In This Review
Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth

Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth

By Gitta Sereny

Knopf, 1995, 757 pp.

Gitta Sereny, who has written prolifically about the Third Reich and spent 12 years working with Albert Speer and a large number of people who knew him, tells the story of his life in considerable detail and tries to establish whether he spoke the truth about what he knew of Hitler's horrors. Both attempts are as exasperating as they are exhaustive. The story of Speer's rise from Hitler's favorite architect to minister in charge of the war effort is a springboard for countless digressions, sketches of Nazi leaders, accounts of the unceasing quarrels among Hitler's deputies, and glimpses of the Nazi regime. Some of the digressions are useful, for instance, her account of Germany's atomic research that contradicts Werner Heisenberg's postwar claim that he and his colleagues deliberately slowed it down; others have a morbid fascination, such as the story of the Berlin Philharmonic's last concert before the fall of Berlin, at the end of which uniformed Hitler Youth offered spectators baskets of cyanide capsules. But whatever story line there is crumbles under the weight of all these nuggets.

Relentlessly and repeatedly, Sereny shows that Speer must have known more about the fate of the Jews, the realities of the concentration camps, and the treatment of foreign workers than he ever admitted. Yet she shows a kind of overall indulgence and tells us that she saw in Speer's battle with himself "the reemergence of the intrinsic morality he manifested as a boy and youth." This reader at least finds it difficult to share her fascination with a man who, for all his intelligence and skills, never lost his arrogance, made a rather profitable career, late in life, out of his generalized confession of guilt (always accompanied by evasion on specifics), and suavely denounced a regime he had (albeit with growing doubts as its failure was becoming obvious) served until the end in order to preserve his power. This book gives him the attention and importance he craved but did not deserve.