Albert Speer

Albert Speer

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.

Albert Speer
Albert Speer
.

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.

Albert Speer
Albert Speer
.

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."

After being released from Spandau Prison in 1966, Speer published his memoirs, Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976). Albert Speer died in 1981. Inside the Third Reich

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) In his autobiography Albert Speer explained why he joined the National Socialist German Workers Party in 1932.

Had Hitler announced, before 1933, that a few years later he would burn down Jewish synagogues, involve Germany in a war, and kill Jews and his political opponents, he would at one blow have lost me and probably most of the adherents he won after 1930.

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.

(2) Ronald Hayman, Hitler & Geli (1997)

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.

Some of his most ridiculous behaviour was prompted by the desire to appear robustly masculine and tremendously virile. Showing his library to a young woman and seeing that her attention was wandering, he abruptly stiffened his arm in a Nazi salute and said in a deep voice:

(3) Albert Speer met Adolf Hitler the day after the Night of the Long Knives. He wrote about the meeting in his book, Inside the Third Reich (1970)

Hitler was extremely excited and, as I believe to this day, inwardly convinced that he had come through a great danger. Again and again he described how he had forced his way into the Hotel Hanselmayer in Wiessee - not forgetting, in the telling, to make a show of his courage: "We were unarmed, imagine, and didn't know whether or not those swine might have armed guards to use against us." The homosexual atmosphere had disgusted him: "In one room we found two naked boys!" Evidently he believed that his personal action had averted a disaster at the last minute: "I alone was able to solve this problem. No one else!"

His entourage tried to deepen his distaste for the executed SA leaders by assiduously reporting as many details as possible about the intimate life of Roehm and his following. Bruckner showed Hitler the menus of banquets held by the Roehm clique, which had purportedly been found in the Berlin SA headquarters. The menus listed a fantastic variety of courses, including foreign delicacies such as frogs' legs, birds' tongues, shark fins, seagulls' eggs, along with vintage French wines and the best champagnes. Hitler commented sarcastically: "So, here we have those revolutionaries! And our revolution was too tame for them."

(4) In his autobiography Albert Speer explained how Martin Bormann became such an important figure during the Second World War.

The powerful men under Hitler were already jealously watching one another like so many pretenders to the throne. Quite early there were struggles for position among Goebbels, Goering, Rosenberg, Ley, Himmler, Ribbentrop, and Hess. Only Roehm had been left by the wayside, and before long Hess was to lose all his influence. But none of them recognized a threat in the shape of trusty Bormann. He had succeeded in representing himself as insignificant while imperceptibly building up his bastions. Even among so many ruthless men, he stood out by his brutality and coarseness. He had no culture, which might have put some restraints on him, and in every case he carried out whatever Hitler had ordered or what he himself had gathered from Hitler's hints. A subordinate by nature, he treated his own subordinates as if he were dealing with cows and oxen. He was a peasant.

(5) Albert Speer, as Minister of Armaments, was a strong supporter of the rocket programme headed by Wernher von Braun.

Ever since the winter of 1939, I had been closely associated with the Peenemunde development centre, although at first all I was doing was meeting its construction needs. I liked mingling with the circle of non-political young scientists and inventors headed by Werner von Braun - twenty-seven years old, purposeful, a man realistically at home in the future. It was extraordinary that so young and untried a team should be allowed to pursue a project costing hundreds of millions of marks and whose realization seemed far away.

My sympathy stood them in good stead when in the late fall of 1939 Hitler crossed the rocket project off his list of urgent undertakings and thus automatically cut off its labour and materials. By tacit agreement with the Army Ordnance Office, I continued to build the Peenemunde installations without its aaproval - a liberty that probably no one but myself could have taken.

(6) Albert Speer wrote about the testing of the Waterfall rocket in his autobiography, Inside the Third Reich.

On June 13, 1942, the armaments chiefs of the three branches of the armed forces, Field Marshal Milch, Admiral Witzell and General Fromm, flew to Peenemunde with me to witness the first firing of a remote-controlled rocket.

Wisps of vapour showed that the fuel tanks were being filled. At the predetermined second, at first with a faltering motion but then with the roar of an unleashed giant, the rocket rose slowly from its pad, seemed to stand upon its jet of flame for the fraction of a second, then vanished with a howl into the low clouds. Wernher von Braun was beaming. For my part, I was thunderstruck at this technical miracle, at its precision and at the way it seemed to abolish the laws of gravity, so that thirteen tons could be hurtled into the air without any mechanical guidance.

Approximately twenty-five feet long, the Waterfall rocket was capable of carrying approximately six hundred and sixty pounds of explosives along a directional beam up to an altitude of fifty thousand feet.

(7) Albert Speer recorded in his autobiography that the Germans were involved in several secret projects during the Second World War.

