On Oct. 6, 1943, German Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich Dr. Albert Speer gave a 50-minute address to the assembled top officials of Nazi Germany at Posen Castle in Occupied Poland’s Reich Gau/Region Wartheland on the critical state of World War II at that point.
Noted Nazi Propaganda Minister Dr. Josef Goebbels in his diary entry later, “Speer told them very bluntly that no protests and no arguments would deter him (from converting all plants to war production.) He is, of course, right…”
But that is not how the “Golden Pheasants” of the Nazi Party—the Reichsleiters/National Leaders and Gauleiters/Regional Leaders—of Secretary to the Fuhrer Martin Bormann (already a deadly Speer foe) saw it, as they sat stunned in the sumptuous Golden Hall of the castle, summoned especially for the occasion.
They took special umbrage at his next words to them that they quite rightly saw as a direct threat to their domains: “You will please take note of what I am saying. The manner in which some of the Gaue have hitherto obstructed the shutdown of consumer goods production will no longer be tolerated…I am prepared to apply the authority of the Reich Government at any cost. I have discussed this with Reichsfuhrer /National Administrator SS (Heinrich) Himmler, and from now on, districts that do not carry out within two weeks the measures I request will be dealt with firmly.”
Bormann, who was also present, returned to their boss Adolf Hitler with these words in a successful attempt to undermine Speer’s standing with his Fuhrer/Leader. Himmler, the RFSS, had also spoken at Posen, and it was on this notorious occasion that he told the assembled guests about what the SS had been doing “in the East” to the Jews and others since the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
This was “Part of Hitler’s determination to make sure that his supporters were all implicated in the catastrophe he was bringing on Germany,” according to authoress Gitta Sereny in her excellent revisionist 1995 work, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth..
Speer later claimed that he wasn’t there—that he’d left before Himmler spoke—and that, therefore, he didn’t know about the terrible realities of “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” He did, however, know of the slave labor conditions in use at the underground rocket factory at Dora in the rugged Harz Mountains of Germany that was under his direct control.
In the midst of these two unsettling dilemmas—and his almost by now certain knowledge that Germany had lost the war in terms of production against the Allies—Speer decided to spend Christmas 1943 in German-occupied Lapland in the Far North with his personal secretary, Annemarie Kempf and one of his top aides, Rudolf Wolters—rather than with his family, or even with Hitler.
It was there that he developed a swollen left knee and later leg, which by Jan. 18, 1944 left him at age 38 in a state of collapse and overwork. He asked his friend SS Dr. Karl Brandt—Hitler’s own surgeon and Commissioner for Public Health—for advice, and the latter recommended to him SS Dr. Karl Gebhardt, a leading orthopedic surgeon with a hospital of his own outside Berlin—who was also a personal friend of Himmler’s.
Speer later claimed that he did not know that this hospital at Hohenlychen was an SS facility, but I find this difficult to believe in the light of his detailed knowledge of
virtually everything in Nazi Germany, and also due to the fact that—after the war—it was revealed that SS criminal medical experiments were performed there as well.
Speer was now in the clutches of the SS, and another of his rivals for the eventual succession to Hitler as Fuhrer, Himmler. The RFSS was a certain plotter during 1944, and planned to inaugurate an SS State with himself as Fuhrer in the spring of 1945 in an alliance with the Western Allies to continue the war against the Russians—but first Speer must go in that scenario.
If the new patient at Hohenlychen were to die conveniently under SS medical care, Speer as a rival would disappear, and Himmler could then concentrate next on the man closest to Hitler, Martin Bormann.
Bormann on May 10, 1941 had succeeded Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess in his duties---if not his title---as Head of the Nazi Party when the latter had flown to Scotland. One of Bormann’s operatives was a spy within Speer’s own Ministry—Xaver Dorsch, Head of the Organization Todt, the construction arm of the Third Reich. The OT was responsible for having built the Autobahn, West Wall (Siegfried Line), and the Atlantic Wall to repel the forthcoming Allied invasion of Western Europe. Dorsch was an admirer of the late Dr. Fritz Todt, who had died in a mysterious plane crash in February 1942, and had hopes of succeeding him when Hitler had named Speer to the coveted post instead.
