International Campaign for Real History

Among documents collected by David Irving for his libel action against Hungarian born Gitta Sereny is this article which she wrote upon the death of Hitler's former armaments minister Albert Speer, whom he dismissed in disgrace in 1945, and about whom Sereny would later publish a book, Albert Speer. His Struggle with the Truth

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Plaintiff's Discovery


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London, September 3, 1981

Photo (Börsenblatt): Speer, Irving, dine together at Frankfurt Book Fair October 1980

Albert Speer, David Irving, Oct 1980The Albert Speer I knew

A personal assessment by GITTA SERENY of Hitler's armaments minister, who died in London this week


AT THE END of 1977, quite out of the blue, I received a letter from Albert Speer. A few weeks earlier The Sunday Times had published an analysis by Lewis Chester and myself of David Irving's claim that it was not Hitler but his minions -- Himmler, Heydrich and others -- who had ordered the extermination of the Jews. Hitler, Irving had claimed in his book Hitler's War, knew nothing about it, at the very least until October 1943.

In his letter Speer expressed his appreciation of the manner in which we had approached the subject. It was ludicrous, he wrote, for anyone to claim that this could have been anyone's idea but Hitler's. As for Hitler not knowing about it: "To make such a claim," he said, "shows a profound ignorance of the nature of Hitler's Germany, in which nothing of any magnitude happened, or could conceivably happen, without his knowledge."

He had also read a book I had written; Erich Fromm, he said, had lent it to him. It had moved him, cost him sleep, he told me, and he would like one day to talk about it.

Until then I had never really thought of trying to meet Speer. His first two books, The Third Reich and Spandau Diaries, were so revealing, and he had been interviewed so often, that it had always seemed to me enough had been said.

It was his voice, I think, that most intrigued me when I telephoned him to thank him for his letter. In English (which he had taught himself in Spandau), I would realise later, he sounded arbitrary, sharp and assertive. In German he was hesitant, questioning and almost too unfailingly warm. I had not suspected him of having a sense of humour, and I had not imagined him as being sad. Nor had I understood from anything I had read that he was a man consumed by a need not to teach, or to tell, but to understand: the time he had lived, the things he had done and, above all, the things he had left undone.

From then on we talked quite often on the telephone. I sent him articles I thought would interest him, he recommended books I should read. And I read, also, through the vast file of cuttings about him, many of them vehemently hostile, in a number of newspaper libraries.

We had still not met when I finally asked him, months after his first letter, whether he would be willing to talk to me at length, for the purpose of a profile.

I went to stay with him and Margaret, his wife, for 11 days, first in the Heidelberg villa that has belonged to the family for generations, and then in the old farmhouse in the south German mountains which they bought -- and he, to some extent rebuilt -- in 1976.

My stay with Speer -- and we had remained in touch ever since and were planning on collaborating on a book later this year -- was, in many ways a battle.

Not so much with him, for as I rightly guessed, he asked nothing better than to cooperate in a search for self-knowledge.

Albert SpeerThe battle was, for me, to hold on to detachment, faced with his persuasive charm. For him, it was threefold. First, to divest himself of the curious kind of glibness to which he had become accustomed over 12 years of continuous publicity. Secondly, to speak about himself, not as the public man but a private person -- it was anathema to him to discuss his private life. Thirdly -- and most important -- the battle was to avoid -- until the right moment -- the subject that was always uppermost in his mind: the murder of the Jews.

During the 11 days of dialogue, of 14 hours daily -- I discovered a man not so much of great complexity as of astonishing contrasts.

Photo (Walter Frentz): Albert Speer (from Hitler's War)  

He was also an intensely lonely man. During his 20 years in Spandau, he spoke to others, but remained alone, working, studying and thinking.

Since Spandau, he had been single-minded in his concentration on work.

I had been at his house several days when he knocked at my door just as I had gone to bed.

I opened the door and he held out a foot-thick manuscript. "Just glance at it," he said "and tell me what you think could be done with it."

When he was in VIP detention a British intelligence officer suggested that he should jot down his impressions of the men around Hitler.

What he gave me were 28 profiles, every one of them, with some editing, potentially a small masterwork. These, each re-evaluated by Speer 36 years on, would have been the book we were going to do this autumn.

He was very arrogant about some of his achievements, but not at all about his "standing" or his fame. He was very humble about his artistic talents and about the animosity he aroused in so many people. He was also philosophical and even humorous about the lies and misinterpretations. (Thus he never claimed that he did not. know about the concentration camps. The knowledge he denied was of genocide). And he was not involved in a plot against Hitler's life. "I thought of it once, very briefly and too late ", be told me. "And although I asked a friend some technical questions, in the end I could. never have done it."

He was quite sure about his expertise over the technical aspects of Hitler's Germany. He was quite uncertain, and intensely curious, about everything psychological and motivational which triggered and supported the events he was so disastrously involved in.

I have heard many times before -- and already repeated since he died -- that his confession of guilt at Nuremberg and his continuing mea culpa since were calculating, opportunistic, a result of intelligence and planning rather than of morality or repentance.

Albert Speer loved Hitler, but not in a physical sense and in the same way Hitler returned that love. It was that over-whelming love, I think, that blinded Speer from the full realisation of all that was happening around him. His was the genius that organised Hitler's war machine. Whatever arguments may rage about his talents as an architect, or even about the unique way in which he served his 20-year sentence in Spandau, overriding them all will be the one about the man himself: was he true or false?

He was both. During the Hitler period he was, I think, deeply false. Even now, after long talks about his guilt, which he felt to such an overwhelming degree, I am still not certain how much he knew and how much he deliberately hid from himself or how much his psyche simply rejected as unaccept-able. His repentance, however, was, I came to believe, completely genuine. For 36 years, it was his life.

© Times Newspapers Ltd, 1981

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