Albert Speer was born in
He was educated in architectural studies at
the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe,
and later at the Universities of Munich and
Berlin. Inspired by Hitler's oratory prowess, he joined the National Socialist
party in January 1931, where he developed
a close friendship with Hitler. He believed
Hitler and the Nazis could answer the communist
threat and restore the glory of the German
empire that he considered lacking under the
Speer quickly proved his worth by his efficient
and creative staging of Nazi events. He designed
monuments and decorations, as well as the
parade grounds at Nuremberg where a party
congress was held in 1934 and captured on
film by Leni Riefenstahl in Triumph of
the Will. That Nuremberg rally was the
archetype of what became identifiable as a
Nazi-style of public rallies as spectacles,
characterized by huge crowds of uniformed
marchers, striking lighting effects, and impressive
flag displays directed by Speer.
In 1937, Hitler gave Speer the opportunity
to fulfill his youthful architectural ambitions
by appointing him Inspector General of the
Reich. Hitler selected Speer, his "architect
of genius," to construct the Reich Chancellery
in Berlin and the Party palace in Nuremberg.
Hitler also commissioned him to refurbish
Berlin, a project for which Speer prepared
grandiose designs that were never completed.
Speer became one of the most loyal members
of the Nazi regime and was a member of Hitler's
inner circle. In 1938, he was awarded the
Nazi Golden Party Badge of Honor. A year later,
Speer's office assumed control of the allocation
of apartments belonging to Berlin Jews who
were evicted. His workload grew in 1941 after
Berlin's Jews were deported to the east.
When Fritz Todt was killed in an air accident
in February 1942, Speer was appointed to succeed
him as Minister of Armaments. He later took
on the grander title of Minister of Armaments
and War Production and became the principal
planner of the German war economy, responsible
for the construction of strategic roads and
defenses, as well as military hardware.
Despite the unrelenting Allied bombing attacks
designed to disrupt war production, Speer
managed to increase armament production dramatically.
In 1941, Germany produced 9,540 front-line
machines and 4,900 heavy tanks; in 1944, output
reached 35,350 machines and 17,300 tanks.
This impressive growth was achieved as a result
of Speer's use of prisoners of war and civilian slave
laborers in the munitions factories. By
September 1944, some seven and a half million
foreigners worked as slave laborers and, in
violation of the Hague and Geneva Conventions,
Speer exploited two million prisoners of war
in the production effort.
Speer's relations with Hitler deteriorated
when Speer disobeyed Hitler's order to destroy
Nazi industrial installations in areas close
to the advancing Allies. He later claimed
that he independently conspired to assassinate
Hitler, though historians doubt whether he
ever meant to execute this plan.
Speer was found guilty of war crimes and
crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg
International Military Tribunal in 1946.
He had been charged with employing forced
laborers and concentration camp prisoners
in the German armaments industry. His testimony was notable because he was the lone defendant
to accept responsibility for the practices
of the Nazi regime both for his actions
and for those not under his control. He was
sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment in
Spandau prison, after which he published his
best-selling memoir, Inside
the Third Reich (1970). He described
himself in this account as a technician unconcerned
with politics, but he still took responsibility
for his role in aiding the Nazis, and expressed
his regret at having done so. Again, he assumed
responsibility for those actions beyond his
immediate control, and expressed regret for
his inaction during the slaughter of the Jews.
Speer died in London in 1981.