Friday, September 12, 2014

Albert Speer Insists He Was Never Hitler's Friend

With still an hour to kill, Speer lit a cigarette and went over to the couch and sat down.

You know what your friend will do if he finds out? They always referred to Hitler that way. Speer had always hated that. Hitler wasn’t his friend. Perhaps Speer was Hitler’s friend, perhaps even his only friend. But that wasn’t the same thing, was it? Besides, Speer knew what Hitler would do when he found out.

Reasonably speaking, all they could hope for now was to keep as much of Germany’s industrial base together so that some level of civilized life could continue after it was all over. He’d carefully broached that matter with Hitler during the winter, but Hitler dismissed it. “There is no need to preserve anything for the survivors, Speer,” he told him. “They will have proven themselves unworthy.”

Speer went over to the window and stared out. By now the bombing had taken out most of the city’s landmarks, leaving him without his usual points of reference. Locating Alexanderplatz had always been a matter of simply finding the old Town Hall’s clock tower and then going a little bit left. But now the tower was gone. So was the Karstadt department store, the Columbus building on Potsdamerplatz, the twin steeples of Saint Nicholas church. He tried to remember what they looked like, but they were already excised from his memory.

Instead what blazed unforgettably was the skyline of a city which had only existed on paper and tabletop scale models. He saw the dome, stretched out before him, larger than a sunrise, with its dozens of gigantic columns and a massive bronze eagle perched ominously atop its cupola.

And he heard Hitler’s voice reciting the numbers to onlookers, Sixteen times the size of Saint Peter’s in Rome! And he saw the rest of the imaginary city, the broad avenues, the monuments, the palaces and plazas, the gigantic ministry buildings, cinemas, concert halls, hotels and storefronts, miles and miles of it. The two of them had spent years dreaming it up; a city greater than Rome, a light among nations, a capital fit to rule the world for a thousand years; Germania!

Speer had actually believed in it back when Germany’s future still loomed bright, enough so that he went ahead with demolition orders for whole neighborhoods in order to make way for it. Berlin’s destruction hadn’t started with the first British bombing raids, but with the bulldozing he had himself engineered.

Once the war had started the whole thing should have been shelved, but the war only stoked Hitler’s enthusiasm. And when the enemy bombing did come, Hitler acted gleeful.

“They’re only doing our work for us, Speer,” he’d say. And Speer accepted it without question. Even after things went bad in Russia, Hitler insisted it be kept on as a top priority, summoning Speer to the studio in the middle of the night so they could discuss the changes which still kept occurring to him on a daily basis. They’d spend endless hours bent down at eyelevel to the miniature streets and buildings, peering under archways, discussing each gallery and staircase.

Even now, with the enemy at their door, Hitler still wouldn’t let it go. In his mind, Germania was still every bit as real as the miracle weapons, Inevitable Victory and all the other shabby fantasies which he insisted everyone believe in. And it was all Speer’s fault for wanting a thousand years of glory.

Going to pick up his bags, he paused for a moment to look at himself in the mirror. Was this the face of a future world leader? Except for some rings under his eyes and a receding hairline, there was still far too much boyishness in it. He was neither handsome nor ugly, his face was round, his chin soft. It was only the face of a technocrat. No, that’s not completely true, he told himself. His eyes had it. Dark, brooding, even without a night’s sleep, they had a sharpness to them, inquisitiveness, too, and sardonic humor. The face of a man who could put things into perspectice.

Speer went downstairs to the garage where Colonel von Poser was waiting beside a supercharged, six-wheeled Mercedes. They drove out after nightfall, heading west.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, Kindle version available for download here).

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