A personal account of the most tumultuous episode in world history reviewed by a History & Philosophy graduate who writes for a music blog. What a combination! Thanks to Alex Harris of Hang The Jukebox for this insightful review of Albert Speer's autobiography.
If there is a subject that has been covered more often, academically or culturally, than the Nazis, Hitler and World War Two, I cannot bring it to mind. There are countless books, films, television programmes and internet sites dedicated to one of the most violent, emotive and despicable chapters of human history. However, Inside the Third Reich has niche appeal since it comes from the unique perspective of Albert Speer, a man intimate with not only the inner workings of Hitler’s Germany, but with Adolf Hitler himself. Compiled from the memoirs Speer wrote whilst in prison this is a fascinating first-hand account.
Speer was an architect by trade, and was trying to find his professional way at the same time as the Nazis rose to power. With a self-proclaimed apathy for politics, Speer, convinced by some students, attended an early Hitler speech and was immediately captivated by the infamous orator’s spell. Hitler, fascinated by artists, curried favour with Speer seeing him as a man with artistic talent but who was young enough to mould stylistically and politically. As Hitler’s influence over Germany rose so did Speer’s and the young architect was happy to ignore the troubling ideological elements of Nazism whilst the commissions kept coming from the man he so admired at the top. He rode on the crest of Nazism losing himself to the endless work that Hitler put his way. Speer, as Hitler’s chief architect (and later Minister of Armaments), became as intimate with Hitler as was possible, as well as working with some of the cruellest protagonists of the Third Reich including Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels. Inside the Third Reich therefore offers a fascinating insight into day-to-day life at the top of Nazi Germany and an insightful, compelling commentary on the cult of the Fuhrer and Hitler’s personality. Speer is captivated, mesmerised and horrified by the man in equal measure, as well as being disgusted by the corruption and inner workings of Hitler’s top men. This is not to say that Speer was ideologically opposed to Nazism and the foul creatures that enforced it; he was wholly committed to achieving victory for Germany and did more than anyone else (bar Hitler himself), to prolong the Second World War until the very later stages, when it was clear that all was lost. Indeed, these chapters on the end of the war are perhaps the most fascinating since they highlight the startling levels of incompetency at the top of the Third Reich. It makes you wonder whether the outcome would have been different had the German war machine been run by professionals.
Although fascinating, some readers mind find Inside the Third Reich troubling; particularly Speer’s dedication to so many pages on architecture and his governance of the armaments industry, whereas the destruction of the Jews and other innocents is not mentioned until nearly four-hundred pages in. The level of technical detail he provides is historically interesting but morally troubling. Although it seems from the final chapters that Speer never tried to shy away from his responsibility as a leader and criminal of Germany he is perhaps one of the worst kinds of Nazi; a careerist who sold his soul for one man’s personality rather than for any kind of ideology. Needless to say the book caused a sensation when it was first published in Germany in 1969 and translated into English a year later because it is an insightful and emotive read for anybody interested in World War Two, Hitler or the Third Reich.
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