Humanising of Hitler; This Week Our National Theatre Staged a Play That Questions the Evil of the Fuhrer's Leading Henchman, Albert Speer, in Murdering Countless Millions. Such Distortion of the Truth Corrupts Us All

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Byline: TOM BOWER

LIES are the essential tool of politicians and criminals crafted for their survival and carefully fashioned to avoid responsibility for their mis takes and misdemeanours.

Those falsehoods are the armoury of the ambitious and malicious, first to perpetrate their outrages and later to avoid censure and retribution. For a criminal politician charged with mass murder, the lie is the easy escape from responsibility for his atrocities.

In the history of lies, none were more crude and cynical than those uttered by the masters and servants of Nazi Germany.

Charged with genocide, they invariably pleaded either ignorance or obedience to superior orders.

Usually, their excuses were exposed as dishonest by the damning testimony of their own efficient bureaucrats. Diligently, German civil servants had written down the evidence which would prove their criminality.

Painstaking scholarship by historians after 1945 discovered the incriminating official Nazi documents which irrefutably exposed the truth about the Holocaust.

Crude attempts to falsify history, such as David Irving's recent denial in the High Court that gas chambers were built in Auschwitz for the production-line murder of Jews, could be mercilessly exposed.

Civilisation's judgment against the Nazis was damning and accurate.

Occasionally, however, there are certain, sophisticated lies that are harder to disentangle. Albert Speer, styled as 'Hitler's favourite architect', was the master of dissembling.

To save himself from the hangman's noose, the mastermind of Nazi Germany's armaments production fashioned exquisite alibis designed to obscure his participation in the murder of millions of innocent Europeans.

SPEER had devised his strategy for survival long before his beloved leader's suicide in the Berlin bunker in April 1945. He would pose as the contrite intellectual battling with his conscience.

His 'torment' was supported by Gitta Sereny, whose impressive biography, Albert Speer: His Battle With The Truth, was based on lengthy interviews with him after he had completed a 20-year prison sentence.

For Sereny, understanding evil requires the humanisation of monsters.

Speer's espousal of Nazism, she argues, can be traced to his unhappy childhood, especially his fractured relationship with his parents.

Based on her book, a new play by one of Britain's most distinguished playwrights, David Edgar, opened yesterday at the National Theatre in London.

Directed by the outstanding Trevor Nunn, it attempts to interpret Speer's relationship with Hitler, and his confrontation with the truth.

Edgar and Sereny have not produced a drama but rather a polemic depicting Speer's torment and denial. Speer is cast as the victim, not only of his ambition but of his love for Hitler. To reinforce their argument that Speer's criminality was questionable, Sereny and Edgar seek to humanise the demons that motivated him.

The Fuhrer is shown not as the madman uttering hysterical tirades to millions of besotted Germans but, just as in the coloured film shot in his mountain retreat, as the social politician cracking the occasional joke.

Speer, described as the second most important man in Nazi Germany - a questionable title - appears in the play as a victim, mesmerised by the Fuhrer's genius and tortured by his own passion for Nazism.

With dogmatic certainty, Sereny and Edgar want the audience to accept their truth - which also happens to be Speer's. The evidence, they appear to assert, does not irrefutably convict Speer of complicity with the Holocaust.

Despite his proximity to Hitler and his daily, intimate working relationship with Himmler's SS, the playwright and author give credibility to Speer's denials about knowing the fate of the 12 million Europeans enslaved to work in Germany's factories to produce armaments for waging war. …