Sunday, February 26, 2012

Germania: Hitler's Dream Capital

Albert Speer presents Hitler with a model of the German Pavilion designed for the World's Fair in Paris, 1937. Mary Evans Picture Library

By Roger Moorhouse | Published in History Today Volume: 62 Issue: 3

Albert Speer’s plan to transform Berlin into the capital of a 1,000-year Reich would have created a vast monument to misanthropy, as Roger Moorhouse explains.

In 1937 Hitler’s architect Albert Speer was given the task of transforming Berlin from the sprawling metropolis that it was into Germania, the gleaming new capital of a Greater German ‘World Empire’, the centrepiece of the civilised world.

It was a vast undertaking. Plans, swiftly drawn up by Speer’s office, were presented to the public on January 28th, 1938. The reaction within Germany was predictably enthusiastic, with newspapers carrying detailed explanations and commentaries. Der Angriff stated that the designs were ‘truly monumental … far exceeding all expectations’, while the Völkischer Beobachter proclaimed grandly that ‘from this desert of stone, shall emerge the capital of a thousand-year Reich’. The foreign press, though less effusive, nonetheless concurred. The New York Times, for instance, described the project as ‘perhaps the most ambitious planning scheme’ of the modern era.

The plans certainly did not want for ambition. In accordance with Hitler’s original sketches they centred on a grand boulevard, which was to run from north to south for around seven kilometres through the heart of the city, linking two proposed new rail termini. Given carte blanche in redesigning this vast swathe of the city centre, Speer and his minions had had a field day and their plans read like a catalogue of comparatives and superlatives. The vast Grand Hall, for instance, close to the Reichstag, would have been the largest enclosed space in the world, with a dome 16 times larger than that of St Peter’s in Rome. Designed to host 180,000 people, there were concerns among the planners that the exhaled breath of the audience might even produce ‘weather’ beneath the cavernous coffered ceiling. The 117-metre tall Arch of Triumph, meanwhile, was designed – on Hitler’s express instruction – to carry the names of Germany’s 1.8 million fallen of the First World War engraved upon its walls. Similarly massive, it would have comfortably accommodated its Parisian namesake beneath its arch. Linking these monuments along the new axis would be a plethora of new buildings, civic and commercial, flanking broad avenues, ornamental obelisks, an artificial lake and a vast ‘circus’ peppered with Nazi statuary.

The Mosaic Hall of the new Reich Chancellery, 1939. AKG Images.
The image that will be familiar to many is of Hitler inspecting the white scale-model of this main axis, which was presented to him on his 50th birthday in April 1939 and was erected in a side-room of the Reich Chancellery. Though Hitler’s interest in the project was restricted almost exclusively to the north-south axis – and he would often return to muse over the model – the plans were not limited to that one area. Speer had succeeded in incorporating those headline designs into a much more thoroughgoing reorganisation of the city’s infrastructure.

First of all, Berlin’s rail network was to be overhauled, with the two new stations replacing three old termini and with many miles of sidings being replaced by a new line that would circle the city centre. Roads, too, were to be redrawn. The two new boulevards – the proposed north-south axis and the east-west axis, completed in 1939 – were only the centrepiece of a radical redevelopment. In addition Speer foresaw the city’s formerly organic urban growth being rationalised by the addition of radial thoroughfares and four concentric ring roads, the outermost of which would provide a direct connect-ion to the German autobahn network.

Entire suburbs were to be constructed to provide modern housing stock, administrative buildings and new commercial developments, which, it was planned would accommodate over 200,000 Berliners, moved out of the slums of the city centre. New airports were foreseen, including one for seaplanes on the lake at Rangsdorf. Even the city’s parks would be revamped, with horticultural studies being commissioned to report on the species that were required to restore the 18th-century flora of the region. Such was the scale of the Germania plans that, when Speer’s father – himself an architect – saw them, he summed up the thoughts of many of his contemporaries, saying: ‘You’ve all gone completely crazy.’

Of course only a tiny fraction of these grandiose designs would ever be realised. The visitor to Berlin today will struggle to see much evidence of Speer’s Germania unless he or she knows where to look. Most obvious is the boulevard west of the Brandenburg Gate, which is the old east-west axis and which is still illuminated by some of Speer’s original – and rather elegant – street lamps. Meanwhile the Victory Column (inaugurated in 1873 following Prussia’s victories over Denmark, Austria and France in the 1860s and 1870s) was moved to its present location to make way for the projected north-south Axis. Most bizarrely, the southern suburb of Tempelhof still contains a huge circular concrete block weighing over 12,000 tonnes – the Schwerbelastungskörper, or ‘heavy load-bearing body’ – which was supposed to help Speer’s engineers gauge the ability of Berlin’s sandy soil to take the vast weight of the proposed Arch of Triumph. Too large and too solid to demolish, the block stands to this day as a silent monument to Nazi megalomania.

More than a pipedream

Given that so little of Germania was ever completed and that only a fraction of it remains, it is easy to underestimate its significance. Speer’s planned rebuilding of Berlin is too readily dismissed as a Nazi pipedream; a still-born manifestation of Hitler’s architectural fantasies thankfully confined to the drawing board. Yet, in spite of the fact that Germania never came into being it would be a mistake if we were to allow ourselves to view it merely as an abstract: a folly, or an architectural curiosity somehow divorced from the odious regime that spawned it. For, as we shall see, Germania was in many ways a rather perfect representation of Nazism.

First, the issue of its feasibility must be assessed. Despite its soaring ambition the plan to re-model Berlin was part of a veritable orgy of building that had gripped the later, peacetime years of the Third Reich. Much of that, certainly, was relatively small-scale – barracks, settlements, schools and so on – but a number of projects showed similarly monumental tendencies and were themselves considerable feats of planning and construction. Most famously, perhaps, there is the example of Hitler’s vast new Reich Chancellery, which stretched the entire 400-metre length of the Voss Strasse in Berlin and was completed in 1939 at a cost of over 90 million Reichsmarks. 

Other Berlin landmarks were similarly grandiose: the Olympic Stadium, opened in 1936, seated 100,000 spectators and was part of a much larger complex that was intended as much for political as for sporting ends. Göring’s Air Ministry, meanwhile, also completed in 1936, was once the largest office building in the world, offering 2,800 rooms across seven floors with 4,000 windows and nearly seven kilometres of corridors. Today it is home to the German finance ministry.

Elsewhere construction was no more modest. In Nuremberg Speer’s famed tribune on the Zeppelin Field was dwarfed by the nearby Congress Hall, modelled on the Colosseum in Rome, which was built to accommodate 50,000 of the Nazi faithful. Though it only reached a height of 39 metres – as opposed to the 70 metres that was planned – it is still the largest surviving building of the Nazi period; while at Prora, on the Baltic coast, a huge holiday resort was constructed, which, though unfinished at the outbreak of war in 1939, stretched for 4.5km along the seafront and would have housed over 20,000 holidaymakers. Even Hitler’s folly above Berchtesgaden – the Kehlsteinhaus, or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ – was an ambitious project. Completed in 1938, after little over a year in construction, it was sited atop an Alpine ridge at an altitude of over 6,000 feet and was accessed via a purpose-built seven-kilometre mountain road, which had to be blasted into the mountainside.

When considering Hitler’s plans for Berlin, therefore, one must bear in mind the wider context of Nazi construction and the astonishing track record that Hitler’s architects already had in successfully realising his visions. Germania was not mere Nazi ‘pie in the sky’. It was a part of a concerted programme to provide Germany with a portfolio of grand-scale, monumental architecture, which, Hitler believed, would be seen as the defining buildings of the age, rivals to Egypt, Babylon and Rome, inspiring future generations of Germans. It was certainly not merely a dictator’s architectural wish-list.

Quarries and camps

Given its central importance to the Nazi vision, the building frenzy – of which Germania was part – was thoroughly integrated into the Third Reich’s economy and terror networks. Indeed it is not widely understood just how close the relationship was between the building programme and the concentration camps. The vast expansion of the camp system from 1936 onwards had, in fact, been fuelled primarily by the demand for labour and materials from the burgeoning construction sector, with Albert Speer – and Germania – in the vanguard.

Consequently, many of the most infamous concentration camps of the Nazi era – Mauthausen, Gross Rosen and Buchenwald among them – were established close to quarries. The camp at Mauthausen, for instance, was set up in 1938 alongside the granite quarry that had supplied much of the stone used to pave the streets of Vienna, while the camp at Sachsenhausen, outside Berlin, was close to what was intended to be one of the largest brickworks in the world. The camp-quarry at Flossenbürg in northern Bavaria, meanwhile, was the source of much of the white-flecked granite that was going to be used in Berlin, some of which is still stacked inside the Congress Hall in Nuremberg. Thus Germania was not only central to the Nazi aesthetic, it also played a vital role in the establishment and maintenance of the concentration camp network. Nazi architectural planning, it seems, had synchronised perfectly with the interests of the SS.

