The Homecoming

Spandau: The Secret Diaries

by Albert Speer, translated by Richard Winston and Clara Winston
Macmillan, 463 pp., $13.95

At midnight on September 30, 1966, they let Albert Speer out of Spandau. The double gates of the fortress opened, headlights blazed, and two black cars came accelerating down the drive toward us. An explosion of lights from the press; a glimpse of the astonished, tremulously smiling old faces of Schirach and Speer. The Berliners around me, massed in the darkness up a grassy bank, clapped a little but raised no cheer. I was aware of their emotion as we waited in silence, and thought at first that it was political: if not explicitly pro-Nazi, then at least nationalist. But when they clapped and murmured, I understood. Speer was a “Heimkehrer” to them, the personification of the tens of thousands who had trickled home from foreign captivity over the years and of those who would never return. He was home again, one more member of the German family limping back out of the night.

During the twenty years of his imprisonment, Speer kept up a clandestine diary, written mostly on toilet paper. It was more than just a journal. Months of apathetic misery might pass without an entry; then came busy pages of self-analysis, a work on the history of the window, notes on nature or gardening. Almost from the start, he was able to find jailers and visitors willing to take the risk of smuggling the material out, with his own private letters, and to bring family and even business letters back past the censorship. On his release, some 25,000 scribbled pages were waiting for him. “I shied away from looking at that mass of papers which is all that has remained of my life between my fortieth and my sixtieth years.” A decade later, he composed himself, sat down to the notes and began to edit them.

The unique quality of the diaries is that they are without hope. The prison memoirs of Silvio Pellico, the Carbonarist, are full of lively contempt for the system which held him captive, of confidence in liberation, rescue, or escape. Gramsci’s prison letters come from a great spirit certain that his cause will triumph, still working for it from his cell. Speer, who had been Hitler’s young court architect and stage manager, then—as he puts it—his Carnot who organized the colossal production drive of the later war years, considered himself guilty. He recognized his mistake and his crime, and never fantasized about some mighty bar of history which would justify his actions. In all these pages there is no mention, not even a dream, of escape from Spandau. Robbed of all those mental resources which can keep a political prisoner going, Speer had to treat his twenty years as pure penance. Only once does he break down and rail, as the last year of his sentence begins.

At the Nuremburg trial, high moral and humanitarian principles were voiced. I was sentenced in accordance with them, and I inwardly accepted those principles; I even made myself their advocate to my fellow…

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