|Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production|
February 8, 1942 – April 30, 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)|
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 laborers; Soviet prisoners of war and others|
|Imprisoned at||Spandau Prison|
Albert Speer (//; German: [��ʃpeːɐ̯] (listen); March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981) was the Minister of Armaments and War Production in Nazi Germany during most of World War II. A close ally of Adolf Hitler, he was convicted at the Nuremberg trials and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
An architect by training, 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 Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg. In 1937, Hitler appointed Speer as General Building Inspector for Berlin, in which capacity Speer was responsible for the Central Department for Resettlement that evicted Jewish tenants from their homes in Berlin. In February 1942, Speer was appointed as Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production. Using doctored statistics, Speer promoted himself as having performed an "armaments miracle" that was widely credited with keeping Germany in the war. In 1944, Speer established a task force to increase production of fighter aircraft that became instrumental in the exploitation of slave labor for the benefit of the German war effort.
After the war, Speer was arrested and charged with the crimes of the Nazi regime among the 24 "major war criminals" at the Nuremberg trials. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, principally for the use of slave labor, narrowly avoiding a death sentence. Having served his full term, Speer was released in 1966. He used his writings from the time of imprisonment as the basis for two autobiographical books, Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: The Secret Diaries. Speer's books were a success, the general public was fascinated by an inside view of the Third Reich. Speer died of a stroke in 1981. Little remains of Speer's personal architectural work.
Through his autobiographies and interviews, Speer carefully constructed an image of himself as a man who deeply regretted having failed to discover the monstrous crimes of the Third Reich. However, he continued to deny explicit knowledge of, and responsibility for, the Holocaust. This image dominated his historiography in the decades following the war, giving rise to the "Speer Myth". The first theme of the myth posits that after his appointment as Minister of Armaments he revolutionized the German war machine. The second theme is that he was an apolitical technocrat. Beginning in the 1980s, the myth began to fall apart. The armaments miracle was attributed to Nazi propaganda. Adam Tooze wrote in The Wages of Destruction that the idea that Speer was an apolitical technocrat was "absurd". Martin Kitchen, writing in Speer: Hitler's Architect, stated that Speer was intimately involved in the "Final Solution".
- 1 Early years and personal life
- 2 Party architect and government functionary
- 3 Minister of Armaments
- 4 Post-war
- 5 The "Speer Myth"
- 6 Architectural legacy
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Early years and personal life
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. Henry T. King, deputy prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials who later wrote a book about Speer said "Love and warmth were lacking in the household of Speer's youth." His two brothers Ernst and Hermann bullied him throughout his childhood. 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 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. The couple would have six children together, but Albert Speer grew increasingly apart from his family after 1933. He remained distant even after his release from imprisonment in 1966, despite efforts to forge closer bonds.
Party architect and government functionary
Joining the Nazis (1931–1934)
In January 1931, Speer applied for Nazi Party membership, and on March 1, 1931 he 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. The historian Magnus Brechtken discussing Speer said he did not give anti-Jewish public speeches and that his anti-Semitism can best be understood through his actions – which were anti-Semitic. Brechtken added that throughout his life Speer's central motives were to gain power, rule and acquire wealth.
Nazi architect (1934–1937)
When Troost died on 21 January 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 in Nuremberg. The stadium was used for Nazi propaganda rallies and can be seen in Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film Triumph of the Will. The building 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 overweight Nazis. Nuremberg was the site of many official Nazi buildings. Many more buildings were planned. If built, the German Stadium would have accommodated 400,000 spectators.
Speer modified Werner March's design for the Olympic Stadium being built for the 1936 Summer Olympics. He added a stone exterior that pleased Hitler. Speer designed the German Pavilion for the 1937 international exposition in Paris.
Berlin's General Building Inspector (1937–1942)
In 1937, Hitler appointed Speer as General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital. It carried with it the rank of undersecretary of state in the Reich government and extraordinary powers over the Berlin city government. 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 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. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 led to the postponement, and later the abandonment, of these plans.