For the 10 weeks that Speer lay in the hospital at Hohenlychen, Dorsch was the linchpin behind the secret cabal to overthrow him that not only included his own
Shadowy, secret boss Bormann, but also the duplicitous Dr. Gobbels, German Labor Front Leader Dr. Robert Ley (who wanted Speer’s job outright), and also Reich Marshal Hermann Goring, who’d lost many of his previously held economic Four Year Plan powers to Speer in 1942.
Indeed, within the Third Reich, the ambitious (and some said arrogant) Dr. Speer had developed a powerful host of enemies who were now determined to bring him down once they clearly saw their opportunity—as they now did.
Both Speer himself and Annemarie Kempf after the war said they believed that the RFSS was out to assassinate him medically. The secretary even claimed to have overheard a conversation between Himmler and Dr. Gebhardt that concluded with the words to the doctor, “Well, then, he’ll just be dead!” Himmler was already making inroads into Speer’s domain, according to the latter’s 1981 book Infiltration: How Heinrich Himmler Schemed to Build an SS Industrial Empire, his third and last volume of personal memoirs.
It should be here noted that Dr. Gebhardt had previously participated in the unsuccessful medical treatment of another famous Nazi patient: SS Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, wounded on May 27, 1942 in an assassination attempt in Prague. He was carried out of Prague’s Bulovka Hospital in a coffin after Dr. Gebhardt was sent by the RFSS to take over the case. Was Speer to be next?
Noted Gitta Sereny, “’ On admission,’ Jan. 18, 1944, ‘Gebhardt’s clinical notes say, ‘the patient appeared exhausted. Exceptionally taut swelling of the left knee joint. We immobilize the leg and apply arnica poultices. Diet: vegetarian and fruit.’
“When there was no improvement after five days, he ordered massive doses of sulfa. Eight days after admission, although Speer showed general cold symptoms—bronchitis,
hoarseness, and nasal catarrh—and although the consultant’s registrar suspected pleurisy, Gebhardt stuck to his diagnosis of rheumatoid inflammation of the left knee.
“Although a retrospective study of Gebhardt’s clinical reports clearly establishes that he misdiagnosed his patient---who either already on arrival had the beginnings of an embolism, or developed it in the course of that week---it is highly doubtful that, given Speer’s determination to continue working, any physician could have done much better.”
Meanwhile—while the palace revolt went on within his Ministry at Berlin—Fraulein/Miss Kempf remained at his side constantly. When it appeared that Speer had taken a turn for the worse and might actually die, it was she who called his wife Frau/Mrs. Margarete Speer, urging her to come at once, and also to get another doctor for a second opinion. She did so, bringing onto the case Professor Friedrich Koch.
Under his care, the crisis passed on the night of Feb. 11-12, 1944, leaving the patient in what seems described as a drug-like trance. He himself later stated, “I’ve never been afraid of death since. I’m certain it will be wonderful.” Noted Dr. Koch, “An astonishing recovery” on the 15th…breathing normal, bleeding stopped…Leg and knee suddenly normal, no sign of phlebitis” (which almost killed the late American President Richard Nixon in 1974), “no other physical symptoms.”
The origin of the inflammation of the knee and then the left lung remained “a mystery.” Dr. Gebhardt had wanted to perform an operation to puncture the left lung, but Dr. Koch declined. Speer also thought that the SS doctor wanted to poison him.
Dr. Speer was moved first to the grounds of Castle Klessheim in Austria, the German Foreign Office’s guest facility for Heads of State who came to see Hitler, and it was there—after a 10-week-long hiatus—that he saw his Fuhrer, for the first time since his illness began, when the latter came to visit him. Their reunion was a cold affair, though, with both men noticing the difference from former times when their being together as “fellow architects” had been so looked forward to.
