Albert Speer, the son of an architect, was born in Mannheim on 19th March, 1905. After studying architecture at the Munich Institute of Technology and at the Berlin-Charlottenburg Institute, he became an architect in 1927.
In 1931 Speer joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and the following year he became a member of the Schutz Staffeinel (SS). He later admitted: "In making this decision to join the accursed party, I had for the first time denied my own past, my upper-middle-class origins, and my previous environment. My inclination to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts, helped to sway the balance. In this I did not differ from millions of others. Such mental slackness above all facilitated, established, and finally assured the success of the National Socialist system. And I thought that by paying my party dues of a few marks a month I had settled with my political obligations."
The historian, Ulf Schmidt, has pointed out in his book, Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor (2007) that Speer was a close friend of Karl Brandt: "One of Karl Brandt's closest friends was Albert Speer, Hitler's personal architect. Both belonged to a generation of young professionals, born between 1900 and 1910, who experienced the First World War as children or adolescents, and later advanced to key executive positions in the regime, a young expert elite (Funktionselite), as Michael Wildt has pointed out, often highly ambitious and competitive, but also with little empathy for the suffering of others."
Speer met Adolf Hitler in July 1933 and gave him the task of organizing the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. Speer admitted that "in those first years I was ready to follow him wherever he led." Louis L. Snyder has argued: "A frustrated architect himself, the Führer saw in Speer a means of fulfilling his own youthful dreams". It has been claimed by Gitta Sereny that the two men were attracted to each other because of their psychological past: "Both were bedevilled from childhood by thwarted, imagined and withheld love, a deficiency which rendered them both virtually incapable of expressing private emotions... Both of them, capable of great charm and courted by women, could barely respond though neither of them was homosexual."
Ronald Hayman has pointed out: "The attractive, well-born, Nordic-looking Speer was a man Hitler would have liked to resemble, or, ideally, to be. Able to transpose Speer's concepts into reality, Hitler was the all-powerful father, the protector Speer had always needed or believed himself to need. Never developing the homosexual side of his nature, Hitler was aware of it and sufficiently afraid of it to hit out viciously against homosexuals and homosexuality, fulminating against it as a social evil he would eradicate as soon as he came to power. And he tried to implement this threat. In Germany there were almost 30,000 prosecutions for homosexuality between 1936 and 1939, compared with 3261 between 1931 and 1934."
In 1937 Speer was appointed as General Architectural Inspector of the Reich, with instructions to "turn Berlin into a real and true capital of the German Reich." This included the Reich Chancellery in Berlin and various buildings in Nuremberg. Speer worked tirelessly to convert Hitler's grandiose words into stone. He designed state offices, stadiums, monuments and cities for Nazi Germany. In 1938 Hitler conferred the party's Golden Badge of Honor on him.
In 1941 Speer was elected a delegate to the Reichstag to represent the Wahlkreis Electoral District. In February, 1942, Adolf Hitler appointed Speer as Minister of Armaments, succeeding Dr. Fritz Todt, who had been killed in an aircraft accident. A good administrator, Speer considerably raised production levels of armaments. Working closely with Karl Doenitz Speer was able to announce that Germany was producing 42 U-boats a month by 1945.
Speer clashed with Heinrich Himmler arguing that concentration camp factories were inefficient and preferred using paid labour in occupied countries. He later claimed that he saved lives because of this policy but his opponents pointed out that this policy had more to do with efficiency than morality. Between 1941 and 1945 he was the virtual dictator of the German war economy.
Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary on 27th March, 1945: "Speer is more of an artist by nature. Admittedly he has great organizational talent but politically he is too inexperienced to be totally reliable in this critical time. The Führer is very angry about recent statements made to him by Speer. Speer has allowed himself to be influenced by his industrialists and is continually saying that he does not intend to lift a finger to cut the German people's lifeline; this is for our enemies to do; he does not intend to take responsibility for it. The Führer counters this by saying that we have to carry the responsibility anyway, that the point now is to bring the struggle for our people's existence to a successful conclusion and that tactical questions play only a subordinate role. The Führer intends to summon Speer during the afternoon and face him with a stern alternative: either he must conform to the principles of present-day conduct of the war or the Führer will dispense with his assistance. He says with much bitterness that he would prefer to live in a prefab or creep underground then have palaces built by a member of his staff who had proved a failure at the moment of crisis."
At the end of the Second World War Speer was arrested and was charged with using slave labour in his production programmes. Speer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to twenty five years in prison. The historian, Ulf Schmidt, has pointed out: "Speer was personally involved in the Holocaust, that his ministry provided the building materials for an extension of Auschwitz, that he made a substantial fortune with Aryanized property, denounced uncooperative competitors, initiated the construction of concentration camps, and supported the draconian measures used against forced and slave labourers in some of Germany's most horrific underground production facilities. If only a part of this had been known during the International Military Tribunal in 1945, which preceded the trial against Karl Brandt and others, Speer would probably have been sentenced to death. The fact that most of it was unknown at the time gave Speer the possibility of creating his own carefully constructed, but also greatly biased, post-war narrative of himself and the regime, a convenient and plausible story, which scholars and journalists either took for granted or were unable to refute."