“Speer’s Spandau Diaries is a personal memoir of more than ordinary import and eloquence on his 20 years in prison.”

By Albert Speer

Inside the Third Reich Spandau: The Secret Diaries

Reviewed by James J. Martin / Inside, Macmillan, 1970 / $2.25 / Spandau, Macmillan, 1975 / $13.95

Albert Speer is the third generation of a family of first rank Mannheim architects, born in 1905. He joined the National Socialist German Workers Party late (1931), at a time of widespread desperation in Germany. (It was not the inflation of 1923 that caused the extreme political upheaval during the Weimar regime; it was the deflation and massive unemployment of 1930–32.)

With the advent of the forces of Adolf Hitler to power in 1933, Speer’s career vaulted upward at a phenomenal rate. He became Hitler’s personal architect and had a major impact on public construction in the Third Reich. “Der Fuehrer” was an amateur designer himself, and the rapport between the two was remarkable. The impressive number of photographs showing Speer at Hitler’s side on various occasions is not the only testimony in support of this relationship, for sure.

Speer, who was never a soldier and was unacquainted with military logistics and technology, made his way into the closest echelon of Hitler’s wartime advisers as a result of the death of Fritz Todt in an airplane accident in February, 1942. Todt was undoubtedly the organizational genius of the practical side of Nazi Germany. Although he held only one ministerial title, he directly controlled the work done by four other departments that were of actual ministerial rank. Speer inherited only two of Todt’s jobs, the Ministry of Arms and Munitions, as well as the direction of the immense skilled labor corps devoted to special projects, previously known as Organization Todt.

The important part of Speer’s first book, Inside the Third Reich, concerns what he is willing to tell—or what his various publishers will print—about the state of German industrial production war and otherwise, 1942–45. Speer’s reminiscences were originally published by the German firm of Ullstein under the title Erinnerungen [Recollections]; this was one of the publishers put out of business by the Nazis, and brought back to Germany in the wagons of the “liberators.” It must have been flavorful revenge for them to publish Speer.

Speer’s conquerors could have made much mileage out of his books in the first decade or so of the Cold War; now, much that they contain is anticlimactic. It is of course impossible to estimate how many times his manuscript was bleached by editors, but knowing the history and leaning of our Establishment publishers, it is safe to say that the chances of Speer’s uncropped views reaching print under their auspices is in the class with those of an asteroid striking the absolute center of a large contemporary American city.

It is evident from the interview with Speer published in the New York Times on August 23, 1970, that the American edition contains added material attributed to him. When an original work or document is republished with elisions or the substitution of things that it did not originally contain, that are not by the original author, that are not called to public attention, and that alter the meaning, impact, or effect substantially or profoundly, it is customary to call this product a forgery. This sounds like a borderline case.

Despite Hitler Germany’s reputation as a totalitarian land, as late as October, 1943, at least 6 million of its industrial labor force were still engaged in turning out consumer goods for the civilian market. Speer’s plea to get 1.5 million German workers transferred to war production and for consumer goods production to be transferred to French factories got nowhere, mainly because of the apathy toward Speer’s program on the part of both employers and the National Socialist regime. Nor was Speer able to convince the top leadership that their labor force could have been much enlarged by utilizing German women in industrial production. It was Speer’s reiterated assertion that with coordination and cooperation on all levels, the size of the German armed forces and the total of war production could both have been doubled over what was achieved at any time in the first four years of the war.

According to Speer, not only was research and work on such things as an atom bomb, and, to a greater extent, jet engines and rockets of various kinds, in a fairly advanced stage as early as 1942, but that a heat‐​seeking, ground‐​to‐​air missile with a ceiling of 50,000 feet was nearly in an operational production stage. This would have defeated the Allied bombing campaign in all probability. The failure of any of these programs to become effective before war’s end is laid at Hitler’s door. An amazing tribute to Speer’s organizational skill despite all the roadblocks thrown in his way is that the high point of armament production in Germany steadily went up until the dosing four months of the war, by which time catastrophic shortages, the nearly total wrecking of the German transportation system by Anglo‐​American bombing, and the obliteration of Germany’s 70 largest cities brought a down‐​turn in production curves.

There are many things this reviewer would have been vastly interested in seeing Speer discuss, but little along such lines is to be found. For instance, the remarkable research in synthetic fuels, mainly methanol and ethanol, which, as early as 1938, according to Dr. Tom Reed of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, accounted for more than half of the fuel consumed in Germany, and which were used in immense quantities in tanks, planes and other military vehicles during the war. Another would be the unusual composition of batteries, now being explored by a Texas A&M scientist in the enormous collection of captured German papers lodged in Charlottesville, Va. and elsewhere. Wrecked German military equipment uncovered in the North African desert thirty years later contained batteries that still had a charge. Still another is the incredible German tape recorder, which as early as 1943 was sending out noise‐​free and uninterrupted symphonic radio broadcasts, at a time when the BBC and others played traditional scratchy recordings which were suspended every, four and a half minutes so that they could be turned over. Even the first American tape recorder in 1948 was barely more than, a copy of this captured GermanMagnetophone, the inventor of which we do not seem to know. It probably would be too much to expect Speer to know how the German came to invent the microdot during the war.

