Inside the Third Reich
Inside The Third Reich - Memoirs by Albert Speer
|Translator||Richard and Clara Winston|
tr. from German
|1970, 1995 & 2003|
Inside the Third Reich is a memoir written by Albert Speer, the Nazi Minister of Armaments from 1942 to 1945, serving as Adolf Hitler's main architect before this period. It is considered to be one of the most detailed descriptions of the inner workings and leadership of Nazi Germany but is controversial because of Speer's lack of discussion of Nazi atrocities and questions regarding his degree of awareness or involvement with them.
At the Nuremberg Trials, Speer was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his use of slave labor while Minister of Armaments. From 1946 to 1966, while serving the sentence in Spandau Prison, he penned more than 2,000 manuscript pages of personal memoirs. Because he was not allowed to write such memoirs while in prison, he smuggled these notes out, and returned to them after his release. He was aided by Joachim Fest. The manuscript led to two books: first Erinnerungen ("Recollections") (Propyläen/Ullstein, 1969), which was translated into English and published by Macmillan in 1970 as Inside the Third Reich; then Spandauer Tagebücher ("Spandau Diaries") (Propyläen/Ullstein, 1975), which was translated into English and published by Macmillan in 1976 as Spandau: The Secret Diaries.
Inside the Third Reich is written in a semi-autobiographical style. While Speer begins with his childhood, he spends most of the memoirs describing his work in the Nazi hierarchy.
Speer, by his account, entered the Nazi hierarchy by an unusual chain of events. He said that he first joined after attending a rally at which Hitler spoke, and that he joined at the behest of some of his students. Early on Speer was used mainly as a driver, due to his being the only member with a car in the Wannsee area. As an architect commissioned by the party, he achieved an excellent turnaround time on a building project, which attracted attention from senior leaders. Because Hitler saw himself as both an architect and artist, he warmed to Speer and gradually brought him into his inner circle.
Due to his relative closeness to Hitler, Speer found himself in an enviable but precarious position. He later remarked, "I would have been Hitler's best friend… if Hitler had been capable of having friends."
His duties until 1942 were occupied exclusively by architectural work, mainly large works that Hitler planned but would never build. Then, after the Minister of Armaments, Fritz Todt, died in a plane crash, Hitler unexpectedly tapped Speer for the position.
Under Speer, German arms production improved greatly. Prior to his appointment, the economy was run by Hermann Göring. However, Göring had fallen out of favor. After a power struggle, Speer managed to get most of the economy under his control. (Some aspects of it had fallen under the control of Heinrich Himmler's secret police, and remained so until the collapse of the Nazi government.)
Speer introduced economic reforms that the United States and Great Britain had implemented long before—namely, the full mobilization of factories for war purposes and the use of female workers. However, although more arms were produced, by the time Speer accomplished this, the war was already lost. Many people among the Allied Powers believed that the dictatorship in Germany gave that country's wartime economy frightening advantages by creating great efficiencies throughout the economy (in comparison to the cacophony of forces that shaped the production possibilities curve in democracies). Speer took pains in his memoirs to argue that this theory was not supported by the facts. In fact, he felt that in some ways the democracies ended up with better efficiencies in production than Germany did. He judged that the pathological secrecy and corruption within a dictatorial system more than canceled out the theoretical benefits of greater centralization.
By 1945, Speer was disillusioned with the war, the Nazi Party, and Hitler himself. Despite being one of the few people to stay close to Hitler until the end, he sabotaged Hitler's scorched earth policy to prevent the complete destruction of Germany. The main body of the book effectively ends when Speer, by this point having joined Karl Dönitz's government seated in Schleswig-Holstein, receives news of Hitler's death. This is followed by an epilogue dealing with the end of the war in Europe and the resulting Nuremberg Trials, in which Speer is sentenced to a 20-year prison term for his actions during the war.
Speer was one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials to survive both the war and the Nuremberg trials. He was also, even during World War II, described by both sides as one of the most intelligent people in the Nazi hierarchy. Because of these factors, Inside the Third Reich has become the definitive work on the inner workings of Nazi Germany.
Due to his position, Speer was able to describe the personalities of many Nazi officials, including Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, Martin Bormann and, of course, Adolf Hitler himself.
Description of the Nazi hierarchy
Speer's memoirs revolutionized the study of Nazi Germany. At the time, the popular vision of Nazi Germany was that of a country as a monolithic, totalitarian state that ran smoothly and proficiently at first before gradually breaking down under the strains of war. Speer revealed that the country was actually sharply divided from the start by overlapping responsibilities, court politics, and incompetent leaders. Most surprisingly, he portrayed Hitler as a lazy, artistically tempered bohemian who worked in spurts. He also described Hitler as an incompetent, unprofessional, self-taught layman: "Without any sense of the complexities of any great task, he boldly assumed one function after another."
Speer had a great deal of personal insights into Nazi leaders themselves, many of whom chose him as a neutral confidant. Speer described how Joseph Goebbels' wife, Magda, complained about her husband's infidelity, and how she in turn had had an affair with one of Speer's old friends, Karl Hanke. Personally meeting with Göring on his estate, Speer wrote how the by-then overweight Luftwaffe marshal spent his days hunting, eating, and literally playing with stolen jewels as if they were toys.
