‘Albert Speer’, wrote Hugh Trevor-Roper in the conclusion to his classic study of The Last Days of Hitler, ‘was the real criminal of the Third Reich.’ Not because he was a brutal murderer, like Hitler, or a vulgar antisemite, like Streicher, or a fanatical ideologue, like Goebbels, but because he was a sophisticated, intelligent and civilized man who personified the willingness of educated Germans to collaborate with, work for and in the end do everything they could to sustain the most destructive regime in history. Speer was an architect whose connections led him into Hitler’s inner circle by the mid-1930s. Soon Speer counted among Hitler’s small group of personal friends, and was preparing for him grandiose plans for rebuilding Berlin as the capital of a world empire after the war. On the chance death of Hitler’s Armaments Minister Fritz Todt in an air crash early in 1942, Hitler appointed Speer his successor. Armed with wide-ranging powers, Speer organized Germany’s war production with ruthless efficiency, bringing it to its peak output as late as 1944, when the war was already being lost. At the very end of the war, when Hitler ordered a scorched-earth policy and the destruction of German industry, Speer secretly countermanded his orders, thus preserving much of the country’s economic base for the future. Brought to trial at Nuremberg, Speer did not try to justify what he had done, but delivered a sober and reasoned confession of where he had gone wrong. He had been seduced, he said, by the possibilities of technology, and led astray by the charismatic spell of his leader. Many of his former associates found it hard to forgive him for what they saw as this betrayal of everything they had stood for. The court found him guilty of using slave labour on a massive scale and sentenced him to twenty years’ imprisonment in Spandau. He was still only forty years old.
Speer occupied his time in prison with gardening, going for a physically real but geographically imaginary walk round the world, writing letters, keeping his secret Spandau Diaries, which were published in English in 1977, and composing his memoirs, which appeared in this country in 1970 under the tide Inside the Third Reich. The memoirs are by far the most perceptive and illuminating account we possess of the inner workings of the