“From 1942 Speer was the second most powerful man in the Reich and Hitler’s right-hand man. Gitta Sereny, through twelve years of research and through many conversations with Speer, his friends and colleagues, reveals how Speer came to terms with his own acts and failures to act, his progress from moral extinction to moral self-education and the question of his real culpability in the Nazi crimes.” - Amazon Product Description
In a nutshell description
Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth is a detailed journey into the life and morality of Albert Speer, the German architect who famously rose within Nazi Germany to become Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and Munitions as well as an initmate member of his inner circle.
Late author Gitta Sereny meticulously maps out Speer’s ascent from his early beginnings to his ascent to the highest echelons of the Third Reich before a post-war life in which he portrayed himself as ‘the good Nazi’.
And this is where the book is particularly interesting. Speer - especially after the completion of his 20 year imprisonment at Spandau prison - presented himself as an articulate, educated and apologetic victim of circumstance. Crucially, he claimed to having not known anything about the very worst Nazi crimes, including the systematic killing of over six million Jewish people during what became known as The Holocaust.
As part of her research, Sereny came to know Speer personally and admitted to liking him. But was he really telling the truth when insisting that he didn’t know anything about the Final Solution? Sereny’s conclusion is almost reluctant but firm: He did know and history should judge him accordingly.
“If one wanted to gain real understanding of Speer, one had to realize first that almost everything he did–though, as shown by some of our talks, not quite everything–had a purpose, generally directed towards his own benefit.” - Gitta Sereny
Quotes to make you think
“Most Hitler biographers are dismissive of his emotional capacities. The general trend has been to see him as cold and incapable of compassion. But while this certainly applies to his political self, more recent research suggests that he was neither cold nor indifferent towards those closest to him, and this certainly included Speer.”
“If one wanted to gain real understanding of Speer, one had to realize first that almost everything he did–though, as shown by some of our talks, not quite everything–had a purpose, generally directed towards his own benefit.”
“What Hitler taught us–to an extent greater than anyone else in history, though we would become aware of it again in Vietnam–is that a licence to kill creates a momentum which defies moral sensibility and discernment and destroys the capacity of the individual to distinguish between good and evil or, and this is perhaps even worse, to act against a recognized wrong.”
Why I love this book
I read Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth more than a decade ago. Having studied Nazi Germany in some depth throughout school and university, this was the first time I had actively sought out and purchased a book on the subject for the sake of wanting to learn more rather than with an exam or essay at the back of my mind. I took my time and immersed myself in the details.
Sereny’s forensic investigation of events, descriptions of the Nazi context and exploration of Speer’s character captivated me from the beginning and compelled me to try to empahise with his experiences on a human level. It was perhaps the first time I had considered the famous Nazi protagonists as real people rather than evil caricatures.
I almost found myself hoping Sereny would reach the conclusion that Speer really was just a normal person who was unfortunate to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her assertion that Speer had known about the extermination of the Jews felt even more powerful as a result.
Read this book if…
You are interested by the history of Nazi Germany and want to learn more about that period of time (partly) while contemplating the ambiguous nature of good and evil.
What others say about it
“Arguably the most important and certainly the most fascinating book about the Nazi era published in the last ten years” — Robert Harris (note, Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth was published in 1995)
“A masterpiece of historical and inquisitorial technique, enables us to understand the ablest, most articulate, and most ambiguous of Hitler’s ministers” — Hugh Trevor-Roper
“Relentlessly and repeatedly, Sereny shows that Speer must have known more about the fate of the Jews, the realities of the concentration camps, and the treatment of foreign workers than he ever admitted. Yet she shows a kind of overall indulgence and tells us that she saw in Speer's battle with himself…” - Stanley Hoffman
Some good further reading/watching/listening
Watch Gitta Sereny talking about Albert Speer.
Watch 'Albert Speer The Nazi Who Said Sorry'.
Where to get it
About the author
Gitta Sereny was an Austrian-British biographer, historian, and investigative journalist who came to be known for her interviews and profiles of infamous figures such as Mary Bell, Franz Strangl and Albert Speer. She wrote five books in total and worked extensively as a journalist, most notably for The Daily Telegraph Magazine. Sereny died in June 2012 at the age of 91.
September 19, 1995
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