“I hereby declare the defendant guilty and sentence him to 20 years imprisonment”, said the judge. The defendant immediately gave a huge sigh of relief. He had escaped the much dreaded death sentence. He was laid charges against anti-human rights and war crime. This defendant was probably the most powerful modern times architect. He was also a class A war criminal of World War II, the world-renowned Albert Speer.
Speer (born in 1905) was not yet thirty years old when Goebbels recognized him. Goebbels was so impressed with Speer that he offered Speer the responsibility of designing the Nazi Party’s headquarters in Berlin. Goebbels then assigned Speer to rebuild the President’s residence, where Speer could meet Hitler every day.
Since Speer came to earn Hitler's trust, the 29-year-old became the Nazi Party’s chief architect. His designs include Nuremberg Parade Grounds and the German Pavilion for the international exposition in Paris. His architectural style is both solemn and grand with an emphasis on power and authority. Speer’s designs were of a typical totalitarian style as he aimed to promote ideology whilst praising the great political power of Hitler. This in turn earned Speer the dictator’s approval.
Hitler assigned Speer to rebuild the “Germanic-styled” Berlin. Fortunately, WWII thwarted the rebuilding plan. Even Stalin respected Speer, and invited Speer to Moscow, but Hitler did not allow Speer to go.
In 1942, Speer became the Minister of Armaments, which was the peak of his powers. Other than Hitler, Speer was not accountable to anybody. Speer revamped and improved the German model of industrial production, transitioning from the previously peaceful era into a time of war. Goebbels called Speer a genius in his diary. Late into WWII, the Allies considered Speer to be a more important enemy than Hitler himself.
Speer ‘improved’ productivity by forcing a large number of Jews to perform manual labor as prisoners of war. But according to Speer, after his visit to the slavery camp, he proposed to enhance the production environment, and therefore countless lives were saved.
The important question remains to be “How much was Speer involvde in the Holocaust?” According to his memoirs, Speer knew nothing about the Holocaust, the gas chambers and had never visited the concentration camps.
During the very important Posen Speech, where Himmler gave a speech detailing the ongoing Holocaust to Nazi leaders, Speer claimed that he had left Posen before Himmler's speech; therefore he had no idea of the “Final Solution”
However, Speer was the Minister of Armaments who was responsible for supply distribution and productivity. It is extremely hard to believe that someone can mass-murder millions of his laborer behind Speer’s back.
It was only after his release that Speer began to give up on his own story. He has publicly declared, “If I didn’t see it, then it was because I didn’t want to see it”. In recent years, many files have been publicly released, including Speer’s own letter written that proves that Speer was in fact, well informed.
At the Nuremburg War Crimes Trial, Speer had admitted to other allegations except the Holocaust. He was successful as he not only evaded the responsibility of the Holocaust, but he became a ‘good’ Nazi. Speer became one of the few who escaped the death penalty that many Nazis were sentenced.
German film director Heinrich Breloer once said that Speer created a new excuse, people started to say , 'Believe me, I didn't know anything about [the Holocaust]. Just look at the Führer's friend, he didn't know about it either’
Speer was released from prison in 1966 after he published his memoirs. He anonymously donated 80% of the proceeds to the Jewish Trust Fund. However, these proceeds cannot compensate even for his smallest crime.
In 1981, Speer died of a stroke in London. For a man who has caused painful deaths to die such a natural and peaceful death, makes us breathe the heaviest sigh of sighs.