journalist must be telling the truth or the editor wouldn't allow it to be published. Even I was taken aback by the story of my possible connection to Emmy Göring and I will probably research still more to be sure I am not missing something...even though there seems to be no basis for the claim at all.

So I say to everyone, don't just believe what you read in the paper; be sure there is evidence to back up any and all claims. Or like my father, you just might spend a lifetime hiding a "fact' that never really was one.


MRSFeeX said...

If your dad didn't go to America you never born.

So.. Even Otto Frank did fight in WO1, on the German site.
He was living in Germany then.

History is a part of your life..
My grandparents and theirs, did live long enough.. to get children.
It is a fact.

The most of them were baptised married or burried in the same old easy to get your family history, visit the graveyard.
Well.. I dont think 'wrong' family
should burden the other ones.
History is only written by the winners anyway.
I dont think it is all black and white.
Good or bad doesnt stop by the border.
Some people say without Hitler there probaly was a war anyway.
Germany suffered because of the pressure after WO1.

So.. It started with Worldwar 1.

MRSFeeX said...

Your father's grandfather..
So.. Pat Sonneman?

Peter Hyatt said...

Fascinating article, Pat!

Herman Goering is considered by some to be "the number one criminal" or "the world's greatest felon" by shear volume of the number of DIFFERENT separate crimes he could have been indicted for. Murder, extortion, larceny, forgery, of so many various counts, of so many various events, of some many different legal jurisdictions and nations. He was truly the "glutton", or all consuming and wasting man of his time.

Peter Hyatt

Pat Brown said...

Peter, Hermann Göring was indeed a huge psychopath with much grandiosity and narcissism. I find it rather fascinating that he really wasn't that racist at all which is not uncommon among certain psychopaths; he simply does what works for him. If he needs to kills Jews, no problem. If he needs to look the other way, no problem. If he needs to help Jews to please his wife, no problem.

The women in his life would no doubt claim he was not a psychopath because he showed love toward them. But, I am sure he loved them as possessions, not people. Emmy Goring has written a book defending him; I am waiting on a copy now. Can't wait to read her lovely prose about him! Emmy is a bit questionable as to character as well, like one of those big drug kingpin wive who claims she had no idea her husband was a criminal although he bought a five million dollar house on the salary of a landscaper. Emmy was an aging actress with limited skill; Göring gave her fame and fortune; not a bad trade if one can overlook his porkiness, his impotence, and his criminality.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post. It is amazing how these urban/family myths can gain such credence.

I guess it is always easier for the press to sell a beguiling 'story' of events than to relate the cold hard facts. (The narrative of a 'predestined Reich' that blinded so many at that time.)

It is worrying that there seem to be so few institutions that uphold evidential truth. Frontline policing and specialist forensic research has faced cutbacks here in the UK. I wonder how that compares to comparative expenditure on PR and media consultancy for the police.

And investigative journalism is all but dead.

Anonymous said...

The Sonneman or Sonnemann Family crest is the interesting link. It shows two six pointed stars over a bar and another six pointed star below. (One could interpret these as stars of David, but that is farfetched and untrue). The stars are actually stylized suns. (Sonne means sun in german).
Here is the kicker. Emmy Sonneman family crest was on the wedding menus with Görings in 1935. The shield of my family crest is exactly the same. That is very unusual indeed. There is no family connection to the Sonneman's that I know of,

The_Editrix said...

MRSFeeX said...
"Some people say without Hitler there probaly was a war anyway.
Germany suffered because of the pressure after WO1."

I think the pressure Germany was under after WWI ought to be seen in a somewhat differentiated light.

Some time ago, I found the following observation in "The Winds of War" by Herman Wouk and was stunned by its astuteness. Wouk lets his protagonist Vicor Henry say: "Roon [a fictitious character] starts on his first page, for instance, exactly as Adolf Hitler started all his speeches: by denouncing the Versailles Treaty as an injustice imposed on an honourable and trusting Germany by the cruel Allies. He does not mention the historical catch to that. German writers seldom do. In 1917 Lenin overthrew the Kerensky government and sued for a separate peace on the eastern front. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, dictated by the Germans over a year before the Treaty of Versailles, deprived Russia of a territory much larger than France and England combined, of almost sixty million inhabitants, and of almost all her heavy industry. It was far harsher than the Versailles Treaty.
I used to bring up this little fact during my Berlin service, whenever Versailles was mentioned. My German friends were invariably puzzled by the comparison. They thought it made no sense at all. The Treaty of Versailles had happened to them; Brest-Litovsk had happened to the other fellow. In this reaction they were sincere. I cannot explain this national quirk of the Germans ...".

I don't think WWII had happened without Hitler and the Nazi ideology. They lapped it up. The "shame" of the Versailles Treaty was a minor argument in the Nazi propaganda war. The big thing was the genocidal elimination of the Jews. And while the cause for WWI can by no means be blamed on the Germans alone, the cause for WWII can. And do you know what happened after WWII? The same whining and bellyaching. Start a war, lose it, pay with territory. Obviously not simple enough for the average German.