As early as it to the Heinkel aircraft plant in Rostock and heard the deafening noise of one of the first jet engines on a testing stand. The designer, Professor Ernst Heinkel, was urging that this revolutionary advance be applied to aircraft construction. During the armaments congress at the air force test site in Rechlin (September 1943) Milch silently handed me a telegram which had just been brought to him. It contained an order from Hitler to halt preparations for large-scale production of the Me-262.

(8) Albert Speer, Spandau, the Secret Diaries (1976)

The real importance of the air war consisted in the fact that it opened a second front before the invasion of Europe. The front was the skies over Germany. Every square metre of the territory we controlled was a kind of front line. Defence against air attacks required the production of thousands of anti-aircraft guns, the stockpiling of tremendous quantities of ammunition over the country, and holding in readiness hundreds of thousands of soldiers, who in addition had to stay in position by their guns, often totally inactive, for months at a time.

(9) Joseph Goebbels, diary (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. The Führer uses extraordinarily hard words about Speer. I do not think that Speer will have an easy time with him in the next few days. Above all the Führer intends to put an end to Speer's speechifying which is definitely of a defeatist nature.

Bormann is not doing very well at the moment. His ideas, particularly on the question of radicalization of the war, are not what I would have expected of him. As I have already said, these people are semi-bourgeois. Their thinking may be revolutionary but they do not act that way. Now, however, the revolutionaries must be brought to the top.

(10) Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (1970)

After 1933 there quickly formed various rival factions that held divergent views, spied on each other, and held each other in contempt. A mixture of scorn and dislike became the prevailing mood within the party. Each new dignitary rapidly gathered a circle of intimates around him. Thus Himmler associated almost exclusively with his SS following, from whom he could count on unqualified respect. Goering also had his band of uncritical admirers, consisting partly of members of his family, partly of his closest associates and adjutants. Goebbels felt at ease in the company of literary and movie people. Hess occupied himself with problems of homeopathic medicine, loved chamber music, and had screwy but interesting acquaintances.

As an intellectual Goebbels looked down on the crude philistines of the leading group in Munich, who for their part made fun of the conceited academic's literary ambitions. Goering considered neither the Munich philistines nor Goebbels sufficiently aristocratic for him and therefore avoided all social relations with them; whereas Himmler, filled with the elitist missionary zeal of the SS felt far superior to all the others. Hitler, too, had his retinue, which went everywhere with him. Its membership, consisting of chauffeurs, the photographer, his pilot, and secretaries, remained always the same.

(11) Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (1970)

Hitler's decisions led to a multiplicity of parallel projects. They also led to more and more complicated problems of supply. One of his worst failings was that he simply did not understand the necessity for supplying armies with sufficient spare parts. General Guderian, the Inspector General of Tank Ordnance, frequently pointed out to me that if we could repair our tanks quickly, thanks to sufficient spare parts, we could have more available for battle, at a fraction of the cost, than by producing new ones. But Hitler insisted on the priority of new production, which would have had to be reduced by 20 percent if we made provision for such repairs.

General Fromm as Chief of the Reserve Army deeply concerned about this kind of poor planning. I took him with me to see Hitler several times so that he could present the arguments of the military. Fromm knew how to state a problem clearly; he had presence and had diplomatic tact. Sitting there, his sword pressed between his knees, hand on the hilt, he looked charged with energy; and to this day I believe that his great abilities might have prevented many a blunder at the Fuehrer's headquarters. After several conferences, in fact, his influence increased. But immediately opposition appeared, both on the part of Keitel, who saw his position threatened, and on the part of Goebbels, who tried to persuade Hitler that Fromm had a dangerous political record. Finally. Hitler clashed with Fromm over a question of reserve supplies. Curtly; he let me know that I was no longer to bring Fromm with me.

(12) Albert Speer was Minister for Armaments and War Production in Hitler's government. At his trial at Nuremberg in 1946 he discussed the dangers of modern dictatorship.

Hitler's dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. His was the first dictatorship in the present period of technical development, a dictatorship which made complete use of all technical means for the domination of its own country. Through technical means like the radio and the loud-speaker, eighty million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man.

(13) Ulf Schmidt, Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor (2007)

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. Like Speer, who managed to create a post-war narrative of himself as an idealistic, conscientious and apolitical expert, Brandt wanted to portray himself as a genuine believer in the moral legitimacy of "euthanasia", as someone who had reluctantly carried out Hitler's directives, but who had otherwise been ignorant of the crimes of the regime. Both established for themselves an image mirroring that of the millions of Germans who, after the war, wanted the world to believe that they had fallen victim to Hitler's political movement "He strung us all along", the writer Joachim Fest recently admitted, after historians discovered that 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 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. Whereas much has been written about Speer in the last decades, most notably by Gitta Sereny in her study Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, published in 1995, scholars have only fairly recently turned their attention to Brandt as one of the key architects of Hitler's murderous policies.