Now, Speer would recall later, he believed Hitler to be a criminal who was bringing death and destruction to Germany, and the end to all their joint building plans as well, not to mention the lost war and the Holocaust in the East for which the entire leadership corps of the Third Reich would one day have to pay with their necks.
From Salzburg, the entire Speer family left for a six-week recuperation stay for the Minister at Goyen Castle near Merano, Italy, where Dr. Speer mused over the past decade of his life—and decided to resign from his post as Minister of Armaments and War Production, submitted to Hitler on Apr. 19, 1944, the day before the latter’s 55th birthday. While Goring fumed that he simply could not do this, Hitler raged to his own secretary Johanna Wolf that it was “impertinent.” At Merano, Speer was “guarded” by 25 SS men.
It was at this point that a delegation headed by Speer’s ally, Luftwaffe/Air Force Field Marshal Erhard Milch, arrived unexpectedly to plead with him not to resign, and to reassure Speer that he still retained Hitler’s favor. An enraged Speer blurted out, “The
Fuhrer can kiss my ass!” to which the shocked marshal replied, “You are much too insignificant to use such language toward the Fuhrer!” in an attempt to cut him down to size.
Earlier that same day of Apr. 20th, industrialist Walter “Panzer/Tank” Rohland had arrived from Hitler’s birthday party at The Berghof/Mountain Home—the Fuhrer’s chalet overlooking Berchtesgaden—to also beg Speer to remain at his post, using for the first time the words “scorched earth” that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had employed to halt the German drive outside Moscow in 1941, and that had so impressed Hitler at the time. Would the Fuhrer use the same methods in regards to the Reich? Rohland believed that he would, and for this reason alone, Speer must remain at his post, he asserted.
Speer decided to reconsider his position. Meanwhile, Dr. Gebhardt had told everyone that Speer was incapable of returning to work, Hitler told Mrs. Speer her husband might die (as Goring also intimated to the patient), and the Reich Marshal was gleefully shopping around for a successor to boot!
Later, Speer decided to lance the boil, and fly directly to see Hitler at The Berghof. Dr. Koch approved the flight on medical grounds, but Dr. Gebhardt balked. Dr. Koch recalled later, “He again accused me of not being a ‘political doctor.’ Here, as in Hohenlychen, I had the impression that Gebhardt wanted to keep Speer in his clutches.”
At The Berghof, Speer was received by the Fuhrer as a visiting Head of State, as he noted in his best-selling1970 Memoirs: Inside the Third Reich: “Hitler had donned his uniform cap and, gloves in hand, posted himself officially at the entrance…He conducted me into his salon like a formal guest…Although the old magic still had its potency,
although Hitler continued to prove his instinct for handling people, it became increasingly hard for me to remain unconditionally loyal to him.”
Nevertheless, whatever differences there were between the two men were papered over—at least for the next year, that is, when the threatened scorched earth that Rohland had mentioned became a dire possibility. Dorsch was restrained, and placed once
more under Speer’s complete control. Martin Bormann was defeated on this and other issues as well, and tried unsuccessfully to cultivate a friendship with Speer that was doomed from the start, since both men loathed each other.
Goring retreated back to his hunting preserve at Karinhal outside Berlin, and Dr. Ley’s plan to succeed Speer was aborted. Wily Dr. Goebbels realigned himself with Speer in time for the day of the July 20, 1944German Army bomb plot explosion designed to kill Hitler. Indeed, that very day, the two men were together in Berlin.
Oddly, a year later, Speer recommended Dr. Gebhardt to his friend Jean Bichelonne, the French Minister of Production, for an operation; the latter died. Moreover, for Speer himself the danger was not yet over, as his own subordinate, Walter Brugmann, died in a mysterious plane crash on May 26, 1944 very similar to that of Speer’s own predecessor, Dr. Todt. Had someone sent him yet another warning of his mortality?
As Speer noted in his memoirs, his absolute loyalty to the Fuhrer and the Nazi Party had been shaken by these events: “I had learned the valuable lesson that a resolute
stand with Hitler could achieve results” (in suppressing the Dorsch revolt)…”I was
beginning to bid farewell.”
