Assess the roles and influence of Albert Speer in the Nazi regime in Germany between the years 1932 and 1945.
My original work, as part of 'Node Your Homework'
Albert Speer joined the Nazi party in January 1931, inspired by the personality of Adolf Hitler: the man who was to play such an imposing part on the future of Germany and the world; this was the first step in a career in the Nazi party which would see him rise through the ranks to become the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany.
It was in 1932 that Speer received his first commission for the Nazi party, from the head of the Wansee district where Speer lived, Speer was to redecorate the local Gauhaus and the man who commissioned him was Karl Hanke, who was to be Speer’s patron for the next year. A year later, in March 1933 Speer was contacted by Hanke and told that Goebbels, who had just been named Propaganda Minister, would have work for him. On March 11th Goebbels commissioned Speer to undertake the necessary alterations to the new Propaganda Ministry, and within two weeks they were completed. Hanke, who had been promoted to Minister’s Secretary, continued his role as Speer’s patron.
Within days of finishing the renovations to Goebbels’ ministry Speer was given the task of designing the décor for the May 1st rally at Tempelhof field. This was to be the first time that Speer was able to give his artistic talent free rein and it was so successful that Goebbels claimed that the ideas were his own. Whilst the work that Speer was doing for Hanke and Goebbels was not very important in itself, it did have the effect of putting him in Goebbels’ favor.
His next commission from Goebbels was to redesign the interior of Goebbels’ new residence and add a large reception hall. Speer lightheartedly promised to have it ready within 8 weeks.
“When Goebbels told Hitler, he said it couldn’t be done and Goebbels, no doubt to spur me on, told me of the Führer’s doubts…. This started a wild 24 hour-a-day construction program in three shifts, with me snatching an hour’s sleep here and there. Hitler, with his passion for construction, came over every few evenings to observe our progress and apparently continued to express his doubts-never to me, because Goebbels kept me in the background….” 1
During the preparation for the first party rally in Nuremberg after the Nazis came to power, he was remembered as being the architect who designed the Tempelhof platform for the May 1st celebration and was flown to Nuremberg to help the rally organizers with the décor. This was the first time that he had a firsthand encounter with Hitler, although Hitler scarcely acknowledged his presence and merely gave his approval for the party rally décor designs, not even knowing that it was the same architect who had completed Goebbels’ residence. It was at this rally where Speer first used the ‘Cathedral of Light’ effect that was to earn him much recognition in the years to come.
It was Goebbels’ residence that earned him the Fuhrer’s recognition as being “some young architect in Berlin that finished Goebbels’ flat in record time,” and in autumn Hitler gave orders for him to join Troost’s team to rebuild the Reich Chancellor’s residence in Berlin. It was not truly a commission for Speer, as he was only there to advise the building manager, but it was significant because it led to Hitler recognizing his ability and giving him commissions of his own. It was one afternoon, during one of the Führer’s frequent visits to the building site, that “Hitler, who had never seemed to notice him, suddenly turned to him as he was leaving and said ‘Come along to lunch.’” 2
It was during this lunch that Hitler discovered that Speer was the designer of both the May 1st celebration as well as the Nuremberg rally. Soon afterwards he became a member of Hitler’s close circle of friends and advisors. It was late in 1933 when Hitler entrusted Speer with his first personal commission, and many followed, all of which were very minor but required completion in record time.
In January 1934, Hitler’s personal architect, Troost, died after a short illness, leaving Speer to be the Führer’s personal architect.
“For the commission to do a great building, I would have sold my soul like Faust. Now I had found my Mephistopheles.” 3
His first big commission from Hitler came in 1935, the construction of a huge complex for the annual Nuremberg party rallies. More followed, and in June 1936 made Speer responsible for the reconstruction of Berlin, to be renamed Germania. On January 30th, 1937 Hitler named Speer, who already held the rank of a State Secretary and was entitled to a seat on the government benches in the Reichstag, Inspector General for the Construction of Berlin. Uniquely Hitler also agreed to Speer’s request that he carry out the commission as an independent architect, under the authority of no-one but the Führer himself. To build Germania over 52 thousand flats were demolished and 23 thousand Jewish flats were seized and rented out to Aryans.
On February 8th, 1942, Reich Minister of Armaments Fritz Todt died in a plane crash that remains unexplained to this day. Five hours later, Speer was named Minister of Armaments in Todt’s place. After 2nd September 1943 his title was changed to the grander “Minister of Armaments and War Production” as his role was expanded to cover a wider scope of production.