According to Speer, even during the mid-1930s, after he attained dictatorial powers, Hitler had extremely unstable work habits that included staying up very late (typically until 5:00 or 6:00 a.m.) and then sleeping until about noon, spending hours upon hours at meals and tea parties, and wasting both his time and that of colleagues with movies and long, boring monologues. He was incapable of normal office work. In the memoirs, Speer openly wondered when exactly Hitler ever found time to do anything important. On his personal life, Speer remarked that Eva Braun had told him, in the middle of 1943, that Hitler was too busy, too immersed, and too tired to have sex with her.
Listening to the Führer, Speer concluded that Hitler was incapable of growth, either emotional or intellectual. Because Hitler could charm people (including Speer himself), Speer also believed Hitler was a sociopath and megalomaniac. Even in 1945, when Germany's armed forces were all but destroyed, Speer could not convince Hitler to admit defeat, or even to go on the defensive.
According to Speer, Germany's position in the war went into decline during the siege of Stalingrad and the Second Battle of El Alamein, when Hitler, faced with defeat in both battles, tried to hide himself from reality. In Hitler's reticence, Speer claimed that Hitler's personal secretary, Martin Bormann, took advantage of the vacuum and controlled all information going to Hitler in a bid to gain power for himself.
Likewise, Speer painted an extremely unflattering portrait of the Nazi government. Because of Hitler's indecisiveness—and his belief that struggle led to strength—the government was never properly coordinated. Different ministries were often assigned to the same task and Hitler refused to clarify jurisdictions. As a result, for anything to get done, ministers often had to engage in court politics. Speer himself had to ally with Goebbels and other ministers to counter Göring's incompetent economic leadership. Also, commentators on the memoirs have pronounced it likely that Speer himself came close to being assassinated by Heinrich Himmler after he unwittingly put himself in the care of an SS doctor.
Controversy about the Holocaust and slave labor
In the book, as at the Nuremberg Trials, Speer denied any knowledge of the Holocaust. While he does admit to his knowledge of slave labor used in his ministry, Speer claimed that he tried to improve the slave laborers' condition, and that he preferred not to use such labor.
Even his editorial aide, Joachim Fest, noted in later editions of Inside the Third Reich that much of what Speer wrote disagreed with his testimony at Nuremberg. Most notably, Speer originally made up excuses as to why he stayed with Hitler until the end, but in his memoirs, admitted he did so out of personal loyalty.
In the book, Speer claimed to have contemplated Hitler's assassination in early 1945 to end the war. However, aside from an affidavit from one of his friends, Dieter Stahl, there is no evidence to substantiate this.
Moreover, Speer consented to numerous interviews after his release from prison, and some of the things said in these interviews, like those with Gitta Sereny, contradicted with both his court testimony and memoirs.
Supporters of Speer, such as Fest, claim Speer felt personal guilt about the Holocaust, and that he spent his remaining years trying to justify both to himself and the public why he had let himself be deceived. Before his death, Speer compared his work on behalf of the Nazis to that of a man who made a deal with the Devil.
Speer's detractors argue that his omissions and denials were based on his efforts to avoid execution at Nuremberg. Many accounts of the trial depict Speer as a crafty and intelligent defendant who pulled any string he could in his defense. Moreover, other Nuremberg defendants in positions similar to Speer's were hanged, most notably Fritz Sauckel, who actually worked under Speer's orders. Speer's claim to have tried to kill Hitler is usually cited as one of the main reasons he was spared the noose.
While arguments over Speer's guilt are ongoing, Inside the Third Reich is used by historians on all sides as a primary source on the inner workings of the Nazis. Speer's supporters have sardonically noted that even historians who claim Speer is untrustworthy nonetheless incorporate the memoirs into their work.
The book was made into a TV film of the same title in 1982, originally broadcast on network television by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The movie departs significantly from the memoirs, most notably in how it portrays Speer's perception of Nazi atrocities. In his memoirs, Speer mentions the growing persecution of Jews during the 1930s. He then goes on to say that there was no way that he could have known what was happening to the Jews. However, one did not need any secret knowledge of the exact details of government programs to know that Jews were being beaten and expropriated and were disappearing from German society. The movie recognizes this contradiction; for example, it portrays Speer's reaction, or, to be specific, lack of reaction, to Kristallnacht.
Additionally, almost every movie that deals with Hitler (especially near the end of his life) draws at least partly on Inside the Third Reich, a long list that includes Der Untergang.
- Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich, p. 230.
- Speer, Albert (1970). Inside the Third Reich. New York and Toronto: Macmillan. LCCN 70119132. [Translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston.] Originally published in German as Erinnerungen [Recollections], Propyläen/Ullstein, 1969. Republished in paperback in 1997 by Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0-684-82949-4.
- Persico, Joseph (1995). Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. New York: Penguin Books Reprint Edition. ISBN 0-14-016622-X.
- O'Donnell, James (2001). The Bunker. New York: Da Capo Press (reprint). ISBN 0-306-80958-3.
- Sereny, Gitta (1995) Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. London: Macmillian. ISBN 0-330-34697-0.
- Inside the Third Reich online ebook.