A thoughtful reassessment of Albert Speer’s role in the Third Reich.
Hannah Arendt was thinking of Adolf Eichmann when she coined the phrase “the banality of evil,” but those words were tailor-made for Speer, “the successful average man, well-dressed, civil, non-corrupt,” who early on hitched his wagon to Hitler’s star. As German historian Fest (Plotting Hitler’s Death, 1996, etc.) takes pains to point out, Speer distinguished himself from the rest of the Nazi leadership by his very normalcy: the perfect corporate man, he had no apparent perversions, no weird addictions, not even much of a lust for power. It was no accident, however, that Speer became a member of Hitler’s inner circle, and perhaps the Führer’s only real friend. “Each found in the other what he missed in himself,” Fest ventures in a rare moment of psychologizing, “admiring, in a form of transferred self-love, the ideal image of himself.” Some dark ambition may have driven Speer, but he knew what he was doing and labored loyally and intently for the Nazis. He gave the regime much of its look, choreographing the mass rallies of Nuremberg and designing the monumental buildings of Berlin, as well as its highly efficient methods of killing political enemies and carting away their possessions. Yet for reasons that remain obscure, he avoided the gallows, unlike so many of his peers. Fest seems inclined to take Speer at his word when, after 20 years of solitary confinement, he expressed regret for his ill-advised choice of friends; indeed, the author observes, he was the only high-ranking official in the Nazi leadership to have admitted guilt or responsibility for his crimes. Even so, this is no apology, and Fest paints a suitably damning portrait of the man whom John Kenneth Galbraith once described as being “a very intelligent escapist from the truth.”
Of great interest to students of the Nazi regime and of the inexhaustible human capacity for evil.