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on 20 October 2009
Albert Speer was Hitler's architect during the 30's and Minister for Armaments during the Second World War, and after the war he was the only high-ranking Nazi to apologize and to renounce National Socialism. He was tried at Nuremberg, where he expressed contrition but always maintained that he himself was unaware of the genocide perpetrated by his party. He pleaded guilty to using slave labour in his arms factories and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. It was probably only his cooperative attitude, contrasting with most of his co-accused, that saved him from the death penalty. The British Chief Prosecutor Lord Shawcross later said:
My own view is one of great surprise that Speer was so leniently dealt with, and I still think it wrong that his subordinate Sauckel, who worked under his instructions, was sentenced to death while Speer escaped.

After his release, Speer wrote several bestselling books on the Nazis and often appeared on TV and in the print media, apologizing for the Nazi regime but always denying knowledge of the "final solution". Many applauded his bravery for attempting to confront the horrors of that time but others doubted his sincerity, claiming he must have known. In this book, Sereny weighs up the evidence. An important piece of evidence was uncovered in the early 70's, which indicated that Speer was present at a conference when Himmler spoke explicitly of "extermination" of the Jews. Speer claimed to have left the conference before that speech, but Sereny suggests this is untrue.

Speer was a very complex and interesting character, and this book is a very detailed portrait of him. Though his remorse was undoubtedly genuine, there was always a self-serving element to his character. It was this that enabled him to ignore what was happening around him in 1930's Germany. He seems to have had no sense of personal morality at this point, blithely accepting National Socialist doctrine as gospel. Had he been born in another country he would undoubtedly have been a valuable and upstanding member of the society, as a man of intelligence and uncommon organizational skills. But to play by the rules in Hitler's Germany meant to facilitate crimes against humanity. Later he developed a conscience about this, but too late, and even then, it seems, he was not quite able to admit the full extent of his complicity to others, or probably even to himself.

This book is well-written, well-researched, and non-judgemental, which is important when dealing with a character as ambiguous as Speer. It is based on many long conversations with Speer himself, and many others close to him. It gets to the very depths of its subject, and also serves to demonstrate how Nazism came to seem acceptable, and even necessary, to many intelligent, rational and responsible people in 1930's Germany. Truly fascinating.
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on 16 July 2002
This book is superbly researched and thorough. It is also tremendously exciting and sustains a level of analysis which brings not only Speer but the whole of that period into sharp focus. With the new A2 History exams involving synoptic papers which have as their starting the analysis of documentary evidence this book is an absolute must for the able student. Quite apart from Speer's equivocations about the fate of the Jews and his knowledge of such matters, the study offers views on the other key figures in the story and their roles. The debate about Hitler and his dealings with his henchmen is superbly illustrated. Gita Seregny leaves no doubt about the centrality of Hitler, but opens up very interesting reflections on the rest, especially Himmler and Bormann. The vicious infighting after 1943 is described with great detail and irony.The book pauses from time to time with reflections that cover a whole gamut of other issues.... which themselves are sufficiently penetrating to invite further study. A true piece of academic research and a tremendous read in the process.
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on 28 March 2000
Albert Speer was undoubtedly an enigma and Gitta Sereny tries her hardest to unravel his mysteries. Speer seemed a mass of contradictions, and I finished this book still undecided as to his character. I felt the book presents him as an actor who seldom showed his true face. Compelling. You find yourself willing Sereny to condemn him, but she treats her subject with fairness and respect - whether he deserved it or not. What more could you ask of a biographer?
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on 31 March 2001
Gitta Sereny handles her subject as professionally and thoroughly as she had in her interviews with Treblinka's last commandant, F. Stangl (serving a life sentence) in Into That Darkness. Her study of Speer, while exploring essentially the same questions, carries with it more dimension because Speer's life and personality had certain further dimension to them than had Stangl's. Whether covering aspects of his relationship with Hitler and toward his own power-jostling peers in the highest echelons of Nazi hierarchy, or Sereny's encounter with the now grown children of those latter and how she finds them coming to terms with their parents' world, the world of their own childhoods, this book provides certain relevant and valuable insights and surprises which should impress the reader. There is no personal fascination paid to Speer, and this thanks to the masterful balance of Sereny's style in getting to know not only her subject well but his immediate family, for perspective in reaching the answers to those questions which so drive the study of Holocaust and all forms of Nazi abuse of power.
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on 13 January 2000
This is more than jut a book, it is an experience. Never have I been so eager to get to the next page, and at the same time absorb all the information on the page I was currently reading. This story of the man, Speer, was all the more convincing as it looked past his apologies to the victims of the Third Reich, and tried to find out what made him follow Hitler so zealously. At the same time it gives one a valuable insight into Hitler's court, Himmler, Goebbels etc., and their interactions, ambitions and personalities. This is a fantastic book and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.
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on 28 November 1999
An excellent account of the man at the centre of Hitler's circle, Gitta Sereny is a tremendous writer. Her facinating account of Albert Speer's life, from minister for Armaments under the Nazi regime to his 20 year spell in Spandau prison and his release into an hostile world, is a masterpiece. I could not put the book down.
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on 7 January 2000
A profoundly moving, thought provoking book. An outstanding history of the nadir of European civilisation, powerfully illuminated by the compassion and humanity of the writer and her intent to understand. Her insights are deeply relevant for the war zones of the present day.
A masterpiece.
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VINE VOICEon 17 July 2015
I first read this substantial book shortly after release in 1997 and have to admit that I found the wandering non-linear narrative along with the regular deviations from the main subject an irritation and as a result did not complete it. Although well researched and beautifully written, this melancholy tale of self-delusion by an extremely talented and educated man seduced by power and Hitler himself didn’t hold my interest. The sheer number of people to learn about, the unending facts and figures, the same incident described by two or more individuals was wearying and ultimately too much. The battle within Herr Speer about his ultimate role within the Nazi party and its policy of racial hatred, expansionism, and barbarity on the grandest of scales should have been fascinating but it wasn’t.