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. In the aftermath of the Night of the Long Knives he had been commissioned to renovate the Borsig Palace on the corner of Voßstraße and Wilhelmstraße as headquarters of the SA. He 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. For propaganda Hitler claimed during the topping-out ceremony on 2 August 1938 that he had ordered Speer to complete the new chancellery that year. Shortages of labor meant the construction workers had to work in ten-to-twelve-hour shifts. The SS built two concentration camps in 1938 and used the inmates to quarry stone for the construction. A brick factory was built near the Oranienburg concentration camp at Speer's behest; when someone commented on the poor conditions there, Speer stated, "The Yids got used to making bricks while in Egyptian captivity." The chancellery was completed in early January 1939. The building itself was hailed by Hitler as the "crowning glory of the greater German political empire".
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. 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. Kristallnacht accelerated Speer's ongoing efforts to dispossess Berlin's Jews from their homes. From 1939 onward, Speer's 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 being put on Holocaust trains and claimed that those displaced were "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 said Speer had personally inspected concentration camps and described his comments as an "outright farce". Martin Kitchen described Speer's often repeated line that he knew nothing of the "dreadful things" as 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 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 at 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 work for each branch of the military, and for the SS, using slave labor. Speer's building work made him among the wealthiest of the Nazi elite.
Minister of Armaments
Appointment and increasing power
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 arrived in Rastenburg the previous evening and accepted Todt's offer to fly with him to Berlin. Speer cancelled some hours before take-off because the previous night he had been up late in a meeting with Hitler. Speer was appointed in Todt's place by Hitler. Martin Kitchen, pointed out that the choice was not surprising. Speer was loyal to Hitler, and his experience building prisoner of war camps and other structures for the military qualified him for the job. Hitler also appointed Speer as head of the Organisation Todt, a massive, government-controlled construction company. As head of Organisation Todt Speer was directly involved in the construction and alteration of concentration camps. He agreed to expand Auschwitz and some other camps, allocating 13.7 million Reichsmarks for the work to be carried out. This allowed an extra 300 huts to be built at Auschwitz increasing the total human capacity to 132,000. Included in the building works was material to build gas chambers, crematoriums and morgues. The SS called this "Professor Speer's Special Programme."
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" was brought to a halt in the summer of 1943 by, among other factors, the first sustained Allied bombing. Other factors probably contributed to the increase more than Speer himself. Germany's armaments production had already begun to result in increases under his predecessor, Todt. 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 of allocating more coal to the steel industry. Production of every type of weapon peaked in June and July 1944 but there was now a severe shortage of fuel. In September 1944 the Roumanian oil fields came into the range of bombers from the USAAF. Oil production became so low any possibility of offensive action became impossible.
As Minister of Armaments Speer was responsible for supplying weapons to the army. With Hitler's full agreement he decided to prioritize tank production and he was given unrivaled power to ensure success. Hitler was closely involved with the design of the tanks and kept changing his mind about the specification thus delaying the program, Speer was unable to remedy the situation. In consequence, despite tank production having the highest priority relatively little of the armaments budget was devoted to tank production. This led to a significant German army failure at the Battle of Prokhorovka, a major turning point on the Eastern Front against the Russian army.
The largest technological advance under Speer's command came through the rocket programme. The programme had begun in 1932 but hadn't supplied any weaponry. In March 1942 Speer made an order for A4 rockets, the predecessor of the worlds first ballistic missile, the V2 rocket. The rockets were researched and built at a facility in Peenemunde along with the V-1 flying bomb. The programme while advanced proved to be an impediment to the war economy. The large capital investment wasn't repaid in military effectiveness.
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. The two men cooperated closely to meet Speer's labor demands. That Speer was not Sauckel's superior and the two men often differed probably saved Speer's life at the Nuremberg Trials. Hitler gave Sauckel a free hand to obtain labor, something that delighted Speer, who had requested 1,000,000 "voluntary" laborers to meet the need for armament workers. By April 1943 Sauckel had supplied 1,568,801 "voluntary" laborers, forced laborers, prisoners of war and concentration camp prisoners to Speer for use in his armaments factories. It was for the mistreatment of these workers that Speer was principally convicted at the Nuremberg trials.