Germania’s financing was also not as utopian as one might imagine. Speer estimated the total cost of the project, perhaps optimistically, at six billion Reichsmarks, five per cent of Germany’s GDP in 1939. Yet such was the Byzantine nature of economic relationships in the Third Reich that only a fraction of that figure would have to be paid directly by the Reich government. For one thing, the vast majority of the building materials that were prepared for the project came from the concentration camps dotted across Nazi Germany, while the quarries and brickworks themselves were owned or leased by an SS-owned company, DEST (Deutsche Erd-und Steinwerke). So Germania effectively got its materials for free, with the added bonus – in Nazi eyes – that their political opponents were being ‘re-educated by labour’ in the process.

In addition the construction and demolition costs were to be spread across the annual budgets of numerous ministries, organisations and Nazi fiefdoms. And there was no shortage of willing donors, with some, such as the Nazi Labour Front, being deliberately kept at arm’s length for fear that they might wield too great an influence. The city of Berlin was required to shoulder much of the financing, with various appeals for donations and contributions to make up any shortfall. It also would not have escaped Speer’s attention that his projected costs equated exactly with the total estimated value of Jewish property in Nazi Germany. By these measures, Speer recalled, the costs of the project could be divided (and effectively concealed), leaving central government directly liable only for the Great Hall and the Arch of Victory. Hitler, meanwhile, tended to wave away any complaints from his ministers by stressing the large numbers of wealthy tourists that – one day – would visit the new capital of the Greater German Reich.

So, although little of it was actually constructed, Germania was not merely theoretical, it was very real. And it would have felt all the more real to those concentration camp inmates at Mauthausen or Flossenbürg, who had to quarry the granite slabs for Berlin’s new Reich Chancellery or the Soldier’s Hall. Even sites that never saw the light of day were prepared for; stone was cut, bricks were fired and men died. It is reasonable to assume that, of the 100,000 or so concentration camp inmates who perished at Sachsenhausen, Flossenbürg and Mauthausen, a large proportion of them died preparing the stone for the rebuilding of Berlin.

Germania was also very real for ordinary Berliners. From 1939 to 1942 the areas of the city earmarked for the project were being cleared and existing properties demolished. Even the nocturnal visits of the RAF in 1940 were welcomed by Speer’s staff as providing ‘valuable preparatory work’ for the demolition programme. Preparations elsewhere were similarly thorough. The district of the Spree-bend to the west of the Brandenburg Gate, for instance, was criss-crossed with test trenches and foundations, while to the south, by the end of 1939 the project’s first building, the Foreign Travel Office, was already completed in its essentials. Beneath it all, meanwhile, the complex of underpasses that would take through-traffic away from the new centrepiece of the Reich, had already taken shape.

The human cost

In all this demolition and construction countless thousands of people were directly affected in the German capital. Foremost among them were prisoners of war and forced labourers, who were housed in often substandard conditions and made to work around the clock and in all weathers. Despite his later protestations of innocence, Speer was never shy of exploiting PoWs as labour. Indeed in November 1941, after the opening successes of the war against the Soviet Union, he petitioned Hitler with a request for some 30,000 Soviet PoWs specifically for use in the construction of the ‘new Berlin’. Hitler acceded to the request, thereby bringing the total workforce overseen by Speer’s staff and working directly on Germania to around 130,000.

Civilians, too, faced considerable disruption. Those ‘Aryans’ who found themselves living in the way of Speer’s plans were rehoused, either in modern, purpose-built accommodation in the suburbs or else, as was more usual, in properties from which Jewish owners had been evicted. Already in 1938 Speer had suggested that the capital’s Jewish community should be moved into smaller properties, thereby freeing up larger buildings for the use of those Aryan Berliners displaced by the ongoing demolition works. By 1940 this process was well under way and many thousands of Jewish properties were being vacated.

Those displaced Jews, however, often found themselves – perversely – being moved into the path of Speer’s bulldozers. As the housing crisis in the capital worsened, many of them were unable to rent property and were forced into so-called ‘Jew-houses’, which were often those substandard blocks, already slated for demolition, that stood along the route of the construction works. There, amid chronic overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, with as many as 200 families inhabiting a single block, they were effectively stripped of their few remaining legal rights as tenants. They could have had little inkling that worse was to come, but in October 1941 many of them would be aboard the first transports that would leave Berlin, destined for the ghetto at Łódz.

In this way the Germania project, despite being largely stillborn, had profound consequences, becoming a catalyst not only for the evolution of the concentration camp system but also for the development of Nazi policy against the capital’s Jews.

Speer’s plans for Berlin are fascinating. In an architectural sense, they are – if nothing else – a potent display of the astonishing extremes that can be reached by sycophantic architects. Yet any assessment of the Germania plans must reach beyond the narrow sphere of architecture, even if only a fraction of those designs ever graduated from the drawing board. Speer’s plans cannot simply be viewed from the architectural perspective alone: in examining them one is morally bound to consider not only the designs themselves but also the brutal methods by which they were brought into being. 

Germania, though largely unrealised, nonetheless projected its malign influence into many other spheres of life – and death – in the Third Reich. Its contempt for mankind was demonstrated not only in the treatment meted out to those doomed to cut its stone in the concentration camps or those who found themselves living in its path; it also extended to those who might one day have walked those granite-clad boulevards. It is notable, for example, that in all the plans a human dimension is almost completely lacking. Hitler, it appears, had absolutely no interest in the social aspects of the planning that he oversaw; his passion was for the buildings themselves rather than for the human beings who might one day inhabit them. Indeed it has been plausibly suggested by Frederic Spotts that the plans for Berlin’s reconstruction were themselves simply a manifestation of Hitler’s desire to reduce cities and even individuals to the status of mere playthings. When one recalls the images of the Führer stooped like some malevolent deity over his architectural models in the Reich Chancellery this is an interpretation that becomes instantly and chillingly persuasive.

Just as Albert Speer was never just an architect, therefore, Germania was never merely an architectural programme. It was, in fact, a perfect reflection of the dark, misanthropic heart of Nazism.

Roger Moorhouse is the author of Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-45 (Bodley Head, 2010).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Germania Redux

The 1930–31 worldwide economic collapse halted Berlin’s social housing experiment, leaving the Nazis to beat a dead horse. Just as the “Brown” cloud approached, Berlin’s 1931 Building Exhibition (titled “Dwelling of Our Time”) introduced modernism to a wider audience. Berlin’s historicist tradition of outstanding villas in suburban districts (Hermann Muthesius’s 1907–08 half-timbered Haus Freudenberg or Behrens’s 1911–12 classical Haus Wiegand) had already been updated with Hans and Wassili Luckhardt’s Le Corbusian Zwei Einfamilienhäuser (1928) and Mendelsohn’s Expressionist Haus Sternefeld (1924). Yet the 1931 Exhibition publicly interjected “Bolshevist” aesthetics into bourgeois—as opposed to proletariat—homes. Mies translated his German Pavilion at Barcelona into a lush exhibit house that the Nazis labeled a “horse stable.”

Though grand planners, Berlin’s Nazis built little. Only bits survive—such as Ernst Sagebiel’s Aviation Ministry (1936–37) and Tempelhof Airport (1936–41). Hitler impacted modernism not through buildings but inadvertently through expellant “gifts” (mostly to the United States—Gropius, Mies, and ultimately Mendelsohn). Although architecture—the “Word in Stone”—was critical to Hitler’s ideological program, it proved too costly after his war machine’s ignition. Still, until the bitter end, Hitler crouched as amateur architect over vast models with his amanuensis, Albert Speer. How sad for the profession that the 20th-century leader most architecturally impassioned was a tasteless criminal. Hitler’s architectural proclivities were vivid—a reactionary parochialism intended to resist “Bolshevist” cosmopolitanism and a perdurable monumentality in keeping with world domination. As Nazi preferences hardened, the Dessau Bauhaus was chased to Berlin (during Mies’s directorate), where the Gestapo finally padlocked it. Nazi aesthetics mirrored—with opposing predilection—the Weimar Socialists’ belief that architectural style symbolized specific political views. However, the Nazis added a destructive, racist edge. The Nazi-fomented Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass, 1938) saw 9 of 12 Berlin synagogues aflame, including Ehrenfried Hessel’s famed Fasanenstraße Temple (1912).