I have recently re read it, now in my fifties, and could not put it down. The wandering narrative has gone replaced by occasional interesting asides; the regular deviations from the main subject have become systematic additions to the text that now back up, reinforce, or contradict preceding information. The text that didn’t hold my attention now gripped it like a vice and I found myself reading in the early hours when I should have been asleep.

This is perhaps a book for the more mature mind that has seen a bit of life and understands that ideals and intentions can and are often affected by circumstances. People do not always do the right thing, they will look the other way, act out of personal interest, lie, deceive, and allow themselves to be pressured to act, and perhaps even think, and in a way that perhaps they would not have done in other circumstances. In Speer’s case I think all of these things apply and probably many more.

Being close to Hitler and the Nazi elite for many years and having to, at least on the surface, accept and concur with their extremely unpleasant and unrelenting ideology about race, must have affected his ability to exercise independent rational though even on the most basic of levels. This shifting of one’s moral compass is covered in some depth and applies to many of the top Nazi’s who took on roles in mass murder on an enormous scale and then tried, at least in their own mind, to justify their actions as necessary and unavoidable.

Ms Sereny’s book is not like any other biography I have ever read. She seems to gently pick at her subjects allowing them to respond as they feel fit. This gentle approach has the effect of drawing more from the subject and this “drip drip” effect adds up to an astonishingly detailed and readable account of someone who by chance got caught up in the whole Nazi experience but who also never made any real effort to extricate himself from the looming storm clearly on the horizon. Until almost the very end of the conflict he appears to have been a loyal Hitler supporter, or at the very least an efficient and obedient one. Only months before the final devastating defeat does his conscious seem to reassert itself.

Speer is an enigma who will never be fully understood, and this is because Speer didn’t fully understand himself. His contemporaries, who were interviewed or left written evidence in the form of diaries or published works, also found him difficult to assess. Some believed him calculating and unfeeling others an unwitting victim drawn along by events and without the character or ability to distance himself from his brutal masters. Even the Nuremburg trials seemed unable to define Speer’s role in the attempted extermination of an entire people or his knowledge of the terrible conditions within the forced labour camps that he used to ensure his building and armaments programmes were fully implemented.