Consolidation of power
Following his appointment as minister, Speer sought control over armaments production for all three branches of the military. He directed production for the Army from the outset, and the Luftwaffe rapidly agreed to cooperate. The Kriegsmarine remained largely independent of Speer until July 1943, when it agreed to allow his ministry to oversee naval shipbuilding. Speer and his hand-picked director of submarine construction Otto Merker believed that the shipbuilding industry was being held back by outdated methods, and revolutionary new approaches imposed by outsiders would dramatically improve output. This belief proved incorrect, and Speer and Merker's attempt to build the Kriegsmarine's new generation of submarines, the Type XXI and Type XXIII, as prefabricated sections at different facilities rather than at single dockyards contributed to the failure of this strategically important program. The designs were rushed into production, and the completed submarines were crippled by manufacturing flaws which resulted from the way in which they had been constructed. While dozens of submarines were built, few ever entered service.
In mid-January of 1944, Speer fell seriously ill with complications from a knee injury. Concerned about retaining his power, Speer did not appoint a deputy and continued to direct work of the Armaments Ministry from his bedside. Speer's illness coincided with the Allied "Big Week", a series of bombing raids on the German aircraft factories that were a serious blow to aircraft production. In response to the Allied air raids, Adolf Hitler authorized 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. Production of German fighter aircraft more than doubled between 1943 and 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. On 1 August 1944, Speer merged the Jägerstab into the Rüstungsstab (Armament Staff). 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.
The Jägerstab was instrumental in bringing about the increased exploitation of slave labor 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 labor in aviation manufacturing. Records show that the 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. In order to increase production Speer introduced a system of punishments for his fighter staff workforce. Those that feigned illness, slacked off, sabotaged production or tried to escape were denied food or sent to concentration camps. In 1944 this became endemic, over half a million workers were arrested. By this time 140,000 people were working in Speer's underground factories. These factories were death-traps, discipline was brutal, with regular executions. At the Dora underground factory there so many corpses that the crematoria was overwhelmed. Speer's own staff described the conditions there as "hell".
Speer opposed the assassination attempt against Hitler on July 20 1944. He was not involved in the plot, and played a minor role in the regime's efforts to regain control over Berlin after Hitler survived. At this time Speer believed that the war could still be won under Hitler's leadership.
Defeat of Nazi Germany
Losses of territory and a dramatic expansion of the Allied strategic bombing campaign caused the collapse of the German economy from late 1944. Air attacks on the transport network were particularly effective, as they cut the main centres of production off from essential coal supplies. In January 1945 Speer told Goebbels that armaments production could be sustained for at least a year. However, he concluded that the war was lost after Soviet forces captured the important Silesian industrial region later that month. Nevertheless, he believed that Germany should continue the war for as long as possible with the goal of winning better conditions from the Allies than the unconditional surrender they insisted upon. During January and February Speer claimed that his ministry would deliver "decisive weapons" and a large increase in armaments production which would "bring about a dramatic change on the battlefield". Speer gained control over the railways in February, and asked Himmler to supply concentration camp prisoners to work on their repair.
By mid-March Speer had accepted that Germany's economy would collapse within the next eight weeks. While he sought to frustrate directives to destroy industrial facilities in areas at risk of capture so that they could be used after the war, he still supported the war's continuation. Speer provided Hitler with a memorandum on March 15 which detailed Germany's dire economic situation and sought approval to cease demolitions of infrastructure. Three days later he also proposed to Hitler that Germany's remaining military resources be concentrated along the Rhine and Vistula rivers in an attempt to prolong the fighting. This ignored military realities, as the German armed forces were unable to match the Allies' firepower and were facing total defeat. Hitler rejected Speer's proposal to cease demolitions, and instead issued the "Nero Decree" on March 19 which called for the destruction of all infrastructure as the Army retreated. Speer was appalled by this order, and persuaded several key military and political leaders to ignore it. During a meeting with Speer on March 28/29, Hitler rescinded the decree and gave him authority over demolitions. Speer ended the demolitions, though the Army continued to blow up bridges.
By April little was left of the armaments industry, and Speer had few official duties. 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. Speer was disappointed to have not been selected by Hitler as his successor.
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.
The Chief United States prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, of the U.S. Supreme Court said "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.