Speer’s New Chancellery expansion (1938–39) housed Hitler. Stretching an intimidating quarter mile, its 480-foot gallery doubled the length of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors. Hypertrophy drained Speer’s classicism of all humanism (entasis, for example, disappeared). Megalomania roamed across Speer’s unrealized “Germania” Berlin Plan (1937–42). This north/south avenue connected an 825-foot-diameter rotunda and 400- foot-high triumphal arch. Contemporary praise of Speer (Krier, 1985) ignores his errors. Speer blithely muffed axial transitions any Beaux-Arts journeyman could manage. Existing conditions at the Chancellery necessitated a slight axial rotation. Speer properly positioned a “Round Hall” to resolve this, then neglected to utilize it, merely crimping the bend within the poché. Where his Berlin Plan’s axis turned, he positioned his gargantuan rotunda but again earned no profit. The existing Reichstag, which Hitler wanted incorporated into “Germania,” had been built several degrees shy of due north/south. Speer merely ignored this, causing one side of his grand plaza to warp bizarrely. Speer’s architectural goose-stepping could successfully accommodate only 4 of the 360 compass degrees.

Greater Berlin 1933 to 1945

Capital of Adolf Hitler’s “Third Reich.” Hitler planned to rebuild Berlin as a vulgar imperial capital to govern and intimidate the huge empire he intended to carve out of Europe and western Russia. The totally rebuilt city was to be called “Germania.” It was designed by his personal architect, Albert Speer. Hitler tinkered with scale model plans for Germania to his final days, even as he led Berliners into moral and physical devastation. Berlin was occupied by four Allied armies from 1945. West Berlin was later formed from the British, French, and American occupation zones, while the old Soviet zone became East Berlin, capital of the German Democratic Republic (DDR). The Western Allied military presence was more voluntary than an occupation from 1949 to 1994. The Soviet occupation was rougher. The first rudimentary structures of the Berlin Wall were erected on August 13, 1961. Its cynical builders called it the “anti-fascist defense barrier.” The Berlin Wall remained in place until November 9, 1989, when it was torn down and the city reunited. Allied occupation forces officially departed Berlin on September 8, 1994.
For the city of Greater Berlin, the Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung (synchronization) resulted in the loss of its municipal self-administration and the placement into power of a Prussian State commissioner under the direct control of the Prussian minister of the interior, Hermann Goering, who purged the city administration of civil servants with democratic party affiliations or those of Jewish descent. Berlin’s schools were affected by this measure. Starting in 1937, principal matters of urban planning and representative architecture in the capital of the Third Reich were placed under the responsibility of Adolf Hitler’s personal confidant, the architect Albert Speer. At the same time, the successive waves of political repression and ostracism against minorities hit segments of all the classes of the Berlin population: Among the first to be interned in the makeshift concentration camp set up in 1933 in nearby Oranienburg were activists of both working-class parties, liberal politicians, publicists, and Christian priests of both confessions. Anti-Semitic purges also hit large parts of Berlin’s universities, the liberal and artistic professions, and the upper class, triggering off a brain drain to Great Britain and the United States from which the capital’s intellectual and cultural life never fully recovered. State terror was moderated for a short period around the Olympic Games of 1936 to provide an opportunity to present Berlin as a modern and highly civilized metropolis to the international public, while the celebration of the (alleged) seven-hundred-year anniversary of Berlin in the following year was extensively used to display the reconcilability between Nazi ideology and Berlin’s sense of local pride.

Also in Berlin, the so-called Kristallnacht of 9–10 November 1938 marked a first climax of public anti-Semitic terror supported by state authorities. During the years of World War II, the Reich capital acquired an eminent and to some extent ambivalent role in the history of the Holocaust. On the one hand, it was the site of the large administrative staffs designing and organizing the registration, expulsion, exploitation, deportation, and murder of the Jewry in Germany as well as in occupied Europe. Of the 161,000 Jews living in Berlin in 1933, only 1,000 to 2,000 still lived in Berlin at the end of the war. The great majority emigrated, while 56,000 were killed by the Nazi terror, often following long years of increasing discrimination and eventual denunciation by their fellow citizens. On the other hand, no other urban agglomeration in Germany provided comparable possibilities to escape and thereby resist the Gestapo thanks to the anonymity that is typical in large cities. Berlin offered myriad opportunities for going underground, hiding with the help of informal networks, and adopting false identities. Thus, although the last two years of the war were marked by the intensified terror of Berlin Nazi ‘‘Gauleiter’’ Goebbels’s ‘‘total war’’ mobilization, by increasing the chaos and the disintegration of the city’s vital functions due to bombing raids, mass evacuation, and, in the last weeks of the war, massive westward flight from the approaching Red Army, it was also a site of survival for thousands of individuals persecuted by the Nazi terror machinery.

Book Excerpt: A Conversation With Albert Speer

Excerpted from “Witness to an Extreme Century” by Robert Jay Lifton. Copyright 2011 by Robert Jay Lifton. Excerpted by permission of Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, in his memoir “Witness to an Extreme Century,” interviews Albert Speer about his 15 years as a prominent Nazi and “Hitler’s architect.”
* * *
Three of our four meetings took place at his home on the outskirts of Heidelberg, and the fourth at his isolated retreat in southern Bavaria.  His Heidelberg home seemed isolated enough, high in the hills behind the city’s famous castle.  I remember the house seeming cavernous, its furnishings neither attractive nor cozy.  Speer himself was welcoming but I was struck by how old he looked (he was then seventy-three), by the awkwardness of his movements (he had considerable difficulty getting up and sitting down, leading me to wonder whether he had Parkinson’s disease), and by his “thousand-mile stare” (the term we used to describe the psychological remoteness in repatriated American prisoners of war in Korea in 1953).  The word I used to characterize his general demeanor was weary (though I should add that a little more than a year later he was to be enlivened by a passionate love affair with a younger woman).

Speer was interested in talking to me, and made clear that nothing he said was confidential.  But he quickly suggested an agenda of his own centered on his bond with Hitler.  He told me how he had heard the Nazi leader speak at his university in Berlin in 1930, was “really spellbound” at the time and remained so for the next fifteen years covering the entire Nazi era.  His question for me was how, in retrospect, he could have been so enthralled by such a man.  He then made a startling proposal: that he undergo psychotherapy with me in order to better understand how that had happened.  The strong implication was that the relationship still had a hold on him, from which he wanted to extricate himself.  I was much interested in hearing more about his conflict but had no wish to take on responsibility for his psyche.  I needed my freedom as a researcher and did not see my task as one of easing the pain of a prominent former Nazi.  Nor did I wish to have our meetings structured around his way of framing his problem.  So I suggested instead that we explore in some detail his relationship with Hitler without my becoming his therapist.  Speer agreed and we did so, but we were able to explore much else that enabled me to relate this strange bond to larger questions of evil and knowledge of evil, and of death and immortality.

Speer explained that the speech that had so moved him was Hitler’s relatively intellectual and historical treatment of German history, as opposed to his more demagogic, rabble-rousing street version.  The narrative was one of revitalization: now Germany is weak and everything seems hopeless but by uniting behind Hitler and the National Socialist movement – and above all renouncing the guilt for World War I assigned by the Versailles Treaty – Germany and its people can once again be strong.  Speer was then a twenty-five-year-old instructor in architecture in a collapsed economy and he and others around him were experiencing only despair about their future.  Images of … humiliated German troops returning from World War I twelve years earlier were still fresh in his mind, as were postwar scenes of every kind of social chaos.  Hitler’s words were for him transformative, a message of new hope and a promise, as he put it, that “all can be changed” and “everything is possible.”  Feeling “drunk from the talk,” Speer walked for hours through the woods outside Berlin, seeking to absorb what he had heard.  He was in the process of experiencing a secular form of a classical religious conversion, described by William James as “perceiving truths not known before” that enable a “sick soul” to “give itself over to a new life.”  Intense “self-surrender” is accompanied by new spiritual strength.  Speer demonstrated the emerging power of the combination of national and personal revitalization, which I came to see as the psychological core of Nazi appeal throughout the German population.

Speer joined the Nazi Party soon after that speech and told me of his rapid rise within tis circles, first as an enthusiastic party worker and then as an architect.  From his sensational early success in designing the light and space for the large Nuremberg rallies, beginning in 1933 (as depicted by Leni Riefenstahl in her film of the 1934 rally, Triumph of the Will), he progressed to the planning of vast buildings, even cities, to extol the omnipotent Nazi regime and, above all, its Fuhrer.  He emphasized how, in becoming “Hitler’s architect,” he was drawn toward a vision of personal immortalization, of “having a place in future history books,” “building for eternity,” and becoming in that way “someone who is surviving his own life.”  The sense of immortality, which I emphasize in my work, intoxicated Speer to the point of becoming something close to a promise of literally living forever.  So grandiose were the projections he and Hitler made together that some of the buildings were to hold as many as 150,000 people on vast balconies in a new Berlin that would become the center of the world, dwarfing the grandeur of Paris and the Champs-Elysees.  Few of the structures were actually built but many were imagined, as part of what Speer called “a daydream that was a very serious daydream.”