My personal view is that Speer could not possibly have been as unaware of the horrors of Nazism as he makes out. Being within the Nazi elite for many years and also in positions of immense influence and authority, he could not feasibly have been in ignorance of so much for so long. It beggars belief that ordinary Germans had “suspicions of terrible things happening in the east” but he was in total ignorance.

Albert Speer: His battle with truth is a sobering book about the terrible things that can happen when myth and ideology are perceived as more important then life itself.
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on 4 December 2006
Gitta Sereny is an amazingly talented writer who in her book on Speer and her meetings/interviews with Speer himself, tries to unravel the enigma that was Speer. The dance of truth that Sereny & Speer have together is often frustrating and Sereny doesn't hide this from us, but she doggedly carries on in search of the 'real' Albert Speer and by the book's end leaves us to decide for ourselves who this man was, what he really did as Hitler's most trusted friend and confidante, and how culpable he really was for much of the Nazi's inhumane treatment and murder of millions and millions of innocent Jews. An astonishing book.
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A thoroughly deceptive book that strolls relentlessly throughout its quest as it stalks its prey. Gitta takes a relational wander down to the long silent empty corridors of Spandau. Speaking through the metal shutters tot he man pacing the room she finally becomes his confidante, gaining his trust so he can gradually see the point in finally revealing himself to free himself.

The reviewers who state they want to understand why people followed Adolf perhaps cannot see what Gitta has unravelled. Of course she uses "I." This is not a po faced attempt at a "rational" detached observation as if such a thing could ever exist. This is the subtle building of bridges to gain a glimpse into what lies inside a man who became the architect of the new Germania. Firstly she had to create the trust bonds as this man was Fortress Speer.

It was through this gradual process Albert finally eroded his concrete thick wells of self restraint, deception and belief finaly he felt confident to begin to shed his layers of psychological torment. The armour he had built to protect whatever lay within perhaps his inner child kept encased and walled within the thick layers?

The final chapter shows Albert finally freeing himself from the shackles of eternal duty and the belief in expectation. Finally living his life as though he was in charge rather than supplicating himself to his sacred duty.

For those who want the message delivered loud and clear read Klaus Theweleit's "Male fantasies volumes 1 and 2." P180 of Gitta's book provides a clear outline of one fundamental cause of the German crisis; "the collapse in the economy fuelling the hatred of the German class system. National Socialism offered a viable alternative and many former communists swelled its ranks to achieve a form of Bolshevism in one nation following the Strassers."

Speer was left emotionally cold by his family and brutalised at school. National Socialism provided the virtual family for a man without social relationships. At the end of the war he could just as easily shed his former comrades and exist within a prison doing his world tour as he could rebuilding Neu Deutschland. Albert forever lived inside his head. The years spent in solitary would have decimated a man who had connections to the outside world, Gitta was a lifeline, a confessor, she allowed him to have a psychological rebirth.

Albert as shown in the "Mask of Sanity", functioned as a semi automaton, trapped in emotional paralysis, asperbergers without the label, highly functioning but operating with complete amnesia about the effects of his actions. Gitta strips away the layers of pretence, his existential defences to breach his walls.

Finally he admits he was aware of the slave labour, the countless deaths. Whilst Stangl's organs dissolved upon his self realisation, the participation in one of the most horrendous acts ever, Speer ascends and finally frees himself from his self imposed inner sentence. He runs away with a young woman leaving his duty, wife and children behind.

Whether this was an upstanding moral choice or a simple retreat back to the turmoil of adolescence which he appeared to bypass is not for my judgement. Speer finally found a form of happiness in confronting himself. This is Gitta's greatest gift.

She goes at it like a tenacious bulldog, getting him to admit his deeds. Reviewers may question her piety, her unremitting stance. It is because the social masks people wear and the fronts they perform deflect the greater questions and erect the barriers to the existential dread of their childhoods and adult deeds. These people were mass killers who have created vast fictions to throw off the enquirer. They require belief on behalf of the adherents in these mass fictions to sustain themselves. The alternative, the fact they were duped and they duped others is just too awful to contemplate, the fact they lived a life that was entirely fraudulent. Gitta shines a beacon into this pretence that only the emotionally literate will be able to understand.

The rest just shudder, looking puzzled they ask; Why did they do that?
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