Albert Speer came from a prominant Mannheim family with progressive ideas. His father was a respected architect and Speer folowed in his father's footsteps. Speer was not one of the unemployed and dispossed who flocked to the NAZI banner. He was, however, mesmerized with Hitler and the NAZI message of national revival. He first heard Hitler in person at a gatering of university students (1931). Hitler took an interest in Speer because of a shared interest in architecture. Amd Speer did not disappoint as he helped to expertly craft NAZI rallies, first with a cathedral of light. He would become with his appointment as Armaments Minister, the single most important figure in the NAZI war effot (1942). He proceeded to rationalize German war production. Germany had a smaller resorceand industrial base than all the contries the Führer decided to make war on and whay they had was being poorly used.
He kept production going in the face of escalating Allied strategic bombing. Many World War II experts credit him for keeping Germany in the War for 1-2 years longer than would have otherwise have been possible. This meant as a result, the death of hundreds of thousands, probably more than a million people and widespread destruction of Germany and occupied countries. Ironically, Speer probably had a more significant impact on the War than the more ideolically committed top NAZIs. As far as I know, he was not involved in the Holocaust. It is unclear how much he knew, but in his memoirs he made it clear that he chose not to know. [Speer] His conviction as a war criminal relates to the heavy use of slave labor brutalized by the SS to keep the German war machine going. The Nuremberg Tribunal sentenced him to 20 years in Spandau prison by the Nuremberg tribunal. After serving his sentence, he published the autobiographical Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976).
Albert Speer came from a conservative prominant Mannheim family, Albert and Luise Speer, with liberal ideas. His father was a respected architect and Speer folowed in his father's footsteps. His father was a political liberal with conservative leanings. Hedis not discuss politics with Albert much, primarily because Albert was not interested. He was concerned about the threat of Communism and though the Social Democrats to radical. His primary concern about the NAZIs at first was that they were too socialistic. His mother secrerly joined the NAZI Party at about the same time Albert did, impressed by their discipline after observing a SA parade. [Speer, p. 47.]
Albert Speer was born in Mannheim (1906). He was the second of three sons. Albert and his brothers had a very comfortable upper-middle class upbringing, but affection and warmth was lacking. Speer in his memoirs describes little of a intimate relationship with his parents. The boys had a nanny and giverness. They lived in a virtually palatial apartment. Speer recalls the wonderful crystal chandelier. Many rooms were off limits to the boys. They even had to use the small back entrance and not the grand front entance. Albert was not as healthy or robust as his brothers. They and their playmates made it clear that they looked down on Albert as a result. This apparently shaped his character, building in him the drive to suceed. Their mother insisted that they always be smarty dressed, especially when taken out by their French governess. [Speer, p. 31.]
Albert and his brothers went to a toney private school instead of a Volkschule (state primary school). He would have begun his studies just before the onset of World War I (probably 1912). Attending a private school was a departure from standard practice. Germany state schools had very high standards and even well-to-do Germans commonlyb sent their children to state schools. In fact even Franklin Roovelt two decades earlier spent a few months in a Volkschule. This signals the family's high social status. Albert then went on to a public secondary school (Oberrealschule). This was an academically rigorous German secondary school preparing students for the university and emphasizing modern languages and natural sciences rather than Latin or Greek as was the casw in the gymnasiums. Albert at first had trouble ajusting to the more rough and tumble environment of a public school. Speer p. 32.] He excelled in mathematics, but was at first less interested in other subjects. It was while in Oberrealschule that he met the young lady that he was to marry. They decided at an early point that they would marry after he completed his secondary studies. It is at this point that he began to make more effort in his studies. His unversity studies were in architectural studies, beginning at the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe (1923). This was not a very pretigious university, but because of the spiraling infaltion, the family was having money problems. He had an interest in mathematics, but partly to please his father and help out in the family business, he pursued architecture. Here is father did not insist, but provided a logical assesstment convincing Albert that this would be the best course of action. Albert did additional studies at the Universities of Munich and Berlin. He transferred to Munich (1925) as the economy was recoveing. At the Technical University of Berlin, he studied under Heinrich Tessenow, whom he greatly admired
Albert was a boy during the War. He would have heard it mentioned at school. The family like all Germans were affected by the war-time shortages, especially food shortages. The family moved to their summer home, Schloss-Wolfsbrunnenweg, in Heidelberg where they could grow some of their own food. As an older boy he would have been aware of Communist attempts to seize power which must have been discussed in family circles. Albert showed, however, no interst in politics, even as a teenager.
