Albert Speer (//; German: [ˈʃpeːɐ̯] (listen); March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981) was a German architect who was, for most of World War II, Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production for Nazi Germany. Speer was Adolf Hitler's chief architect before assuming ministerial office. As "the Nazi who said sorry",[b] he accepted moral responsibility at the Nuremberg trials and in his memoirs for complicity in crimes of the Nazi regime, while insisting he had been ignorant of the Holocaust.
|Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production|
February 8, 1942 – May 23, 1945
|Head of state|
|Head of government|
|Preceded by||Fritz Todt (as Minister of Armaments and Munitions)|
|Succeeded by||Karl Saur (as Minister of Munitions)[a]|
Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer
March 19, 1905
Mannheim, Baden, German Empire
|Died||September 1, 1981 (aged 76)|
London, England, United Kingdom
|Political party||Nazi Party|
|Spouse(s)||Margarete Weber (1928–1981, his death)|
|Children||6, including Albert, Hilde, Margarete|
|Profession||Architect, government official, author|
|Conviction(s)||War crimes |
Crimes against humanity
|Criminal penalty||20-years imprisonment|
|Victims||Slave labourers; Soviet prisoners of war and others|
|Imprisoned at||Spandau Prison|
Speer joined the Nazi Party in 1931, launching himself on a political and governmental career which lasted fourteen years. His architectural skills made him increasingly prominent within the Party and he became a member of Hitler's inner circle. Hitler instructed him to design and construct structures including the Reich Chancellery and the Zeppelinfeld stadium in Nuremberg where Party rallies were held. Speer also made plans to reconstruct Berlin on a grand scale, with huge buildings, wide boulevards, and a reorganized transportation system. In February 1942, Hitler appointed him as Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production.
After the war, he was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the Nazi regime, principally for the use of forced labor. Despite repeated attempts to gain early release, he served his full sentence, most of it at Spandau Prison in West Berlin. Following his release in 1966, Speer published two bestselling autobiographical works, Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: The Secret Diaries, detailing his close personal relationship with Hitler, and providing readers and historians with a unique perspective on the workings of the Nazi regime. Speer died of a stroke in 1981 while visiting London.
Speer's legacy is mixed. His architectural designs have been praised along with his work as a planner and organizer, but his early post-war reputation as remaining aloof from Nazi war crimes has been challenged by scholars who show that he very likely knew about the Holocaust from the beginning.
Speer was born in Mannheim, into an upper-middle-class family. He was the second of three sons of Luise Máthilde Wilhelmine (Hommel) and Albert Friedrich Speer. In 1918, the family leased their Mannheim residence and moved to a home they had in Heidelberg. According to Henry T. King, deputy prosecutor at Nuremberg who later wrote a book about Speer, "Love and warmth were lacking in the household of Speer's youth." Speer was active in sports, taking up skiing and mountaineering. Speer followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and studied architecture.
Speer began his architectural studies at the University of Karlsruhe instead of a more highly acclaimed institution because the hyperinflation crisis of 1923 limited his parents' income. In 1924 when the crisis had abated, he transferred to the "much more reputable" Technical University of Munich. In 1925 he transferred again, this time to the Technical University of Berlin where he studied under Heinrich Tessenow, whom Speer greatly admired. After passing his exams in 1927, Speer became Tessenow's assistant, a high honor for a man of 22. As such, Speer taught some of Tessenow's classes while continuing his own postgraduate studies. In Munich, and continuing in Berlin, Speer began a close friendship, ultimately spanning over 50 years, with Rudolf Wolters, who also studied under Tessenow.
In mid-1922, Speer began courting Margarete (Margret) Weber (1905–1987), the daughter of a successful craftsman who employed 50 workers. The relationship was frowned upon by Speer's class-conscious mother, who felt that the Webers were socially inferior. Despite this opposition, the two married in Berlin on August 28, 1928; seven years elapsed before Margarete Speer was invited to stay at her in-laws' home.
Party architect and government functionaryEdit
Joining the Nazis (1930–1934)Edit
Speer stated he was apolitical when he was a young man, and he attended a Berlin Nazi rally in December 1930 only at the urging of some of his students. In January 1931, he applied for Nazi Party membership, and on March 1, 1931 became member number 474,481.