Speer was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity; principally for the use of slave labor and forced labor; he was acquitted on the other two counts. He had claimed that he was unaware of Nazi extermination plans and this probably saved him from hanging. His claim was revealed to be false in a private correspondence written in 1971 and publicly disclosed in 2007. On October 1, 1946, he was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. Three of the eight judges (two Soviet and one American) advocated the death penalty for Speer, the other judges did not, and a compromise sentence was reached after two days of discussions.
On July 18, 1947, Speer was transferred to Spandau Prison in Berlin to serve his term of imprisonment. At Spandau, Speer was known as Prisoner Number Five. Speer's parents died while he was incarcerated. His father, who died in 1947, despised the Nazis and was silent upon meeting Hitler. His mother died in 1952; a Nazi, she had greatly enjoyed dining with Hitler. 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 to Speer. Beginning in 1948, Speer had the services of Toni Proost, a sympathetic Dutch orderly to smuggle mail and his writings.
In 1949, Wolters opened a bank account for Speer and began fundraising among those architects and industrialists who had benefited from Speer's activities during the war. Initially, the funds were used only to support Speer's family, but increasingly the money was used for other purposes. They paid for Toni Proost to go on holiday, and for bribes to those who might be able to secure Speer's release. Once Speer became aware of the existence of the fund, he would 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. 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. Speer 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 travelled 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's sentence amounted to 7,300 days, which only allotted one and a half days to read each 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 an 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. The Soviet Union, having demanded a death sentence at trial, was unwilling to entertain a reduced sentence. Speer served a full term and was released at midnight on October 1, 1966.
Release and later life
Speer's release from prison was a worldwide media event. 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 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." He supported Hermann, his brother, financially after the war. However, his other brother Ernst had died in besieged Stalingrad, despite repeated requests from his parents for Speer to repatriate him.
Following his release from Spandau, Speer donated the Chronicle, his personal diary, to the German Federal Archives. It had been edited by Wolters and made no mention of the Jews. David Irving discovered discrepancies between the deceptively edited Chronicle and independent documents. Speer asked Wolters to destroy the material he'd omitted from his donation but Wolters refused and retained an original copy. Wolters friendship with Speer deteriorated and one year before Speer's death Wolters gave Matthias Schmidt access to the unedited Chronicle. Schmidt authored the first book that was highly critical of Speer.
Speer's memoirs were a phenomenal success. The 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 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 remained married to his wife, but he had formed a relationship with a German woman living in London. He was with her at the time of his death. Margret Nissen, his daughter wrote in her 2005 memoirs that after his release from Spandau he'd expended all of his time constructing the "Speer Myth".
The "Speer Myth"
The Good Nazi
After his release from Spandau Speer portrayed himself as the "good Nazi". He was well-educated, middle class, bourgeois and could contrast himself with the psychopaths and bully-boys that in the popular mind typified "bad Nazis". In his memoirs and interviews, he had distorted the truth and made so many major omissions that his lies became known as "myths." Speer took his myth making to a mass media level and his "cunning apologies" were reproduced countless times in post-war Germany. Isabell Trommer wrote in her biography that Fest and Siedler were co-authors of Speer's memoirs and co-creators of Speer's myths. In return they were handsomely paid in royalties and other financial inducements. Speer, Siedler and Fest had constructed a masterpiece, the image of the "good Nazi" remained in place for decades, despite historical evidence indicating that it was fake.
Speer had carefully constructed an image of himself as an apolitical technocrat who deeply regretted having failed to discover the monstrous crimes of the Third Reich. After Speer's death, Matthias Schmidt published a book that demonstrated that Speer had ordered the eviction of Jews from their Berlin homes. By 1999 historians had amply demonstrated that he'd lied extensively. Even so, public perceptions of Speer didn't substantially change until Heinrich Breloer aired a biographical film on TV in 2004. The film began a process of demystification and critical reappraisal. Adam Tooze in his book The Wages of Destruction said Speer had manoeuvred himself through the ranks of the regime skilfully and ruthlessly. Contending that the idea he was a technocrat blindly carrying out orders was "absurd." Trommer said he wasn't an apolitical technocrat he was one of the most powerful and unscrupulous leaders in the Nazi regime. Kitchen said he'd deceived the Nuremberg Tribunal and post-war Germany. Brechtken said that if his extensive involvement in the Holocaust had been known at the time of his trial he would have been sentenced to death.