The principal charge against Speer at the Nuremberg trials was that he allowed forced labor in German industry. On October 1, 1946, he was convicted of this as a war crime and sentenced to 20 years in prison, which he served to the last minute in the grim and bleak Spandau prison in Berlin. Strangely enough, though, on February 17, 1946, seven months before his conviction, General Lucius Clay had introduced the use of forced labor by Germans in the American‐​occupied zone of Germany. At the time Speer was convicted, Stalin was using millions of Germans as forced labor in Soviet Russia under conditions that made the forced labor in wartime Germany look like a rest home by comparison. So goes the hypocrisy of winners, while uttering synthetic groans of horror at the sins of defeated enemies.

Some parts of Inside the Third Reich are supported by comparison with Speer’s testimony at Nuremberg, and some are not. Speer’s admissions concerning forced labor in his latter account contradict his 1946 position. His fellow Nuremberg defendant Hans Fritsche, in his book on the trials, The Sword in the Scales (1953), observes that the prosecution, mainly Justice Robert H. Jackson, tried to get Speer to turn “state’s evidence” on this subject against other defendants, but that he “was not to be tempted.” “On the contrary,” Fritsche went on to say, Speer “went out of his way to emphasize that most of the stories about the maltreatment of foreign labour was pure invention.” On one occasion Speer shouted “That’s a lie!” when the prosecution tried to introduce an affidavit that workers in one of the Krupp factories were allegedly put in cages. The prosecution hastily backed down from this one. (It probably would take a couple lifetimes to sort out the vulgar Stalinist false‐​witness from genuine testimony at Nuremberg.)

Speer’s Spandau Diaries is a personal memoir of more than ordinary import and eloquence on his 20 years in prison. His is the eye of the architect for details, though the sweep of his observations may also have been sharpened by the length and conditions of his imprisonment. There is much gossip about the other six Nazi prisioners with whom he shared this large jail. It is not a systematic diary. There are gaps of weeks and sometimes months between entries (were there materials here that the editors thought we had best not see?). The whole is divided into chapters for each year he was jailed by his Anglo‐​Franco‐​Russo‐​American enemies. During that time he calculated that he walked 20,000 miles in his pacing in the garden and exercise yard of the prison.

We have been treated for over 40 years to a succession of tales that has emphasized the coarse, rude, spiteful and brutal traits of the chiefs of the Nazi regime. A substantial part of both these books is devoted to a gossipy repetition of these, among others, and in this respect is, in the language of the ancients, merely “chewing over old cabbage.” Eugene Davidson, in the introduction to the first book, esteems Speer, since here he approaches his ideal cowering German, ready to shoulder responsibility to almost any accusation as charged. Savoring the guilt of Nazis for World War II has been one of Davidson’s principal literary pleasures; it is too bad he has not had more opportunities such as that presented by a latter‐​day Speer.

It appears to be a canon of American publishing also for over 40 years that no one is to publish a word in extenuation of Hitler without risking economic or reputational disaster. (But Doubleday seems to have violated this no‐​no in having issued John Lukacs’ recent book on the first half of World War II.)

In any case, it is more certain that if anyone prominent in the Nazi regime were to get his views published, no matter how bowdlerized, he would be expected to castigate nearly everyone with whom he worked and associated as dunces and near‐​imbeciles, or as savages without a single endearing quality; being cast as close to non‐​humans as possible makes it easier to rationalize their subsequent inhuman treatment. Of course the chief villain must always be Hitler, made as gross and barbarous and unreasoning as possible, and capable almost only of bad judgments and irreclaimable mistakes bordering on the idiotic. Speer’s books attempt at various places to achieve this ideal, but he foregoes the usual extremes; Hitler is not described as foaming at the mouth and prostrate on the floor, chewing the carpet. (Teppischfresser is the German word for the nervous person who paces up and down the floor, which figuratively “eats up” the carpet; for the lamebrain of the English‐​speaking world this was translated literally in Hitler’s case, he being a celebrated agitated floor walker. There are still books which soberly state this rug‐​chomping to be a fact, as well as endorsing some of the gross caricaturing that was featured in Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator.)

After this now much‐​repeated narrative of unrelieved incompetence and of basic decisions always made two years too late, one wonders how the Germans, with very poor preparation, were able to take on the world in a war that lasted almost six years, with a large part of their population never in the armed forces or in war production, and for most of the last two years of the war capable of increasing their output steadily, though a large part of their land was in nearly total ruin. It is not explained in these books, nor is it explained in the vast collection of vainglorious works by Germany’s conquerors, either.

It is unlikely we shall ever see again an extravaganza such as Nuremberg, and its consequence, the hangings and Spandau, even though Rudolf Hess still keeps the latter open. The 60 or so wars since 1945 have not resulted in another spectacle of this sort. The substitute for public war‐​guilt shows, excluding the curious sideshow devoted to Lt. William Calley, seems to be that put on in the ferocious Asian and African satrapies that have emerged from the wreckage of European colonialism, namely, the summary execution of the unlucky and the defeated, if they can be caught. Western spokesman wail and wring their hands at this barbarism, but it is perhaps no worse cultural degeneration than the spectacle of the degradation of the concepts of Western jurisprudence at Nuremberg (one should study well Montgomery Belgion’s Victors’ Justice [1949]). As for the statesman of the “civilized world,” it long ago was impressed upon them, by the consequences of what they themselves wrought at Nuremberg, that they had better not ever get caught losing another war, especially on the basis of unconditional surrender.