On one of my visits to the Heidelberg home, he showed me a large glossy book that had just been published, titled Architecture of the Third Reich.  It contained gaudy photographs of buildings I noted to be “profoundly vulgar” and “totalitarian,” and Speer seemed initially to share that judgment: “I admit that the proportions are all wrong,” he said, and “I criticize the grandiose side.”  Then, without the slightest trace of irony, he added, “But of course it was what the client wanted.”  He attributed all excess to that “client,” but he could hardly dissociate himself from the grandiosity involved.  Indeed, his pride in the volume was clear enough as he clutched it affectionately and pointed also to pictures of rally sites he had designed:  “I was one of the first to use light in nighttime as a device for creating space.  The searchlights came so high that when you were standing inside you saw it as being in the stratosphere.”  He did not say that his innovative lighting enabled the Fuhrer to be seen as descending from the heavens.  I thought of Speer’s overall contribution to the mystical appeal of the Nazi movement, converting Nazi darkness into a manipulated sense of illumination.  Witnessing his enthusiasm for that early work and his nostalgic pride in projections of architectural world domination, I felt that whatever sympathy I had for Speer was dissolving.  It occurred to me that Nazi architectural hubris had a certain parallel to its biological hubris: apocalyptic architecture followed upon apocalyptic biology.

Speer made it clear that Hitler was more than a mere client: he was the closest of collaborators.  Hitler was not only a constant critic and appreciator of Speer’s architectural suggestions; the Fuhrer became himself an architect and even provided sketches of his own.  As they imagined the unprecedented grandeur of buildings, highways, archways, and cities, their thoughts blended to the degree that it became unclear who had provided the original idea.  The two men shared this descent into a version of apocalyptic fantasy: they were re-creating a perfect Nazi world from the ruins of what they were destroying.  It is this merger in fantasy that constituted their architectural folie a deux.

Yet however superior Speer’s knowledge of architecture, Hitler remained the guru.  As Speer put it, “I was so much in that ambience that I was infiltrated with [Hitler’s] ideas without realizing how much I was infiltrated.”  He said that even now, when working on his writing, he frequently has the experience in which “I see that it’s an idea Hitler had in some way” and “I’m quite astonished.”  In their particular fashion, the two men formed a close personal relationship.  Speer would later write that if Hitler were capable of having a friend, he, Speer, would have been that friend.  But gurus, especially the most paranoid and destructive among them, do not have friends; they have only disciples.  Speer believed that Hitler was drawn to him as a fellow artist, and that appreciation worked both ways: “For an artist to see somebody at the head of the state who is something of an artist too … has a gift of excitement.  Being overwhelmed by … a Wagner performance or a ballet in Nuremberg, this for me was a strong, positive influence.”  They also shared an intense theatricality – Speer with his dazzling night-lighting of rallies, and Hitler, whose “whole life,” Speer told me, “was acting, performance, theatre.”

Speer’s merging with Hitler resembled the kind of fusion of guru and disciple that I encountered in studying fanatical religious cults, notably Aum Shinrikyo in Japan in the nineties.  But with Speer and Hitler the fusion involved the shared hubris of a perceived artistic and structural project to transform the world.  In that way Speer was probably, at least for a period of time, the disciple most important to Hitler in affirming his omnipotent guruism.  But Speer also provides for us a kind of window to more ordinary German people who also experienced fusion with a guru/leader rendered godlike.  As Speer poured out details of his interaction with the Fuhrer, I could be there with the two men at various levels: observing them pore over their architectural plans as “friends” and “colleagues”; and imagining their fusion in a version of architectural madness perceived as an all-consuming gift to the world.  And here was this man sitting opposite me describing quite rationally and methodically this most bizarre expression of evil from his past – wishing to separate himself from it and renounce it, but not entirely.  No wonder that Speer was so difficult for me to grasp.

An important clue to his psychology was the anxiety he began to develop in connection with his projections of grandiose building.  As he explained to me, he found himself as a young architect with little experience thrust into a situation without rules or boundaries, one in which “nothing is fixed.”  He had no clear tradition or architectural group that could guide and constrain him, so that professionally “I could do what I wanted,” and despite Hitler’s support, “I was alone.”  The Fuhrer’s involvement, far from a steadying influence, obliterated limits and took the fused duo more deeply into unmanageable architectural fantasy.  At some level of his mind, Speer perceived this gap between the grandiosity of the shared vision and what could be called architectural reality. He also had inner doubts about the quality of the architecture, “fear as to whether it would stand [the judgment] of the times, of how it would be acknowledged in future times.”  Related to that fear was his discomfort, as a highly educated upper-middle-class intellectual, among the mostly crude members of the Nazi inner circle.
He told me about experiencing two kinds of symptoms.  The first took the form of claustrophobia: in certain enclosed spaces, particularly when on trains, he would feel anxious and would nearly pass out.  On one occasion the symptoms were sufficiently severe that there was talk of stopping the train in order to get him to a hospital.  The second set of symptoms required no particular locale, and were those of acute anxiety (or panic attack): he would experience a feeling of great pressure in his chest and a terrified sense that he was dying.  These two sets of symptoms occurred only during his time of intense, unlimited architectural dialogue with Hitler and what he called his accompanying “burden.”  In my work I have related such symptoms both to feeling too much (the overwhelming anxiety) and too little (the numbing toward what one could not allow oneself to be consciously aware of).  Speer was fending off his conflicts not only about his illegitimate architectural freedom, but about his overall role in the Nazi regime.  Something in him began to doubt the Hitlerian vision of brutally remaking the world.

In our discussions he tried to explain – or explain away – his problem mainly in terms of his susceptibility to Hitler’s charisma.  That charisma was real enough but Speer would seem at times to hide behind it in order to avoid the probing of still more difficult questions of his own ethical responsibility.  What I believe was involved in these symptoms was his struggle against the realization of the fraudulence of the Fuhrer’s larger vision, and of his own corruption personally and professionally.  His architectural folie a deux with the Fuhrer epitomized the problem.  As in the case of doctors at Auschwitz, Speer could adapt sufficiently to diminish his anxiety and serve the regime, in his case with high energy and intelligence.  His symptoms contributed to that adaptation by covering over existential truths, and then disappeared when he ceased to be “Hitler’s architect” and became instead minister for armaments.  Nor did they reappear during his imprisonment or the years following his release … .

In keeping with my concerns about different forms of participation in evil, I focused much of our discussion on Speer’s relationship to the “Final Solution,” the Nazi program of systematic mass murder of the Jews.  Over the years he had claimed ignorance and uninvolvement, a claim that seemed increasingly untenable, and toward the latter part of his life he backtracked and admitted having sense that “something was happening to the Jews,” without having wished to learn any more about what that was.  As evidence mounted against his earlier claims, many who had been sympathetic to him became critical, including one of his biographers, Gitta Sereny, who concluded that he was “living a lie.”  In order to explore the matter with him I pressed him on the sequence of his attitude toward Jews and encounters with their suffering.

He made clear to me that he was by no means immune to the anti-Semitism of the time, resonated to it in Hitler’s early speech, resented “rich Jews in furs” during times of economic deprivation, was critical of the Jewish domination of the medical profession, and, more to the point, of what he took to be the inordinate Jewish influence on German architecture in determining who received commissions for buildings.  As he rose in the regime, Speer did not emphasize anti-Jewish ideas in speeches or writings but blended with the existing ambiance, with an anti-Semitism that was, as he put it, “standard” and “legalized” so that “one felt at home in it.”  He was aware of Hitler’s rage toward the Jews, but the two men did not talk about the subject during their architectural meditations, or later when they were preoccupied with armaments.  But he recalled … how the Fuhrer would, in small groups of his inner circle, “Speak in that cold, slow voice in which he revealed terrible decisions” and declare that he would “destroy the Jews.”  Speer even came to realize that doing so was a central motivation, Hitler’s “engine.”  The murderous “engine,” that is, did not interfere with Speer’s fusion with his guru; indeed one could say that the fusion required that he himself connect in someway with the engine.

Speer admitted to me that he encountered considerable evidence of Nazi brutality and Jewish pain: the suicide of a distinguished scientist his family knew at the University of Heidelberg, a scene at a railroad station in which a few hundred “miserable looking people” he knew to be Jews were “loaded on trains to be taken from Germany,” and selective tours of Nazi concentration camps in which he claimed to be convinced by his manipulative hosts that the inmates were in reasonably good shape.  More damning, he told me of providing certain materials for the work camp at Auschwitz in 1943 and having at the time “some insight into the bad conditions of such camps.”  But he insisted that the construction materials were only for improving the facilities, and when I asked about his knowledge of the rest of Auschwitz and its role in extermination, he insisted sharply that “I knew nothing of the other.”  I had never before heard anyone claim in this way close knowledge of the slave labor function of Auschwitz and ignorance of its function as a death camp.  (Nor did we discuss Speer’s early participation in removing Jews from their Berlin homes and later suppression of that episode, or his providing, as minister of armaments, slave labor to German industry.)

