by Frank Muller
Albert Speer was an architect who caught the eye of Hitler who had dreams of constructing a Reich in terms of architecture that would embody the Nazi views of Germanic supremacy, efficiency, engineering and power. These two dreaming souls found in one another a kindred spirit to take a romanticized view of their world and transform it into a living temple or idol of this new religion.
Speers brilliance in construction design, labor and materials management, ability to handle extraordinarily complex project management singled him out amongst the Nazi elite for his ability to continue the war making machine despite devastating losses in the field and Allied bombing of the manufacturing arm of the Reich.
Make no mistake, Speer and the leaders of the Nazi regime adored Adolph Hitler and believed steadfastly in his view of wrongs committed by other nations and peoples to the German people. These people saw a man in Adolph Hitler who could mesmerize them with his ability to recall information, remember names, fawn over children, process deeply complicated material and seem to have an almost intuitive feel for what needed to be done.
Upon the collapse of the German Reich 21 men were brought before the Nuremburg War Crimes trial and prosecuted for crimes against humanity. It was in this trial that the people had a chance to meet and hear from those closest to Adolph Hitler. Though most of that cast of characters met expectations the sole exception was the highly educated, dapper and dazzling Albert Speer who somehow managed to convince not just the judges but most court observers that he never knew of the final solution to the Jewish problem nor participated in it.
His incredible recall of dates and locations and timing allowed him to weave the narrative of an architect turned Minister of Armaments for the Reich that believed in the Nazi cause but that the final solution was a closely held secret of just a few Nazi leaders and their minions.
This intellect and soft-spoken charm allowed him to survive the gallows and to spend the next 20 years of his life in Spandau prison. He came out of Spandau in many ways a German hero and a celebrity and most believed his denials of knowledge and complicity.
The fateful day though came with the Truth finally came out. An investigative reporter discovered the transcript of the infamous Posen meeting where Heinrich Himmler delivered to the German elites (including Albert Speer) the plan for the final solution to the Jewish problem. In 1971, Albert Speer began the process for five years of working to reverse the evidence and return to his status as a German hero.
In that process, he agreed to five years of interviews with Gitta Sereny who painstakingly went through the German records and confronted this brilliant man with the questions that needed to be answered. In many ways, his performance continues in a masterful way but inevitably the Truth overwhelms.
Though this narrative is told about grand characters whose lives are etched into history, this book also painfully showcases how good and talented people can succumb to the comfortable lie of victimhood. How charismatic leaders can use their presence to work people towards evil whilst believing passionately they are doing the good. So often, we hear people ask, “how could they have believed?”
I think the better question is to examine ourselves and ask why we believe what we believe? So often, the facts seem to get in the way of a comfortable half-truth and revealing for us what we do not want to believe. Instead of confronting the uncomfortable facts we simply choose to look the other way and rationalize about “them” and ignoring the “we”.
I recommend this book not just for its’ factual portrayal of the Nazi regime (both good and bad) but also the intricate interplay of everyone’s battle with Truth both from our own perception of what really happened within that country and what the facts are from those who were there and in charge.
May Peace be with us all.