In 1931, with stipends shrinking amid the Depression, Speer surrendered his position as Tessenow's assistant and moved to Mannheim, hoping to make a living as an architect. Unsuccessful, his father gave him a part-time job as manager of the elder Speer's properties. In July 1932, the Speers visited Berlin to help out the Party prior to the Reichstag elections. While they were there, his friend, Nazi Party official Karl Hanke, recommended the young architect to Joseph Goebbels to help renovate the Party's Berlin headquarters. When the commission was completed, Speer returned to Mannheim and remained there as Hitler took office in January 1933.
The organizers of the 1933 Nuremberg Rally asked Speer to submit designs for the rally, bringing him into contact with Hitler for the first time. Neither the organizers nor Rudolf Hess were willing to decide whether to approve the plans, and Hess sent Speer to Hitler's Munich apartment to seek his approval. This work won Speer his first national post, as Nazi Party "Commissioner for the Artistic and Technical Presentation of Party Rallies and Demonstrations".
Shortly after Hitler had come into power, he had started to make plans to rebuild the chancellery. At the end of 1933 he contracted Paul Troost to renovate the entire building. Hitler appointed Speer, whose work for Goebbels had impressed him, to manage the building site for Troost. As Chancellor, Hitler had a residence in the building and came by every day to be briefed by Speer and the building supervisor on the progress of the renovations. After one of these briefings, Hitler invited Speer to lunch, to the architect's great excitement. Speer quickly became part of Hitler's inner circle; he was expected to call on Hitler in the morning for a walk or chat, to provide consultation on architectural matters, and to discuss Hitler's ideas. Most days he was invited to dinner.
In the English version of his memoirs, Speer says that his political commitment merely consisted of paying his 'monthly dues'. He assumed his German readers would not be so gullible and told them the Nazi Party offered a 'new mission'. He was more forthright in an interview with William Hamsher in which he said he joined the party in order to save 'Germany from Communism'. After the war, he claimed to have had little interest in politics at all and had joined almost by chance. Like many of those in power in the Third Reich he was not an ideologue, although he was an avowed anti-semite.
Nazi architect (1934–1937)Edit
When Troost died on January 21, 1934, Speer effectively replaced him as the Party's chief architect. Hitler appointed Speer as head of the Chief Office for Construction, which placed him nominally on Hess's staff.
One of Speer's first commissions after Troost's death was the Zeppelinfeld stadium—the Nürnberg Nazi party rally grounds seen in Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film Triumph of the Will. This huge work was able to hold 340,000 people. Speer insisted that as many events as possible be held at night, both to give greater prominence to his lighting effects and to hide the individual Nazis, many of whom were overweight. Nürnberg was to be the site of many more official Nazi buildings, most of which were never built; for example, the German Stadium would have accommodated 400,000 spectators, while an even larger rally ground would have held half a million people.
When Hitler deprecated Werner March's design for the Olympic Stadium for the 1936 Summer Olympics as too modern, Speer modified the plans by adding a stone exterior. Speer designed the German Pavilion for the 1937 international exposition in Paris.
Berlin's General Building Inspector (1937–1942)Edit
In 1937, Hitler appointed Speer as General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital with the rank of undersecretary of state in the Reich government. The position carried with it extraordinary powers over the Berlin city government and made Speer answerable to Hitler alone. It also made Speer a member of the Reichstag, though the body by then had little effective power. Hitler ordered Speer to develop plans to rebuild Berlin. The plans centered on a three-mile long grand boulevard running from north to south, which Speer called the Prachtstrasse, or Street of Magnificence; he also referred to it as the "North-South Axis". At the northern end of the boulevard, Speer planned to build the Volkshalle, a huge assembly hall with a dome which would have been over 700 feet (210 m) high, with floor space for 180,000 people. At the southern end of the avenue a great triumphal arch would rise; it would be almost 400 feet (120 m) high, and able to fit the Arc de Triomphe inside its opening. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 led to the postponement, and later the abandonment, of these plans. The existing Berlin railroad termini were to be dismantled, and two large new stations built. Speer hired Wolters as part of his design team, with special responsibility for the Prachtstrasse.
