Posen, Occupied Poland • October 6, 1943
On this date in 1943 in Posen (Poznań), occupied Poland, Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production, stunned an assembly of Nazi Party big-wigs when he stated that he intended to convert all factories producing for the German civilian market to war production. Having discussed his intentions beforehand with Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, Speer emphasized that he would brook no dissension. “I am prepared to apply the authority of the Reich Government at any cost,” he told the “Gold Pheasants,” as the national leadership was derisively known. “From now on, districts that do not carry out within two weeks the measures I request will be dealt with firmly.”
The gifted former “Architect of the Reich”—he designed the enormous prewar Nuremberg Nazi Party Congress tribune and rally grounds as well as the new Reich Chancellery in Berlin—succeeded to his elevated cabinet position on February 8, 1942, despite knowing nothing about armaments production. (It didn’t hurt that Speer had a close personal relationship with Hitler; he was sometimes referred to as “Hitler’s unrequited love.”) According to the minutes of a conference at Wehrmacht High Command the following month, “It is only Speer’s word that counts nowadays. He can interfere in all departments. Already he overrides all departments.” Hitler diarist Joseph Goebbels wrote in June 1943, “Speer is still tops with the Fuehrer. He is truly a genius with organization.” That September Speer secured control over all raw materials and thus over war production with the exception of the aircraft industry (still the responsibility of Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering), though in June 1944 that industry fell into his bailiwick as well.
Near the end of the war Speer became the Nazis’ principal exploiter of forced labor, whose millions enabled German production of planes, tanks, and guns to exceed pre-1943 levels by a factor of three or four. Indeed, Speer’s achievement at allocating resources under the constant rain of Anglo-American bombers and the encroachment by land forces of the Red Army in the East has been credited with keeping the German Wehrmacht in the field and prolonging the war by at least a year. Sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for his role in the ruthless Nazi regime, Speer died in 1981 in London at age 76, ironically on the forty-second anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, the starting date for the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
Albert Speer: The Man Who Kept Germany Armed and the War Machine Running
Left: Early in the morning of June 28, 1940, two weeks after the German Wehrmacht had occupied Paris almost without firing a shot, Hitler, an art aficionado, embarked on a tour of the ghost-like French capital, Paris, starkly empty of between 70 and 80 percent of its citizens. Hitler was accompanied by “Architect of the Reich” Albert Speer (left in photo) and sculptor Arno Breker. (Hitler included Speer in his entourage because Paris was an architectural treasure trove with implications for Berlin and Breker, whom Hitler had named “official state sculptor” in 1937, because the sculptor had lived in Paris in the 1920s while studying art.) A cameraman (lower right in photo) filmed the trio at the Place du Trocadéro against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower for German newsreel audiences. Additionally, the three men visited the beautiful neo-baroque Opéra de Paris (their first and longest stop), the 18th-century Église de la Madeleine (second stop), Napoleon’s tomb in the Hôtel des Invalides (fourth stop), and the quais-Byzantine Église du Sacré-coeur (sixth and last stop) before leaving Paris less than three hours into Hitler’s visit.
Right: In June 1943 Hitler awarded Minister of Armaments and War Production Speer the Fritz Todt signet ring (enclosed in a silver box decorated with the portrait of deceased Dr. Fritz Todt) in recognition of Speer’s “unique achievements in the field of German technology.” These included simplifying designs, standardizing components, adopting the most efficient processes of production, and placing the production of a particular armament under a single and coordinated system of control. The award of the ring was sponsored by the National Socialist Union for German Technology, which Speer headed.
Left: Having convened a working meeting of the leading men of the German armaments industry, Armaments Minister Speer (right, with arms folded and swastika armband) and Luftwaffe Inspector General Field Marshal Erhard Milch (center in photo) stand behind protective shields during a weapons test at an airfield somewhere in the east of the Reich (probably in occupied Poland) in October 1943.
Right: May 23, 1945, arrest of leading members of the Flensburg Government, the short-lived administration of several weeks that attempted to rule Nazi Germany following Hitler’s suicide on April 30. Reich President Adm. Karl Doenitz (center, in dark long coat) is followed by Speer (bareheaded), and Gen. Alfred Jodl (left of Speer). All three men were indicted as major war criminals at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (November 20, 1945, to October 1, 1946). Speer, who exercised direct control of the underground V‑2 rocket factory at Nordhausen-Dora among other slave-labor facilities, and Doenitz, who headed the Kriegsmarine, were given prison sentences of 10 and 20 years, respectively. Jodl, the Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), was sentenced to death and hanged on October 16, 1945.
Albert Speer, Hitler’s Architect, Master Builder, and Minister of Armaments and War Production