am 23. November 1997
Inside the Third Reich is a "must read" book for anyone interested in World War II or Nazi Germany. As Hitler's Minster of Armament and War Production, Albert Speer's memoirs provide firsthand information on the German leadership and war efforts during this period. The book covers events from his early childhood to his imprisonment in Spandau Prison, as a Nazi war criminal. In the course of telling his own story, Speer also provides valuable insights into other key players in Nazi regime, such as Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, Martin Borman, Karl Doenitz, Joseph Goebbels, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, and many other high-ranking Nazi leaders.
Albert Speer served under Adolf Hitler for over 14 year and was one of Hitler's closest associates during most of that period. As Speer testified at Nuremberg, "If Hitler had had any friends, I would certainly been one of his close friends." Speer initially served as one of Hitler's architects and later as the Minister of Armament and War Production. Sharing a passion for design and architecture, Speer quickly impressed Hitler after completing several projects in record time. In the pre-war period, Hitler was obsessed with constructing monumental builds that would characterize Germany as the great "1,000 year Reich" that he envisioned. Having proven his ability to successfully manage complex projects, Speer used these same talents to make himself indispensable as the head of all Germany armament and production efforts in support of the war. Many of the principles he used over fifty years ago, are very similar to the quality initiatives used today. Sharing a passion for architecture and proving his management acumen, Speer was quickly accepted to Hitler's inner circle.
Following the end of the war, Speer wasone of the only Nazi's to take responsibility for his part in the war crimes. Albert Speer wrote Inside the Third Reich in an attempt to come to grips with his part in the Nazi atrocities of WW II. His statement that "only the truth could accelerate the process of cutting free from the past," provides some insight into his motives for publishing these memoirs. To set the stage, Speer describes how he was lured by Hitler's charisma, drawn into the struggle for power, and how an environment of secrets and intrigues all led to his failure to realize the crimes that were committed during the war. Even at the very end of the war, after he was thoroughly disgusted with Hitler and had overtly countered many of Hitler's direct orders, Speer claimed he still felt as if he was under Hitler's spell. Speer explains how in those last days he was still thrilled when Hitler would treat him as one of the inner circle.
As a rather young man, Speer was awarded positions ofpower and prestige, working directly for the most worshipped man in Germany--and he owed all of this success to this man, Adolf Hitler. Hitler was like a savior to many of the post-World War I Germans, and Speer had the opportunity to be one of is closest associates. However, with these rewards, Speer was also lured into his own ultimate downfall. Thus Speer stated, "I owe him the enthusiasm and the glory of my youth as well as belated horror and guilt."
At the Nuremberg trials, Albert Speer was charged specifically with the crime of organizing forced labor to work in the production of German war materials. In his defense, Speer claimed that while he was aware prisoners were being used for forced labor, he was not aware of the other atrocities being committed, such as the Jewish holocaust or the inhumane treatment of the prisoners. He also claimed the German people, in general, should not be judged for what the government alone was responsible. Speer stated that while all government officials should be held responsible for fundamental matters, they should not be held responsible for the details which were not in their control. I interpret this to mean the government should be held responsible for establishing the environment in which the crimes were committed, but only the actual offenders should be held accountable for their individual crimes.
In the conclusion of the book, Speer posts a warning for future governments not to fall into the same trap as Nazi Germany. He warns that in an age of technology it is easy for a dictator to commit crimes and breed corruption. He states technology allows a dictator to easily hide his actions and motives, more efficiently conduct his crimes and intrigues, and allows direct communication, surveillance, and control over his subjects.
To build his case, Speer draws heavily on his own experiences and records, as well as, official records found in the Federal Archives in Germany. Numerous excerpts from daily journals, photographs, and policy memorandums add to the credibility of his text. However, I am obligated to warn the reader of potential inaccuracies. First, I believe it is only human nature for an individual to portray themselves in a favorable light, especially an individual that has been accused of some of the worst crimes in history. Speer himself admits in several cases that he lied to Hitler, the court at Nuremberg, and to others in order to protect his position. Additionally, Speer talks about his involvement in various intrigues to gain/protect his power--thus we could assume that he may also have been compelled to cover his role in more important matters that could have lead to his execution. To look at both sides of this debate on credibility, we can turn to two books written about Albert Speer.
In Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, Gitta Sereny takes a more psychological approach in her investigation of Speer's participation in the war crimes. While Sereny provides evidence that Speer was probably lying about several situations, she also discusses the possibility that Speer repressed memories of certain atrocities, which later emerged after the war. When drawing our own conclusion, we must also keep in mind that Sereny apparently had developed a close friendship with Speer in the course of her investigations.
At the other extreme, in Matthias Schmidt's Albert Speer: The End of a Myth, he claims to provide evidence of Speer's knowledge of the concentration camps and extermination of the Jews. He also provides numerous discrepancies in both Speer's testimony and in his memoirs. Matthias goes on to claim Speer actually attempted to suppress various documents that surfaced after his release from prison, that confirmed his knowledge and participation in the deportation of Jews. Matthias also paints Speer as a ruthless and power hungry person that was well aware of the crimes being committed. This picture of Speer is quite the opposite of that portrayed by Sereny or even by Speer, himself--as a "respectable Nazi" that was lured into Hitler's trance.
Apart from this accuracy debate, there are two final cautions to the reader. First, Inside the Third Reich provides an enormous amount of detail on the architecture, buildings, and idle tea-time with Hitler. These details may tend to fatigue the reader, especially if they are not an architecture enthusiast. Second, the book is not organized in strict chronological order. While the book generally follows his life, each chapter actually covers overlapping timeframes, which may cause the reader to lose track of a particular sequence of events.
In general, Inside the Third Reich is an excellent book that provides not only an autobiography, but also several biographies into one book. This book is sure to give the World War II enthusiast great insights into this period in world history. Although there may be an abundance of details on architecture and afternoon tea with Hitler, there are also valuable historic accounts of the effects of allied bombing on the German war machine and Speer's effective efforts to continue a high rate of production.