Sunday, February 12, 2012

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.

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