“In 1942, I took over the armament and construction programs along with altogether 2.6 million workers. In the spring of 1943, Dönitz gave me the responsibility for naval armaments as well and at this point I had 3.2 million workers. In September 1943, in agreement with the Minister of Economics, Herr Funk, the production side of that ministry was transferred to me. With that I had 12 million workers under me. Finally on August 1st, 1944, I took over air armament from Göring. At that point, the total production of the Greater Reich, not counting that in occupied countries, was marshaled under me with 14 million workers.”4
It was undoubtedly a shrewd decision on Hitler’s part as Speer was an organizer of extraordinary talent and efficiency, this he had already demonstrated to an extent, but the changes he brought about in his ministry further demonstrated his ability. His concept for the ministry was extremely simple, the administration of war production would be taken out of the hands of the huge army bureaucracy that had run it under Göring’s supervision, and would be entrusted on a basis of individual responsibility to the industries, factories and industrialists. He also showed no scruples in exploiting all the slave labor he could access. He is, however, credited with the fact that he always tried to ensure that his workers were well fed and housed, simply because they are less efficient otherwise.
“I, too, at the top, was naturally interested in having well-fed and satisfied workers, because badly fed, dissatisfied workers make more mistakes and produce poor results”5
Under his supervision and as a result of his administrative acumen and dedication, armament production levels received a dramatic boost. This is illustrated by the fact that armament production reached its’ peak in 1944 despite the Allies’ supremacy of the sky and constant bombardment. Even this was not able to turn the tide of the war against the Allies, although Speer is credited for having been able to, through his efforts, prolong the war by at least a year.
“Without the efforts of Speer, who by 1943 had concentrated more than 80 per cent of German industrial capacity in his hands, Hitler would unquestionably not have been able to continue the war so long and might possibly, as Speer himself conjectured, have had to admit defeat as early as 1942 or 1943.”6
As it became apparent that the war was lost, Speer began to plan for the period after the war. As the Allies closed in around Germany, Hitler ordered for the Reich to be razed so that the victors would gain no benefit from German industry. Speer realized that this “Scorched Earth” policy would devastate any chance of recovery for the German people after the war. Until January 1945, using Hitler’s own prediction that he would reconquer the lost territories, Speer successfully persuaded Hitler to replace his destruction orders with shutdowns of the factories.
“If the war is lost, the people will also be lost and it is not necessary to worry about their needs for elemental survival. On the contrary, it is best for us to destroy even these things. For the nation has proved itself weak, and the future belongs entirely to the strong people of the East.” 7
However, it did not take long for Hitler to change his mind, and he quickly reinstated the destruction orders. Speer, having fallen from grace with the Führer, spent the last few months of the war fighting against Hitler’s scorched earth policies, using his influence and unquestionably putting his own life at risk trying to save what he could of German industry, and in this was reasonably successful.
“I said to myself that after the war the responsibility for all these destructions would no longer fall on us, but on the next German Government, and the coming German generations.” 8
Speer’s organizational talent saw him rise rapidly through the ranks of the Nazi regime. His influence grew as he attracted the attention of those who would seek to benefit from his ability, and his role by the end of the war was of utmost importance to the German war effort. He is recognized for having planned for the future of Germany after the war, using his influence from his former role to try and save what he could from the retreating German army. Speer is credited with being the only high-ranking Nazi official to acknowledge collective responsibility for the actions of the Nazi regime and for being one of the few men who, in the closing stages of the war, had the courage to tell Hitler that the war was lost and to try and prevent the senseless destruction of production facilities.
- Speer, Albert. “Spandau: The Secret Diaries”
- Sereny, Gitta: “Albert Speer: His Battle with truth,”
- Speer, Albert “Inside the Third Reich”
- Nuremberg Transcripts, June 19th, 1946
- Nuremberg Transcripts, June 21st, 1946
- Fest, Joachim, ‘Portraits of the Nazi Leadership,’
- Sereny, Gitta. “Albert Speer: His battle with truth”
- Nuremberg Transcripts, June 21st, 1946
Additions? Corrections? /msg me
- Braun, Elihai, 'Albert Speer' Last viewed: 1st June, 2003
- Fest, Joachim, ‘The Face of the Third Reich’ (New York, Da Capo Press, 1999)
- Krupa, Frederique ‘Albert Speer: An Architect's Social Responsibility’ Last viewed: 31st May, 2003
- Sereny, Gitta, ‘Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth’ (Great Britain: Picador, 1995)
- Speer, Albert, ‘Inside the Third Reich’ (London: Phoenix Press, 1995)
- Speer, Albert, ‘Spandau: The Secret Diaries’ (London: Phoenix Press, 2000)
- Speer, Albert, ‘The Führer’s Buildings.’ (Hamburg: Cigaretten/Bilderdienst Hamburg/Bahrenfeld, 1936)
(Courtesy of the German Propaganda Archives: http://calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/ahbuild.htm)
- Nuremberg Transcripts, Last viewed: 1st June, 2003 (http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/NurembergMajorTranscript.html)