Albert Speer:  The Good Son

While awaiting his sentence at the Nuremberg trials, Albert Speer was convinced that he would be sentenced to death. He had been Hitler's architect and Minister for Armaments. As an architect he had achieved very little of note but the initial planning of Hitler's new Berlin. It was to be the most beautiful city in the world, to be renamed Germania, a triumphant manifestation of National Socialist ideals and aspirations. Hitler was pleased with Speer's plans, not least because if Germania was to be the most beautiful city in the world the destruction of Paris could be avoided. Paris was a city Hitler had a certain affection for, though he had visited the city of light only once and then only for a few hours. But nothing was to outshine Germania.

 As Minister for Armaments Speer had designed and overseen an almost complete restructuring of the industry, increasing its efficiency and output to the point where the almost certain defeat facing Germany in 1942 began to fade. Speer's organisational brilliance had helped to pull Germany back from the brink and plunged the world into another three years of war.

 At Nuremberg Speer was the only defendant to accept responsibility for the crimes committed by Hitler's regime. As one of the leaders he felt it was his duty to do so. But his reponsibility applied only to the fundamentals and not to the details. He was not responsible for individual crimes. He knew nothing of them. Speer's ignorance of these 'details' was something he maintained throughout his life. He accepted his punishment as a good son accepts the punishment of an unjust father. He suffered the justice of the court. His acceptance of culpability was purely pragmatic. He was sentenced to twenty years in Spandau Prison.

 While in Spandau Speer told the Calvinist chaplain sent to attend to the spiritual welfare of its inmates that he wanted to 'change himself'. He wrote in his diary that the 'emotional atmosphere' from which his self accusations sprung 'was wholly Nazi'. He felt he had surrendered himself again, as he felt he had surrendered to Hitler, to forces he had failed to comprehend. Hitler had laid the world at his feet and he had accepted it; the judges at Nuremberg reduced his world to a single narrow cell in a near deserted prison.

 He came to think of his twenty years in Spandau as a monastic experience. He imagined himself a monk living in the middle ages, his life of solitude and meditation an end in itself. He found, at times, a kind of peace in Spandau. He was responsible only for himself and to himself. A terrible loneliness was his final punishment.

 On first entering Spandau Speer imagined himself twenty years hence: an eccentric old man alienated from his family and the world. Speer suffered in Spandau. His self examination was remorseless, his self accusations never ending. His diaries are full of the questions he asked himself but could never answer, pitted with long silences that could last for months, when he was incapable of holding a single thought or writing a single word.

Of what did he accuse himself? What kind of man did he wish to become? What are we able make of him, this guilty man, who never quite understood his own guilt?

Daniel Keene January 1998


Note on the production, Adelaide Festival 1998

In writing THE ARCHITECT'S WALK I was not attempting any kind of biography of Albert Speer. In my opinion such a task would be theatrically useless (I have seen too many so called bio-plays that are nothing more than glossy magazine articles on wheels); more importantly, to do so would ultimately have to be a reduction of so many vast and complex moral questions surrounding Speer's life. they are questions that until the end of his life perplexed him, that he could not encompass, questions that still perplex us half a century later.

The life of Albert Speer was not enough. I could not know, finally, what he thought and would not pretend to. I suspected in all I read of his writings, in all I read of those who spoke to him, that he lied, that all his life he played out an intricate charade that beguiled and satisfied those who wanted to understand rather than condemn. He knew they wanted to understand. I doubt that he ever did. He played the role given him by a world in shock, a grieving world, a world that wanted to punish and be rid of its 'monsters'. He was prepared to be one of them. He was prepared to admit his guilt. He was prepared to be contrite. It was all perfectly logical and he was a logical man in an increasingly logical age.

I was not prepared to judge him. It is neither my role nor my inclination. I was prepared to submit the figure this man presented to a simple theatrical interrogation; to set loose about his image a free play of some of the forces, mythic, historic, emotional, political and moral, that helped shape him with or without his volition. He would be the centre, his prison diaries my main source for his characterisation. And against this I would place, not so much in opposition as in harmonic tension, the poems of Paul Celan, a German Jew and survivor of the Holocaust, who searched within the German language itself for a way to speak of what had happened to him and to his people, who searched for 'an axe to break the ice within' that had sealed shut the deepest horrors of this century's most obvious crime.

 The rest is like a magnifying glass through which the audience must shine. If the glass is truly cut a meeting will occur. That is the invitation. It will not be an easy meeting. Fascism is still alive and well. Nazism is not ancient history. Entire races, entire creeds, are still resisting forces that would wipe them from the face of the earth.

I have written a piece of theatre that may make a certain anguish more apparent.

Daniel Keene, March 1998