Albert Speer : biography
Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer ( March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981) was a German architect who was, for a part of World War II, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich. Speer was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect before assuming ministerial office. As "the Nazi who said sorry", he accepted moral responsibility at the Nuremberg trials and in his memoirs for complicity in crimes of the Nazi regime. His level of involvement in the persecution of the Jews and his level of knowledge of the Holocaust remain matters of dispute.
Speer joined the Nazi Party in 1931, launching him on a political and governmental career which lasted fourteen years. His architectural skills made him increasingly prominent within the Party and he became a member of Hitler’s inner circle. Hitler instructed him to design and construct a number of structures, including the Reich Chancellery and the Zeppelinfeld stadium in Nuremberg where Party rallies were held. Speer also made plans to reconstruct Berlin on a grand scale, with huge buildings, wide boulevards, and a reorganized transportation system.
In February 1942, Hitler appointed Speer Minister of Armaments and War Production. Under his leadership, Germany’s war production continued to increase despite considerable Allied bombing. After the war, he was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the Nazi regime, principally for the use of forced labor. He served his full sentence, most of it at Spandau Prison in West Berlin.
Following his release from Spandau in 1966, Speer published two bestselling autobiographical works, Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: The Secret Diaries, detailing his often close personal relationship with Hitler, and providing readers and historians with a unique perspective on the workings of the Nazi regime. He later wrote a third book, Infiltration, about the SS. Speer died of natural causes in 1981 while on a visit to London.
After Hitler’s death, Speer offered his services to the so-called Flensburg Government, headed by Hitler’s successor, Karl Dönitz, and took a significant role in that short-lived regime. On May 15, the Americans arrived and asked Speer if he would be willing to provide information on the effects of the air war. Speer agreed, and over the next several days, provided information on a broad range of subjects. On May 23, two weeks after the surrender of German troops, the British arrested the members of the Flensburg Government and brought Nazi Germany to a formal end.
Speer was taken to several internment centres for Nazi officials and interrogated. In September 1945, he was told that he would be tried for war crimes, and several days later, he was taken to Nuremberg and incarcerated there. Speer was indicted on all four possible counts: first, participating in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of crime against peace, second, planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace, third, war crimes, and lastly, crimes against humanity.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, alleged, "Speer joined in planning and executing the program to dragoon prisoners of war and foreign workers into German war industries, which waxed in output while the workers waned in starvation." Speer’s attorney, Dr. Hans Flächsner, presented Speer as an artist thrust into political life, who had always remained a non-ideologue and who had been promised by Hitler that he could return to architecture after the war. During his testimony, Speer accepted responsibility for the Nazi regime’s actions:
An observer at the trial, journalist and author William L. Shirer, wrote that, compared to his codefendants, Speer "made the most straightforward impression of all and … during the long trial spoke honestly and with no attempt to shirk his responsibility and his guilt". Speer also testified that he had planned to kill Hitler in early 1945 by dropping a canister of poison gas into the bunker’s air intake. He said his efforts were frustrated by a high wall that had been built around the air intake. Speer stated his motive was despair at realising that Hitler intended to take the German people down with him. Speer’s supposed assassination plan subsequently met with some scepticism, with Speer’s architectural rival Hermann Giesler sneering, "the second most powerful man in the state did not have a ladder."