Friday, August 16, 2013

Albert Speer Tries Telling Hitler the Truth

When Albert Speer gets ordered back to Berlin from the Ruhr to answer charges that he's been instigating a rebellion against Hitler, he is determined for once to face down Hitler and tell him the truth, come hell or high water. Only it doesn't quite work out that way. An excerpt from my novel Germania (first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available as a Kindle ebook, for CHEAP!)

The Fuhrer glared furiously at Speer. For the first time that they’d known each other, there was neither a greeting nor a handshake. He waited for the adjutants to leave before speaking.

“So Speer,” he began icily.

“Mein Fuhrer?” asked Speer, knowing he didn’t sound even remotely innocent.

Hitler looked terrible. His eyes, much rheumier than before, drooping eyelids, bags, gray, oatmeal skin. He looked a lot older than his fifty-five years. That bomb last summer had taken a lot out of him. Hitler kept his palsied left hand clenched behind him so it wouldn’t shake uncontrollably. His green uniform jacket had stains and Speer noticed breadcrumbs sticking to one of the cuffs.

“Bormann has given me a report on your recent activities. He says you’re telling people the war is lost and that they shouldn’t carry out my orders.” He paused and waited for Speer to say something. But Speer said nothing. Well?”

“Mein Fuhrer, I can’t lie to you,” Speer said finally.

But Hitler would have none of it. “Are you aware what the punishment is for that?”

Standing stiffly at attention, looking straight into Hitler’s eyes. “I am aware of the penalties for disobedience, Mein Fuhrer. “And you may, if you wish, apply them as the law demands without any regard to our personal relationship.”

It was not the answer Hitler had wanted. He slammed his good fist against the desk. “How could you do this, Speer?” he shouted. “How could you? You! Of all people!” He paced back and forth in front of his desk, not looking at Speer. “Sit down!” he ordered.

“Mein Fuhrer, I prefer to stand.”

“Sit down.”

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?”

Speer looked up at him. “The answer is yes, Mein Fuhrer, I know what happens to people who go against you. And I am no 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 contrite.

“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 himself.

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 victory.”

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.

He woke up a few hours later with a dry mouth and a cold sweat and rather than try to go back to sleep, he put on his robe and went back to his office to work on his response. Faith? Hope? Do I say yes or no? If I say no, I’ll at least get to maintain my integrity. Of course at this point his integrity had to be about the most useless thing there was. But on the other hand, his reward for discarding it was hardly worth having.

Speer wrote a few sentences, then crumpled the paper and stared out into the darkness. The electricity was out again. The empty window frames either hadn’t been re-papered or what they’d put in had already been blown out. Perhaps the papering crews had all been mobilized and sent off to the front. Faith? Hope? Come on! There was nothing left.

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