Late in 1989, when I was living and working on contract overseas, I read Albert Speer's book [b:Inside the Third Reich|853201|Inside the Third Reich|Albert Speer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344664347s/853201.jpg|838705], in which he described, in extensive detail, the blossoming of his career, first as Hitler's principal architect throughout the 1930s and the early war years, and later as der Führer's Minister of Armaments and War Production from 1942 to 1945. He and Hitler (who fancied himself an architect given his lifelong passion for art and architecture) had a uniquely special relationship. I was utterly enthralled with that book because it provided me with a tangible sense of how Germany functioned under Hitler and his chief lieutenants (e.g., Goering, Hess, Bormann, Himmler, and Goebbels) ---- most of whom Speer knew very well.
What is more: unlike many of his contemporaries in the Nazi Party, Speer, upon being brought to trial for war crimes at Nuremberg, was the only one who freely confessed his responsibility as Minister who used slave labour to help sustain the German war machine, and thus prolong the war. He impressed me deeply because, upon being fully apprised of the enormity of Hitler's crimes in the weeks and months following V-E Day, Speer --- normally not a person given to introspection and displays of emotion --- accepted Germany's guilt and sought to atone for that. Thus, he served a 20-year prison sentence and spent the rest of his life trying to face up to his onetime devotion and faithful service to Hitler and his regime.
This particular book gave me a rigorous, more objective look at Albert Speer (during various stages of his life), both from the vantage point of those who worked with him before and during the war, as well as his critics and detractors in subsequent years.
For all his organizational brilliance and intelligence, Speer could, at times, be arrogant, abrupt, and emotionally detached. The latter trait he recognized in himself and sought to address, with a view to self-improvement. For it was during Speer's time in Spandau prison that he made the acquaintance of a young French chaplain, with whom he became especially close (the chaplain served at Spandau for about 3 years) and gave him the impetus to strive to become a different, better person.
I'd like to cite some of Speer's own words, which I hope will convey to the person reading this review, his struggle for truth:
"I have often asked myself what I would have done if I had come to feel a share in the responsibility for the things Hitler did in areas other than those in which I was directly involved. And unfortunately, if I'm honest, my reply has to be negative --- the tasks Hitler had confided to me, first in architecture, then in government, his 'friendship,' the passionate conviction he radiated, the power his favor conferred on me, all this was quite simply overwhelming and had become so indispensable to me that to hang on to it I would probably have swallowed anything.
"True ... much later I did oppose [Hitler] in many ways. But... that cannot serve as justification of my previous passivity.... The truth is that I only woke up to what he was doing --- what he was --- when I had to acknowledge to myself that he intended to pull the German people down into perdition with him. And really, all I did then was only in an effort to prevent that."
For anyone who wants to examine the life and times of a person who turned away from having once served so faithfully one of the world's most brutal dictatorships and spent the remainder of his life in atonement [Speer gave the bulk of proceeds from his best-selling books anonymously to various Jewish charities worldwide.] and self-examination, READ THIS BOOK. I think, by so doing, you'll come to share (as I do) the author's assessment of Albert Speer:
"I came to understand and value Speer's battle with himself and saw in it the re-emergence of the intrinsic morality he manifested as a boy and youth. It seemed to me it was some kind of victory that this man --- just this man --- weighed down by intolerable and unmanageable guilt, with the help of a Protestant chaplain, a Catholic monk and a Jewish rabbi, tried to become a different man."