by Mark Weber
Albert Speer may ultimately be best remembered as the only high German wartime official to be „rehabilitated“ during his lifetime and even profit handsomely from his once-powerful position. The one-time Hitler confidant and Reich Armaments Minister escaped the hangman’s noose at Nuremberg by adopting an unusual defense strategy. While maintaining that he personally knew nothing of a Jewish extermination program during the war, he nevertheless declared himself guilty for having worked diligently for a regime he belatedly considered evil.
After serving a 20-year prison sentence at Spandau, the democratic mass media showered praise on the „repentant Nazi“ for his sometimes subtle but always fervent condemnations of the Hitler regime. His contrite memoirs, published in America as Inside the Third Reich, were highly acclaimed and sold very profitably throughout the world.
Until his death in 1981, Speer repeatedly insisted that he did not know of any extermination program or gassings during the war. In an obliging May 1977 letter to the Executive Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, he stated: „ I would give something to be able to state clearly that Hitler ordered the killing of the Jews in my presence. Neither am I in a position to testify to the exact number of Jews killed.“ (This statement, incidentally and interestingly, provided yet another opportunity for „Nazi hunter“ Simon Wiesenthal to bleat out one of his big lies. In a notarized statement dated 4 May 1981, referring to Speer’s letter quoted above, Wiesenthal declared: „Albert Speer, a former friend of Hitler and minister of his government, made a statement for the court in Johannesburg. He declared under oath that Hitler often spoke about the murdering of Jews and that as far as he knows, gasifications [gassings] of Jews took place.“ How Simon Wiesenthal gets that out of what Speer actually wrote is a question best reserved for professional students of the „Nazi hunting“ psyche).
Speer’s position was remarkable because, if a wartime policy to exterminate the Jews had actually existed, almost no one would have been in a better position to have known about it. As Reich Armaments Minister, he was responsible for the continental mobilization of all available resources, including critically-needed Jewish workers. That millions of Jews could have been killed at a wartime industrial center as important as Auschwitz and elsewhere without Speer’s knowledge simply defies belief.