(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

In the Foreword of this work, Albert Speer reveals that he initially planned to write a book on German armaments in World War II. However, an unanticipated fascination with the role of the SS in the German armaments industry and war economy resulted from Speer’s examination of the Himmler files in the German Federal Archive in Koblenz and deterred him from this original course. Instead, Speer produced a work which admirably documents SS leader Heinrich Himmler’s efforts to run the war economy with his men in order to create an independent financial base for the SS.

In Infiltration, Albert Speer steps beyond the range of his first works Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976), which were essentially memoirs and recollections. Here Speer moves into the realm of the historian, as he seeks to document and analyze events of which he was only partially aware at the time. As he straddles the line between historian and memoirist, he is aware of the advantages and disadvantages of his position. The feel that he has for the atmosphere of the Third Reich naturally surpasses that of the scholar who was not directly involved in the Nazi regime. Yet he allows that he is more subjective than a detached scholar. In fact, Speer maximizes his advantage while minimizing the drawback, which itself is debatable in the light of the human subjectivity of even the best of scholars. Furthermore, both Speer’s testimony at Nuremberg and his memoirs demonstrated an unusual ability for objective criticism not only of those around him but of his own culpability in Nazi crimes. In that sense he is well suited to guide the reader through the shadowy corridors of the Nazi regime.

Speer’s lack of formal historical training is most evident in the haphazard organization of the book. The mass of material he encountered was chaotic, reflecting the disorderliness of Himmler’s imperial aspirations. The unifying theme of this study is the bizarre way in which Himmler interfered in areas that he did not understand. Speer consequently excuses the disarray of the material in the book by attributing it to the disorder inherent in Himmler’s empire. The unsystematic nature of his study reflects events, not his inability to put them in order. Thus Speer acknowledges that the book is disorganized. Here the perspective of the historian would have been helpful, for the historian understands that part of his task is to impose some order on the chaos of human events. Speer should have explained and demonstrated to the reader that Himmler was disorganized without allowing Himmler’s disorganization to affect his study of the SS leader’s schemes.

The book details Himmler’s efforts from 1941 to 1945 to build an industrial empire with manpower provided by concentration camp inmates. Himmler’s scheme conflicted with the Nazi’s ideological goal of exterminating the Jews, the achievement of which would have naturally obstructed the attainment of such schemes. Speer contrasts Himmler’s attempts to use slave labor for the production of war material with the utter determination of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann to destroy the Jews regardless of their potential usefulness to war production. Himmler’s ambivalence, exemplified by his orders to destroy the Jews while he sent tens of thousands of them to SS factories in Eastern Europe, leads Speer to suggest that Himmler was not the driving force behind the murder of the Jews. He found that Goebbels was particularly rabid about eliminating all Jews, even those with irreplaceable skills, from armaments production, while Himmler sought to use them as slave labor in his arms factories. Speer does not stop at Goebbels, however; he places the ultimate blame for the mass murder of the Jews squarely where it belongs, on the Führer. Speer considers the evidence irrefutable that Hitler not only approved but also ordered the murder of all Jews.

Himmler’s exploitation of Jewish labor not only raised a point of conflict within the Nazi leadership and the SS, but it also led to conflicts with other government agencies. Not only was Speer, as Minister for Armaments and War Production, opposed to SS efforts to produce war material, but the army was also concerned that the establishment of SS arms factories would enable the SS to siphon weapons from army units. In the Czech territories of the Protectorate, SS attempts to control industrial production prevented the German war machine from making the most of the enormous productive potential there. Himmler interfered at will and with impunity in arms production for the air force and navy, as both forces feared friction with the SS and consequently sought to avoid angering Himmler. Himmler’s wasteful...

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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Book World. XI, August 16, 1981, p. 14.

Booklist. LXXVII, May 1, 1981, p. 1174.

Kirkus Reviews. XLIX, May 15, 1981, p. 672.

Library Journal. CVI, June 15, 1981, p. 1305.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, October 4, 1981, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly. CCXIX, June 12, 1981, p. 49.

Saturday Review. VIII, July, 1981, p. 72.