Speer's girlfriend from an early stage was Margarethe Weber (1905–87). He began began courting Margarete (Margret) Weber (1922). Her fatgher was a successful craftsman overseein a shop with 50 workers. Speer's mother was not impressed with the Weber family. The Webers had no social standing. Albert simply ignored his parents on the matter. They contemplated marriage from an early point in their relationship. Margarethe patiently waited for him to complete his university studies. They married (1928). It would, however, be 7 years before Albert's mother invited Margarethe to stay. They had six children, Albert (1934), Hilde, Fritz, Margarete, Adolf (1940)--later renamed Arnold, and Ernst (1942). he children had a happy childhood. The war and NAZI war crimes were outside their experiences. They were thrilled by the trips to Obersalzberg and the dranatic Alpine landscape. They recalled trips up the mountain to the Berhof and watching American Mickey Mouse films with Eva Braun. Speer was a doting father, altough after he became armaments minister was away from home a great deal. The idelic childhood of course changed with the end of the War. Arnold thought that 'war criminal' was his father’s new profession. They secretly exchanged letters in prison. Speer after his release was unable to reestablish his relationship with the children, even with his Albert. They had been close and Albert had followed the family profession. Hilde writes, "One by one my sister and brothers gave up. There was no communication." [Sereny, pp. 664–65.]
Speer was not one of the unemployed and dispossed who flocked to the NAZI banner. He was, however, mesmerized with Hitler and the NAZI message of national revival. He first heard Hitler in person at a gathering of university students. Hitler carefully tailored his speeches to the audiences. He joined the NAZI Party (January 1931). Speer came to believe that Hitler and the NAZIs could deal with the Communist threat and restore the standing of the German Empire that he saw as deteriorating under the Weimar Republic. He like many other Germans did not join the Party because he believed that Hitler would kill Jews and Slavs, establish a dictatorship, or launch another War. If Hitler had clearly stated these things, he would never had aschieved power. By this time the Party was growing. We are not sure just how Speer developed a personal relationship with Hitler. The social standing of the Speer family surly must have been a factor. Hitler took an interest in Speer because of a shared interest in architecture. And Speer did not disappoint.
Speer's first big assignment was to craft NAZI Party rallies. This was first done quickly with a 'cathedral of lights' for which expensive facilities were not needed. But with access to state funds, monumental facilities
could be built to stahe NAZI extravaganzas. Speer quickly proved his worth by his efficient and creative staging of NAZI pagents. He designed both monuments and decorations, as well as expansive parade grounds at Nuremberg. Here a a party congress was held and captured on film by Leni Riefenstahl (1934). The resulting film, 'Triumph of the Will' is one of the most stunning propaganda films of all time. Hitler considered himself as both an artist and architect. He chose Speer, at the time an unknown young architect, to design a monumental stage setting for the Party Rallies. Speer worked with Ludwig Ruff. Hitler was pleased with what they produced. The Nuremberg rally that Speervhelped stage became the archetype of future NAZI public rallies as spectacles. They included impressive architectual backdrops, largee enthusiastic crowds, the absence of any discent, uniformed marchers including Hitler Youth children (boys and girls), striking lighting effects, marshal music, and fluttering banner and flag displays directed by Speer. As a result, of this initial colaboration, Speer went on to become one of the most influntial of the top NAZIs. Hitler appointed Speer Inspector General of the Reich. This was an incedible opportunity for a still young, inexperiebced architecht to pursue his youthful architectural ambitions. Hitler saw in Speer an 'architect of genius' that would build a new Berlin suitable for the new world order he was constructing. The first projects were the Reich Chancellery in Berlin and the Party palace in Nuremberg. Speer prepared grandiose designs for the new Berlin, but with the outbreak of the War, construction had to be delayed and of course never completed. His massive designs, however, survived. Some underground construction tool place.