All the while plans to build a new Reich chancellery had been underway since 1934. Land had been purchased by the end of 1934 and starting in March 1936 the first buildings were demolished to create space at Voßstraße. Speer was involved virtually from the beginning. He had been commissioned to renovate the Borsig Palace on the corner of Voßstraße and Wilhelmstraße as a headquarter for the SA, who were about to be relocated from Munich to Berlin in the aftermath of the Röhm purge. and completed the preliminary work for the new chancellery by May 1936. In June 1936 he charged a personal honorarium of 30,000 Reichsmark and estimated that the chancellery would be completed within three to four years. Detailed plans were completed in July 1937 and the first shell of the new chancellery was complete on 1 January 1938. On 27 January 1938 Speer received plenipotentiary powers from Hitler to finish the new chancellery by 1 January 1939. Yet for propagandistic reasons, to prove the vigor and organizational skills of National Socialism, Hitler claimed during the topping-out ceremony on 2 August 1938 that he had ordered Speer to build the new chancellery just that year. Speer reiterated this claim in his memoirs to show that he had been up to that supposed challenge. The building itself, hailed by Hitler as the "crowning glory of the greater German political empire", was designed as a theatrical set for representation, "to intimidate and humiliate", as historian Martin Kitchen puts it. Because of shortages of labor, the construction workers had to work in two ten- to twelve-hour shifts to have the chancellery completed by early January 1939.
During the Chancellery project, the pogrom of Kristallnacht took place. Speer made no mention of it in the first draft of Inside the Third Reich, and it was only on the urgent advice of his publisher that he added a mention of seeing the ruins of the Central Synagogue in Berlin from his car.
As General Building Inspector, Speer was responsible for the Central Department for Resettlement. From 1939 onward, the Department used the Nuremberg Laws to evict Jewish tenants of non-Jewish landlords in Berlin, to make way for non-Jewish tenants displaced by redevelopment or bombing. Eventually, 75,000 Jews were displaced by these measures. Speer denied he knew they were going to their death and claimed that those displaced where "Completely free and their families were still in their apartments". He also said "en route to my ministry on the city highway, I could see...crowds of people on the platform of nearby Nikolassee Railroad Station. I knew that these must be Berlin Jews who were being evacuated. I am sure that an oppressive feeling struck me as I drove past. I presumably had a sense of somber events." Matthias Schmidt described his comments as an "outright farce" because he had personally inspected concentration camps and was involved with their building. Speer's often repeated line that he knew nothing of the "dreadful things" is hollow - because not only was he fully aware of the fate of the Jews he was actively participating in their persecution.
As Germany started World War II, Speer's instituted quick-reaction squads to construct roads or clear away debris; before long, these units would be used to clear bomb sites. Speer used forced Jewish labor on these projects, in addition to regular German workers. Construction stopped on the Berlin and Nürnberg plans on the outbreak of war, though stockpiling of materials and other work continued, slowing to a halt as more resources were needed for the armament industry. Speer's offices undertook building constructions for each branch of the military, and for the SS in occupied Ukraine, using slave labor from Jews, Ukrainians and prisoners of war.
Minister of ArmamentsEdit
Appointment and increasing powerEdit
On February 8, 1942, Minister of Armaments Fritz Todt died in a plane crash shortly after taking off from Hitler's eastern headquarters at Rastenburg. Speer, who had arrived in Rastenburg the previous evening, had accepted Todt's offer to fly with him to Berlin, but had cancelled some hours before takeoff; he had been meeting with Hitler late the night before. Hitler appointed Speer in Todt's place. Speer, after the war, would present himself as an architect thrust suddenly into the world of armaments. Nevertheless, his biographer, Martin Kitchen, pointed out that the choice was not surprising: Speer was loyal to Hitler, had a good relationship with the dictator, and his experience building prisoner of war camps and other structures for the military qualified him for the job.
Speer believed he could win the war by producing enough weapons to overcome the Allies, something that he believed only possible if he was given economic control of Germany. Speer was fêted at the time, and long afterwards, for performing an "armaments miracle" in which German war production dramatically increased; this "miracle", however, was brought to a halt by the summer of 1943 by, among other factors, the first sustained Allied bombing of 1943.
Other factors probably contributed to the increase more than Speer himself: Germany's learning curve for armaments production had already begun to result in increases under Todt, as the government came to realize that this would not be a short, successful war. He questioned Speer's figures for the increase, which only involved production within Germany itself, and not within the occupied nations. Naval armaments were not under Speer's supervision until October 1943, nor the Luftwaffe's armaments until June of the following year, yet each showed comparable increases in production despite not being under Speer's control. Another factor that produced the boom in ammunition was the policy allocating more coal to the steel industry, prompting an increase in production.
