Speer gives us insight into the thinking of two people: (1) himself, and (2) Adolf Hitler.
(1) He is somewhat ashamed of not knowing more about what was going on. However, he doesn’t beat himself up much about it either. He merely says he should have known more about politics. He was enthralled by the magnetic personality of AH, but he was most interested in his own opportunity to build, based on AH’s confidence in him, and AH’s access to money to do the building. This desire and opportunity led him to essentially look the other way whenever unpleasant facts surfaced. I come away with a picture of basically a decent man, but one who had too much personal ambition to do the right thing. On the other hand, doing the right thing would probably have brought him instant death. Up until early 1942, Speer had been the head of civilian building construction in the 3rd Reich. He was sent to Russia, where the harsh winter was causing malfunctions of German vehicles, and the Russians had destroyed facilities which could be used to repair these vehicles, as well as the Russian railroad, which they also had destroyed. Speer was set to return on a plane also occupied by Dr. Todt, head of Armaments. Speer took himself off the flight due to extreme exhaustion, and the flight crashed and Dr. Todt was killed. Thus, Speer became head of armaments. After he took over, he instigated reforms that increased production by more than 3 times from Feb1942 to mid1944. Speer modestly states that this was all due to the backing of AH, not to any “genius” involved.
(2) Some of the revelations about AH are a bit surprising. One imagines AH to have been a raving maniac, given to ranting and screaming at all around him. Speer portrays him as one who has self-control, and who seems calm and capable in most situations. The ranting came later, after the war was going badly. His old buddies from the old Munich days treated him with casual familiarity, and dispense with the “Heil Hitler” greeting. Sometimes his orders were disregarded, until he got insistent and threatened. By the time the war began (Sep 39), Speer describes a “cruel” aspect to the architecture that AH was espousing, and describes AH as engaging in “self idolatry.” After 1Sep39, when GB and France declared war, AH was not surprised, but doubted that GB was serious. When Churchill was called in, AH had to change his mind and decided that GB was deadly serious. Rudolph Hess flew to England on 10May1941, trying to tell England that Germany would guarantee the British Empire if she would give Germany a free hand in Europe. AH wrongly interpreted this as a hostile act and declared Hess a “traitor.” AH spent to excess, and continued the building of buildings in Berlin and the autobahn, even after the invasion of Russia. Speer himself was responsible for halting work on the atom bomb. But there was also the aspect that AH considered nuclear research and relativity to be “Jewish physics.” AH could remember details of shell sizes, tank speeds and armament, etc.. But in Speer’s opinion, he didn’t grasp the fundamentals of production and resupply, and hence demanded too much. He did not understand the limits of production. By July 1943, Speer persuaded AH to funnel all prisoners into armaments production.
(3) The post-war USSBS put the effect of Allied bombing on German production at 9%. Speer thinks that maybe the greatest effect was the fact that the Germans had to use many guns for AAA that could have been used against Russia. Speer pinpoints 12 May 1944 as the date when a new era in the air war began: it meant the end of German armaments production. That date, a raid by 935 8th AF bombers concentrated on several fuel plants in central and eastern Germany. On 28-29 May, 400 more bombers hit the same targets and did even more damage. At the same time, 15th AF hit the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania. Production was now reduced by half. Speer praises the American Economic Warfare Division report that it is better to seriously damage a small number of industries than it is to lightly damage a large number of industries. Up until that time, he was criticizing the Allies for hitting one type of target for a while, and then changing to another type before the job on the first type was really done. Speer tried to get AH to see that the early jets would be much more effective as AA weapons than as bombers. AH couldn’t see this. Speer feels personally responsible for Aushwitz because he was told by a colleague not to ever go there. The colleague, without describing exactly what he saw, said he had seen something there which he was not permitted to describe, nor could he describe. Speer never went, and thus says he “closed my eyes.” Speer speaks of Operation Valkyrie, a plan to mobilize the home army, utilizing troops on leave, etc.. This was headed by Col. Stautfenberg (whom Speer said had a very fat briefcase), and was initiated by the famous attempt on the life of AH. As the war was being lost in the later stages, Speer was the one that argued with AH and told him it would be counterproductive to implement a scorched earth policy (destroy all industry) as the Germans retreated. Toward the end, Speer toyed briefly with the idea of assassinating AH, including introducing poison gas in the ventilating system. Speer worked to see that industries were not destroyed. Near the end, the Berlin Philharmonic gave its last concert in Dec1944 under Furtwangler. After the concert, the conductor asked Speer if there was any hope. Furtwangler had defended the blacklisted composer Hindemith, and so was in danger. Speer recommended that he not return from Switzerland, where the orchestra was going on a tour. Furtwangler worried about his players, and Speer promised to look after them. Goebbels ordered that the orchestra members be conscripted and fight with everyone else. Speer went to the draft board and had the members’ papers destroyed, thus saving them from the war. He arranged some concerts so that they could make money. Speer dictated that program in the final concert 12Apr1945, including Bruckner’s 4th, the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and the finale from Gotterdammerung. It was the last music that Speer would hear for a long time. Doenitz became the new head of government after the death of AH. He and Jodl and Speer were arrested together in the British sector. The sentences at Nuremburg were handed out on 30Sep1946. The main charge against Speer was forced labor. Speer is amazed that not one of the guards at Spandau bore him a grudge for his part in the world-wide tragedy. Ironically, Speer died on the anniversary of the beginning of WW2, 1Sep1981.