Friday, January 28, 2011

Spandau: The Secret Diaries

by Albert Speer

The secret diaries of Hitler's architect--later his Minister of Armaments--which were written during the 20 years Albert Speer spent in Spandau prison.

This tome and I have had a long relationship.  I first acquired it back in the late 80's, fascinated by the prospect of a window into the mind of a man who spent years with Hitler.  While in school, I started this book, but between one thing and another, I ended up setting it aside.  Three moves/three homes later, I still wanted to know: What did he know? What did he learn?  Is there an explanation?

The book is a chronicle of 20 years spent thinking, working and figuring out how to stay sane.  Speer opens with a vow to examine himself, to see where he went wrong, and to continue to accept his responsibility for German atrocities.  He repeatedly asks himself: how was he taken in by Hitler's charisma? What role did his own hunger for fame and greatness play in blinding him to Hitler's evil and eventual madness?  Recognizing that he was overcome by Hitler's overwhelming personality, he admitted that he could still feel Hitler's spell when he thought of the old days.  He also admitted that his own thirst for fame and immortality drove him.

I've often wondered how someone with intellect would spend (or could survive) a prolonged imprisonment, so Speer's diary fascinated me from that perspective as well.  To survive, he read extensively, wrote secretly, sketched, performed menial labor, and bickered with his 6 fellow prisoners (their relationships were rarely good). Remarkably, he also set out to create a classically designed park within the high-walled prison yard by planning and then planting flowers, trees and vegetables (subject to the whims of the commanding guard) with materials provided both officially and surreptitiously by the guards.  He also embarked on a walking tour of the world by measuring the length of the yard's path, keeping track of his laps and kilometers, requesting and reading travel books, and tracing his journey in his mind and his journal.

Much controversy surrounded Speer's Diaries (1975) and his other bestseller, "Inside the Third Reich," (1969) because he asserted that he did not know about the holocaust before his arrest by the Allies.  Subsequent authors and researchers have argued both for and against the accuracy of this claim. Speer admits that if he didn't know, it was because he didn't want to know; he refused to look at the things which would have informed him.  Regardless, Speer's actions at the end of the War speak at least of his redemption: he was part of a plot to assassinate Hitler and later acted to prevent Hitler's "scorched earth" policy which would have destroyed everything left in Germany and the occupied countries.  And in the end, of the inner circle, he alone called Hitler a criminal and accepted his responsibility within the Reich.

Overall, I'm very glad I finally returned to this book.  Perhaps like many people, I've always wondered if someone could explain the "how" and the "why" of the Third Reich and the holocaust.  Albert Speer didn't have that explanation either, but at least he was looking. 

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1 comment:

  1. Wow. I had not heard of these books but I just have to read them! I've read a book in which the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide were interviewed and I was heartbroken by their lack of remorse.


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