The Nuremburg Trial outcome is our vital evidence that Albert Speer was a man who was corrupted by the events at the time. He is the epitome of the saying “events shape people more than people shape events” as he merely rode the wave of Nazism. As German historian Joachim Fest stated, “He [Hitler] drew Speer to him like no one else, he singles him out and made him great” (Fest, The Face of Third Reich, pg 340). In any other situation it is inconceivable that an architect could have come to hold the title of Minister of Armaments and War Production.
The event of Nazi Germany transformed an architect, whose destiny seemingly lay in continuing the family business, to a man answerable only to the ‘Fuhrer’. Albert Speer did not shape Nazi Germany: Nazi Germany shaped Speer. Nazism was the facilitator of Speer’s success throughout his life. His membership with the party opened the doors of selective employment. He later stated, “For the commission to do a great building I would have sold my soul” (Van Der Vat, The Good Nazi, 1977). He did exactly this. Speer welcomed Nazism into his life for greater architectural opportunities.
Speer’s study and training under Professor Heinrich Tessenow led him to develop a liking for the classic simplicity of the Doric style from ancient Greece. Hitler similarly, preferred the neoclassical style. Speer records that Hitler stated, “No one will have particular loyalty to a city that lacks any individuality at all, that voids anything resembling art…all the glory and the treasure of our cities are the inheritance of the past…our cities today lack a towering symbol of community. ” (Albert Speer, The Fuhrers Buildings, pg 1)
Hitler and Speer’s shared liking of traditional design, coupled with their contempt for modern styles provided Speer with the opportunity to make the type of impression that would result in an enormous boost to his career prospects in the Nazi regimes. An ongoing association with Hitler was developed; which lead to his appointment of some very powerful positions. “He is an artist and has a spirit akin to mine…he is a building person like me, intelligent, modest and not an obstinate military head” (No Author, Hitler’s Favourite Architect, pg 98).
Speer made the best of the opportunity and used this favouritism to propel him professionally. Speer was used by Hitler and Goebbels as a propaganda tool. His designs were grand, intending to reflect the power and prosperity of the Nazi State. His 1934 Nuremburg Rally design of the ‘Cathedral of Light’ used 130 searchlights to illuminate the sky. This was coupled with an extensive range of Nazi swastika flags and banners. The effect was ‘spellbinding’ (Freppell, 2002, pg 75) and dramatically instilled the power of the regime into the spectators.
Speer’s architectural style was shaped by Nazism to be dramatically grand. Speer used Nazi ideology to accommodate him and thus changed his outlook to suit Nazism. He adopted the ideal of anti-Semitism while working as the General Building Inspector for the Transformation of the Reich Capital to build his reputation of efficiency. In the project Germania the restructure of Berlin, the law ‘Concerning the Rental Situation’ of Jews was passed. This meant that Jewish tenets could be evicted to provide accommodation for Aryan Germans whose homes had been demolished as part of the Germania Plan. Albert Speer was not an absent-minded, eyes-averted, amoral non-spectator of the Nazi anti-Semitism, but an active participant in ruining the lives of 75,000 Berlin Jews by having them evicted. ” (Van Der Vat, The Good Nazi, 1977) Nazi Germany shaped and allowed Speer to adopt anti-Semitism values and use them for personal gain. In February 1942 Speer’s ride on the wave of Nazism picked up momentum: he was appointed Minister for Armaments and Munitions; head of Organisation Todt and was now responsible for all construction work in Germany and conquered territories.
Speer’s use of forced labour to ensure an increase in armaments production while in this position is another example of Speer being shaped by the events of the time. He used millions of concentration camp prisoners and prisoners of war to produce armaments. The forced labourers were treated inadequately. At Dora concentration camp 30,000 of the 60,000 died from the poor conditions. Despite this, production increased what it had previously been and Speer was praised. Speer’s efficiency has been said to have prolonged the war for at least a year. British historian Allan Bullock states, …by 1944 he was responsible for the whole of the German way economy, with fourteen million workers under his direction. Without Speer, Hitler would have lacked the power to stage in his fight to the finish. ” (Bullock, Albert Speer, pg 732) The statistics prove that Speer rose to the challenge with triple production from 1941 to 1944. He went from being an architect to arguably the second the most powerful Nazi overnight. Only Nazi Germany could have shaped a person to such extremities. Speer’s view of Nazism changed upon Hitler’s introduction of the radical ‘Scorched Earth Policy’.
Hitler’s plan to destroy German infrastructure, to render German un-occupiable after the loss of the war seemed to Speer an act of insanity. He tried writing to Hitler yet his efforts were futile. He then travelled around the country systematically undermining Hitler by convincing the Gauleiters not to follow the orders. When Speer began wading upstream he found his previous power had vanished. He was only strong when being swept along by Nazism. After Hitler’s suicide the momentum of Nazism died; there was no force to push Speer forward.
At the Nuremburg trials to avoid the death penalty, Speer adopted the persona of a victim, a mere technocrat, forced to act to conditions of the time. He was sentenced to only 20 years imprisonment in Spandau on the grounds of his denial of any knowledge of the ‘Final Solution’. The great controversy around Speer is, was he truly ignorant? As not only a Nazi, yet a close friend of Hitler’s, it is alluded that Speer did know, however, it has never been thoroughly proved. Speer rode the wave of Nazism to the top. Through adhering to the ideology of the party and winning favouritism with Hitler he became powerful beyond his dream.
Everything he achieved was facilitated by Nazism. It has been said that his efficiency prolonged the war at least a year, yet he was efficient only through his elevated status won by Hitler’s favouritism. He was, in some respects, the second most important Nazi and thus shaped Nazi Germany to a certain degree. However, he was only able to do this after Nazism had shaped him. Speer is partially responsible for Nazi Germany yet he did not create it, he was a mere architect swept along with the movement. As Mason states, “Speer was an architect acting for a client…Hitler’s dreams. ” (Mason, Republic to Reich, pg 199)