When Speer sought the appointment of Hanke as a labor czar, Hitler, under the influence of Martin Bormann, instead appointed Fritz Sauckel, who obtained workers for (among other things) Speer's armament factories, often using the most brutal methods. Hitler gave Sauckel a free hand to obtain labor from Western Europe, something that delighted Speer, who had requested 1,000,000 "voluntary" laborers in order to meet the need for armament workers. Although the two men cooperated so as to meet Speer's labor demands, the fact that Speer was not Sauckel's superior, and that the two men often differed, probably saved Speer's life at the Nuremberg Trials.
Consolidation of arms productionEdit
In response to the Allied air raids on aircraft factories, Adolf Hitler authorised the creation of a Jägerstab, a governmental task force composed of Reich Aviation Ministry, Reich Ministry of Armaments and SS personnel. Its aim was to ensure the preservation and growth of fighter aircraft production. The task force was established by the 1 March 1944 order of Speer, with support from Erhard Milch of the Reich Aviation Ministry. Speer and Milch played a key role in directing the activities of the agency, while the day-to-day operations were handled by Chief of Staff Karl Saur, the head of the Technical Office in the Armaments Ministry. Production continued to improve until late 1944, with allied bombing destroying just 9% of German production. Production of German fighter aircraft was more than doubled from 1943 to 1944, though this was within Milch's domain and consisted in large part of models that were becoming obsolescent and proved easy prey for Allied aircraft.
The Jägerstab was given extraordinary powers over labour, production and transportation resources, with its functions taking priority over housing repairs for bombed out civilians or restoration of vital city services. The factories that came under the Jägerstab program saw their work-weeks extended to 72 hours. At the same time, Milch took steps to rationalise production by reducing the number of variants of each type of aircraft produced.
The Jägerstab was instrumental in bringing about the increased exploitation of slave labour for the benefit of Germany's war industry and its air force, the Luftwaffe. The task force immediately began implementing plans to expand the use of slave labour in the aviation manufacturing. Records show that SS provided 64,000 prisoners for 20 separate projects at the peak of Jägerstab's construction activities. Taking into account the high mortality rate associated with the underground construction projects, the historian Marc Buggeln estimates that the slave pool involved amounted to 80,000−90,000 inmates. They belonged to the various sub-camps of Mittelbau-Dora, Mauthausen-Gusen, Buchenwald and other camps. The prisoners worked for Junkers, Messerschmitt, Henschel and BMW, among others.
The cooperation between the Reich Ministry of Aviation, the Ministry of Armaments and the SS proved especially productive. Although intended to function for only six months, already in late May, Speer and Milch discussed with Goring the possibility of centralising all of Germany's arms manufacturing under a similar task force. On 1 August 1944, Speer reorganised the Jägerstab into the Rüstungsstab (Armament Staff) to apply the same model of operation to all top-priority armament programs.
The formation of the Rüstungsstab allowed Speer, for the first time, to consolidate key arms manufacturing projects for the three branches of the Wehrmacht under the authority of his ministry, further marginalising the Reich Ministry of Aviation. Several departments, including the once powerful Technical Office, were disbanded or transferred to the new task force. The task force oversaw the day-to-day development and production activities relating to the He 162, the Volksjäger ("people's fighter"), as part of the Emergency Fighter Program.
The Rüstungsstab assumed responsibilities for the underground transfer projects of the Jägerstab. In November 1944, 1.8 million square meters of underground space were ready for occupancy, encompassing over 1,000 spaces commissioned by the task force. But by this time German production was beginning to collapse. Post-war, Speer sought to downplay his involvement with these projects and claimed that only 300,000 square meters had been completed.
Defeat of Nazi GermanyEdit
When Speer learned in February 1945 that the Red Army had overrun the Silesian industrial region, he drafted a memo to Hitler noting that Silesia's coal mines now supplied 60 percent of the Reich's coal. Without them, Speer wrote, Germany's coal production would only be a quarter of its 1944 total—not nearly enough to continue the war. He told Hitler in no uncertain terms that without Silesia, "the war is lost." Hitler merely filed the memo in his safe.
Speer visited the Führerbunker on April 22 for the last time. He met with Hitler and toured the damaged Chancellery before leaving Berlin to return to Hamburg. On April 29, the day before committing suicide, Hitler dictated a final political testament which dropped Speer from the successor government. Speer was to be replaced by his subordinate, Karl-Otto Saur.