Speer would outlive many of them. Hitler, Bormann, Himmler, and Drs. Goebbels and Ley all died in 1945, while the fallen Reich Marshal took a cyanide capsule in his Nuremberg jail cell on Oct. 16, 1946. Of the two SS doctors involved in the Speer case,
both Karl Brandt and Karl Gebhardt were tried, convicted, and hanged by the Allies for their crimes against humanity in 1948.
Speer himself died, ironically, on Sept. 1, 1981, the 42nd anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, as the world pondered yet another possible violation of that then unhappy country (by Russia), and in a city---London---that German V-1 rockets produced by his industrial combine had once tried to reduce to rubble.
The man who’d been with Nazi dictator Hitler in the flaming capital of the Third Reich in 1945 expired in that of one of the late Fuhrer’s greatest wartime enemies, Great Britain; and the British Empire died in the postwar era, largely as a result of the vast monies and energies it had expended to destroy their creed and state of Nazism.
Prof. Albert Speer, 76---Hitler’s former court architect and wartime Minister of Armaments and War Production, convicted Nurnberg war criminal, inmate afterwards of Berlin’s Spandau Prison for 20 years, and, later, best-selling author of a trio of volumes of memoirs detailing his prior Nazi career---no doubt would’ve appreciated the irony inherent in his own demise, for his writings are full of a subtle sense of irony, and the cruel jokes that fate often plays on us mere mortals.
Dr. Speer would’ve appreciated, too, that---in death as well as in life---he has remained a controversial figure: damned by many, understood by some, and acknowledged by most historians today as the preeminent memoirist of his era in history. Even the obituaries published the day after his sudden, unexpected passing unwittingly reported as fact some mistakes about his life.
For example, the Washington Post stated, “A courtly, patrician figure, he never joined the Nazi Party…” he most certainly did, and prior to the Nazis being appointed to office in 1933, too. The New York Times noted, “Mr. Speer was the only Nazi leader at Nurnberg…in 1945-46 to admit his guilt.”
Not so! Asserted Hans Frank---Hitler’s prewar personal attorney and wartime governor-general of occupied Poland---“A thousand years shall pass, and still the guilt of Germany shall not be erased.” Frank, however, was a rather pedestrian sort in the eyes of the Allied judges, with the blood of several thousands of slain Poles on his hands, who was almost predestined to be hanged by the victorious Allies at the war’s end.
Dr. Speer, however---a third generation architect of poise and polish, wit, charm, and grace, and from a German university background---was a much more interesting paradox over whom journalists and historians could puzzle. Thus was the legend of Speer as the sole penitent of one of history’s most hated regimes born in 1945-46, and, indeed, survives somewhat today.
They all wondered: How could a man like the urbane Speer serve one like Adolf Hitler? That question still remains for many unanswered, too.
Speer himself seemed serene---perhaps resigned is the better word, though---concerning his place in the history of the Second World War. As he told the Post in a 1976 interview, he should be remembered as, “One of the closest collaborators of Hitler. What I said at Nurnberg, that I was responsible for what happened to me, will stick with me, rightly. It will be my stamp. I hope it will also be remembered that I was capable of three other things: to be an architect, manager, and writer.”
Indeed, Prof. Speer was all three. His career was profoundly influenced not only by his most famous patron, Hitler, but also by the timely deaths of two men. The first---Dr. Paul Ludwig Troost---the Fuhrer’s original main (but not only) architect, died suddenly in 1934. Speer, 29, succeeded him as chief of most the Nazi Fuhrer’s grandiose building projects, such as the Party stadiums at Nurnberg, where its annual congresses were held each September from 1933-38. There was in addition the 1939 New German Reich Chancellery at Berlin, the underground air raid shelter of which was the scene of Hitler’s suicide in 1945.
