Meeting Albert Speer

Roger George Clark's most controversial programmes were a series of six half-hour interviews with Hitler's architect and armaments and production minister Albert Speer. Speer was once called the greatest slave-dealer since the Pharaohs. He was the man who kept World War II going and Hitler in power. Afterwards Speer spent 20 years in Spandau jail for crimes against humanity. So what was it like to meet a former Nazi war criminal?


'Speer was disconcertingly affable,' says Roger. 'He was easier to work with than some of my colleagues at the BBC. I went to see him one night after Christmas at his home in Heidelberg, West Germany. Speer lived in an English-style house, high on a hill, surrounded by trees. His name was painted on the gate (left). I arrived early and found Speer's study crowded with his children and grandchildren. They were watching a home movie. "Come in and have a look," said Speer. "You may find it fun." So I went into the darkened room where the family were sprawled on the floor avidly watching the screen. Speer sat on a chair and apologised because there wasn't one for me. "I'm afraid you,'ll have to improvise," he laughed. So I squatted down amongst the children and watched.


'At first glance the film looked like a typical home movie. But gradually I became aware this was no ordinary film. This movie showed life in Hitler's mountain retreat at Obersalzberg - the inner sanctum of the dictator's court. Men in grey military uniforms decorated with iron crosses - Hitler's aides and adjutants - moved across the screen. Moments later I saw a woman laughing with Speer's children. The lights went up. "That was taken in 1941," said Speer. "Did you recognise the woman? That was Eva Braun - Hitler's mistress. I liked Fräulein Braun. She was a quiet, modest girl".'

Afterwards Roger recorded an interview with the former Nazi - the first of four he made over three days. They discussed Hitler's personality, his architectural plans, the Nuremberg rallies (left),slave labour, the plight of the Jews, V weapons, the Allied bombing campaign, and Speer's efforts to continue World War II as Germany collapsed. Speer reckoned he prologued the conflict by about a year.

'Hitler had style,' says Roger. 'He was acutely conscious of his public image. One of the men who helped create that image was Albert Speer, designing the settings for Hitler's Nuremberg rallies. Hundreds of thousands of Nazis converged on the city to worship their leader. Hitler was a master of grand spectacle - endless parades, waving flags, dramatic speeches and martial music. At first Speer thought the rallies were just clever propaganda. But slowly he realised these grand displays had the hallmarks of  religious ceremonies. "For Hitler they were almost like rites of the founding of a church".'


The rallies were most impressive at night. Speer shone 130 searchlights straight up into the dark sky. Clouds drifted in and out of the beams that reached a height of 25,000 feet. 'The actual effect far surpassed anything I had imagined,' said Speer. One British diplomat said the lights resembled 'a cathedral of ice.'


Speer's most spectacular building was the New Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Hitler wanted something dramatic - a building for diplomatic receptions and conferences where historic decisions were made. 'The cost is immaterial,' he declared. Speer gave him 'an architectural stage set of imperial majesty.' With the help of concentration camp labour working 24 hours a day and seven days a week Speer built this palace in a year. The building was vast - longer than the Empire State Building is tall. The Marble Gallery was over 480 feet long - twice the length of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Hitler's study (above) was overpowering and designed to intimidate visiting dignitaries - a throne room for the Master of the World.

Speer displayed a genius for organisation. Hitler so admired his abilities that in 1942 he put him in charge of Germany's entire war economy. Speer became the second most powerful man in the Third Reich. As armaments and production minister he extended World War II and prologued Hitler's tyranny. Millions more people died in the conflict and in the concentration camps. After the war Speer appeared to show remorse and acknowledged many of the Nazis's crimes. Some people thought him sincere, but others claimed he was self-serving and hypocritical. So how reliable was Speer as a witness?

'He was good at what he was always good at, and bad on what you'd expect,' says Roger. 'Speer was good at explaining how he and Hitler worked together on their architectural plans (left) and how he became trapped by his ambitions. He supplied perceptive analysis of the dictator and his court, armaments, wartime strategy, the Nuremberg rallies, management and large-scale organisation, Nazidom, the Nuremberg trial, and life in Spandau jail. Speer was skilled at putting things into an historical perspective.

'But Speer was unreliable when it came to the Jews and slavery. When I asked him questions about the Holocaust, and the massacres of the Poles and Russians, he looked uneasy. Instead of sitting relaxed as he had done previously, he lent forward in his chair, nervously clasping and unclasping his hands. His sentences fragmented. Normally fluent, Speer's syntax broke down. He no longer made sense. On the one hand he was struggling to tell the truth. On the other, he wanted to avoid admitting anything that might lead to the gallows. It was a unique incident - something I've never witnessed before or since in all my years of broadcasting.'


Most of Speer's buildings have now vanished, or lie in ruins. The Soviets blew up the remains of the Reich Chancellery after the war and built a housing estate on the site. Hitler's desk, however, survives.

Speer's Nuremberg rally stadium is a shattered hulk. But when Roger visited Obersalzberg in 1980 he found Speer's architectural studio - with a long picture window to let in plenty of light on his architectural drawings - still intact

Strangely enough you can see one of Speer's interiors in London. The old German embassy overlooking the Mall, where Von Ribbentrop was ambassador, still exists, but with a new occupant. The Nazi decoration has gone, but some of the rooms resemble stripped-down versions of Hitler's Reich Chancellery.

Speer ended his life living in the English-style house where he grew up as a child - a modest building in Heidelberg far removed from his grand designs for Hitler (below). 'I hate being here,' he once told a journalist.

This could partly account for a curious incident that happened on Roger's last evening with the former Nazi. As he sat in the darkened study waiting for his taxi to arrive Roger asked a final question. If Speer could live his life all over again would he prefer to be famous and a war criminal, or a nonentity who'd led a blameless life? Speer's reply was startling. 'I would prefer to be famous,' he said.