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Famous Like Me > Writer > S > Albert Speer

Profile of Albert Speer on Famous Like Me

Name: Albert Speer  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 19th March 1905
Place of Birth: Mannheim, Baden, Germany
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
For the son of Albert Speer, also an architect, see Albert Speer (the younger)
Albert Speer

Albert Speer [▶] (March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981) was born Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer in Mannheim, Germany, the second of three sons. He is sometimes called 'the first architect of the Third Reich'. He was Hitler's chief architect in Nazi Germany and in 1942 became the minister of armaments in Hitler's cabinet, where he had considerable success in reforming and streamlining Germany's war production. After the war he was tried at Nuremberg where he expressed repentance and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. After his release, he became a successful author, writing a number of semi-autobiographical works until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Early years

Although Speer originally wanted to become a mathematician when he was young, he ended up following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and studied architecture. He began his architectural studies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology; his decision to study locally instead of at one of the more prestigious institutes was dictated by the inflation of 1923. In 1924 when the inflation had stabilised, Speer transferred his studies to the more esteemed Munich Institute of Technology, then in 1925 he again transferred this time to the Berlin Institute of Technology. It was there that he was under the tutelage of Heinrich Tessenow, Speer had a high regard for Tessenow and when he passed his exams in 1927 he became Tessenow's assistant. His duties as assistant involved teaching seminar classes three days a week. Although Tessenow himself never agreed with Nazism, a number of his students did, and it was they who persuaded Speer to attend a Nazi Party rally in a Berlin beer-hall in December 1930.

Speer claims to have been apolitical as a young man; nevertheless, he did attend the rally. He was surprised to find Hitler dressed in a neat blue suit, rather than the brown one of the Nazi Party posters. Speer claimed to have been quite affected, not only with Hitler's proposed solutions to the threat of communism and his renunciation of the Treaty of Versailles but, also with the man himself. Several weeks later he attended another rally, though this one was presided over by Joseph Goebbels. Speer was disturbed by the way he had whipped the crowd into a frenzy, playing on their hopes. Although Goebbels' performance offended Speer, he could not shake the impressions Hitler made on him. The next day he joined the Nazi Party; he was member number 474,481. In this same year (1931) he married Margarete Weber.

Speer's first commission as a Party member came in 1933 when Goebbels asked him to renovate the Propaganda Ministry. Goebbels was impressed with his work and recommended him to Hitler, who assigned him to help Paul Troost renovate the Chancellery in Berlin. Speer's most notable work on this assignment was the addition of the famous balcony from which Hitler often presented himself to crowds that assembled below. Speer subsequently became a prominent member of Hitler's inner circle and a very close friends to him, winning a special place with Hitler that was unique amongst the Nazi leadership. Hitler, according to Speer, was very contemptuous towards anybody he viewed as part of the bureaucracy, and prized fellow artists like Speer whom he felt a certain kinship with, especially as Hitler himself previously entertained architectural ambitions.

First Architect of the Reich

Troost died in 1934, and Speer was chosen to replace him as the Party's chief architect. One of his first commissions after his promotion was perhaps the most familiar of his designs: the Zeppelintribune, the Nuremberg parade grounds seen in Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda masterpiece, Triumph of the Will. In his autobiography, Speer claimed that, upon seeing the original design, he made a derogatory remark to the effect that the parade ground would resemble a "rifle club" meet. He was then challenged to create a new design.

The grounds were based on ancient Doric architecture of the Pergamon Altar in Anatolia, but magnified to an enormous scale, capable of holding two hundred and forty thousand people. At the 1934 Party rally on the parade grounds, Speer surrounded the site with one hundred and fifty anti-aircraft searchlights. This created the effect of a "cathedral of light," or, as it was called by British Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson, a "cathedral of ice".

Nuremberg was also to be the site of many more official Nazi buildings, most of which were never built; for example, the German Stadium would have held another four hundred thousand spectators as the site of the Aryan Games, a proposed replacement for the Olympic Games. While planning these buildings, Speer invented the theory of "ruin value." According to this theory, enthusiastically supported by Hitler, all new buildings would be constructed in such a way that they would leave aesthetically pleasing ruins thousands of years in the future. Such ruins would be a testament to the greatness of the Third Reich, just as ancient Greek or Roman ruins were symbols of the greatness of their civilizations.

Speer's German pavilion at the 1937 international exposition in Paris

In 1937 Speer designed the German Pavilion for the 1937 international exposition in Paris. Speer's work was located directly across from the Soviet Pavilion and was designed to represent a massive defense against the onslaught of communism. Both pavilions were awarded gold medals for their designs.