Early in 1942, engineer Dr. Fritz Todt---prewar builder of the autobahnen (the world’s first true automobile expressways), and Nazi Germany’s initial wartime arms tsar---died in a mysterious airplane crash that Speer, in his memoirs, implied may’ve been an assassination.
The next day---in a stunning upset to Reich Marshal Goring (who coveted the post himself), Hitler appointed Speer instead to succeed Dr. Todt, despite Speer’s protestations that he knew nothing about armaments production.
According to Speer in 1970, Hitler said merely, “I know you will manage it,” and he knew well enough his man. By the end of the war three years later, Speer had not only returned production to private industry from the bungling of Nazi Party bureaucrats and regulators, but actually managed to produce more planes, tanks, and guns in the last year
of the conflict. This, ironically, was as the Nazis lost the war, than had been done in the first under Todt , when they were winning. Allied historians credited Dr. Speer thus with prolonging the war by at least a year.
In the course of this truly phenomenal achievement, Speer employed millions of foreign slave laborers, including Jews, many thousands of whom died, and thus began his road to
imprisonment, and possible eternal damnation in history. As he plainly acknowledged---although he lied about explicitly knowing during the war of the extermination of the Jews and others---“It will be my stamp.”
The last stage of his career---that as historian (some say apologist) for the Nazi regime---evolved from his enforced confinement at Spandau.
Speer produced the first of his superb postwar books---Inside the Third Reich published in the US in 1970---at least in part in prison, where the first draft was written, done on toilet paper and cigarette packs, and then smuggled out by friendly guards. This was later revised into proper book form upon his release. It was and remains an unrivalled, close up view of the top stratum of the Nazi leadership corps in both victory and defeat.
The second tome---Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976)---was essentially more of the same, interspersed with self-debates over the moral questions posed by the fate of the Jews, and his own sellout to Hitler for a top spot among the chosen. The last book, Infiltration (1981), was a detailed account of how the SS successfully invaded his production turf over the years. Having recently reread it after 25 years, I found that I appreciated it far more the second and third times round.
Speer’s unwritten next work was to have been an overall look at German wartime arms production, and I personally had hoped at the time of his death that a fifth might well explore the contrasts between the Germany that he left for prison in 1945 with the
phoenix that he found upon his release in 1966. Perhaps a manuscript on this and other topics may yet be discovered among his papers.
Thus did Speer enter the history books, and mainly as seen in his own published works, plus in the pages of a long and excellent Playboy Magazine interview by writer Eric Norden that was also published in 1970, just before the release of his memoirs in English. The Playboy interview was truly superb.
The portrait that emerged was---by and large---that which Speer himself had projected, i.e., as the Fuhrer’s favored architect and minister, who---by sheer brilliance and superhuman effort---more than doubled German wartime armaments production. As the war was lost, he separated his loyalty from Hitler, he explained, and transferred it instead to Germany’s survival after the war (when he believed, and fervently hoped, that the Allies might entrust him with her rebuilding). Thus, he asserted thathe’d tried to bring the fighting to as speedy a conclusion as possible with the minimum of internal destruction.
Moreover, at Nurnberg, Speer denied all knowledge of the planned destruction of the Jews and others during the Holocaust, but nevertheless accepted full responsibility before an outraged humanity and the sober judgment of posterity for his role as a top figure in one of history’s most grisly epochs.
In 1984, however, there appeared an English language edition of the German original---a well researched and tautly written account of this same career by Dr. Matthias Schmidt--- an associate professor at the Friedrich Meinecke Institute for Historical Research in what was then still West Berlin.
Having spent four years delving into Speer’s life, Dr. Schmidt produced Albert Speer: The End of a Myth, a well thought out and presented challenge in some depth and detail to Speer’s own view of his desired---and rehabilitated---place in history, especially in the postwar era. The volume was hailed by both traditional and revisionist historians of the period as a ground breaking work in which the author debunked Speer’s version of the Gospel According to Albert.
