My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Albert Speer was a very clever man; he managed to survive a death sentence at the Nuremberg trials and lived to tell his story of the Third Reich, Hitler, and himself as Minister of Armaments and War Production during WWII. Furthermore, Speer made a brilliant career of writing memoirs with many a television interview following his release from West Berlin’s Spandau prison in 1966 after having completed his 20-year sentence. This book, written between 1946 and 1966 in Spandau, is a collection of his diaries and letters to his family secretly kept against the prison regulations.
The reason that Speer had written his diaries was to keep his mind disciplined and alert by using his mental faculties while serving his time at Spandau. He was afraid of undergoing mental and physical atrophy because the prison life to him was nothing but a repeated series of monotonous routines that would lead to mental stagnation and physical lethargy. Whether Speer had written diaries and other correspondence to his family with the thought of publishing them in mind is hardly probable because it was for the sake of his own ego arrested by a lack of social refinements and intellectual engagements during his confinements as well expressed in the diaries.
There are many interesting anecdotes about his fellow prisoners who formed their own social cliques even inside the prison: Albert Speer and Rudolph Hess did not socialize with the other prisoners but spent most of their time alone. In fact, Speer was disliked by the other prisoners for his admission of guilt and repudiation of Hitler at the Nuremberg trials. So was Rudolf Hess for his reputed antisocial personality and conspicuous mental instability. The two former Grand Admirals, Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz stayed together. Baldur von Schirach, the German Nazi Party’s national youth leader and head of the Hitler Youth, and Walther Funk, Reich Minister for Economic Affairs, were described as “inseparable”. It was Konstantin von Neurath whom Speer seemed to have a good opinion on for his amiability and amenability to all until his release in 1954.
The book is not a history book or a testament to Speer’s apologetic gesture of doing public penance for his involvement in the Nazi regime. As Freud once said, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar,” this memoir is a memoir, Speer’s personal journal, encompassing his intellectual capacities to observe and analyze what he saw and read in addition to his desire of being with his family, especially the sons who seemed to feel uncomfortable with their father when visiting him in prison. Upon reading this heavy volume of memoir, I am convinced that it was his sagacity and intelligence that saved him from death and that enabled him to launch a successful writing career afterwards.