A History Lesson on Albert Speer: How to Naively Walk into the Political Abyss of National Socialism

Although Albert Speer, the Third Reich’s architect and perhaps the only real friend the Fuhrer ever had, has been widely characterized as efficient technocrat, he must also be considered one of the original green builders full of idealistic environmental sustainability plans that was to be implemented across Germany and the Greater Reich after victory. Nazi Germany had massive sustainability plans for much of Europe after the war. Speer was very sympathetic to green interests, practices, policies, and ideas. His environmental sustainability views were similar to Dr. Fritz Todt’s, the original green Nazi builder of the Todt Organization. Speer replaced Todt as Hitler’s armaments minister after he died in a freak plane crash in 1942.

In his famous book, Inside the Third Reich, Speer noted that his particular generation, including himself, had a strong and distinctive attraction to get to close to nature. That this would be the same generation which also foolishly accepted Adolf Hitler as its political leader is highly instructive.

These wandering free spirits, i.e. wandervogels, as they considered themselves to be – which some even have characterized as ‘right-wing’ hippies – were essentially trying to escape the responsibilities of the modern world, and thus found themselves captivated by the Fuhrer.

Indeed, modernity built on the bustle of the city was a world which Speer’s naturist generation really did not understand, nor desired either politically or economically.

The Jews, of course, became an easy target for foisting upon them such banal demands in the Weimar Republic that appeared to be so empty philosophically and spiritually. Speer thus noted that his particular generation’s love affair with nature “was not merely a romantic protest against the narrowness of middle-class life. We were also escaping from the demands of a world growing increasingly complicated.”

It was, in fact, a world which they disdained, full of varied responsibilities and demands which selfishly refused to accept. It was also a world which they believed could be overcome by escaping to the great outdoors, if not even through mountain climbing. “Often, from the mountain tops, we looked down upon a gray layer of cloud over the distant plain. Down there lived what to our minds were wretched people; we thought we stood high above them in every sense.”

After spending many years in prison, Speer later acknowledged he and his climbing comrades were “young and arrogant.” Speer added, “We were convinced that only the finest people went into the mountains. When we returned to the normal life of the lowlands, I was quite confused for a while by the bustle of the cities.” 

Speer and his generation of so-called wandervogels measured and compared themselves with others based on how close they were to nature. Nature was used as the Judge to determine who was good and what was valuable. They were looking for purity, simplicity and peace without the modern stress of working and making a living.

This was especially difficult in the trying times of the Weimar Republic, “We felt that the world around us was out of balance. In nature, in the mountains and river valleys, the harmony of Creation could still be felt. The more virginal the mountains, the lonelier the river valleys, the more they drew us.” The embarrassment, depression and defeat Speer and his comrades experienced in the Weimar Republic could all be forgotten in the lofty alpine hills. Abandoned and forsaken by the Weimar Republic, they found solace in the isolationist ideology of National Socialism. In the end, their strong interest in nature’s lonely places would find a solitary niche in the singleness of Adolf Hitler.

Speer later recalled how superficial and uncritical he was of Hitler’s political views. He admitted he could have easily taken a better look at the Fuhrer’s abysmal record, but he did not want to. In fact, at the most critical juncture of Speer’s life when he found himself spellbound by the mood of Hitler’s peasant-like simplicity and modesty, instead of taking a good hard look at the Fuhrer’s views by availing himself of all the political news that was accessible to him, his inclination was to withdraw into the woods to think it all over. “I felt I had to straighten things out in my own mind, to master my confusion. I needed to be alone. Shaken, I drove off into the night in my small car, stopped in a pine forest near the Havel, and went for a long walk.” 

Needless to say, the silence of the woods did not help Speer make the right choice. He would have been far better off reading the newspapers, or talking to his dad, whose traditional liberal bourgeois views on self-determination and responsibility were in direct contrast to both the Communist and Nazi parties.

Even though Speer was an outstanding intellectual and highly educated, he was politically naïve. Speer commented that his particular “failure was rooted in my inadequate political schooling. As a result, I remained uncritical, unable to deal with the arguments of my student friends, who were predominantly indoctrinated with National Socialist ideology.”

As such, Speer fell prey to the counterculture ideology of National Socialism based on eugenics, health and environmentalism, and, in so doing, rebelled against the normal upper-middle-class upbringing his father had given him. Albert Speer became a mindless rebel without a cause. “My inclination to be relieved of having to think particularly about unpleasant facts, helped to sway the balance. In this, I did not differ from millions of others. Such mental slackness above all facilitated, established, and finally assured the success of the National Socialist system.” Albert Speer joined the Nazi Party in 1931.

A little less socialist rebellion and more serious-minded thinking about politics and people would have spared Germany her darkest hour.  Late in life, in another book entitled, Infiltration, Speer wrote that he felt uneasy about his own romantic green ideas because he recognized how closely it resembled the very political ideology of National Socialism. Yet Speer’s admission is disturbing. Has he really learned the lesson of National Socialism if he still holds to similar views years later? Further, how is it even possible Speer rediscovered that his own green romantic views in the 1970s were very similar to the National Socialists of the 1940s? What kind of Nazi spell was cast upon the likes of so many like Albert Speer that they have been able to separate themselves from Nazism, all the while holding to similar views throughout their lives?

As part of his defense after the war during the Nuremberg trial, Speer railed against the dangers of technology since the Nazis technocratically used it to control the populace. However, Speer later recognized how hollow this defense was since the Nazis were the very ones who said as much. Speer thus became a political hypocrite at the very least, an agent of destruction at worst. Even 20 years in Spandau prison could not shake him of this fatal attraction. The same feelings that initially drew him to Adolf Hitler were still with him years later. That this basic truth eluded Speer is a mystery as mystical as German Romanticism itself and as deep as the eugenic Nazi hell that was the Holocaust.

Mark Musser is a part-time missionary, author, and a farmer, depending on what time of day and year it is. His home is in Olympia, Washington, but he spends most of his time on the mission field in the former Soviet Union. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Corban University in Salem, Oregon, and is a contributing writer for the Cornwall Alliance.  His book Nazi Ecology provides a sobering history lesson on the philosophical foundations of the early German green movement, which was absorbed by National Socialism in the 1930s and proved to be a powerful undercurrent during the Holocaust.

Image credit: Pixabay public domain

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