SPEER – A FINAL VERDICT, Joachim Fest

The last chapter of this book, the conclusion, is a masterpiece. What is Albert Speer’s life worth apart from being Adolph Hitler’s architect and munitions minister? Not much, unless Speer can be used as a model of an early twentieth century German boy, man, adult to explain why the Germans, each of them lemmings, ran off the cliff again, after the horrible tragedy of World War One. This biography gives suggestions but does not provide a thorough analysis.

The book reveals little about the Nazis, although one anecdote is noteworthy. On April 24, 1945 Speer met Heinrich Himmler, SS honcho, who believes wrongly he is to become Hitler’s successor. After saying good-bye to Hitler, Speer has just left  Berlin, now under assault by the Russians. Himmler dresses down Speer, telling him he won’t be part of the new German government and since no building will be done in the foreseeable future [bombed out Germany in April 1945], Speer’s services as an architect won’t be needed. Knowing that Himmler is an abject coward, Speer offers him his plane so Himmler can visit Hitler one last time and say good-bye. Himmler refuses the offer.

There is a sense in the biography that Speer’s IQ ran ten points higher than anyone he dealt with, until May 1945. There is no confirmation in the biography. An elevated IQ will cause restlessness in a young man as thoroughly as wine, women, drugs and mental illness. Was there recognition that the boy, Albert, was bright other than excelling at school, and everything he did came to him easy?

Apparently not. It is not part of the biography. To give a sense of Speer and the society he grew into as an adult, one must write a Life and Times book – sociology, cultural affairs, religious matters, academic successes plus biography. A boy usually gets his initial bearings from his family, but Speer’s parents were distant and not affectionate. A boy is exposed to society though institutions – schools, social organizations and churches. Speer was never religious, but what of the other institutional influences? The book suggests that Speer had no anchor and no safe harbor, despite being married, until 1931 when he heard Hitler speak: First speech – reasonable; Speer joins party. Second speech – distasteful; Speer didn’t like it. Third speech – offensive; Speer remains in party. The party was someplace to be.

There is the statement that joining the Nazis and accepting architectural commissions was the easy way. Nature had made life and society easy for Speer, someone who did not know how to work through problems: Solutions came to him easily. When life comes to an individual easily there is a human tendency to claim self-righteousness and being right, all the time. Yet, Speer’s problem was after April 1945 when life, events and circumstances, and his psychology was not easy to handle or deal with, and for a long time about many issues Speer was lost forever. 

The problem with the biography and in German history with the rise of the Nazis becomes 50 million lemmings ran Germany off the cliff – a highly cultural, highly educated, a sophisticated, intellectual people could not see the the Nazi danger, avoided observing what was going wrong and continued to follow until foreign armies had crushed the country. If it were one person who had gone off the cliff, that would amount to nothing. If it is 50 million, that is a story that needs telling in full. 

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