Speer Tactics of Avoidance
The Tactics of Avoidance: Albert Speer and the Art of Confession
Albert Speer exhibited personal qualities at the Nuremberg trial of 1945 that appear to have ameliorated his guilt in the eyes of the International War Crimes Tribunal and which his fellow defendants lacked. He was young, educated, and handsome, a bright young member of the upper-class. However, his most important quality, one which he possessed apart from his fellow defendants, was a conscience illustrated by his open confession to the horrors of Nazi Germany and to the sinister character of its leader, Adolf Hitler. He exhibited contrition for the Allies as sincerely as he had once shown loyalty to the conquered regime, a regime that, he insisted, had misled him.
Speer's confession can be viewed as a redemptive act, as a young man's reclamation of his own humanity. In my opinion, however, such an interpretation is incorrect in that it does not describe the nature of Speer's apparent epiphany, although it does in part explain the positive response of others to his confession and voluntary assumption of guilt. ONly by such individual scenes of redemption, repeated throughout Germany, was it possible for the nation itself to be redeemed and return to the circle of civilized nations with the blessing of justice as well as of necessity. It was a species of theater which eased the transition for the Allies and for the conquered Germans. Speer was, in effect, doing once again exactly what was demanded of him, and he did it with the sincerity of a talented petite bureaucrat, committed at all times to the order of the day. Such men survive the changing of the guard with ease.
Speer's confession did not allow him to escape all punishment. The times were against such an eventuality, and the evidence proved his personal responsibility too clearly. However, he did emerge from the Nuremberg trial with his life, and with with a relatively light prison sentence ahead of him. He had been punished sufficiently to guarantee the theater of expiation was effective, but not in the measure his complicity could have gained him. He had also gained sympathizers who anticipated further revelations from the Nazi insider whose conscience compelled him to reveal all. That his confession did not act as a magic key, unlocking his prison door immediately, is not to say that it did not serve other, equally important, purposes.
Speer's confession provided him with a viable defense in and out of the courtroom, and within his own psyche, and it did so in a number of ways. Within the courtroom the confession provided Speer with an ability to defend himself from specific charges that his fellow defendants within the unique circumstances of the Nuremberg trial itself as a vehicle of politics and vengeance, as well as of justice, lacked. By admitting to the general substance of the charges, that the NSDAP and the state as governed by the NSDAP were criminal enterprises, and that the elimination of Jews, now known as the Holocaust, was among the specific criminal actions carried out by these entities, Speer effectively limited the avenues of attack available to the prosecution. They had to change their tactics from the general proof that 'the monstrous had occurred' to the specific proof that Albert Speer had individually, knowingly committed the monstrous.
Speer, through his confession, also gained in integrity in the eyes of observers. He remained a 'good man', although a good man who had become involved in evil acts, by his belated reclamation of moral conscience. He retained a purity of intention, separate from the corruption of his deeds, and was able to magnify small deeds of virtue perpetrated during his career as Hitler's architect into significant indications of his 'true' nature. This made him redeemable; he alone of all the defendants was capable of true rehabilitation. He was a young criminal who accepted the fact of his crime and showed the desire to reform.
Age cannot be ignored as a factor in the efficacy of Speer's confession. It was a statement that would not have been believed if said by an old man, for old men are considered more rigid in their thinking and less capable of change than young men. The young are malleable, and thus Speer's youth bolstered his confession in two important ways. First, it explained why he was a Nazi at all, without insinuating criminal or evil intent, for the young are prone to error and may be pressured into actions antithetical to their natures by the pressure of social and personal forces. In Speer's case, the social pressure was provided by the chaos and gloom of 1920s Germany while Hitelr was himself the personal pressure. The young Speer was drawn into something of which he knew little and it made of him the criminal he rejected. Secondly, Speer's youth strengthened his contention that he had changed and did indeed recognize the tragedy engendered by his immature adherence to Hitler and the Germany Hitler and the Nazi party created. A young man is capable of transformation, for his mistakes have not been with him long enough to take deep root, and, separated from the forces that corrupt him, he can once again become a good man.
Speer's confession provides a very clear example of a man who at once accepts and rejects his own complicity in a great wrong. For although Speer admits to the great, general evil of Hitler's Germany, and admits to a role in that Germany, he is less certain of responsibility for specific crimes and actions attributed to him, or of which he is suspected. He used forced labor as Minister of Munitions, he admits, but he was not individually responsible for the treatment of any individual workers at any time, except upon those rare occasions at which evidence can be produced suggesting he attempted to ameliorate specific conditions at specific sites. He demanded a specific number of workers, he admits, but he was not individually responsible for the manner in which such workers were collected, nor did he know specifically of the manner in which this was done. Speer confesses to his ignorance, and to the evil that existed, the specifics of which he did not know until his trial. In this manner, Speer retains belief in his own innate goodness, in the quality of his moral being, while admitting to the horrors in which he participated and which can no longer be avoided. His redemptive act is, therefore, insincere as it is achieved without acknowledging the extent of his personal involvement and responsibility in the admitted crimes.
Speer's confession insulated him from external attacks and removed him from the ranks of the truly guilty within his own mind. I believe that a careful analysis of Speer's confession in relationship to what is known of his career reveals the self-serving nature of his seeming redemptive act. Such an analysis also illustrates that Speer achieved by his confession the status of 'the good Nazi' in his own eyes, and in the eyes of his sympathizers, and that this was possible because his words and figure embodied both an individual redemption open to all Germans and a national redemption realized by the exorcism of the demon of their collective past. This was a redemption greatly desired by the Germans and by the Western Allies who, in facing the USSR as their enemy in the post-war world, were once again embracing the nation of Germany.