After Hitler's death, Speer offered his services to the so-called Flensburg Government, headed by Hitler's successor, Karl Dönitz, and took a role in that short-lived regime as Minister of Industry and Production. Speer provided information to the Allies regarding the effects of the air war, and on a broad range of subjects, beginning on May 10. On May 23, two weeks after the surrender of German forces, British troops arrested the members of the Flensburg Government and brought Nazi Germany to a formal end.
Speer was taken to several internment centres for Nazi officials and interrogated. In September 1945, he was told that he would be tried for war crimes, and several days later, he was taken to Nuremberg and incarcerated there. Speer was indicted on all four counts: first, participating in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of crime against peace; second, planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace; third, war crimes; and lastly, crimes against humanity.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, alleged, "Speer joined in planning and executing the program to dragoon prisoners of war and foreign workers into German war industries, which waxed in output while the workers waned in starvation." Speer's attorney, Hans Flächsner, presented Speer as an artist thrust into political life, who had always remained a non-ideologue and who had been promised by Hitler that he could return to architecture after the war.
Speer was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity; he was acquitted on the other two counts. His claim that he was unaware of Nazi extermination plans, which probably saved him from hanging, was finally revealed to be false in a private correspondence written in 1971 and publicly disclosed in 2007. On 1 October 1946, he was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. While three of the eight judges (two Soviet and one American) initially advocated the death penalty for Speer, the other judges did not, and a compromise sentence was reached "after two days' discussion and some rather bitter horse-trading".
- For additional detail on Speer's time at Spandau Prison, see Rudolf Wolters#Spandau years
On October 1, 1946, Speer was given a sentence of twenty years in prison, and on July 18, 1947, was transferred to Spandau Prison in Berlin to serve it. At Spandau, Speer was known as Prisoner Number Five. Wolters and longtime Speer secretary Annemarie Kempf, while not permitted direct communication with Speer in Spandau, did what they could to help his family and carry out the requests Speer put in letters to his wife—the only written communication officially allowed Speer. Beginning in 1948, Speer had the services of a sympathetic Dutch orderly to smuggle mail.
In 1949, Wolters opened a bank account for Speer, the Schulgeldkonto or "Tuition Account", and began fundraising among those architects and industrialists who had benefited from Speer's activities during the war. At first, the funds were used only to support Speer's family, but as the amounts grew and Speer's family became increasingly able to support itself, the money was used for everything from vacations for Speer's Spandau conduit, Toni Proost, to bribes for those who might be able to secure Speer's release. Once Speer became aware of the existence of the fund, he would often send detailed instructions about what to do with the money. Wolters raised a total of DM158,000 for Speer over the final seventeen years of his sentence.
The prisoners were forbidden to write memoirs; however, Speer was able to have his writings sent to Wolters, and they eventually amounted to 20,000 sheets. He had completed his memoirs by November 1953, which became the basis of Inside the Third Reich. His many letters to his children were secretly transmitted and eventually formed the basis for Spandau: The Secret Diaries. Speer claimed that he was the only one of the Nuremberg convicts who made a distinction between the Third Reich and Germany. In Spandau Diaries, Speer aimed to present himself as a tragic hero who had made a Faustian bargain for which he endured a harsh prison sentence.
Much of Speer's energy was dedicated to keeping fit, both physically and mentally, during the long confinement. Spandau had a large enclosed yard where inmates were allocated plots of land for gardening. As others grew too frail or lost interest, Speer, at the suggestion of the warden, took over their plots and created an elaborate garden complete with lawns, flower beds, shrubbery, and fruit trees. To make his daily walks around the garden more engaging, Speer embarked on an imaginary trip around the globe. Carefully measuring distance traveled each day, he mapped distances to the real-world geography. He had walked more than 30,000 km, ending his sentence near Guadalajara, Mexico. Speer also read, studied architectural journals, and brushed up on English and French. In his writings, Speer claimed to have finished five thousand books while in prison, which was a gross exaggeration. Speer sentence amounted to 7,300 days, which only allotted one and a half days per book.
Speer's supporters maintained calls for his release. Among those who pledged support for his sentence to be commuted were Charles de Gaulle and US diplomat George Wildman Ball. Willy Brandt was a strong advocate of his release, putting an end to the de-Nazification proceedings against him, which could have caused his property to be confiscated. Speer's efforts for an early release came to nought, as he was in good health and relatively young, making him ineligible for release on compassionate grounds. The Soviet Union, having demanded a death sentence at trial, was not willing to entertain a reduced sentence. Speer served a full term and was released at midnight on October 1, 1966.