Speer became one of the most loyal members of Hitler's Nazi regime. The loyalty was more to Hitler persomally than the party. He was an important member of Hitler's small inner circle. The family (Margarete and the children) would hobnob with other top NAZIs and invited notables Albert Speer and his wifewere frequent visitors at the Berghof. They like pther top NAZIs had their own house a short distance down the road toward Berchtesgaden. Hitler awarded Speer the NAZI Golden Party Badge of Honor (1938).
With Kristalnacht (1938), the NAZI assault on Jews intensified (November 1938). This included both phsical attacks as well as the seizure unfer various guises of Jewish property. Speer's office assumed control of the apartments belonging to Berlin Jews evicted by the NAZIs. Speer's office did not evict the Jewish owners, but it did become responsible for allocating the properties to new owners (1939). This continued for some time. The first transports to the East followed 2 years later (1941). Again Speer did not handle this, but he must have wondered whatvbhappwned to all those Jews who had once lived in the vacated apartments he was allocating to suitable new owners.
Hitler gave Reichmarschal Göring enormous economic powers. Göring in the run up to the War increased weapons production, but primarily by increasing allocations. He did not make any major changes to prepare for a long war of attrition. And Hitler in the glow of the great victories in the West began to dismantle important weapons programs. This changed when Barbarossa failed to destroy the Red Army and the Wehrmacht not only found itself mired in a long life-and-death struggle in the East, but Hitler also added the United States with its huge industrial power to Germany's adversaries. Hitler as the War began to go against Germany realised that major steps were needed to increase arms profuction. He turned to Albert Speerr, making him, Minister of Armaments (1942) and subsequently gave him authority to fundamentally rationalize the German war economy (1943). Speer became with his appointment as Armaments Minister, the single most important figure in the NAZI war effot. He proceeded to make administrative changes that greatly increased the efficency of the German war economy. Had these cahanges been made earlier, Germany may well have succeeded in the East. As it was, the cahanges kept German field armies supplied duringbtghe second half of the War. Germany had a smaller resorceand industrial base than all the contries the Führer decided to make war against. Having taken on the Soviet Union and America while still at war with Britain, there was no way that Germany could match the material output of its adversaries. Not only did Germany face an Allied coaltion with geater capabilities, but Germany's more limited industrial capacity was being poorly used. Speer did make needed changes that allowed Germany to increase production and maintain it untill late-1944 despite battlefield defeats and the massive Allied strategic bombing campaign. Speer had enormous power, but of course was subbordinate to the Führer. NAZI Gaulitiers would go around him to get authorization from Hitler for pet projects. And Hitler did not share Speer's views on labor policy. Speer backed the the appointment of SS-Gruppenführer Karl Hanke, Gauleiter of Lower Silesia, as a labor director. Hanke was apparently willing to expand the use of German labor with policies like increasing the use of women in the work force. Hitler influence by Martin Bormann who often opposed Speer, decude on Fritz Sauckel. Sauckel rejected the widespread use of German women and rather turned to forced and slkave labior from the occupied East. Brutak methods were used to seize them because few volunteered and their working condituins wee often even more harrowing, Speer kept production going in the face of spiraling German reverses and the Allied strategic bombing. By this time Speer became Armaments Minister, German production was increasingly dependent on forced and slave-labor. This meant that Speer became personally involved with slave labor, the extent of his involvement he managed to hide after the War at the Nuremberg IMT Trials. Many World War II experts credit him for keeping Germany in the War for 1-2 years longer than would have otherwise have been possible. This meant as a result, the death of hundreds of thousands, probably more than a million people and widespread destruction of Germany and occupied countries. Ironically, Speer had a more significant impact on the War than the more ideolically committed top NAZIs. As far as I know, he was not involved in the Holocaust. It is unclear how much he knew, but in his memoirs he made it clear that he chose not to know. [Speer, p. ] His arrest and trial as a war criminal relates to the heavy use of slave labor brutalized by the NAZI state, especially the SS, to keep the German war machine going.