Speer told me how he “pushed aside very quickly” all such matters, sensing that dreadful things were happening to Jews but stopping short of fully realizing what they were because “I didn’t want to know.  I didn’t want to see it.”  Very much at issue was his sense that confronting the truth would have undermined his entire Nazi worldview and deepest life commitments and required him “to admit that all this was for nothing, that it wasn’t right.”  At the end of our third interview I noted that one had two choices with Speer: either one could believe that he was consciously lying all along, or one could see him as involved in a sustained inner struggle around the psychology of knowing and now knowing.  I favored the latter view.  I thought he was “living a lie” but that he had not experienced it as a lie.  Because of his extreme psychic numbing, he had ceased to feel almost anything of the abuse and suffering of Jews.  And because of his “derealization” (emphasized by Mitscherlich in connection with Nazi behavior), he could avoid experiencing his participation in the Holocaust as actual or real.  Speer could explore his participation in a regime he now condemned but could never allow himself to experience the dimension of guilt associated with its mass killing.  Therefore, he could never allow himself fully “to know.”  His wish to focus exclusively on his emotional bondage to Hitler – and with my help find a “cure” for it – was an effort to psychologize his Nazi behavior in a way that avoided ethical truths.  None of this makes him any less culpable for what he did and did not do, but it does help explain his contradictory statements about what he knew.

Throughout, I had been more critical of Speer and more reserved about his “repentance” than had such people as Alexander Mitscherlich, George Mosse (a scholar whom I knew and greatly respected), and Erich Fromm (the well-known psychoanalyst who befriended Speer and expressed great enthusiasm for his change).  Still, I had conversed with him in a civil, even friendly fashion, finding him at least at moments likable, and had been impressed by the fact that someone so high in the regime was making this kind of articulate turnabout – even if Hitler was always there with us.  I concluded that our interviews had revealed extraordinary dimensions of enthusiasm and corruption, of complex immersion in evil – and that to learn about all this I had no choice but to sit in that room with him and his Fuhrer.

book cover

Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir

By Robert Jay Lifton

Free Press, 448 pages

Buy the book

Germania: Visions of Grandeur

Had Hitler won the war, his plan was to transform Berlin into Germania -- the city he planned with architect Albert Speer. A film, a tour and the twists of time have conspired to create new interest in his evil vision.

Berlin bears many historical scars, but only a few point to the maniacal vision of its future harbored by Adolf Hitler and his chief architect, Albert Speer: A few spots where roads were widened in preparation for the central axis of Germania; a few traffic tunnels that have since been filled in; some streetlamps designed by Speer which survived the war intact.

The rest is all ideas -- miniature models, sketches, blueprints. Germania, with its imposing concrete monstrosities, its monuments to a victory that never came, was swallowed in the rubble and ash that covered Berlin in 1945.

There are only a few examples of Nazi architecture left standing today to give visitors a sense of what Hitler's ideology of hate and domination looked like when rendered in concrete and stone.

One of them is the building currently housing the Ministry of Finance. It's no accident then, that this is the starting point for a new city walk entitled "Capital of the Reich, Germania -- Destructive Visions" offered by tour operator Stattreisen Berlin.

Guide Hartmut Kappel immediately addresses one of the questions foremost in the minds of the 20 people who gathered on a Sunday afternoon in search of Germania: How do you conduct a tour where you can't really show people anything?

The walk led the group through central Berlin, along the axis where Hitler planned to build his mammoth new "Chancellery of the Reich," as well as a huge victory arch designed to dwarf the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and Germania's crowning glory, the Große Halle, or "Great Hall." The structure was intended to accommodate a million people, and was capped with an impractically large dome that would have been over 200 meters (700 feet) high and 250 meters (800 feet) in diameter.

As if to underscore the insanity of the plans, Kappel took the tour participants past an unassuming parking lot in front of a late-GDR era apartment complex. The area beneath the parking lot, he explained, was the site Hitler's bunker -- the place where his vainglorious imaginings of the Thousand Year Reich and the new "World Capital Germania" took their final, undignified end.

"I don't sensationalize this aspect of the tour," said Kappel. "It's a conscious decision, because the personal tragedies that unfolded don't have to do with the topic, which is: Why did the Third Reich exist, and how was it possible?"

Film caused new interest
Still, Kappel acknowledged that there is a persistent fascination about all things connected with the Third Reich, and of late, a resurgent interest in the relationship between Hitler and Germania's architect, Albert Speer.

The interest can partly be explained by the showing on German public broadcaster ARD of a new three-part movie, "Speer and He," examining that relationship. Kappel said that Stattreisen planned its Germania tour to coincide with the media coverage of the film.

"Speer and He" takes a critical look at Speer's role in the darkest chapter of German history. How much did he know about Hitler's plans to rid Europe of Jews, and to what extent did he manipulate his legacy after the war?

Though he expressed remorse during the Nuremberg trials, Speer always maintained that he knew nothing about the Nazis' crimes against the Jews. He was one of a handful of leading Nazis (including Rudolf Hess) to escape execution following the trials, serving a 20-year prison sentence instead.

The director of "Speer and He," Heinrich Breloer, makes it clear that Speer was more deeply implicated than he claimed. The film concentrates on Speer's plans to evict thousands of Jews from their Berlin homes to clear building space needed to realize Germania.

"He was more than just a cog in the works," said Breloer. "He was not only entangled in the works, he was the terror itself."

Academyof Artcomes back home
Part of Speer's defense was that he cooperated with the Nazis in order to fulfil his dream of becoming a great architect. He pursued this dream in the building that, until 1937, housed Berlin's Academy of Art. Speer and his staff took over the space on Pariser Platz that was once the heart of Germany's intellectual, artistic community, and it was there that he developed and exhibited the models for Germania.

On this same location this past weekend, German dignitaries gathered to set right a mistake of the past, officially opening the new Academy of Art as a place where artists can be as political as they like without fearing the kind of censure the Nazis routinely imposed on "dissidents."
Deanne Corbett, DW-WORLD.DE

Albert Speer Part I

Albert Speer, the son of an architect, was born in Mannheim, Germany 19 March 1905. He grew up in the family residence in the picturesque university town of Heidelberg under rather emotionally cold conditions.

Like his father young Albert studied hard and became an architect, though Speer himself actually had preferred a degree in mathematics.

He completed his architectural studies at the Institute of Technology in Berlin-Charlottenburg and became assistant to Professor Heinrich Tessenow, a champion of simple craftsmanship in architecture.

He met and fell in love with Margarete Weber, a lovely open minded girl. After a period couple and after completing studies they got married without the blessing of the Speer family as his fiancée was not of the same class but later things sorted out anyway.

In 1931, Speer joined the NSDAP and soon was offered a succession of commissions for the party. He felt fortunate to have been given this opportunity to build and create in a world full of unemployment. His talent and ability were quickly recognized and soon he came to the attention of the leader of the party, Adolf Hitler.

Because of the same burning interest for architecture Speer became one of Hitler's best friends. That in a different way than the others around the Führer as Speer had no political intentions or eager for power. In 1933 the Nazi Party won the elections getting to rule Germany.
After proving his skills in a variety of small and large projects Speer spent more and more time in the "inner circle" at the Führer's side.

Hitler demanded buildings that could stand the test of times for a thousand years! The skilled architect Speer was the man to give him that.
A real challenge!
Speer was asked to build the new Reich's chancellery and he accepted. Hitler needed the building already one year later but Speer assured him that it all would be ready in time!

A promise Speer probably hoped not to have given as it seemed impossible to draw and construct the large official building in that time. Hitler was amused as he wanted to see if the young architect really could manage to do what he told.

Albert Speer employed an army of labour to work in shift. He planned everything in detail, supervised it all and could take an impressed Hitler for a tour before the date agreed upon. The Führer expected to find workers on the site at least making last adjustments, but the place was not a construction site - it was a huge impressively Reich Chancellery ready to be used at that very moment!

Through this Speer proved that he was not only a talented architect but also a great organizer.
Together Hitler and Speer made plans for the new Berlin, a capital that was to be the finest and most important in, all of Europe. All was set to be completed in the early 1950's but the work was finally halted by the war.

When Doctor Fritz Todt, the genius behind the great autobahn project, died in a plane crash Hitler chose Speer to succeed Todt as Reichs minister of armaments and munitions. Speer was never interested in politics, never used a military weapon and knew nothing of armaments but responded to the call of duty and accepted. His genius proved adaptable and he soon proved himself to be the right man for the job. He mobilized German industry by introducing principles of mass production, "democratic" economic leadership, improvisation, and a general anti-bureaucratic approach that resulted in a dramatic boost in Germany production. The result was that things ran smoother, better and faster. As usual he acted without pretence and won the hearts and minds of his colleagues and workers around Germany and even in some of the occupied Western countries(!) Speer became a powerful man despite (or thanks to) his unconventional methods. He was trying to minimize bureaucracy and kept the working men and women in mind.

