Kevin Myers: Sorry, But Speer Knew. He Knew. Of Course, He Knew.

Roundup: Talking About History

Kevin Myers, in the Sunday Telegraph (5-22-05):

Gitta Sereny - a writer whom I respect greatly - has been arguing that Albert Speer, Hitler's confidant and armaments minister, did not know of the Holocaust. She was prompted to do this by the recent broadcast by the BBC of German films made by Heinrich Breloer: Speer und Er, which clumsily translates as "Speer and He", "he" being Hitler.

I do not speak German, I have not read the thousands of documents that she has read, I was not at the Nuremberg trials as she was, I never met Speer, and she knew him well: I speak thus from the position of a reasonably well-informed layman impudently arguing with an expert. But when I hear that Speer did not know of the Holocaust, I feel a Jeremy Paxman moment assailing my soul, as I throw down a sheaf of papers, and exclaim: "Oh come off it. You don't really expect me to believe that, do you?"

For the moment, let us ignore archives and privately-gained knowledge. Let us deal with public sources, a field that many historians are curiously reluctant to consult, for the sirens of private archives and secret papers still beckon alluringly. On January 30, 1939, the sixth anniversary of his accession to power, Hitler addressed the Reich on national radio as he always did on that date, but on this occasion from the newly-refurbished Reichstag building. His propaganda ministry ordered that wirelesses played the speech throughout factories and schools, and foreign correspondents were warned that this would be an address of major importance.

The world waited for Hitler's words: entire pages were held ready to give it maximum coverage. What was next? The Sudetenland and Austria lay under his command, leaving Czechoslovakia helpless before him. The Nuremberg laws had begun the total exclusion of Jews from German life. On January 17, Jews had been banned from the professions, from going to public venues, or even driving cars.

To ensure that his audience fully understood what he was saying, Reich propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels filmed some of the speech - but only some, for it was two hours long. In it, Hitler cast aside any of the statesmanlike affectations that he sometimes favoured, and strutted menacingly.

This is what he said to the world: "In my life I have been a prophet, and I have mostly been laughed at. At the time of my struggle for power, it was mostly the Jewish people who laughed at the prophecy that one day I would attain in Germany the leadership of the state and therewith of the entire nation, and that among the problems I would solve would be the Jewish one. I think that the uproarious laughter of that time has got stuck in German Jewry's throat.

"Today I want to be a prophet again. If international Jewry succeeds in precipitating the nations into a world war, the result will not be the bolshevisation of the earth, and with it the victory of the Jews, but the annihilation of the Jewish race on earth."

Note the word "prophet": that is his mystical sense of self, one to whom that other forward-looking verb "promise" meant nothing. Hitler could break his word, because he had contempt for those to whom he had given it. But he had absolute and total regard for his sense of self: when he prophesied something, he was making a promise to the only person in the world that counted - himself. This was a promise he would not break, and could not break: it was the only promise to which he would ever be true, unto death.

No one was ignorant of this prophecy. ....

Gitta Sereny has pored through the archives of the world in her quest for the truth about Speer. But it is not in the archives. It is in newspapers like this one.

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