Speer was also directed to make plans to rebuild Berlin, which was to become the capital of a "Greater Germany" — Welthauptstadt Germania. The first step in these plans was the Olympic Stadium for the 1936 Summer Olympics, designed by Werner March. Speer also designed the new Reichs Chancellery, which included a vast hall designed to be twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. Hitler wanted him to build a third, even larger Chancellery, although it was never begun. The second Chancellery was damaged by the Battle of Berlin in 1945 and was eventually demolished by the Soviet occupiers after the war.

Speer (left) with Hitler and Arno Breker in Paris, June 23, 1940

Almost none of the other buildings planned for Berlin were ever built. Berlin was to be reorganized along a central three-mile-(five km) long avenue. At the north end, Speer planned to build the Volkshalle — an enormous domed building, based on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The dome of the building would have been impractically large; it would be over seven hundred feet (over two hundred meters) high and eight hundred feet (three hundred meters) in diameter, sixteen times larger than the dome of St. Peter's. At the southern end of the avenue would be an arch based on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but again, much larger; it would be almost four hundred feet (120 m) high, and the Arc de Triomphe would have been able to fit inside its opening. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 led to the abandonment of these plans.

During his involvement in the rebuilding of Berlin, he was allegedly responsible for the forced deportation of Jews, evicting them from their houses to make room for his grand plans and for re-housing German citizens affected by this work. He was also listed as being present at the 1943 Posen Conference, although he supposedly left early.

Speer did have an architectural rival: Hermann Giesler, whom Hitler also favored. There were frequent clashes between the two in regards to architectural matters and in closeness to Hitler.

Minister of Armaments

Hitler was always a strong supporter of Speer, in part because of Hitler's own frustrated artistic and architectural visions. A strong affinity developed between Hitler and the ambitious young architect early in their professional relationship. For Speer, serving as architect for the head of the German state and being given virtual carte blanche as to expenses, presented a tremendous opportunity. For Hitler, Speer personified a talented architect capable of translating Hitler's grandiose visions into tangible designs which expressed what Hitler felt were National Socialist principles.

After Minister of Armaments and War Production Fritz Todt was killed in an airplane crash in 1942, Hitler appointed Speer as Todt's successor in all of his posts. Hitler's affinity for Speer and the architect's efficiency and stature above party squabbling are believed to have been considerations in Speer's promotion to Minister of Armaments. In his autobiography, Speer recounts that the power-hungry but lazy Hermann Göring raced to Hitler's headquarters upon word of Todt's death, hoping to make a claim on the office. Hitler instead presented Göring with the fait accompli of Speer's appointment to the armaments position.

Image:Albert Speer.jpg

Faced with this new responsibility, Speer tried to put the German economy on a war footing comparable to that of the Allied nations, but found himself incessantly hindered by party politics and lack of cooperation amongst the Nazi hierarchy. Nevertheless, by slowly centralizing almost all industry control and cutting through the dense Nazi bureaucracy, he succeeded in multiplying war production four times over the course of the next 2 and a half years, with it actually reaching its peak in 1944 during the height of the Allied strategic bombing campaign. Another big hurdle in his way was the Nazi policy that excluded women from factory work, which was a serious hindrance in war production and a problem unknown to Germany's rival nations, who all made full use of the female workforce. To fill this gap, Speer made heavy use of foreign labor, with a considerable amount of it forced labor.

Speer was considered one of the more "rational" members of the Nazi hierarchy, and was the opposite of the raging Hitler, grotesque Göring, fanatical Goebbels, and the perverse Himmler. Speer's name was found on the list of members of a post-Hitler government envisioned by the July 20 plot to kill Hitler. However, the list had an annotation "if possible" by his name, a note that Speer credits with helping to save his life from the extensive purges that followed. According to his own accounts, Speer considered assassinating Hitler in 1945 by releasing poison gas into the air intake vent on the Führerbunker, but backed down for a number of reasons. Independent evidence for this is sparse. Some credit his revelation of this plan at the Nuremberg trials as being pivotal sparing him the death sentence, which the Soviets pushed for.

Hitler continued to consider Speer trustworthy, though this trust waned near the conclusion of the war as Speer, with considerable risk to his own life, campaigned clandestinely to prevent the implementation of Hitler's scorched earth policy on both German soil and occupied territories. Speer worked in association with General Gotthard Heinrici, whose troops fighting in the east retreated to the American-held lines and surrendered there instead of following Hitler's orders to make what would have been a suicidal effort to hold off the Soviets from Berlin.