It is Dr. Schmidt’s last thesis that---far from being an “apolitical technocrat”---Speer participated up to the hilt in Nazi grand power politics to the best level that he could and strove to succeed Hitler himself as Fuhrer. Moreover, Dr. Speer worked in tandem with RFSS Himmler to first build, and maintain, the extermination camps that promulgated the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” across German-occupied Europe during the latter years of the war.
Speer stuck close to Nazi Propaganda Minister Dr. Goebbels during the Army’s anti-Hitler plot of July 20, 1944 to save both his neck and his post, Schmidt asserted, but would’ve been just as prepared to join the new, anti-Nazi government if the coup had succeeded. Indeed, Speer was the only top Nazi on the conspirators’ list as a possible minister in their intended new regime. The SS and Gestapo duly took note.
Afterwards, Speer gave his all to prolonging the war and encouraging the German people to “stick it out,” even though---asserted Dr. Schmitdt---he must’ve known that it was hopelessly lost long before his famed March 1945 memo to Hitler stating as much. Far from seeking to limit the Fuhrer’s “scorched earth” policy to provide a postwar life
for the Germans, Schmidt translated this as merely Speer’s desire to maintain the Reich’s industry as the basis of his own, personal power in a new life after defeated Nazism.
As revealed at Nurnberg, Speer allegedly tried to pave his way to this new career by planning an ineffective assassination ‘attempt” on the Fuhrer’s life by gassing the underground Berlin air raid shelter of the Chancellery area. I consider this “attempt” entirely bogus, cooked up by defendant Speer to impress the Allied court.
Surmised Schmidt, by influencing Hitler to appoint Navy Grand Adm. Karl Donitz as his successor when it was clear that Speer himself would not ascend to the Nazi throne after Hitler’s death, the shrewd Speer sidestepped being head of the doomed Reich as it was overrun by the Allies both east and west.
Named Reich Minister of Economy and Production by the new President Donitz, Speer sought to buy time under this “operetta government,” stated Schmidt, until the Western Allies themselves would name him to head the new Reich under their aegis (a vain hope also shared by Hess, Himmler, and Goring all, by the way.)
Speer’s indictment as a war criminal instead greatly stunned him, as he later admitted, but---as Dr. Schmidt dryly noted---he adjusted, set out to survive, and did.
During the two decades of his sentence at Spandau as a convict, Speer prepared, secretly, his later published books, all with the continuing aid of a prewar, wartime, and
even postwar associate whose name never once appears in any of Speer’s own writings: Dr. Rudolf Wolters. The latter associate knew him from their student days in 1924, and kept the originals of the formal Speer Office Journal during the war.
Dr. Schmidt produced photocopies of both the uncensored and the later Speer-expurgated versions of these pages to show how the Nazi-turned-memoirist falsified his own actual history, which Schmidt called, “The most cunning apologia by any leading figure of the Third Reich.”
Prof. Speer sued unsuccessfully to block publication of Dr. Schmidt’s book; to our good fortune, however, the suit failed. Whatever one thinks of Albert Speer: The End of a Myth, it renewed a very worthwhile historical debate when the tides had all been running in Speer’s favor.
The same year that Speer died produced a second book about him entitled, Albert Speer and the Nazi Ministry of Arms: Economic Institutions and Industrial Production in the German War Economy by Prof. Edward R. Zilbert, associate dean of the School of Business Administration and Economics at California State University at Fullerton.
In the preface, Dr. Zilbert stated, “The Allied strategic bombing offensive against Germany during World War II marked the first organized attempt in the history of warfare to crush the economic foundations of a modern industrial nation by attack from the air.
“Despite concentrated attacks upon cities and towns and industrial facilities, the German people continued to work, and the economy turned out war equipment at increasing rates until the end of 1944. The reasons for this remarkable performance
should, I think, be of interest. The basic question asked is: Why was Speer better able than his predecessors to increase production dramatically in those industries singled out for destruction by bombing?
“In seeking the answer, the book treats the reasons for the successes and failures of both Speer and the Allies during the strategic bombing campaign in a framework of economic institutions and political-military decisions. A detailed examination of Speer’s
methods is given in an analytical treatment of the two industries singled out for destruction: submarines and aircraft.