At the end of the war he did his best to save the infrastructure and even whole cities from destruction for the sake of the German people. At great personal risk he disobeyed Hitler's orders calling for the ruthless demolition of anything possible use to the enemy on evacuated German territory. In addition, he actively enlisted others to preserve resources for German reconstruction once the war was over by using his position to countermand Hitler's orders. He couldn't see how making the civilians suffer even more could change a war that was already lost.
After Hitler's suicide, and inn accord with his political testament, Karl Dönitz, the commander of the Navy, was appointed the new Führer.

As most of Germany was occupied by allied forces and Berlin was lost, Dönitz, Speer and a few others were left with only a small area of Germany and some occupied territories to the north over which to rule. Dönitz ordered the end of the destruction of resources in Germany and the remaining occupied territories. He also tried to negotiate a peace treaty but in the end had to surrender unconditionally.

After the war, Speer was the only one of the accused to plead guilty at the Nuremberg trials. His life was spared but he was sentenced to 20 long years in prison. Dönitz who wasn't politically involved until the very end received a 10 years sentence.

During the years of imprisonment, Speer kept in contact with his family and in secrecy started to write his memoirs. In 1966 he was released from Spandau prison.
The great architect and organizer Albert Speer passed away in 1981.

Albert Speer is said to have prolonged the war for at least a year, with the consequent death of hundreds of thousands and widespread ruin. It also gave the Nazis more time to pursue their mass murder of Jews, Russians, Gypsies and others deemed not fit to live.

The Holocaust

Albert Speer studied at the technical schools in Karlsruhe, Munich, and Berlin, and acquired an architectural license in 1927. After hearing Hitler speak at a Berlin rally in late 1930, he enthusiastically joined the Nazi Party January 1931 and so impressed the Führer by his efficiency and talent that, soon after Hitler became chancellor, Speer became his personal architect.

He was rewarded with many important commissions, including the design of the parade grounds, searchlights, and banners of the spectacular Nürnberg party congress of 1934, filmed by Leni Riefenstahl in Triumph of the Will.

A highly efficient organizer, Speer became 1942 minister for armaments, succeeding the engineer Fritz Todt. In 1943 he also took over part of Hermann Goering's responsibilities as planner of the German war economy. From Todt, Speer inherited the Organisation Todt, an organization using forced labor for the construction of strategic roads and defenses.

Under Albert Speer's direction, economic production reached its peak in 1944, despite Allied bombardment. In the last months of the war Speer did much to thwart Hitler's scorched-earth policy, which would have devastated Germany.

Speer was jailed in 1946 for 20 years in the post-war Nuremberg trials. After his release he wrote his memoirs, grew wealthy, and until his death in 1981 worked hard at being a penitent, presenting himself as someone who should have known what was being done, but did not know. Albert Speer offered himself as the scapegoat for Germany's collective guilt.

On the stand at Nuremberg Albert Speer stood out among the accused as the one "good Nazi." A dedicated servant of the party who, as Hitler's minister of wartime production, was the Nazis' principle exploiter of forced labor.

Albert Speer Part II

Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth by Gitta Sereny

Gitta Sereny's biography meticulously re-creates for the reader the professional, emotional, and psychological life of Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and later his Minister of Armaments. Throughout the 12-year history of the Third Reich, Speer remained one of Hitler's most trusted confidants and one of the most powerful political leaders of the Nazi party.

Researched and written over an eight year period, Albert Speer weaves together information from innumerable personal interviews with Speer, his family, close friends, and professional colleagues, the author's own solid grasp of German history, and critical readings of Speer's own writings, including various drafts of his memoirs, Inside the Third Reich, first published in 1969.

Throughout, Sereny consciously avoids the pitfall of many Speer biographers, who seek to either blame or exculpate Speer for the Nazi's atrocities. Instead, she succeeds in helping the reader understand a "morally extinguished" man and place into context "all the crimes against humanity which Hitler initiated, which continue to threaten us today, and of which Speer, who was in many ways a man of excellence, sadly enough made himself a part." Well over 700 pages, Albert Speer is not a quick read, but superbly written and meticulously researched, it is a pleasure to read, providing unprecedented insight into one of the most complex figures in modern German history. --Bertina Loeffler

The Good Nazi : The Life and Lies of Albert Speer by Dan Van Der Vat,  Albert Speer

The New York Times Book Review, David Murray

Dan van der Vat, a Dutch-born British journalist, makes an effective case in The Good Nazi, a well-written and sceptical account, that while the slippery (Albert) Speer knew for years about the atrocities, he was able to pretend that he only "suspected ... that something appalling was happening" to Europe's Jews. As a result, he was one of only two top- ranking Nazis to escape the hangman, drawing a 20-year prison sentence instead.

Auschwitz   Bergen-Belsen   Belzec   Sobibor   Treblinka     

On the stand at Nuremberg, Albert Speer, the self-described "second man in the Reich," denied any direct knowledge of the Final Solution. But was he really the innocent functionary he claimed to be? And was he sincere in accepting his share of the Nazis' "collective guilt"? This hard-hitting biography says no--that Speer's avowals of ignorance and repentance were a self-serving sham.

Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer

From 1946 to 1966, while serving the prison sentence handed down from the Nuremburg War Crimes tribunal, Albert Speer penned 1,200 manuscript pages of personal memoirs. Titled Erinnerungen ("Recollections") upon their 1969 publication in German, Speer's critically acclaimed personal history was translated into English and published one year later as Inside the Third Reich. Long after their initial publication, Speer's memoir continues to provide one of the most detailed and fascinating portrayals of life within Hitler's inner circles, the rise and fall of the third German empire, and of Hitler himself.

Speer chronicles his entire life, but the majority of Inside the Third Reich focuses on the years between 1933 and 1945, when Speer figured prominently in Hitler's government and the German war effort as Inspector General of Buildings for the Renovation of the Federal Capital and later as Minister of Arms and Munitions. Speer's recollections of both duties foreground the impossibility of reconciling Hitler's idealistic, imperialistic ambitions with both architectural and military reality. Throughout, Inside the Third Reich remains true to its author's intentions. With compelling insight, Speer reveals many of the "premises which almost inevitably led to the disasters" of the Third Reich as well as "what comes from one man's holding unrestricted power in his hands." -- Bertina Loeffler

Charlane A. Wainwright from Syracuse, New York, USA , December 1, 1997 - Albert Speer's book in historical context

Albert Speer's "Inside the Third Reich" presents a historical view of daily events within the highest ranks of the Nazi power structure. He is able to humanize the Third Reich to a chilling degree, since he demonstrates again and again how little different these men were from many men. The very ordinariness of the high ranking German officials presents the reader with a vivid illustration that this could happen again!

Albert Speer may have a bit of self-interest in his presentation of events through his own eyes, but the most striking sense of the book is that he is, in fact, an extremely likeable man, and a man of thoughtfulness and conscience. His personal struggle to accept the wider meaning of his wartime activities demonstrates the capacity of a decent man to be swept away in indecent activity on the basis of personal pride in a job well done, a personal search for recognition and admiration, and an all too human ability to see through blinders for a very long time.

When we see some of the events currently taking place in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, especially in places where there is considerable ethnic cohesion and substantial economic distress, we see once again a fertile field for a drift into human atrocity. Given the locally accepted concepts that German people were "special" as well homogeneous, that perpetuation of the economic reorganization of Germany was critical to a return to tolerable life, and that the return to pride in self and nation would allow all Germans to lift their heads once again, Albert Speer took his place among others of talent and energy. They made a government and an economy WORK.

The sad fact that the Third Reich was led by a lunatic, who became even more insane and maniacal as time went by, was partially an accident to history.

Many good men, especially bright young men, follow a leader in the wrong direction, and later come to defend their wrong choice of leaders in part from loyalty, and in part to explain themselves to themselves. They cannot see that their emperor has no clothes because they are too close to him, and because they cannot bear to look at the fact that they were duped.

Eventually, realization comes, but often far later than it would have if they had not been totally embroiled already.

After I read Albert Speer's book, I admired him for coming forward to present his personal story of a man who did it all wrong, but who owed himself and humanity an account, and paid it.

The Two Worlds of Albert Speer : Reflections of a Nuremberg Prosecutor by Henry T., Jr. King, Bettina Elles

SPEER REVIEW by T.S. Peric, Cleveland, Ohio , October 19, 1998

“I knew Albert Speer better than any American,” said Henry King during an interview, at 26-years-old, the youngest prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials and the author of “The Two Worlds of Albert Speer: Reflections of a Nuremberg Prosecutor” (University Press of America). It was not a comment filled with braggadocio. In 1946, fallow and a few years out of Yale Law School, King dreamt the dreams of many young men: accomplish a great deed or participate in a grand undertaking.

