Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth
by Gitta Sereny
Alfred Knopf, 757 pp., $35.00
In Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin, the valet Scapin, in order to help Léandre obtain the money that will enable him to get married, tells the young man’s father, Géronte, that his son has gone aboard a Turkish galley and that the Turks are now threatening to carry him off to Algiers unless Scapin brings them five hundred écus. Concerned for Léandre’s safety, Géronte is gradually persuaded to hand over the money, but he does so reluctantly, crying again and again, “Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère?” (“What the devil was he doing in that galley?”)
In the case of Albert Speer, that question has never gone away. Despite all of his disclaimers, the fact remains that he went aboard the galley early and voluntarily, was not persuaded to attempt to jump ship by any of the brutalities of its captain and crew, and was still at his post, doing his duty, when the vessel foundered. At Nuremberg, he professed a willingness to accept his share of the collective responsibility for the actions of the regime, while denying allegations of complicity in specific crimes, and he portrayed himself as a simple technician with no interest in politics. This probably helped him escape the more extreme penalties imposed upon defendants whose crimes were, in some cases, not obviously greater than his own, although the onset of cold war tensions also helped.
Bradley F. Smith has written that Speer’s fate was decided in an atmosphere in which the Western judges were willing to look with sympathy on “a clean-cut and apparently repentant professional man with strong anti-Soviet tendencies.” Geoffrey Barraclough pointed out in these pages that his claim to have stood apart from and above politics was the sheerest buncombe, since the record showed that
If the struggle for power is an essential part of politics, Speer was as politically motivated as anyone else in the Nazi hierarchy. His ambition was enormous, his empire-building insatiable…. His aim was to exercise economic dictatorship over the whole of Europe.
Nor did he hesitate to make ruthless use of his party connections.
Almost his first step after he became minister in 1942 was to enlist the support of Himmler and his SS thugs to dragoon German industry with threats of the concentration camp and the death penalty. The jackboot, as much the symbol of Nazism as the swastika, was his ultimate sanction.
The idea that anyone in Speer’s position, sitting at Hitler’s table and engaging in intermittent collaboration and rivalry with the other party satraps, could have been oblivious to the atrocities committed by the regime was to Barraclough absurd.
On the last point, Gitta Sereny was inclined to agree when in July 1977 she unexpectedly received a letter from Speer, expressing his appreciation for a recent article in which she had demolished an attempt by David Irving to prove that Hitler had not known …