Research, History

History's Martin Kitchen Publishes New Biography of Nazi Architect, Albert Speer

January 28, 2016

In his biography of Albert Speer, Hitler’s Architect (Yale University Press: November 2015), Professor Emeritus Martin Kitchen takes an in-depth, critical look at the life of Nazi Germany’s chief architect and Minister of Armaments. Commissioned by Yale University Press to write the book and receiving support from the FASS Retirees Research Fund, Kitchen says a new biographical account of Speer’s life was long overdue, explaining that Gitta Sereny’s 1995 book Albert Speer: His Battle with the Truth (1995) is “apologetic” and German journalist Joachim Fest’s Speer: The Final Verdict (1999) is “deliberately misleading.”

As a respected and well-published scholar in modern German History in Canada and internationally, Kitchen says he still approached the project with trepidation. “This was my first crack at writing a biography [and it] proved to be a real challenge, because I soon discovered that I had to examine three Speers: the architect, the minister of armaments and the major war criminal who sought to expiate his crimes, and those of an entire nation, to eventually appear as the ‘Good Nazi’ who had kept his hands clean amid all the horrors of the Third Reich.” 

To research the project, Kitchen travelled to the Federal Archives of Berlin and the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich to study archival material on Nazi Germany. Looking at journal articles, diaries, memoirs and contemporary newspaper reports, Kitchen says he discovered “further details of Speer’s relationship with Himmler, Kaltenbrunner and Eichmann, thereby showing beyond all doubt that he not only knew all about the mass murder of the European Jews, but took an active part in it. This was something that he vehemently denied at Nuremberg and after his release from Spandau Prison.” 

Reviews of Hitler’s Architect  are positive. Historian Peter Fritzsche (University of Illinois) calls the book “incisively argued and impressively researched” and says Kitchen’s research shows that it was a “mirage of decency, competence and intelligence that made ambitious conspirators such as Speer so dangerous.” British journalist Daniel Johnson comments that most historians have accepted that “Speer had engineered a miracle as Hitler’s armaments minister, enabling Germany to fight on for years despite Allied bombing,” but Kitchen’s research proves otherwise, “showing that Speer cooked the books to make his achievement look better.”

According to Kitchen, of all the versions of Speer that he researched, the most “insidious” seemed to be the post-war Speer. With the help of conservative journalist Joachim Fest, Kitchen says Speer was able to present himself at the Nuremberg trials as “a man who in terrible times had kept his hands clean. He was only guilty of failing to find out what was really going on [during the Holocaust]. In confessing to the meaningless misdemeanour accepting ‘general blame’ he disguised a guilt that was so terrible that he was unable to confront it. In so doing he provided an alibi for an entire nation.”