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The Making of a Gentleman Nazi

Albert Speer’s Politics of History in the Federal Republic of Germany


Baijayanti Roy

At the Nuremberg Trial and through his bestselling books, Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and minister, could successfully project an image of himself as the «gentleman Nazi». Using hitherto unexplored archival sources, this book looks at those aspects of his career that Speer retrospectively manipulated (e.g. his resistance to Hitler’s Nero order), to construct this image. The evolution of the «Speer myth», analysed here, shows how West Germany’s politics influenced Speer’s narrative, as well as the impact that his image had on Federal Republic’s efforts to cope with its past. This book also examines the role of historians and public intellectuals in and outside Germany in reinforcing the Speer myth – the British historian Hugh Trevor Roper and the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal among others.

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At the end of this study of the origin, development and debunking of the image of Albert Speer as the ‘gentleman Nazi,’ some additional observations are in place regarding this long and convoluted process and its impact. History, as the British historian Geoffrey Barraclough once observed, is but a series of accepted judgements.1331 Speer’s discourse could not have held sway in the memorial culture of post war West German society for such a long time without affirmation from the official establishment that formulated the politics of the past. The reasons underlying this consensus are diverse.

The breakdown of the National Socialist state in 1945 played an important role in the way memorial narratives were viewed by professional historians in post–war Germany. Under the Third Reich, the majority of Germans had bequeathed to various institutions and agencies of the Nazi state, the shaping of their way of life. The state offered the limited option, through its different organisations, of particular models which people could choose from. After 1945, almost everyone of this majority was forced to plan differently with new perspectives, irrespective of whether one saw this as a chance or a hurdle.1332 In such a situation, memorial writings which exposed the dark crevices of one’s life had little chance to flourish.

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