I've been reading the memoirs of Albert Speer, Hitler's personal architect, and later, the Minister of War Production in the Nazi government. The disturbing part of the book, for me, is the extent to which I can relate to Speer.
The memoirs obsessively deal with architecture. History passes, but Speer is only thinking about the buildings he is commissioned to design; he rambles for pages and pages on end about the various architectural styles, the influence of his teachers, his emotional struggles as he progressively moved away from the architectural philosophies of his past.
In fact, architecture dominates the book so much that once I began skimming the parts about architecture I found that I could get through most of the book in just under a couple of hours.
This single minded obsession with his work -- a devotion to the craft and a willful ignorance of basic moral questions -- is something that describes myself and many of the science students I know.
Some interesting excerpts:
1. Hess came to table about once every two weeks; he would be followed by his adjutant in a rather weird getup, carrying a tin vessel containing a specially prepared meal which was to be rewarmed in the kitchen. For a long time it was hidden from Hitler that Hess had his own special vegetarian meal served to himself. When someone finally gave the secret away, Hitler turned irritably to Hess in the presence of the assembled company and blustered: "I have a first class diet cook here. If your doctor has prescribed something special for you, she will be glad to prepare it. But you cannot bring your food with you." Hess, even then inclining to obstinate contrariness, began explaining that the components of his meals had to be of special biodynamic origin. Whereupon Hitler bluntly informed him that in that case he should take his meals at home. Thereafter Hess scarcely ever came to the dinners.
When ... word was sent out that all households in Germany should eat a one-dish meal on Sundays, thereby promoting guns instead of butter, only a tureen of soup was served at Hitler's table too. The number of Sunday guests thereafter shrank to two or three...
2. Walther Funk, who was both Minister of Economics and president of the Reichsbank, told stories about the outlandish pranks that his vice president, Brinkman, had gone on performing for months, until it was finally realized that he was mentally ill. In telling such stories, Funk not only wanted to amuse Hitler but to inform him in this casual way of events which would sooner of later reach his ears. Brinkmann, it seemed, had invited the cleaning women and messenger boys of the Reichsbank to a grand dinner in the ballroom of the Hotel Bristol, one of the best hotels in Berlin, where he played the violin for them. This sort of thing rather fitted with the regime's propaganda of all Germans forming one "folk community." But as everyone at table laughed, Funk continued: "Recently, he stood in front of the Ministry of Economics...took a large package of newly printed banknotes from his briefcase -- as you know, the notes bear my signature -- and gave them out to passers-by, saying: 'Who wants some of the new Funks?'...
Hitler's eyes filled with tears are laughter. When he had recovered, he launched into a monologue on how hard sometimes is to recognize a madman.
3. One day we[Speer and a museum director] were sitting with Goering in a room whose walls were done in the Wilhelmine neorococo style, adorned from top to bottom with roses in bas-relief -- quintessential atrociousness. Even Goering knew that when he asked: "How do you like this decoration Herr Direktor? Not bad is it?" Instead of saying "Its ghastly," the old gentleman became unsure of himself. He did not want to disagree with his prominent employer and customer and answered evasively. Goering immediately scented an opportunity for a joke and winked at me: "But, Herr Direktor, don't you think its beautiful? I mean to have you decorate all my rooms this way. We were talking about just that, weren't we, Herr Speer?"...The director writhed; his artistic conscience brought beads of sweat to his forehead and his goatee quivered with distress. Goering had taken it into his head to make the old man forswear himself. "Now look at this wall carefully. See how wonderfully those roses twine their way up. Like being in a rose arbor in the open. And you mean to say you can't feel enthusiastic about this sort of thing?"...The game went on for a long time until the director gave in and voiced the praise Goering demanded.
"They're all like that!" Goering afterward said contemptuously. And it was true enough: They were all like that, Goering included. For at meals he now never tired of telling Hitler how bright and expansive his home was now, "just like yours my Fuehrer."
4. When I returned to Hitler, he flew into a rage. He again ordered that the building be immediately evacuated and told me to begin on my [architectural renovation] project without consideration for the presence of officials.
[Hitler's coalition partner Vice Chancellor] Papen [whose offices were in the building] remained invisible. His officials wavered but promised to arrange their files and transfer them to a provisional home in a week or two. I thereupon ordered the workmen to move into the building without further ado and encouraged them to knock the heavy plaster decorations from the walls...creating maximum noise and dust. The dust wafted through the cracks of the doors into the offices, and the racket made all work impossible. Hitler was delighted. Along with his expressions of approval he made jokes about the "dusty bureaucrats."
Twenty-four hours later they moved out. In one of the rooms I saw a large pool of dried blood on the floor. There...Herbert von Bose, one of Papen's assistants, had been shot. I looked away and from then on avoided the room. But the incident did not affect me any more deeply than that.