“…Much of the material used is unique…In essence, the study examines the record as it existed before the various principals were charged with war crimes, and placed on trial at Nurnberg. This provides a look at history through the eyes of the participants prior to any colorization, editing, or self-serving rewriting of events as defendants liable to punishment by death at the hands of the International Military Tribunal (IMT)…In Albert Speer’s case, this early material accords remarkably well with both his testimony at Nurnberg and the material presented in his memoirs.”
In 1995 there appeared the excellent work by authoress Gitta Sereny entitled, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, in which she challenged---successfully, in my view---his own self-portrait of his life’s work, virtually paragraph by paragraph, line by line, and word by word.
It was, indeed, a devastating contest of opposing writers and---in the end---Speer lost.
Two years later, there appeared yet another blow to his carefully crafted image, in Dutch author Dan van der Vat’s 1997 book, The Good Nazi: The Life and Times of
Albert Speer, which was more of the same, but less so; still, it was a worthwhile addition to the literature overall.
Another work on the growing anti-Speer bookshelf was the blockbuster tome Speer: The Final Verdict by the late German author Joachim C. Fest in 2003, whose previous works Hitler, The Face of the Third Reich, and Plotting Hitler’s Death, were both best-sellers, as was this one as well.
What set Fest’s work apart from the others was his interesting detail on young Albert’s early family life. Speer grew up to be a man of no fixed principles, and an opportunist---the type who can be found in virtually any American corporate boardroom today. On the other hand, as he pointed out, “Unlike nearly all the members of Hitler’s close entourage, Speer was never servile or undignified,” which probably gained him a measure of respect in the Nazi Fuhrer’s eyes. This also impressed the Allied court during 1945-46.
Fest noted, too, that it was Speer who was given the task of “Arranging a harvest festival on the Buckeberg near Hameln” that annually drew over a million peasants and farmers in their colorful garb, no mean feat. Unlike all the other Speer books, Fest also noted that Speer was not the Fuhrer’s sole architect---that Hermann Giesler (whom Hitler took with him to Paris along with Speer on June 28, 1940 for his only tour thereof) was his great rival, a fact that Speer never acknowledged in his own trio of postwar volumes.
Thus, only Nurnberg and Berlin were solely Speer projects, while Bormann---Speer’s most malevolent enemy---saw to it that Giesler got the much sought after commissions of
buildings on both the Obersalzberg in Bavaria, and at Linz. The latter was the projected site of Hitler’s planned tomb in Austria that would never be built, just like most of the other grandiose Nazi prewar structures.
Still, Speer sought to build the “highest skyscraper for Hamburg, the greatest seaside resort for the island of Rugen, and the world’s most powerful radio transmitter.” On the purely military side of the ledger, Fest asserted that, “After the conclusion of the Norwegian campaign” (in 1940) “Hitler commissioned him to take on the plans for the new town that was to arise near Trondheim, Norway. With shipyards, docks, and a quarter of a million inhabitants, it was to be the largest naval base of the future Reich,” most likely for the planned naval war with the United States’ Atlantic Fleet.
Not only did Fest himself grow up during the Nazi period in Germany, but---following Speer’s release from Spandau---worked closely with the new memoirist as his book editor on his first two best-selling volumes.
Speer’s initial claim to fame under the Nazis came as the man who produced the Nurnberg Party Congresses into the world-class spectacles that they are still known to have been during 1933-38---not Dr. Goebbels, as one might’ve thought---but Speer, working in tandem with Hitler.
Asserted Fest, “Although he was one of the producers, Speer himself was undoubtedly gripped by these overwhelming emotions: seducer and seduced at the same time. ‘I was swept away,” he admitted, adding that he would not have hesitated to follow Hitler ‘blindly…anywhere.’ He always insisted that the relationship that had developed between
them had resembled that of an architect toward an admired patron rather than of a follower toward a political leader.”
