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- For the son of Albert Speer, also an architect, see Albert Speer (the younger)
Albert Speer (March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981), sometimes called 'the first architect of the Third Reich', was Hitler's chief architect in Nazi Germany and became in 1942 minister of armament in Hitler's cabinet. After the war he was tried at Nuremberg where he expressed repentance and was convicted to twenty years imprisonment. After his release, he became a successful author, writing a number of semi-autobiographical works.
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 instead. He studied under Heinrich Tessenow at the Institute of Technology in Berlin, eventually becoming Tessenow's assistant. After completing his studies in 1931, he married Margarete Weber. Later that year he was persuaded by some of his students to attend a Nazi Party rally, where he found himself mesmerized by the words of Adolf Hitler. Within weeks he was a member of the Party.
Speer's first commission as a Party member came in 1933 when Joseph 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.
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 Pergamum Altar in Turkey, 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," as it was called by British Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson .
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 did have an architectural rival: Hermann Giesler , who Hitler also favored. There were frequent clashes between the two in regards to achitectural matters and in closeness to Hitler.
In 1937 Speer designed the German Pavilion for the World's Fair in Paris, which was located directly across the street from the Soviet Pavilion. It was designed to represent a massive defense against the onslaught of communism, although 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 supra-German state — 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 destroyed by the Soviet army in 1945.
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 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 high and eight hundred feet 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 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.
At the Nuremberg trial, 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, Speer adopted a "see no evil" attitude towards the Nazi atrocities. For example, he admitted to journalist James O'Donnell that he was aware of Auschwitz and 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.
Minister of Armaments
Hitler was always a strong supporter of Speer, whose designs were considered expressions of 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.
Speer worked diligently to increase war production, often through the use of slave labour, even though it became more and more obvious that Germany was facing imminent defeat. He tried unsuccessfully to put German economy on war footing, but party politics and the inner circle of influence around Hitler prevented him, directly influencing the final outcome of the war. 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 labour.
Considered by Claus von Stauffenberg, the organizer of an unsuccessful conspiracy against Hitler, Speer was a complete opposite of the raging Hitler, grotesque Göring and the perverse Himmler, his name was found on the list of members of a post-Hitler government envisoned by the July 20 plotters, however, the list had an annotation "if possible" by his name, a note that Speer credits with saving his life. According to his own accounts, Speer even planned an assassination attempt on Hitler in 1945, but independent evidence for this is extremely sparse.
Despite this, Hitler continued to consider Speer trustworthy. However, Speer, with considerable risk to his own life, prevented the implementation of Hitler's scorched earth policy on both German soil and occupied territories, and in association with General Gotthard Heinrici, ordered most troops fighting in the east to disobey Hitler's orders, retreat to the American-held lines and surrender there instead of making a suicidal effort to unblock Berlin from the Soviets.
After the War
At the Nuremberg trials after the war Speer was one of the few officials to express remorse and plead guilty; he was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in Spandau Prison, West Berlin, largely for his use of slave labour. His release from prison in 1966 was a world-wide media event. He published several semi-autobiographical books until his death in London on September 1, 1981 — exactly 42 years after World War II began. His books such as Inside the Third Reich provided a unique and personal look into the personalities of the Nazi era. However, many critics believe that his books understate his role in the atrocities of the era.
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.
- Speer, Albert (1976) Spandau: The Secret Diaries, Macmillan, ISBN 0026995018
- Speer, Albert (1970) Inside the Third Reich Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0684829495
- Joachim Fest, Ewald Osers (translator), Alexandra Dring (2002) Speer: The Final Verdict Harcourt, ISBN 0151005567
- Dan van der Vat (1997) The Good Nazi: The Life and Lies of Albert Speer George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, ISBN 0297817213
- Gitta Sereny (1995) Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth Knopf, ISBN 0394529154
- Matthias Schmidt (1984) Albert Speer: The End of a Myth St Martins Press, ISBN 031201709X
- BBC - BBC Four - Audio Interviews - Albert Speer
- A tribute to Speers architecture
- Testimony of Albert Speer at us-israel.org
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