Posen, Western Occupied Poland October 6, 1943

Despite Adolf Hitler’s Germany being engaged in a Euro­pean and, after Decem­ber 11, 1941, a global war, the Nazi leader (Fuehrer) had not directed his coun­try’s full indus­trial might toward total war as had the leaders of his enemy states—the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. Hitler, to keep Nazi poli­ti­cians and the wider popu­lace from being incon­ve­nienced by short­ages of con­sumer pro­ducts, put crea­ture com­forts ahead of the needs of his war machine, the Wehr­macht. It was the old argu­ment of whether a nation can ill-afford guns (also tanks, planes, and other wea­pons of war) as well as butter or just one, not both.

On this date in 1943 in Posen (Poznań), German-occupied Poland, Albert Speer, the Fuehrer’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. No longer would auto­mobiles and refrig­er­a­tors be manu­fac­tured along­side tanks and fighter air­craft. Having dis­cussed his in­ten­tions before­hand with Reichs­fuehrer-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler, the second most power­ful German leader after Hitler, 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 of ambi­tious, greedy, and power-hungry toadies was deri­sively known. “From now on, dis­tricts that do not carry out within two weeks the mea­sures I request will be dealt with firmly.” Speer was ada­mant: Germans must now do what Amer­i­can, British, and Soviet citizens had long been doing willingly.

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 on Berlin’s Voss-Strasse—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 and Reich Minister of Public Enlighten­ment and Propa­ganda 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—despite urging Hitler to end the war only the year before. 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

Albert Speer (left) and Hitler in Paris, June 28, 1940Albert Speer accepting Todt Ring award, June 1943

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.

Albert Speer during weapons test, October 1943Albert Speer (bare-headed) being arrested, May 1945

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 trans­ferred to the Allied mili­tary prison in Nurem­berg in the German state of Bavaria and indicted as major war crimi­nals at the Inter­national Mili­tary Tri­bu­nal that took place there (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.

History Channel Hitler’s Henchman: Albert Speer, Hitler’s Architect, Master Builder, and Minister of Armaments and War Production

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