Speer even confessed to Hitler shortly before the dictator's suicide that he has been disobeying, and indeed actively hindering, Hitler's "scorched-earth" decree. According to Speer's autobiography, Speer stated gently but bluntly to Hitler that the war was lost and tried to express his opposition to the systematic destruction of German national existence while reaffirming his affection and faith in Hitler. This conversation, it is said, brought Hitler to tears. In spite of this reaffirmation and Speer's trip to the Führerbunker toward the final days of the war to bid farewell to his long-time benefactor and Führer, Hitler excluded Speer from the new cabinet he outlined in his political testament, where Speer was to be succeeded by his subordinate, Karl-Otto Saur.

After the war

Speer at the Nuremberg Trials

Nuremberg trials

At the Nuremberg trials after the war Speer was one of the few officials to express remorse and plead guilty, but was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in Spandau Prison, West Berlin, largely for his use of slave labor. At the trials, the prosecution introduced as evidence a photograph of Speer visiting the Mauthausen concentration camp, where he is clearly shown surrounded by emaciated prisoners. The prosecution claimed this proved Speer was well aware of the Holocaust. However, Speer held that he was only given a "V.I.P." tour of the concentration camp, meaning he was never shown the more vile side of the camp's purpose.

According to interviews after his imprisonment, as well as his memoirs, Speer adopted a "see no evil" attitude towards the Nazi atrocities. For example, through one of his friends, Karl Hanke, he learned of Auschwitz and the large number of deaths taking place there. He then purposely avoided visiting the camp or trying to get more information on what was taking place. In his autobiography, he claims that he had no direct involvement or knowledge of the Holocaust, although he faults himself for blinding himself to its existence. He certainly was aware, at least, of harsh conditions for the slave labor and many critics believe that his books understate his role in the atrocities of the era. Newly released documents suggest that Speer knew a lot more about the atrocities than he was telling.


Main article: Spandau Prison

His time in prison, painstakingly documented in his secret prison diary and later released as The Spandau Diaries, was described as being mainly comprised of mind-numbing routine, petty personal rivalries and pretensions between the seven prisoners, a bloated prison bureaucracy, and many false hopes of premature release. Speer, and most of the others, had established secret lines of communication to the outside world via sympathetic prison staff, and Speer made full use of it by, amongst other things, writing innumerable letters to his family (which were restricted to one outgoing page per month under official regulation) and even ordering a friend to spend money on his behalf from a special bank account for a variety of benign purposes.

Speer, as recounted in his diary, made a deliberate effort to make productive use of his time in any way possible. In the first decade, this mainly comprised of doing what he described as his "duty" and writing the first draft of his memoirs, as Speer was the sole survivor of Hitler's inner circle and possessed knowledge and a degree of objectivity that no other had. As the prison directors both forbade the writing of a memoir and recorded each sheet of paper given to the prisoners, he wrote much of his memoirs on toilet paper, tobacco wrappings, and any other material he could get his hands on, and had the pages smuggled out to be typed up by his former secretary.

All the while Speer devoted much of his energy and time towards reading books from the prison library, which was organized by fellow prisoner and ex-Grand Admiral Erich Raeder. Speer was, more so than the others, a voracious reader and he completed well over 500 books in the first three years alone.1 His tastes ranged from Greek drama to famous plays to architectural books and journals, partly from which he collected information for a book he intended to write on the history and function of windows in architecture.

Later, Speer took to the prison garden for enjoyment and work. Heretofore the garden was divided up into small personal plots for each prisoner with the produce of the garden being used in the prison kitchen. When regulations began to slacken in this regard, Speer was allowed to build an ambitious garden, complete with a meandering path, rock garden, and a wide variety of flowers. The garden was even, humorously, centered around a "north-south axis", which was to be the core design element of Speer and Hitler's new Berlin. Speer then took up a "walking tour of the world" by ordering geography and travel books from the local library and walking laps in the prison garden visualizing his journey. Meticulously calculating every metre traveled, he began in northern Germany, went through the Balkans, Persia, India, and Siberia, then crossed the Bering Strait and continued southwards, finally ending his sentence in central Mexico.


His release from prison in 1966 was a world-wide media event. He then revised and published the several semi-autobiographical books he had began in prison. His books, most notably Inside the Third Reich and The Spandau Diaries, which were secretly written during his incarceration and systematically smuggled out, provide a unique and personal look into the personalities of the Nazi era and have become much valued by historians. Speer died of a cerebral hemorrhage in London, England on September 1, 1981 — exactly 42 years after World War II began.

Speer's son, also named Albert, became a successful architect in his own right, and was responsible for the design of Expo 2000 (the world exposition that took place in Hanover in the year 2000), design of the Shanghai International Automobile City and the Bejing Olympic complex. His daughter Hilde Schramm became a noted left-wing parliamentarian.

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Albert Speer