Speer by the final moths of the War was out of a job. Thanks to the Allied strategic bombing campaign, Germany no longerbhad an armaments industry for Speer to oversee. Hitler at the end of the War ordered that the infrastructure that survived the bombing to be destroyed as the Allied forces entered the Reich, the same burnt earth strategy persued by the Soviets. It was issued as the Western Allies were crossing the Rhine and the Red Army began closing on Berlin. His armies shattered and German cities vast piles of rubble, even Hitler realised he had lost his War--although he blamed the failure on the German people rather than himself. Hitler order the Wehrmacht and NAZI authorities to destroy Germany’s infrastructure so that there would be nothing left of value when the Allies occupied the defeated Reich (March 19, 1945). The order has become known as The Nero Order after the Roman Emperor who was accused of burning Rome. Of course this meant that the German people would suffer even more, but Hitler's attitude was that the German people had failed him and did nor deserve to survive the War. The official order was titled 'Demolitions on Reich Territory' (Befehl betreffend Zerstörungsmaßnahmen im Reichsgebiet). Hitler explained the Order without admitting that the War was lost, " It is a mistake to think that transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, which have not been destroyed, or have only been temporarily put out of action, can be used again for our own ends when the lost territory has been recovered. The enemy will leave us nothing but scorched earth when he withdraws, without paying the slightest regard to the population." Fortunately for the German people, who were already living in the shambles of bombed out cities, one official, Armaments Minister Albert Speer, was apauled. He insuisted on being given full resposibility for carrying out the order, but actuall not only refused to execute the order, but actively intervened with Whermacht commanders who while willing to destroy cities in the East, were less disposed to do the same in the Reich. It was virtually suicidal to openly defy the Führer, but Speer began a series of delays and stalling tactics. Hitler was unaware of this for some time. Speer's enemies in the bunker reported this to Hitler. Speer flew into Berlin to see Hitler one last time in the Führer Bunker (April 23). Speer was expecying to be arrested and shot. Hitler did not, however, bring up the issue, but Speer thinking it might mean his arest and execution did bring it up. Hitler who had great affection for Speer apparebntly had lost interest in the issue. Speer writes, "During the last months I had hated him at times, fought him, lied to him, and deceived him, but at this moment I was confused and emotionally shaken. In this state, I confessed to him in a low voice, to my own surprise, that I had not carried out any demolitiions but had actually prevebnted them. For a moment his eyes filled with tears. But he did not react. Such questions, so important to him only a few weeks before, were now remote." [Speer, p.606.] Hitler was clearly no longer concerned withnhis NeromOrder. His thoughts by this time were increasingly focused on the end and suicide.
Speer was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (IMT) (1946). He was not connected with the Holocaust planning and killings, but as Armaments Minister he was charged with employing forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners in the German armaments industry. The inmates worked underapauling, brutal conditions and died in the hundreds of thousands. The General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment, headed by men like Fritz Sauckel (1942-45) organized the 'recruitment' of the workers. The care and treatment of the forced and slave labor was the responsibility of the SS, especially the Wirtschafts und Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA). Speer would have had intensive dealings with noth agencies. He claims to have done what he could to ameliorate comditions for these captive workerts. We are not yet sure tonwhat extent hevactually did this. His IMT testimony was notable because he was the only defendant to accept responsibility for the horrendous crimes of the NAZI regime, including his activities and those of his subordinates. It is unclear to what extent this wa a clever defense tactic or respresented true atonement. Given his heavy involvement in slave labor in which hundreds of thousand of men, women, and youthn perishred, there was a high liklihood that Speer would be sentenced to death. Many of his colleagues like Sauckel did receive the death penalty. What ever his motovation, his defense worked. The IMT sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment. Which he seved out to the day in the Berlin Spandau prison.
Speer secretly began writing his memoirs while confined at Spandau.
Speer after serving his sentence, published the autobiographical Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976). Inside the Third Reich was a best-selling memoir. In it he described himself as a technician unconcerned with politics. This was not true, as by the time he joined the NAZI Party he had become somewaht concerned with politics. It is probably true, hoever that is primary concern from the beginning was architecture. , but he still took responsibility for his role in aiding the Nazis, and expressed his regret at having done so. Again, he assumed responsibility for those actions beyond his immediate control, and expressed regret for his inaction during the slaughter of the Jews. Letters to the children were secretly transmitted and became the basis for Spandau: The Secret Diaries. Speer died in London (1981).
Breloer, Heinrich. Finnish television producer. Prepared a documentary on the Speer family and interviewed some of the children.
Sereny, Gitta. Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth (Knopf: 1995).
Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich (Avon, New York, 1970), 734p.
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