THE GOOD NAZI: The Life and Lies of Albert Speer by Dan van der Vat

THE GOOD NAZI: The Life and Lies of Albert Speer

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The best biography yet on the self-described ""second man in the Reich."" Albert Speer has long occupied a singular niche in history: that of the ""good Nazi,"" a decent and civilized man whose first love was architecture and who wished nothing more than to rebuild Germany from the misery of WW I and the worldwide depression of the 1930s. He skillfully cultivated this image until his death in 1981. Speer willingly conceded a general responsibility for his role in the Reich, and even admitted in the '70s that he had some inkling of what was happening to the Jews, but he never admitted personal responsibility for the Holocaust or the war. Naval historian van der Vat begins with a vexing question: If Speer was Hitler's right-hand man, how could he possibly claim ignorance of the genocide that was (in the words of the author) ""the driving force"" of the regime? Considering Speer's responsibilities heading the ministry of armaments during the war--one highly dependent on slave labor--his claims of ignorance are hard to believe. Yet many did believe him. Biographer Gitta Sereny, in Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (1995), seems to accept his remorse as genuine, and she finds her subject sympathetic. No less an authority than Simon Wiesenthal also believed Speer. The highly respected German biographer of Hitler, Joachim Fest, and the social psychologist Erich Fromm concurred. Van der Vat is, thankfully, immune to Speer's charms, even after having interviewed the Nazi in 1976. Beginning with a serious study of Speer as architect, van der Vat proceeds to examine his role as minister of armaments, In that capacity, Speer was personaly responsible for the evacuation of 75,000 German Jews as forced labor. Also important is that Speer now emerges as partially responsible--along with Goebbels,--for the ""spectacles"" of the Reich. Writing with irony and intelligence, van der Vat forces us to confront Speer anew.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1997
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin