Inside Himmler
by Walter Laqueur
Published: October 4, 1981

Translated by Joachim Neugroschel

384 pp. New York: Macmillan

from NewYorkTimes Website

ALBERT SPEER, who died in early September in London, was Germany’s Minister of Armaments and War Production from 1942 till the end of the war. He served Hitler faithfully, but his heart was in architecture, not in politics. In his memoir ’’Inside the Third Reich’’ (1970) - an important source for the history of the Nazi era - he wrote that for the chance to put up a great building, he would have, like Faust, sold his soul. In the Nuremberg trials, in which he received a 20 -year sentence, he was virtually the only defendant who did not attempt to deny his personal responsibility.

His third book, called ’’The Slave State: My Altercations with the S.S.’’ in Germany, has now been published in the United States under a title that must be a close contender in the race for the most meaningless title of the year. It is an important work nonetheless, even though the student of 20th-century German history may find it of more interest than the average reader.

Speer had originally intended to write about German armaments in general. But because he found so much interesting material in the archives about Himmler’s attempts to set up an industrial empire, he decided to devote his book to this specific aspect of the larger topic. ’’Infiltration’’ is not a memoir but the work of a historian who also happened to be involved as an actor in the story. Speer had known much of the story before, but what he had not known about the S.S. designs certainly changed his whole perspective.

What emerges above all from ’’Infiltration’’ is a picture of unending quarrels among various contenders and rival bureaucracies in the Third Reich: Hitler’s sidekicks schemed and conspired against one another and fought for power and influence. There are bound to be tensions whenever people work closely together; ’’Infiltration’’ provides fascinating confirmation concerning this state of affairs in the Third Reich.

There is, however, the danger of making too much of this point. Among some writers on Nazi Germany (and, incidentally, on the Soviet Union) there has been a tendency to de-emphasize the role of Hitler (and Stalin) and to describe their regimes as ’’pluralistic’’ or ’’polycratic,’’ thus denying their totalitarian character. It is, of course, perfectly true that neither Hitler nor Stalin was omnipotent and omnipresent, even though official propaganda tried to create the impression that they were.


If Himmler wanted to engage in one of his bizarre schemes, such as mass-producing high-octane gas from firtree roots or geraniums, Hitler was unlikely to interfere. But it is also true that any decision of major importance could not be taken without consulting the Fuhrer. Speer notes in this context that Himmler’s famous 1943 speeches, in which he promised the mass destruction of the Jews, could not have been made without Hitler’s permission.

That Himmler wished to dominate and eventually run the armaments industry is not at first readily plausible. The Nazis’ attitudes toward modern industry were always ambivalent. They understood that a modern country could not function - let alone engage in modern warfare - without a sound industrial basis, but their ideological inspiration was romantic and thus anti-modern and anti-industrial. To Hitler, physics was the ’’Jewish pseudoscience.’’ Until 1943, he had no interest in jet propulsion or rockets. He rejected the jet fighter because he thought that its extreme speed would impede its fighting capacity.


According to Speer, the Fuhrer even opposed the tommy gun because he said it made soldiers cowardly, and close combat impossible. It was not until the end of the war, when it seemed that only some miracle could save his rule, that Hitler was willing to give higher priority to the development of modern technology.

If the S.S. nevertheless tried to build a major industrial empire, it was because it distrusted the bankers and industrialists (and capitalism in general) and, more importantly, because it desired financial independence. The S.S. feared that, after Hitler’s death, it would be starved by its many enemies inside Germany. According to Speer, Himmler even told Hitler that much, and the explanation seems quite believable.

’’Infiltration’’ contains detailed accounts of the organization of Germany’s rocket program (the A-4) and of the long struggle among the Armaments Ministry, the army and the S.S. over whether able bodied Jews should be kept working for the German war effort or sent to the gas chambers. The army and the Armaments Ministry wanted to keep the Jews as laborers - not out of philo-Semitism, but because Jews were excellent workers, and the Third Reich faced serious manpower shortages during the war. And the prospect that an army of some 14 million slave laborers (such as the S.S. envisaged) would become permanent if Germany won the war certainly did not gladden Speer’s heart. In these as in most other respects, Speer was on the right side in his controversies with the S.S., but the quarrels were not about humanity but about efficiency.

There are many shrewd observations and vignettes in this book, and the author’s self-criticism sounds genuine and honest. Yet the impression emerges from ’’Infiltration’’ that Mr. Speer was not quite clear in his mind what was wrong with Nazism - except, of course, that it committed certain barbaric excesses and frequently made irrational decisions. To give but one illustration of his attitude, Speer describes the background of Nazi policies toward the Jews i n the following terms:

’’(Hitler’s anti-Semitism) had simply aroused a sharp fight by the Jews against the National Socialists. Ultimately, the very existence of the Jews was at stake. And it is astonishing that these Jews, who were allegedly so powerful in Germany before 1933, were not even able to struggle effectively against this petit bourgeois movement of the National Socialists. The justified struggle of the Jews against their arch-enemies increased the anti-Jewish hatred of the Party to such an extent that it refused to make any exceptions or go back in any way.’’

Speer no doubt tried to be fair and to understand what really happened. He probably felt sympathy for the Jews after the full extent of their fate had registered with him. Yet how far from historical truth is his version of the ’’sharp fight by the Jews’’! Time and again, ’’Infiltration’’ shows its author’s disgust with the lack of rationality displayed by Hitler and the other Nazi leaders. But this was not the basic issue. Frequently Nazism was quite rational and methodical in the pursuit of its aims. The problem was that its aims were not just irrational or fanatical but profoundly evil.