Hitler’s acolyte, he was called, a talented young architect who graduated from a unique position of personal friendship with his Fuhrer to become the organizational genius of the failing Third Reich. As minister of armaments and war production from 1943 to 1945, Albert Speer kept the battered German war machine humming amid the rubble of the empire it served. Accused of using slave labor to accomplish his “miracle,” Speer was tried at Nuremberg in 1946. He was the only top war crimes defendant to plead guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in West Berlin’s Spandau Prison. In 1966 he was released. Four years later he published Inside the Third Reich, his first best-selling volume of memoirs.
Now 70, Speer has just moved with his wife, Margarete, to a small farm in the hamlet of Allgäu, about 30 miles from Lake Constance. The couple shares two sparsely furnished rooms on the ground floor of a farmhouse they purchased last year. The less spartan upper-floor rooms are reserved for the Speers’ six grown children and their families, who take turns visiting. Far from the prying eyes of the curious, the house is approachable only by a difficult mountain road. Speer’s second volume of memoirs, Spandau: The Secret Diaries, is now on the best-seller list. The book was culled from 20,000 pages of notes, many of them scribbled on toilet paper and smuggled out of prison, where writing was forbidden. Speer spoke recently with Franz Spelman of PEOPLE.
What is your daily schedule now?
I rise late, go to fetch fresh milk from the farmhouse next door, then wade through the pile of correspondence I receive daily. Somebody who lives a quasi-posthumous existence, as I do, is constantly besieged by people who want to, and have the right to, find out what really happened. Around 11 a.m. I start to work on my new book, and this may sometimes take me till 9 p.m. or later.
Certainly not this one. It is a definitive history of the German armaments industry as I saw it from the vantage point of World War II. The book won’t be finished for at least five years.
Do you have many friends?
More than I ever had before. They include the American and British directors of Spandau, a former adjutant of Hitler and the son of theologian Karl Barth. Also a lady who was a famous French Resistance fighter, a Jewish professor of political science from the University of Wisconsin and Hitler’s favorite sculptor, Arno Breker. Another is [Nazi hunter] Simon Wiesenthal in Vienna. We often see each other. You ought to see the faces of the Viennese when we take walks together.
Is Spandau still on your mind?
How could it be otherwise after those 20 years? I often wake up in the morning and have difficulty remembering that I’m not there anymore. Other times I dream that someone is putting handcuffs on me. But this is neither upsetting nor frightening. I accept it. Spandau gave me a sense of being protected, of a second world in which I’m still oddly at home.
You are not a man who pampers himself. Did this help you endure Spandau?
It might have contributed to it, even though this aspect of my personality certainly wasn’t apparent from the grandeur of my architectural projects. But when I built my own home in Berlin, it was simple. I showed Hitler the drawings for it, and he—who always heaped praise on me—significantly said nothing. This kind of austerity didn’t appeal to him.
Do you consider the time you spent in prison as lost?
God, no. In one respect, I was a Rip Van Winkle, but I also had a unique opportunity to get an outlook on life which I would never have been able to acquire had I been obliged to make a living. I had the chance to accumulate knowledge. Spandau to me was a grace, a benefit.
Has the success of your books relieved you of all financial worries?
My profits are not that impressive. Of each $100 the publishers made on my first book, I kept $7.50 for myself. Eleven dollars goes to Jewish old age homes. I have no reason to complain, but I’m not a rich man.
What happened to your desire to return to architecture?
Two architects who wanted to take me in as their partner died before I was released. And I didn’t have the impetus to begin alone. Times had changed too much. Moreover, my oldest son, a modern designer, had become very successful. He carries my name, Albert Speer. It would have been a confusing interference.
Are you still in contact with Rudolf Hess [Spandau’s only remaining prisoner]?
Only indirectly. His son visits me. And I’m in touch with his wife. I applied to visit him, but the rules won’t allow it.
Is it true he doesn’t want to get out?
Perhaps it is similar to what happened to me. I also was afraid to be freed, and even went through a complete nervous collapse the year before my release. It was only after I became free that I learned what freedom meant.
The Hess you describe in your diaries seems unchanged by his 30 years in Spandau.
That’s his character. Hess can’t be taught and doesn’t want to be taught. But don’t consider him an unhappy man. On the contrary. It was one of Hess’s greatest worries that during the Hitler reign he always was far less than his title—deputy to the Fuhrer—implied. Now he has become what that title signifies. He is the surviving deputy with a huge palace staffed by the soldiers of four nations. Only him. This means a lot to Hess.
Do you think that Germany could develop another Hitler?
I believe the young Germans who have grown up since the war would prevent such a thing. Nowadays they have learned to raise their voices. If, among the 10,000 students who listened to Hitler at the famed Hasenheide meeting in 1930, there had been a thousand who had expressed their opposition, as they would today, matters would have turned out differently.
You have been attacked for describing many of the Nazis as outwardly harmless or even “nice.”
One tends to forget that up until the critical phases of the war, even Hitler didn’t appear like a dictator. I received friendliness from Heydrich. Himmler acted like a meek person. It was one of the most eerie sides of this regime that much of it, on the surface, was so impersonal. If one didn’t look, one didn’t actually know. I confess, I didn’t look. For instance, when I planned a new factory, I just called Sauckel and demanded 10,000 workers within two months. Ten thousand lives—a number.
What were the reasons for Hitler’s anti-Semitism?
I believe that it was so deep-rooted that it could be traced to three sources. The first was Hitler’s pathological aggression. He had to destroy. The second might have been that Hitler secretly admired and envied the Jews. After all, they seemed to have carried out everything he demanded of the Germans: they kept themselves intact as a racial and cultural entity. Third, he blamed the Jews—who to him had been the culprits for Germany’s defeat in World War I—for preventing him from becoming what he really wanted to be, an architect.
Didn’t Hitler feel a certain homosexual attraction toward you?
Probably yes. A historian once wrote that I was Hitler’s unrequited love. There probably was something in him toward me which had some deep libidinous tinge. After all, he could have taken my life twice. The first time was after he had found out that I had told a group of party officials that the war was irrevocably lost. When he heard about it, he asked me to report to him and then told me: “If you weren’t my architect, I would draw consequences.” The second time was during the last days in the Chancellery when I told him that I hadn’t obeyed his orders. Instead of pushing the button to ring for Martin Bormann, he just silently turned away.
Was Hitler’s marriage to Eva Braun just before his suicide merely for the record, related to his concern with his place in posterity?
It could have been. On the other hand, it could also have been because he was really touched that she, against his wishes, came to join him in Berlin at the end. It would be wrong to assume that Hitler was a man without the ability to show and experience sentimental feelings. Nevertheless, his relationship to Eva Braun was abominable. He always treated her like a fifth-rate person. I pitied her.
How would you sum up your life?
I’ve become a pacifist. This is known. But let me quote one sentence which I, as a young student, wrote about Heinrich von Kleist’s play The Prince of Homburg. It runs, “This is the testimony of a true citizen who, after atoning for his guilt by fully submitting to the law, experiences his redemption.” I hope that this is how history will judge me.