Hearing about a friend’s appointment to the American “team” at Nuremberg, King immediately applied for a position. Within a few months, he arrived at Nuremberg in the middle of a rainstorm and soon found himself collecting evidence against Erhard Milch, deputy chief of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force), who was charged with participating in Nazi slave labor and human experiment programs. King also interviewed Reichsmarshall and Luftwaffe chief, Hermann Goering and Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of staff of Germany’s military high command.

But frozen in King’s memory were the interviews with Speer in a bleak interrogation room. “Speer was remarkably composed and unshaken; he seemed to possess an inner security and objectivity that many of the others lacked,” King recalls. His composure was all the more remarkable because of the unique and key role he played in the Third Reich. “From 1942 to 1945 not only was he one of the men closest to Hitler, but he was also one who influenced Hitler’s decisions. At one time in late 1943, Speer was reputed to be Hitler’s heir apparent.”

Speer was unemotional, analytical, almost regal in his deportment. And unlike the other 20 defendants, he accepted full responsibility for his actions. “The question that haunted me then and still does today was why Speer, who appeared so decent and honest, was a close collaborator of Hitler,” King writes. “Why had he served such a monster?” Nearly half a century would intervene before King could offer any answers.

Speer spent the next 20 years locked away in Spandau prison (kept incommunicado except to his attorney and family). After his release, he became a best-selling author with “Inside the Third Reich” (1970) a personal look into the sanctum sanctorum of the Nazi leadership and “Spandau: The Secret Diaries” (1976) which described his imprisonment. King continued practicing law, including a stint as general counsel to the U.S. Foreign Economic Aid Program, moving to the private sector and eventually settling in as a professor of international law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

In 1966, King re-established contact with Speer, but was unable to pursue his goal of a book until his retirement from TRW where he served as general counsel of Automotive Operations. King interviewed Speer repeatedly (including Speer’s last interview, one month before his death in 1981). He consulted the Nuremberg records, his own notes and the literature on Speer and the Nazis. He also interviewed Speer’s daughter and Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary, who observed the interaction between Hitler and Speer.

King’s book carefully plots the conditions and events in Speer’s life that drew the architect toward the summit of Nazi power. Speer was politically naïve, despite his aristocratic background, growing up in a cold, emotionless family, where intellectual prowess was demanded and ambition expected. Introduced to the Nazis at Berlin’s Institute of Technology, Speer fell victim – as did millions of Germans -- to the zeitgeist of Nazi Germany before the war, a time when the promise of a new Reich seemed to represent an unfettered, glorious future.

Speer’s ability to organize was quickly recognized, reaching new heights at the Nuremberg rallies. His Pantheon-like “Cathedral of Lights,” established Speer’s chilling brilliance for displaying raw power. The final, crowning jewel that firmly enthroned Speer to the Nazis fold was his artistic talent which brought him within handshaking distance of Adolph Hitler. Now, Hitler, the failed Viennese artist, would live vicariously through Speer’s artistic triumphs.

The Nazis’ world was Albert Speer’s first world, according to King. It was among the Nazis that Speer performed with remarkable thoroughness and unquestioned devotion, rising to the position of the Third Reich’s Architect and Minister of Armament Production. Indeed, if Speer’s artistic triumphs contributed to the physical manifestation of how the Nazi’s viewed themselves, his star as Armament Minister shone even brighter. Experts estimate that Speer’s contribution to industrial production lengthened the war by at least two years.

Despite Speer’s success, he began to enter his “second world,” according to King, even before Germany’s surrender. Speer was the only top Nazi to act in defiance of Hitler—and did so openly. He refused to carry out Hitler’s “scorched earth policy” that would destroy the remains of German industry. Speer’s second world is “where his horizon broadened and his values changed,” writes King. “The second and succeeding world of Albert Speer was the horizontal world of the questioning spirit. This was a world of ethical and cultural values, a humanistic world . . .”

In “The Two Worlds of Albert Speer,” King deftly presents how naiveté, seduction and ambition drove Speer to the pinnacle of Nazi power. He concludes that Speer was clearly unique among the top Nazis that survived the war. Speer accepted responsibility for his actions and offered mea culpas for his sins. During and after his imprisonment, Speer pondered his actions and began to search for some degree of redemption until the end of his life.

While supporting the prison sentence Speer received, King ably demonstrates that Speer was not some cardboard character from the Nazi past. Rather, he was a complex and brilliant individual who confronted issues of good and evil on a scale that most of us cannot imagine. King succeeded in his search for a great undertaking with his successful role in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

More than one half century later, he succeeds with another marvellous undertaking: the writing of “The Two Worlds of Albert Speer.”

BOOKS on Albert Speer:

  • Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth(1995) – Gitta Sereny
Speer : the final verdict, 2001 – Fest, Joachim C

BBC Vision of space = Albert Speer

Wartime Architects: Creating Amid Chaos

A German poster printed in Dutch that says “Atlantic Wall; 1943 is not 1918.”
Credit: Wolfsonian-Florida International University, Miami


MONTREAL — The history of architecture during World War II is barely talked about. We all know Albert Speer, the man who slavishly carried out Hitler’s megalomaniacal architectural fantasies; some know about Mies van der Rohe’s exile in Chicago. The rest seems to have quietly — and in some cases conveniently — faded from view.

“Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War,” an engrossing, often unsettling new show at the Canadian Center for Architecture here, is a major and belated step in coming to terms with this awkward chapter in modern architectural history. Simply put, it’s one of the most important architecture exhibitions I’ve seen in years. Organized by Jean-Louis Cohen, the show covers a dizzying range of projects conceived from 1937 to 1945, many of them not well known. Some are expressions of idealism, others of incredible cynicism and savagery. By the end I found myself rethinking not only the role that architects played during one of the most murderous and destructive periods in human history, but also almost everything that came immediately after it, from the cold war conviction that technology could deliver a better way of life to the causes of suburban sprawl. The exhibition opens with two images — one depicting the half-crumbled ruins of Guernica after the April 1937 Nazi terror bombings, the other showing two women wandering across the wasteland of Hiroshima, umbrellas in hand, on a wet day sometime after the dropping of the atom bomb in August 1945.

From there you are funneled into a small, cylindrical room decorated with the portraits of 34 architects, from Speer to Le Corbusier, who spent much of the war unsuccessfully lobbying the Vichy government for work, and including victims like Szymon Syrkus, a prisoner at Auschwitz who was recruited by the SS to design greenhouses for a section of the camp devoted to agriculture.
This juxtaposition — of images of total devastation and innocent-looking head shots — sets up the framework for the show. The war, Mr. Cohen wants us to remember, was about destruction, not creation; at the same time, not all architects waited it out in American universities. How did the many who continued designing and building invest their creative intelligence?

The answers are not all dispiriting. The Tecton Group’s 1939 proposal for an air-raid shelter in Finsbury, in London, is an impressive work of architecture: a wide concrete cylinder, buried in the earth, with a ramp spiraling down its interior wall, big enough to hold 7,600 people. (If you go to the London zoo, you’ll see a foreshadowing of the design in the spiraling ramps of the Penguin Pool, built by the same firm a few years earlier.)

Less spectacular but more relevant to today are some of the low-cost workers’ housing projects that were built to serve the booming military-industrial complex, especially in America. Richard Neutra’s 1940s Channel Heights Defense Housing in San Pedro, Calif. — a complex of simple prefabricated houses arranged around a gently sloping park to take advantage of the waterfront views — is a fine example of how to build housing that is cheap, affordable and humane.

In suburban Pennsylvania, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer’s “Aluminum City Housing,” a complex of simple modern wood-clad houses joined by covered galleries, could serve as a pretty good model for low-cost housing today.

These imaginative triumphs, however, are overshadowed by something else: the way the grinding machinery of war increasingly demanded a regimented and dehumanized society, for which a large number of architects were happy to provide the physical framework.

One of the many chilling examples of this is Ernst Neufert’s 1943 proposal for a Hausbaumaschine (or house-building machine), an enormous industrial shed that would have moved along rails, stopping every few hundred feet so that workers could pour the next segment in an endless row of identical concrete housing units. The project, never built, is a particularly sinister expression of a world where life is stripped of individual identity, and where human beings are treated as interchangeable parts in a gigantic machine.

Neufert’s vision is just one of the most extreme examples of a more pervasive mentality. During the war entire new factory cities were organized and built with the straightforward efficiency of assembly lines. Oak Ridge, the super-secret site of the Manhattan Project in rural Tennessee, was a model of functionalist planning, with shopping malls flanked by repetitive blocks of prefabricated housing. (The housing was segregated according to race and class, with high-level military officials and scientists living in single-family homes, white laborers in apartment blocks and blacks in encampments of shacks.)

