Albert Speer – Differing Historical Interpretations

They are many factors influencing the different historical interpretations of Albert Speer. The most influential was Speer’s own character construction of himself in his defence at the Nuremberg trials. This view was held by a majority of historians until Matthias Schmidt found holes in Speer’s story. A large blow was dealt to Speer’s own construction of his role in Nazi Germany when the Walters’ chronicles were released containing various incriminating evidence. There are still a number of historians who prefer to view Albert Speer as the Good Nazi, even though most historians now believe that the image created by Speer of himself was self-serving and false.

Speer’s well structured and thought out defence shaped historical interpretation for years to come. At Nuremberg he presented himself as a pure technician and not involved in the politics or ideology of the party. He also claimed collective responsibility for crimes against Jews but also his ignorance of the Nazi intentions. As he stated at a later time: “I just stood aside and said to myself that as long as I did not personally participate it had nothing to do with me. My toleration for the anti Semitic campaign made me responsible for it.” This admission of guilt won a fair amount of sympathy from the court. The reasons he gave for being with the Nazi party was that he was taken by Hitler’s personality and also realised that if he was to achieve his dream as an architect he will have to sell his soul to the party. This image of Speer was to be accepted for a while by most historians and was given little attention. This was probably because Speer was a little less ‘spectacular’ than Hitler’s other henchmen. There were however some suspicions. John Galbraith, a member of the US team that debriefed Speer before the Nuremberg trial, said in Life magazine 1945 that Speer’s claims contained “elements of fantasy”. He also believed that Speer’s confession was a part of his “well developed strategy of self vindication and survival.”

Most historians believed in Speer’s testimonies until Wolters’ Chronicles were released. W Shirer The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), A Bullock Hitler a Study in Tyranny (1962), and Joachim Fest The Face on the Third Reich (1970) all portray Speer as the good Nazi, the apolitical technocrat and a repentant German. Raul Hilberg, in The Destruction of the European Jews (1973) discusses in passing Speer’s involvement in the ‘Jewish affair’ but he does not delve in the matter.

This view was damaged when Matthias Schmidt’s extended thesis on Speer was published as a book Albert Speer – The end of a Myth in 1982. This made a detailed examination of the inconsistencies contained in Speer’s book and thoroughly researches his statements by making cross-references to other sources. (Speer’s claim that he attempted to assassinate Hitler, Speer’s relationship with Hitler during stay at hospital, his portrayal of himself as a gifted technician, are all dealt with) He calls Inside the Third Reich as “the most cunning apologia by any leading figure of the Third Reich.” Schmidt was also the first historian who Wolters reveals some of the chronicles to. His final view of Speer is as: “Hitler’s loyal paladin and minister [who] masterfully manipulated the instruments of power politics in the National Socialist state”

An even more damaging blow was dealt to the ‘Speer Myth’ by Rudolf Walters. Wolters who suggested in 1940 that Speer start a chronicle of the GBI. Documents were collected from the department heads and this became a reliable account of Speer’s career. Wolters also kept a detailed diary and the chronicle could be cross referenced with the diary. After Wolters death in 1983 his copy of the original chronicle was sent, on his instructions, to the Federal Archives. These chronicles provide evidence against Speer’s accounts revealing the hypocrisy behind his statements and as a result pointing to the fact that he was in fact responsible the crimes that he was pardoned for. The chronicles have forced new historical interpretations into the role and character of Albert Speer. van der Vat in The Good Nazi – the life and lies of Albert Speer (1997), was able to draw from the full chronicles of Wolters and shatter the self image that Speer had built up: “He was as responsible for some immensely wasteful diversions of scarce resources, such as the V2 project, as well as for the suffering of millions forced to work for him…”. The Good Nazi capitalised on the chronicles of Walters to provide an accurate interpretation of Speer.

Some historians now attempt to explain Speer’s actions as they cannot yet come to terms with the fact that the intellectual would turn out to be another Nazi thug. Henry King believes that due to his harsh childhood Speer was compelled to follow Hitler and was unable to make his own moral decisions. However during his hospital stay he realised state of Germany and where Hitler was taking it and began to disobey his order. King believes that Speer actions near the end of the war were in fact not self-serving but rather the reactions of a patriotic man who saw his country being destroyed. Speer’s version of accounts now is of course discounted as false. However there are still disputes over the extent of Speer’s involvement in the Final Solution.

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