Release and later lifeEdit
Speer's release from prison was a worldwide media event, as reporters and photographers crowded both the street outside Spandau and the lobby of the Berlin hotel where Speer spent the night. He said little, reserving most comments for a major interview published in Der Spiegel in November 1966. Although he stated he hoped to resume an architectural career, his sole project, a collaboration for a brewery, was unsuccessful. Instead, he revised his Spandau writings into two autobiographical books, and later published a work about Himmler and the SS. His books included notably Inside the Third Reich (in German, Erinnerungen, or Reminiscences) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries. Speer was aided in shaping the works by Joachim Fest and Wolf Jobst Siedler from the publishing house Ullstein. He found himself unable to re-establish his relationship with his children, even with his son Albert who had also become an architect. According to Speer's daughter Hilde Schramm, "One by one my sister and brothers gave up. There was no communication."
Following his release from Spandau, Speer presented to the German Federal Archives an edited version of the Chronicle, stripped by Wolters of any mention of the Jews. When David Irving discovered discrepancies between the edited Chronicle and other documents, Wolters explained the situation to Speer, who responded by suggesting to Wolters that the relevant pages of the original Chronicle should "cease to exist". Wolters did not destroy the Chronicle, and, as his friendship with Speer deteriorated, allowed access to the original Chronicle to doctoral student Matthias Schmidt. After obtaining his doctorate Schmidt developed his thesis into the book Albert Speer: The End of a Myth.
Speer's memoirs were a phenomenal success, the general public was fascinated by an inside view of the Third Reich, and a major war criminal became a popular figure almost overnight. Importantly he gave an alibi to older Germans who had been Nazis. If Speer, who had been so close to Hitler, had not really known the full crimes of the Nazi regime and had just been 'following orders', then they could tell themselves and others they too had been 'following orders'. Speer provided a whitewash for an entire generation of older Germans, so great was the need to believe this "Speer Myth" that Fest and Siedler were able to strengthen it, even in the face of mounting historical evidence to the contrary.
Speer made himself widely available to historians and other enquirers. In October 1973, Speer made his first trip to Britain, flying to London to be interviewed on the BBC Midweek programme. In the same year, he appeared on the television programme The World at War. Speer returned to London in 1981 to participate in the BBC Newsnight programme; while there, he suffered a stroke and died on September 1. He had formed a relationship with a German woman who was living in London; he was with her at the time of his death.
The "Speer Myth"Edit
Speer had carefully constructed an image of himself as a man who deeply regretted having failed to discover the monstrous crimes of the Third Reich, and he'd been able to rebuff accusations of certain and definite knowledge of the Holocaust. This image dominated his historiography in the decades following the war. Beginning in the 1980s this view began to fall apart. Soon after Speer’s death Mathias Schmidt published a doctoral thesis in which he demonstrated that Speer had kept secrets from both Fest and Siedler. Fest described the work as prejudiced but wrote the evidence against Speer was considerable. By 1999 historians had amply demonstrated that Speer had extensively lied. Even so, public perceptions of Speer didn't greatly change until Heinrich Breloer aired a biographical film on TV in 2004. The film began a process of demystification and reappraisal. In 2006 Adam Tooze in his book The Wages of Destruction said from 1933 Speer had been responsible for the public image of the Third Reich and that he'd maneuvered himself through the ranks of the regime skillfully and ruthlessly. Contending that the idea he was a technocrat blindly carrying out orders was "absurd". Kitchen remarked in his 2015 biography "In presenting himself as the ingenuous 'everybody's darling' – to Tessenow, Hitler, the Nuremberg Tribunal and post-war Germany he had managed to deceive everyone.
The "Speer Myth" has two central strands which have been discussed at length by historians. The first strand posits that Speer revolutionized the German war machine after his appointment as Minister of Armaments. He was credited with a dramatic increase in the shipment of arms that was widely reported as keeping Germany in the war. The second strand posits that he was an unpolitical technocrat who did his work without asking about the purpose of his work or the wider aspects of the regime. He claimed that he did not have full knowledge of the Holocaust or the persecution of the Jews.
