Meeting Adolf Hitler’s Armament Minister

It was in the morning sometime in late October of 1977 when he finally answered his phone.  Judy had been calling his home at least once a day for several weeks, but no one ever answered the phone.  She had found his phone number in the Heidelberg phone book where it listed his name, occupation (architectural engineer), address and telephone number. 

We had purchased several copies of his book “Spandau, The Secret Diaries” and we wanted to ask him to autograph them.  I had already received my reassignment alert orders back to the States and we were anxious to get his autograph before we left Heidelberg. So that particular October morning when Judy called, she was really surprised to hear the voice on the other end answer the telephone with—“Speer Here.”

Yes, it was Adolf Hitler’s Chief Architect—Albert Speer—the man who decades earlier had dreamed of designing buildings for the Fuhrer to enshrine his “Thousand Year Reich.” He was the only one of Adolf Hitler’s twenty-one generals and Reich Ministers of the Nazi Party who admitted guilt and expressed remorse at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945. 

Many of those on trial either committed suicide before they were sentenced or were later hung for their war crimes. But because of his limited involvement with obtaining and using forced labor in German factories during the war, Albert Speer was sentenced to only twenty years in Spandau Prison.

While his position in the Third Reich was initially as Hitler’s Chief Architect—and someone Hitler called a close friend—Albert Speer became Hitler’s Reich Minister of Armaments and Procurement after the previous Minister Fritz Todt was killed in an airplane crash in February of 1942. 

Had it not been for that accident, Albert Speer would never have become the Reich Minister of Armaments and Procurement for the Third Reich. He would have remained as Hitler’s Chief Architect and he would never have gained the attention of the prosecutors at the Nuremburg Trials.

Over the telephone that morning, Speer told Judy we could come to his house at six o’clock that evening as that was the only time he would be available for the next several months. 

So that evening, Molly, Cathy, Judy and I drove up the winding narrow road to the Heidelberg Castle and then drove past the Castle for about a mile on around the mountain towards the town of Neckargemund located further east on the Neckar River. It was getting to be dusk, but we could still see the beautiful Neckar River and Valley below through the trees lining the road. 

We turned off on a road named Schloss-Wolfsbrunnenweg (Wolfsbrunnen Castle Way), which was the same road the Commanding General of USAREUR—General Blanchard and his family lived on. 

Speer’s house was #50 and we located it a bit further down the road from the General’s house—tucked in some trees on the side of the mountain.

We parked the car at the gate and as we started up the hill to Speer’s house, we passed the home of a young man who came out and told us he was Speer’s son.  After I identified myself, he told us to keep walking past his house up the hill to his father’s house—he said his father was expecting us. 

Albert Speer greeted us at the door, and he shook hands with Molly, Cathy, Judy and me as we entered his home.  He apologized that he had only a few minutes to spare since he had to dress for a concert that evening. 

We offered to come back another time, but he gently insisted we come in.  We entered his home and walked down a long hall to a large dark, paneled room with oriental rugs on the floor, a piano, and a piano bench that—as Molly remembered—was covered in red velvet with fringe. I recall Cathy wandering over to the piano bench and playing with the fringe hanging from the bench. Cathy’s description of the dark room—after we had left Speer’s house—was that it was “spooky.”

Judy handed him the books and the typed list of the names of those for whom we had bought the books and he quickly wrote in each. While he was signing the books, I went over to a huge triple pane glass picture window on the west side of the room.  As I looked out—down the side of the mountain into the fading sunlight—I was struck by the beauty created by the setting sun as it cast long shadows on the moss covered granite crosses in the old WWI military cemetery located on a level piece of ground—about twenty meters down the hill from Albert Speer’s home.

Speer had said to us as we were walking down the long hallway when we first arrived, that the house had belonged to his parents.  He explained everything in the house was as it was when they lived in it—complete with the family’s old china and silver.  He said it was that way because the house had been used by the U.S. Army for high-ranking officers during the occupation and they had left it all intact—for which he was most grateful. 

He then mentioned he had lunch earlier that afternoon with General Blanchard and then—with a smile on his face— mentioned another American General whom he’d had contact with years ago. 

As we were leaving, we gave him a gift. It was a book on the American Indian and the American West—with beautiful full page color plates.  He opened it, looked at several of the colored plates and thanked us—adding his grandchildren would enjoy it too. 

I have always wondered what the U.S. Army Generals and Albert Speer talked about whenever they got together.  Back then there were still some of the older U.S. Army Generals on active duty who had fought somewhere in Europe during WWII as young lieutenants and captains. General Blanchard—for one, was a young infantry company commander serving in France and Germany with the 70th Infantry Division during WWII.

I did not ask Speer who the other General was, but I thought about the smile on his face when he said, “Another American General with whom he’d had contact with years ago.”  Could it have been one of the officers who were in charge of Spandau prison while Speer was there as a prisoner—or perhaps he was one of the officers involved in Speer’s trial at Nuremberg several decades earlier?

I do not recall most of the specific details about the visit that evening with Albert Speer—however, the next day Judy mailed one of the autographed books to her Aunt Mary living in Enid.  She included a two-page typed note to her aunt going over details of the visit.  Here are some excerpts from that letter Judy wrote describing some of what she observed that evening in 1977 at Albert Speer’s home.

“As I spoke with Albert Speer, he was very alert, certainly a man not broken by twenty years in prison; his brown suit was tousled, and his shoes were the round-toed, old fashioned looking ones. The house looked comfortably lived in, not ‘German neat and clean.’ I sat next to a fireplace, the back of which was made of blue and white tiles similar to ones I had seen in the Netherlands. In the next room I could see dark paneling with carved heads that projected from the walls near the ceiling, not unlike happy gargoyles.”

While he always expressed regret for his actions as Reich Minister of Armaments and Procurement, Speer seldom spoke of his courageous act of disobeying Hitler’s maniacal “scorched earth policy.”  During the last days of the war, Speer madly rushed from German city to German city—including Heidelberg—speaking with city officials and “reinterpreting” Hitler’s order to destroy everything. 

Beautiful Heidelberg was not destroyed.  Only one span of the beautiful “Alte Brücke” (Old Bridge) that spanned the Neckar River in Heidelberg was damaged by German soldiers. Construction of the old stone bridge was completed in 1788 and the “Alte Brücke” still stands just below the Heidelberg Castle.  If you were to turn to the east just before crossing that bridge from the south—and proceed down the narrow cobblestone street running parallel to the Neckar river—you would come upon Mark Twain’s favorite beer hall, the “Roten Ochsen” (Red Ox).

And just up the side of Heidelberg Mountain, above the “Roten Ochsen”, stands the old Heidelberg Castle—construction of which began more than 700 years ago. 

The name Heidelberg comes from a German word meaning “Huckleberry Mountain,” and while not all literary historians are in agreement as to why Mark Twain went to Heidelberg in the first place—some think he went to Heidelberg because he was having trouble trying to finish his novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

I do not remember Albert Speer as history portrays him—as the Reich Minister of Armaments and Procurement in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party who, as Hitler’s minister of wartime production, was the Nazis’ principle exploiter of forced labor and who—after the defeat of Nazi Germany—was ultimately found guilty at the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to twenty years in Spandau Prison. 

It does seems strange, but when I think about my brief visit with Albert Speer—I remember him as a quiet, distinguished gentleman who had saved beautiful and historic Heidelberg from Hitler’s insane order to destroy that historic and beautiful city.

On September 1, 1981, while in London, preparing for a television interview, Albert Speer died of a cerebral hemorrhage in a London hospital. He was seventy-six years of age.