But the one could not be separated from the other, particularly since ‘blind’ devotion in matters of architecture would be nonsense.
“Not until much later did he realize that whenever the regime was accused of prosecution or breaking treaties, he subconsciously began to search for justifications, and that soon he had joined the chorus of yes-men.”
Fest admitted that the young Speer was not a man without at least some scruples before the onset of the war that would propel him to both global fame and Continental European power.
“During these years Speer had also been working as a freelance architect. His office had expanded steadily, and he was stupefied by the never-ending flood of inquiries, commissions, journeys, and administrative duties, often coming home late in the evening, ‘speechless with exhaustion.’ To begin with, he had refused to accept a fee for his official work, but he increasingly got into difficulties. Only toward the end of 1935, when Goring assured him with his constantly cheerful greed, ‘They’re all nonsense, your ideals. You’ve got to make money!’ did Speer accept a fee of 30,000 marks for his work up until then.”
On Jan. 30, 1937---the fourth anniversary of his being appointed Reich Chancellor---Hitler named his young protégé as General Building Inspector of the Reich, with the specific task of rebuilding Berlin as Germania, the new capital of a Nazi world as
a State Secretary in the Reich Cabinet, which meant that he was, in effect, serving as the Fuhrer’s own deputy in all matters architectural, reporting to him alone.
The young man of 32 had arrived. He and his patron immediately meshed, asserted author Fest, because Hitler was “Always ready to take the most eccentric ideas seriously and put them into effect with that fearlessness with which he etched himself so indelibly on the world’s memory.”
Whatever else can or cannot be said of Adolf Hitler, he never did anything by halves, and thus Speer emerged as the handmaiden of his will in many of his better known projects, such as their joint buildings that can still be seen in both actuality and also in models in period prewar and wartime films still seen today.
Indeed, Fest named over 40 “Fuhrer cities” that were slated for rebuilding by this dynamic duo aside from Berlin. By 1940, Speer had emerged as a major power player within the Third Reich in this architectural vein.
The author also says that Speer “sided with the radicals in favor of war” in 1939. With its coming, ironically, Speer’s rising star in Nazi Germany started to peak---if not to fall---since his role as a major domo in the building sphere gained him no laurels at Hitler’s military conference tables at Fuhrer headquarters spread out across German occupied Europe.
Thus, when Armaments Minister Dr. Todt died in a plane crash on Feb. 8, 1942, Speer was in place and ready to be appointed as his successor. It was in this new role that Minister Speer would take his place on the world stage, becoming as familiar to Western newsreel audiences as he was at home in the Reich. In effect, by reversing Goring’s
earlier blunders made during the latter’s Four Year Plan economic dictates of 1936-42, Speer returned armaments (and later war production) to the private sector captains of
German industry mainly by ousting the Party’s own bureaucrats. These men knew what they were doing, and Speer allowed to them to do it with the minimum of his oversight and supervision. As long they met his and Hitler’s production quota demands, he was happy---and so was his grateful Fuhrer.
Placed in the Nurnberg dock of the accused at war’s end, Speer was very nearly hanged for his crimes. Based on what has been revealed since his death in 1981, it’s a fair assertion to make that had these revelations of the true state of his knowledge of war crimes been known in 1946, Speer most likely would have been hanged.
I, for one, however, am glad that he was not, so that he was able to write his trio of books of memoirs, and that other authors since then were thus also able to criticize these, and further expand our overall knowledge of the period.
We know what history’s verdict is today on Albert Speer, but what will it be in 25, 50, or 100 years hence? I suspect that then---like some of the Roman emperors we recall now---he, in concert with the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, will be more remembered as the premier chronicler of the system in which he served than as one of its highest satraps.
In 2008 Speer’s son, namesake, and heir---architect Albert Speer Jr., now 76--- completed many buildings and other structures for the summer Olympic Games at Beijing in the Communist People’s Republic of China, complete with an east-west axis
very much like the one his more famous paternal namesake once designed for Hitler’s Nazi Germania.
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