He paced back and forth in front of his desk, not looking at Speer. “Sit down!” he ordered.
"Mein Fuhrer, I prefer to stand.”
Speer lowered himself into the chair.
"After all I’ve done for you and you repay me like this. You were nothing,
Speer. Do you remember? An unemployed graduate without a pot to piss in.
"Do you know what I do to people who betray me? What makes you think
you’re any different?”
Hitler didn’t like that one bit. His head started twitching. He pulled his
bad hand out to claw at the air. Everything was behind him now. His
years of victory, of moving from strength to strength, were all gone.
His charm, his wit, his animal vitality had deserted him. All that
was left was this quavering shell. But even now, his determination
and will, the two things that defined him, were undiminished. He sat
down at the desk and studied its surface for a long time. What comes
next, Speer wondered. Will he declare me apostate? Throw me to the
lions, the SS? Is Himmler going to get to smile at me? So
Speer, we were never good enough for you, were we? But now we’ll
just see how much better you really are.
It might have been better to have been shot by the gauleiter’s
deputy that time. For the first time he remembered his wife and
children and how he’d loved being called Uncle Hitler by
them. He hoped they wouldn’t be included.
Hitler looked up from the table. Suddenly he looked forgiving. “Speer, you
think I don’t know things look bad? I’ve been a soldier for
thirty years and I’ve seen more bad times than you’ll ever know.”
The angry tone was gone. He sounded more like someone offering
encouragement to a wayward friend. ”But I’ll tell you something
else, bad times never last. Things turn around, sometimes very
quickly. But the only way you can be there to take advantage of them
is to have faith. Faith, Speer! Faith in yourself, faith in your
volk, faith in your leader, faith in me!”
Faith, thought Speer. Faith doesn’t matter when you’re out of fuel, out
of bullets and out of everybody but seventy-year-old Volkssturmers.
"Mein Fuhrer, what I saw in the Ruhr...”
Hitler quickly waved him to silence. “None of that matters, Speer. What
matters is inside you. Don’t you see?” Hitler stood up from his
desk, leaning forward so that he was close to Speer, his face a
kindly grimace. “Now tell me, Speer, tell me you have faith.”
"I’d be lying, Mein Fuhrer,” answered Speer, making no attempt to sound
"Then tell me you have hope. Don’t you at least hope everything will work
out?” He looked imploringly at Speer.
Say yes. His eyes looked so sad, as if every other tragedy, every other turn
of fortune he could bear. But not this. How could you do this to me?
After all our dreams? Your hoping means more to me than anything,
Speer. Hope. How could you not hope for a turnaround? Please say yes.
Speer saw the eyes, the trembling frame. He thought of how vigorous he’d
been then, how full of life and joy. And now he was just a sad old
man asking for a tiny favor from his only friend; a favor only a
complete unfeeling bastard could say no to.
"I’m sorry, Mein Fuhrer,” said Speer. “But the facts do not lie.” He
wanted to add, “The war is lost,” but somehow he couldn’t bring
Hitler’s face darkened and once again he grew cold. “I’m giving you twenty
four hours to think about what I’ve just said to you,” he said
brusquely. “I want you here tomorrow telling me you have faith in
Back in his office at the ministry, Speer tried to write down what he
wanted to tell Hitler. He thought about all the things he’d seen in
the Ruhr that he wanted to describe to him. If he could have seen the
elderly volkssturmers or the disorganized, fragmentary divisions. If
he could have seen people like Jakob who still had faith in him, who
still believed in victory, maybe then Hitler would see the utter
travesty in what he was asking. But the words wouldn’t come to him
and he knew Hitler wouldn’t listen anyway. It was impossible to
write it down just as it was impossible to tell him to his face. What
was he going to do? Speer didn’t know. All he knew was that he was
dead tired. He went back to his quarters and went to bed.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).