Thursday, June 03, 2004

I've just finished reading the memoirs of Albert Speer, Hitler's Minister of Armaments. I've written about Speer before when I was halfway through the book. Now that I've completed it, I must say it surprises me how American Speer really was.

Speer, who was sentenced to twenty years in jail at Nuremberg, due chiefly to his going along with the German program to use foreign slave labor in German factories, was a non-ideological man with little interest in politics. Hitler seems to have distrusted career politicians; when Hitler's previous Minister of Armaments died in a plane crash, Hitler ordered Speer, an architect with absolutely no political training, to take his job.

I say that Speer reminded me an American due to his ultra-focused and workaholic approach to life. He was given a job and he did his best to fulfill it. Speer spends pages and pages explaining all the bureaucratic hoops he had to navigate to keep German war production going in spite of allied bombings. His memoirs are, more than anything else, a fascinating guide to the Nazi bureaucracy and to the clique of party officials competing for Hitler's attention. He did not contemplate the moral aspects of his job nor did he ever seem to stop and formulate coherent opinions on world affairs; he simply did his best to make sure his job was performed as well as possible -- and indeed, Speer is credited with managing to increase German armament production despite the continued wartime destruction up until the very last stages of the war.

Some more interesting quotes from the book:

1. For Ribbentrop's fiftieth birthday in 1943 several of his close associates presented him with a handsome casket, ornamented with semi-precious stones, which they intended to fill with photocopies of all the treaties and agreements concluded by the Foreign Minister. "We were thrown into great embarrassment," Ambassador Hewel, Ribbentrop's liaison man, remarked to Hitler at supper, "when we were about to fill the casket. There were only a few treaties that we hadn't broken in the meantime."

Hitler's eyes filled with tears of laughter.

2. [On his success in armament production] ...things went so well because I applied the methods of democratic economic leadership. The democracies...rewarded initiative, aroused an awareness of mission, and spurred decision making. Among us, on the other hand, all such elements had long ago been buried. Pressure and coercion kept production going, to be sure, but destroyed all spontaneity. I felt it necessary to issue a declaration to the effect that industry was not "knowingly lying to us, stealing from us, or otherwise trying to damage our war economy."

The party felt acutely challenged by that to sharp attacks, I had to defend my system of delegated responsibility in a letter to Hitler.

Paradoxically, from 1942 on, the developments in the warring countries moved in an opposite direction. The Americans, for example, found themselves compelled to introduce authoritarian stiffening into their industrial structure, whereas we tried to loosen the regimented economic system. The elimination of criticism of superiors had in the course of years led to a situation in which mistakes and failures, misplanning or duplication of effort were no longer even noted. I saw to the formation of committees in which discussion was possible, shortages and mistakes could be uncovered, and their elimination considered. We often joked that we were on the point of reintroducing the parliamentary system.

3. It seemed far more practicable to all concerned to employ German women rather than assorted foreign [slave] labor. Businessmen came to me with statistics showing that the employment of German women during the First World War had been significantly higher than it was now...

At the beginning of April 1942 I went to Sauckel with the proposition that we recruit our labor from the ranks of German women...he offered to put the question to Goering...

Our conference with Goering took place in Karinhall...Sauckel laid great weight on the danger that factory work might inflict moral harm upon the German womanhood; not only might their "psychic and emotional life" be affected but also their ability to bear. Goering totally concurred.

4. ...Hitler remained unimpressed:

These difficulties can be overcome as all difficulties can be overcome! First, we must conquer the road. Then the way is open to the plains south of the Caucasus. There we can deploy our armies freely and set up supply camps. Then, in one or two years, we'll start an offensive into the underbelly of the British Empire. With a minimum of effort we can liberate Persia and Iraq. The Indians will hail our divisions enthusiastically.

When in 1944 we were combing through the printing trade for unnecessary assignments, we came upon a plant in Leipzig that was turning out Persian maps and language guides ... in large quantities. The contract has been let and then forgotten.

5. [Goering] appeared in an euphoric mood, his pupils visibly dilated, and delivered to the astonished specialists from the steel industry a long lecture on the manufacture of steel, parading all his knowledge of blast furnaces and metallurgy. There followed a succession of commonplaces: We had to produce more, must not shun innovations; industry was frozen in tradition, must learn to jump over its own bombast, Goering's speech slowed and his expression grew more and more absent. Finally, he abruptly put his head on the table and fell peacefully asleep. We thought it politic to pretend to ignore the splendidly uniformed Reich Marshal and proceeded to discuss our problems until he awoke again and curtly declared the meeting over.


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