Denial of responsibilityEdit
Speer maintained at Nuremberg and in his memoirs that he had no knowledge of the Holocaust. Historian Martin Kitchen states that Speer and his team were in charge of building concentration camps and were thus intimately involved in the "Final Solution". He refers to a letter dated 1 February 1943 from Speer to Himmler about concentration camps containing 40,000 Jews or White Russians, suggesting that Speer had greater knowledge of the "Final Solution" than he admitted. When questioned, Speer denied any knowledge of this correspondence although it had gone out under his signature. Speer later insisted that he had tried to save some Jews from camps by using them in the armaments industry. These were "undernourished, overworked slaves", according to Kitchen, who adds that the death rate was "exceedingly high" among such workers.
Speer denied being present at a speech by Himmler detailing the ongoing Holocaust to Nazi leaders at the Posen Conference on October 6, 1943. Himmler said, "The grave decision had to be taken to cause this people to vanish from the earth ... In the lands we occupy, the Jewish question will be dealt with by the end of the year." Speer is mentioned several times in the speech, and Himmler seems to address him directly. In 2007, The Guardian reported that a letter from Speer dated December 23, 1971, had been found in Britain in a collection of his correspondence to Hélène Jeanty, widow of a Belgian resistance fighter. In the letter, Speer states that he had been present for Himmler's presentation in Posen. Speer wrote: "There is no doubt – I was present as Himmler announced on October 6, 1943, that all Jews would be killed."
In 2005, The Daily Telegraph reported that documents had surfaced indicating that Speer had approved the allocation of materials for the expansion of Auschwitz after two of his assistants toured the facility on a day when almost a thousand Jews were killed. The documents bore annotations in Speer's own handwriting. The debate over Speer's knowledge of, or complicity in, the Holocaust made him a symbol for people who were involved with the Nazi regime yet did not have (or claimed not to have had) an active part in the regime's atrocities. As film director Heinrich Breloer remarked, "[Speer created] a market for people who said, 'Believe me, I didn't know anything about [the Holocaust]. Just look at the Führer's friend, he didn't know about it either.'"
Speer was credited with an "armaments miracle". During the winter of 1941-1942, in the light of the debacle in Moscow, the German leadership including Fromm, Thomas and Todt had come to the conclusion that the war could not be won. The logical position to take was to seek a political solution short of defeat. Speer in response used his propaganda expertise to display a new dynamism of the war economy. He produced spectacular statistics, claiming a sixfold increase in munitions production, a fourfold increase in artillery production and he sent further propaganda to the newsreels of the country. He was able to curtail the discussion that the war should be ended.
The armaments miracle was a myth, Speer had used statistical manipulation to support his claims. The production of armaments did go up, however this was due to the normal causes of reorganisation before Speer came to office, the callous mobilisation of slave labour and a deliberate reduction in the quality of output to favour quantity. By July 1943 Speer's armaments propaganda became irrelevant because a catalogue of dramatic defeats on the battlefield meant the prospect of losing the war could no longer be hidden from the German public.
Little remains of Speer's personal architectural works, other than the plans and photographs. No buildings designed by Speer during the Nazi era are extant in Berlin, other than the Schwerbelastungskörper (heavy load bearing body), built around 1941. The 46-foot (14 m) high concrete cylinder was used to measure ground subsidence as part of feasibility studies for a massive triumphal arch and other large structures proposed as part of Welthauptstadt Germania, Hitler's planned postwar renewal project for the city. The cylinder is now a protected landmark and is open to the public. The tribune of the Zeppelinfeld stadium in Nuremberg, though partly demolished, can also be seen.
Another legacy was the Arbeitsstab Wiederaufbau zerstörter Städte (Working group on Reconstruction of destroyed cities), authorised by Speer in 1943 to rebuild bombed German cities to make them more livable in the age of the automobile. Headed by Wolters, the working group took a possible military defeat into their calculations. The Arbeitsstab's recommendations served as the basis of the postwar redevelopment plans in many cities, and Arbeitsstab members became prominent in the rebuilding.
During the war, the Speer-designed Reich Chancellery was destroyed, except for the exterior walls, by air raids and in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. It was eventually dismantled by the Soviets. Rumor has it that the remains have been used for other building projects like the Humboldt University, Mohrenstraße metro station or Soviet war memorials in Berlin, but none of these are true.
- van der Vat 1997, p. 11.
- Schubert 2006, p. 5.
- Kitchen 2015, p. 15.
- King 1997, p. 27.
- van der Vat 1997, p. 23.
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