Hitler’s Master Builder

Inside the Third Reich

by Albert Speer
Macmillan, 596 pp., $12.50

Students Against Tyranny

by Inge Scholl
Wesleyan, 160 pp., $5.00

The Face of the Third Reich

by Joachim C. Fest
Pantheon, 402 pp., $10.00

Deutschlands Rüstung im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Hitlers Konferenzen mit Albert Speer

edited by Willi A. Boelcke
Frankfurt: Athenaion Verlag, 495 pp.

Long before Albert Speer was carried off into captivity on May 23, 1945, the Speer legend had begun to take shape. War is the young man’s opportunity, and the career of this particular young man, Minister of Munitions and Armaments in the Thousand Year Reich at the age of thirty-six, exercised a peculiar fascination over friend and foe alike.

As early as September, 1942, the London Times carried a respectful and knowledgeable account of Speer’s plans for the total mobilization of German manpower and material resources. In April, 1944, a couple of months before the Anglo-American landings in Normandy and the opening of the second front, The Observer asserted that Speer, the man who actually directed “the giant power machine,” was a more important figure in wartime Germany than Hitler himself. But his real significance, The Observer suggested, transcended the war. Speer was not merely the genius behind the German war effort. He was at the same time the prototype of a new social phenomenon not peculiar to Nazi Germany but increasingly prominent in all belligerent countries: “the pure technician,” the “classless bright young man” who would serve any regime which furthered his career. Hitlers might come and Hitlers might go; “but the Speers, whatever happens to this particular young man, will long be with us.”

Here, a year before the German capitulation, are the essential ingredients of the Speer legend. Since then it has grown and hardened. Speer himself contributed enormously to its propagation when in 1945 he was interrogated by English and American officers, and subsequent disclosures during the Nuremberg trials, together with analysis of captured German documents, filled out the contours. Now, with the publication and extraordinary success of Speer’s memoirs, legend has become orthodoxy. The reviews I have read, with a couple of honorable exceptions, take Speer at his own evaluation, hailing him as a “supreme technocrat” and the man who, as he himself artlessly confesses, “by my abilities and my energies” prolonged the war “by many months.” But for Speer, writes Joachim Fest, Hitler might have “had to admit defeat as early as 1942 or 1943.”

If it were only a question of Albert Speer and his personal reputation, the propensity of reviewers—including some who should know better—to swallow the Speer legend hook, line, and sinker, might not matter very much. Charitable readers—and a quarter of a century after the destruction of Nazi Germany most of us are ready to be charitable—will say that, after twenty years of more or less solitary confinement in Spandau, Speer has worked his passage home. And his disarming candor, his refusal, even at Nuremberg, to prevaricate and make excuses, sets him off from the other Nazis in Hitler’s entourage. Almost without exception reviewers have paid tribute to his “underlying decency of character,” his “honesty,” his desire to “atone for his mistakes,” and his freedom from “self-pity.”

These are judgments with which it would be petty to quarrel, though I am not …

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Letters

The Nazi Disease July 1, 1971

The Nazi Disease July 1, 1971