The image of the good Nazi was supported by numerous Speer myths. One myth posits that he was an apolitical technocrat who carried out his work without asking about the purpose of his work or the wider aspects of the regime. He claimed he did not have full knowledge of the Holocaust or the persecution of the Jews. Another myth 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. A further myth centered around a faked plan to assassinate Hitler with poisonous gas. The idea for the myth came to him after he recalled the panic of car fumes coming through an air ventilation system. He fabricated the further details. Brechtken said his most brazen lie was fabricated during an interview with a French journalist in 1952. The journalist described an invented scenario in which Speer had refused Hitler's orders and Hitler had left with tears in his eyes. Speer liked the scenario so much that he wrote it into his memoirs. The journalist had unwittingly collaborated in one of his myths.
Speer also sought to portray himself as an opponent of Hitler's leadership. Despite his opposition to the July 20 plot, he falsely claimed in his memoirs to have been sympathetic to the plotters and maintained that Hitler was cool towards him for the remainder of his life after learning that they had included him in a potential list of ministers. This formed a key element of the myths Speer encouraged. Speer also falsely claimed that he had realised the war was lost at an early stage, and thereafter worked to preserve the resources needed for the civilian population's survival. In reality, he had sought to prolong the war until further resistance was impossible, which contributed to the large number of deaths and extensive destruction Germany suffered in the conflict's final months.
Denial of responsibility
Speer maintained at the Nuremberg trials and in his memoirs that he had no direct knowledge of the Holocaust. He admitted only to being uncomfortable around Jews in the published version of the Spandau Diaries. More broadly, Speer accepted responsibility for the Nazi regime's actions but claimed he did not know about the Holocaust. Historian Martin Kitchen states that Speer was actually "fully aware of what had happened to the Jews" and was "intimately involved in the 'Final Solution'". Brechtken said Speer only admitted to a generalized responsibility for the Holocaust to hide his direct and actual responsibility. Schmidt said Speer had personally visited Mauthausen concentration camp. In 2005, The Daily Telegraph reported that documents had surfaced indicating that Speer had approved the allocation of materials for the expansion of Auschwitz concentration camp after two of his assistants inspected the facility on a day when almost a thousand Jews were massacred. Heinrich Breloer discussing the construction of Auschwitz said Speer wasn't just a cog in the work – he was the "terror itself".
Speer denied being present at the Posen speeches to Nazi leaders at a conference in Posen (Poznan) on October 6, 1943. Himmler said during his speech, "The grave decision had to be taken to cause this people to vanish from the earth". And later, "The Jews must be exterminated". Speer is mentioned several times in the speech, and Himmler addresses him directly. In 2007, The Guardian reported that a letter from Speer dated December 23, 1971, had been found in a collection of his correspondence with Hélène Jeanty, the widow of a Belgian resistance fighter. In the letter, Speer says "There is no doubt – I was present as Himmler announced on October 6, 1943, that all Jews would be killed."
Speer was credited with an "armaments miracle". During the winter of 1941–1942, in the light of Germany's disastrous defeat in the Battle of Moscow, the German leadership including Fromm, Thomas and Todt had come to the conclusion that the war could not be won. The rational position to adopt was to seek a political solution that would end the war without 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 reorganization before Speer came to office, the relentless mobilization of slave labor and a deliberate reduction in the quality of output to favor 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. Brechtken writes that Speer knew Germany was going to lose the war and deliberately extended its length. Thus causing the death of millions of people in the death camps and on the battlefield who would have otherwise lived. Kitchen said "There can be no doubt that Speer did indeed help to prolong the war longer than many thought possible, as a result of which millions were killed and Germany reduced to a pile of rubble".
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, a heavy load bearing body built around 1941. The concrete cylinder, 46-feet (14 m) high, 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 post-war 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.
During the war, the Speer-designed Reich Chancellery except for the exterior walls, was destroyed by air raids and in the Battle of Berlin. It was eventually dismantled by the Soviets. It is rumored that the remains have been used for other building projects such as the Humboldt University, Mohrenstraße metro station and Soviet war memorials in Berlin. None of these rumors have been confirmed as true.
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