Wartime reports debunk Speer as the Good Nazi
Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and munitions minister, was fully aware of and involved in the mass murder of Jews despite his lifelong claims to the contrary, new documents have shown.
Speer's reputation in Germany as the "Good Nazi" who stood by Hitler only because it enabled him to fulfil his dreams to become an architect of international acclaim, has been blackened by the disclosures that he was fully informed of the human destruction in Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi's murder factories.
His insistence that he knew nothing about Auschwitz or the crimes against Jews, meant that he was the only leading Nazi to escape execution following the Nuremberg trials. Instead he was sentenced to 20 years in prison and after his release in 1966, went on to become the best-selling author of books such as Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: Secret Diaries. He died in 1981, spending his last years in London.
His insistence that, despite being the closest Nazi to Hitler, he knew nothing of the Holocaust, led to many Germans adopting a similar stance of denial, The new disclosures have formed the backbone of a documentary drama called Speer and Him, the first part of which was broadcast this week, the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. It debunks the myth of the benign family father who happened to fall in with the wrong crowd.
The film's director, Heinrich Breloer, said: "[He created] a market for people who said 'believe me, I didn't know anything about it. Just look at the Führer's friend, he didn't know about it either'." The documents uncovered by the Berlin historian Susanne Willems include a Third Reich report from May 1943 that refers to a "Prof Speer special programme" to expand the Auschwitz camp so that it could serve as a death camp. The report, on which Speer made copious handwritten notes in the margins and over the text, refers to the fact that Auschwitz's role as a work camp had "recently been expanded to include the solution to the Jewish question".
The gassing of Jews began at the latest in the spring of 1942. The report was compiled after Speer, who as the head of armaments for the Third Reich was responsible for overseeing the distribution of building materials, dispatched two of his advisers, Desch and Sander, to investigate a number of concentration camps around Germany and Poland, including Auschwitz.
They reported being shown "everything" at the camp by its leader, Rudölf Hoss, who gave them a "short report on the erection and purpose of the whole concentration camp site". Further research by Miss Willems has shown that on the day of Desch and Sander's visit, 900 Polish Jews were murdered in the gas chambers.
Following the visit and resulting report, Speer approved the shipment of a thousand tons of steel to the camp to enable its expansion. The head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, wrote to Speer to thank him "very much". Breloer argues that Speer was more than just a "cog in the works". He said: "He was not only entangled in the works, he was the terror itself.'' The drama also concentrates on Speer's plans to expel thousands of Jews from their homes in Berlin to free building space.
Gita Sereny, the London-based author of the 1995 book Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, yesterday accused Breloer of stripping Speer of "the honesty he always showed". In an interview with Die Welt, she said: "The Jewish question, for which he carried no personal guilt, was for him a huge psychological strain," she said.
"We have to ask ourselves first and foremost what did he feel about Jews? I'll tell you: nothing. He was anything but an active hater of the Jews. They were irrelevant to him.'' She added that Speer had had "no time" to concern himself with the workings of the Holocaust machine. "Speer had no time, he had an unbelievable amount to do, what one would nowadays call a workaholic. The most important thing for him was Hitler - Hitler filled and fulfilled his life."
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