Inside the Third Reich

From Academic Kids

Inside the Third Reich is a memoir written by Albert Speer, the Nazi Minister of Armaments from 1942 to 1945. It is considered to be one of the most in-depth descriptions of the workings and leaders of Nazi Germany.

Contents

Creation

At the Nuremburg 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 1,200 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.

Originally titled Erinnerungen ("Recollections") upon its 1969 publication in German, Speer's personal history was translated into English and published one year later as Inside the Third Reich.

Overview

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. Initially, he was an architect commissioned by the Nazis. Because Adolf Hitler saw himself as both an architect and artist, he warmed to Speer and 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 could never build. Then, after the Minister of Armaments, Fritz Todt, died in a plane crash, Hitler unexpectedly tapped Speer for the position. Although Speer claimed he protested this appointment due to his lack of experience, he took it.

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 and spent most of his time at his estate, more concerned with collecting stolen art than the economy. After a power struggle, Speer managed to get most of the economy under his control.

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.

By the end of the war, Speer was disillusioned by the war, by the Nazis, and with 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 memoirs effectively end with the end of the war and death of Hitler.

Significance

Speer was the highest-ranking Nazi official 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 few intelligent and sane 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, Hitler himself.

Description of the Nazi Hierarchy

Speer's memoirs revolutionized the study of Nazi Germany. Despite the popular vision of the country as a monolithic, totalitarian state that ran smoothly, Speer revealed that the country was actually sharply divided by overlapping responsibilities, court politics, and incompetent leaders. Most surprisingly, he portrayed Hitler not as an intelligent, decisive leader, but rather as a lazy, artistically tempered bohemian who worked in spurts.

Speer's personal insights into Nazi leaders themselves are nothing short of remarkable, especially since many other Nazis and their families chose him as a neutral confident. 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 in his estate, Speer wrote how the by-then overweight Luftwaffe marshal spent his days hunting, eating, and quite 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 sleeping until noon, spending 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 German's armed forces were 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, when Hitler, faced with defeat, 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 himself 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 Himmler after he unwittingly put himself in the care of an SS doctor.

Controversy

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, there is no evidence to substantiate this. In fact, in the late 1990s, examination of Royal Air Force photographs of Hitler's bunker near the end of the war directly contradicts Speer's claims.

Moreover, Speer consented to numerous interviews after his release from prison, and many of the things said in these interviews once again disagreed with both his court testimony and memoirs.

Supporters of Speer, such as Fest, claim Speer felt personal guilt about the Nazi genocide, and that he spent his remaining years trying to justify to both 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 commissions 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. For example, he sent a message to chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson offering information in exchange for amnesty, but was ignored. Moreover, other Nuremberg defendants in positions similar to Speer's were hanged, most notably Fritz Sauckel, who actually worked under Speer's orders. His 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 both sides as a primary source on the inner workings of the Nazis. Speer's supporters have sardonically noted than even historians who claim Speer is untrustworthy nonetheless incorporate the memoirs into their work.

Movie

The book was made into a movie of the same title in 1982. The movie departs significantly from the memoirs, most notably in how it portrays Speer's perception of Nazi atrocities. In his memoirs, Speer never mentioned the growing persecution of Jews during the 1930s, although there is no way he could have not known about it. The movie does not ignore this. For example, the movie portrays Speer's reaction (or, to be specific, lack of reaction) to Kristallnacht. Although Speer never spoke of this, since he lived in Berlin at the time, he would have been aware of it.

References

  • Speer, Albert (1970). Inside the Third Reich. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82949-5.
  • Persico, Joseph (1995). Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. New York: Penguin Books Reprint Edition. ISBN 0-140-16622-X.
  • O'Donnell, James (2001). The Bunker. New York: Da Capo Press (reprint). ISBN 0-306-80958-3.
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