Peenemünde, home of the sprawling German airplane plant on the Baltic Sea where the V-2 rocket was developed, was a work camp laid out in a similar (if slightly more traditional) axial plan, with concrete-frame, brick-infill structures. In 1943, after Peenemünde was bombarded by Allied forces, German architects began work on an even more extreme version of rational planning: a network of underground factories in central Germany. The most architecturally significant of these, Eberhard Kuen’s Messerschmitt aircraft factory in southeastern Germany, built by slave labor, had an assembly line on rails integrated into its concrete structure and connected to the local train system.

This model of large-scale standardized planning reached its most sadistic level, of course, in the death camps, which were often designed with as much care as the factory complexes. Every square foot at Auschwitz was carefully calculated and measured, and the three square feet allotted to each prisoner — one-tenth of a typical barrack at the time — could be read as a sickening perversion of the Bauhaus idea of existenzminimum, an effort to calculate the exact amount of space needed to live a simple yet decent life.

(In the insightful catalog that accompanies the exhibition Mr. Cohen tells us that the architects of Auschwitz were trained at the best German schools, and one of the many surprises of the show is the variety of activities that were taking place at the complex, which included a chemical plant and greenhouses as well as the death camps. The greenhouses, still in operation, are used to grow chrysanthemums that are shipped across Europe.)

What haunts you about the show is not just how much creative energy was devoted to building the infrastructure for evil, but how the mentality of war eventually seeped into every corner of society, and remained there long after the war was over. The drive toward standardization was echoed in the conformity of cold war-era planning strategies. And the “decentralization” of cities proposed by planners worried that they were easy targets for bombers continued, on a much larger scale, as suburban sprawl.

It wasn’t until the 1960s, and the publication of books like Robert Venturi’s “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” that the profession began to purge these tendencies and start to find a new way forward. In some ways we are still wrestling with the same problems.


Casa del Fascio
Totalitarianism darkened Europe as economies collapsed in the 1930s. Architecture played a critical role in Adolf Hitler’s (1889–1945) plans for a reinvigorated Germany. A onetime Viennese watercolorist with a penchant for architectural subjects, Hitler saw the value of great public buildings in boosting national pride and signaling the permanence of his Thousand-Year Reich. His friend Paul Troost (1879–1934) had designed interiors for luxury ships and understood his Führer’s lust for theatricality. Troost’s Haus der Deutschen Kunst, Munich (1933–1937), was a museum for ‘‘pure’’ art, not the ‘‘degenerate’’ modernism then being purged. Its style became the official Nazi one: grandiose classicism, but simplified and rendered rigid and coldly sublime. The German architectural tradition of Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) was married to a primitive Greek classicism. After Troost died, Albert Speer (1905–1981) took his place in Hitler’s affections, conceiving a utopian rebuilding of Berlin as ‘‘Germania’’ with a preposterously oversized dome as its focus. Like Hitler, Speer saw Germany as a new Roman Empire dominating all of Europe and developed a suitably grandiose architecture, clad in stone. His built projects shared a megalomania, including the Zeppelinfeld Stadium, Nuremberg (1934–1937), for mass Nazi rallies and the Reich Chancellery, Berlin (1938), center ofHitler’s cult of personality. Its echoing halls, one nearly five hundred feet long, were meant to instill awe in visiting dignitaries. Hitler’s grim final days were spent in an underground bunker out back. Much of Speer’s work was bombed to rubble during World War II, and he was later imprisoned for his role in organizing slave labor and death camps. He is the twentieth century’s most controversial architect.

If the totalitarian regime in Germany rejected modernism, that in Italy was more receptive. Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) found an avid following among a young generation of architects, including the brilliant but short-lived Giuseppe Terragni (1904–1943), who helped found Gruppo 7 in 1926. Gruppo 7 was a gathering of Milanese modernists who pressed for what they called Rationalismo: antiindividualistic and pro-Fascist; embracing functionalism in design but tempering it with historical references to the glories of the Italian past. Terragni’s Casa del Fascio, Como (1933–1936), a Fascist headquarters and community center, evolved through various conceptions into a harmonious and cubistic work of pure geometries and white walls stripped of any ornament. Its rationalist composition embodied in a gridlike reinforced concrete frame was apparently simple but actually quite complex, blending functionalist dicta with principles from the Roman past, including perfect proportions, an interior atrium, and marble cladding. It has won a legion of admirers. In time for Terragni’s centennial in 2004 the New York architect Peter Eisenman (b. 1932) published Giuseppe Terragni: Transformations, Decompositions, Critiques, a book he had worked on for forty years that celebrated the subtleties of Casa del Fascio and Casa Giuliani-Frigerio, also in Como. Never built was Terragni’s proposed monument to the poet Dante (1265–1321) (1938) in the Roman Forum, likewise a fusion of modernist rationalism with reference to the historical past, specifically the hypostyle halls of Egyptian temples, where columns stood as thickly as trees in a forest—only at the Danteum the columns were to have been of glass. World War II discredited fascism, but the ideas of Terragni later helped inspire postmodernism: Aldo Rossi (1931–1997) pioneered neo-rationalism in the 1960s, seeking to infuse history into themodernist vocabularies of concrete, glass, and steel, much as Terragni had done.


Like Mussolini, Hitler used the power of architecture to further the Third Reich, building the Olympic stadium in Berlin. This powerful venue designed by Albert Speer would hold the Olympic Games and was intended to show the world the supremacy of the master race. Many of the forced laborers died during its construction. It was the essence of totalitarian design in the service of power, fitted to stage many Nazi rituals and rallies, something Hitler loved.

International sporting event that Hitler presented to the world as a showcase for the achievements and the glories of the Nazi regime. The eleventh Olympiad, held in Berlin in 1936, had actually been awarded in 1933 to the German capital, before Hitler’s accession to power, and at first the Nazis denounced it as “a festival dominated by Jews.” But Hitler did a volte-face and decided to use the Olympics as a public relations opportunity for his regime. There was a three-week moratorium on the anti-Semitic campaign, and Richard Strauss and Carl Orff were commissioned to compose music for the occasion, while artists worked on massive illustrative paintings and statues. For the first time a relay of runners carried the Olympic flame from Greece to Germany, and from the German border all the way to Berlin the roads were lined with children waving Nazi flags, creating, for the benefit of the press, a strong impression of a happy citizenry enthusiastic for the Nazi regime. The opening ceremony provided the opportunity for Hitler to parade with 40,000 SA men while a choir of 3,000 sang Nazi songs. Although shot-putter Hans Woelke won the first gold medal of the games for Germany, subsequently public attention and adulation shifted to the black U.S. sprinter Jessie Owens, who won four gold medals, somewhat tarnishing the luster of supposed Aryan superiority.

References Bachrach, Susan D. The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936. New York: Little, Brown. Krüger, Arnd, William Murray, and W. J. Murray, eds. 1972. The Nazi Olympics: Sport, Politics and Appeasement in the 1930’s. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Mandell, R. D. 1972. The Nazi Olympics. London: Souvenir Press.

Nazi architecture I

Nazi architecture rejected modem style. Official Nazi policy required a monumental neoclassical design for big buildings. This is the outside of the giant Olympic Stadium in Berlin.

Given that the Nazis believed in the intrinsic grandeur of the German nation and tile role of the party in cultivating this, art was expected to illustrate the power and self-confidence of the German people, and to demonstrate in tangible form how the Nazis had helped to achieve this. As no cultural product is more instantly tangible than bricks and mortar, it was to architecture that the Nazis turned to give expression to this claim. The emphasis here was on gigantic, monumental buildings. Probably the most famous of these is the complex built at Nuremberg for the Nazi Party rallies. Nothing illustrates better the sense of how architecture could promote the message of German splendour than Nazi plans to transform Berlin into the new imperial capital city, "Germania". The plans set out deliberately to rival the glory of ancient Rome by building everything in the neo-classical style and on an enormous scale. Accordingly, the centrepiece of the scheme was to be a great hall, 16 times bigger than St Peter's in Rome, with a dome that rose 290m (951 ft) into the air. It was to be an unmistakable, marble-clad statement of both the glory of the German people and the strength and permanence of the Nazi regime.

Nazi architecture II

The Königsplatz in Munich, where in 1935 two "Honour Temples" were erected for the remains of the 16 Nazis who died in the abortive 1923 Beer Hall Putsch.
The inside of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Despite their rejection of the modern style, the Nazis often used the most advanced building techniques hidden behind neoclassical facades.

As the Nazis believed in the superiority of Aryan people over all others, this message was one that artists had to incorporate into their works. The manner in which this was achieved is illustrated by the types of sculpture that appeared in the Nazi period. Basically, all carved or moulded three-dimensional representations of the human form - that is to say, of German people - depicted an idealized race of physically perfect supermen. Being cast in the Hellenistic style of ancient Greece, these images depicted Germans not just as modern-day heroes but also as the heirs to Europe's greatest cultural and imperial tradition, that of Alexander the Great and of Caesar.