595 pages, Macmillan Publishers Ltd, ISBN-13: 978-0517385791
Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer is probably the most famous of all WWII memoirs, and in many ways this is perfectly justified, but my opinion of this book changed since my initial reading after I read Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth by Gitta Sereny – but more on that in another post.
Albert Speer, Hitler’s personal architect and, later, Minister of Armaments, wrote this book during his 20-year prison term following the Nuremburg trials. Speer’s reflections on his own absorption into the Nazi regime and the unfolding of the greatest war in history reveal the men who ruled Nazi Germany with general sincerity and enlightening insight. Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, and even Eva Braun are each highlighted by Speer’s keen evaluations, and for the most part found wanting. Hitler himself emerges from Speer’s portrait as a man whose megalomania was always clear to anyone who cared to notice, but whose sheer charisma and force of will swept the German people inexorably into the inferno.
Speer takes much of the blame for Germany’s war effort and admits that he and his cohorts – even if personally ignorant of Hitler’s concentration camps – were nonetheless accomplices in crime. The book does demand some historical awareness on the reader’s part, as Speer focuses mainly on the rather closed-in, often literally subterranean world of the Nazi leadership, so that references to important military events often come with little or no elaboration (Speer apparently assumed his readers would already be well acquainted with the historical record, and this is required for a full appreciation of his text).
The book naturally begins with Speer’s upbringing and education in Manheim, though he spends little time here and, within the first 25 pages of the memoir, we read how Speer casually became a Nazi party member (as did his mother) and how he first began to interact with the Nazis. Here we have to be a little skeptical of his account of the story as he says quite emphatically that he did NOT join the party for through any political motivation – yet, in 1930 when he joined, the NSDAP did not have the extreme power it held a few years later (it seems rather unlikely that an architect who claimed to have little political motivation would go out of his way to join a self-described “worker’s” party).
Whatever his motivations were, Speer joined the Nazis and before long he went from being an officer in the National Socialist Motor Corps to taking on a few architectural projects for the party, including redoing Goebbels’ office and the decorations for Hindenburg’s 1934 funeral. By this time he was traveling with Hitler and realizing how captivated with architecture the Fuhrer was. His biggest achievement during these years was the building of the rally grounds at the zeppelin fields outside of Nuremburg. Hitler was extraordinarily pleased with Speer’s work and by this time he was within his inner circle and required to wear a party uniform in public.
It is around this time that he begins creating his expansive plans for “Germania”, Hitler’s megalomaniacal new capital for his thousand-year Third Reich. Naturally the plans never resulted in any buildings but this plan became Hitler’s hobby and made enforced Der Führer’s affinity for Speer. As peace became tenuous and war became inevitable Speer still holds on to the fact that he wasn’t aware of the big picture, yet within a few years he is named Minister of Armaments and certainly by this time he is aware. Eventually, realization comes, but often far later than it would have if they had not been totally embroiled already.