From the 1930s to 1945, few had a closer inside view of Hitler and the senior officials who made up the Third Reich than Albert Speer. At first appointed as chief architect for the buildings and monuments which Hitler wanted created for when Germany became the or one of the dominant world powers, Speer later was put in charge of the supply of all armaments and fuel required to fight the war.
I read this book in order to help understand what motivated the German leadership and how it functioned. During this period, I lived as a child in England. I have since come to believe that my life would have been different if it had not been for the 26 miles of the channel that separated England from continental Europe. If the Germans had decided to invade England late in 1940, England’s fate would have been similar to that France, Holland and neighbouring countries. Why Hitler chose not to cross the channel is unclear. While the German army was a superior force, the British navy and airforce would have made things difficult for invading forces.
What motivated Hitler?
Hitler rose to political power in Germany as a result of the First World War. Like many Germans he felt the country had surrendered without being defeated, in part because its borders had not been invaded. Amongst others, Hitler blamed the former political leadership, the communists and the Jews both for the defeat and for the depressed economic conditions that followed the war.
Hitler greatly admired the global reach and influence of the British Empire and felt that the restoration of the German nation required it to create a similar empire or living space for Germanic people. That could be most easily achieved by expanding eastwards from Germany into Poland, other countries of eastern Europe and into Russia. His aim was twofold, to acquire land and to populate it with Aryan peoples. Aside from conquest of land he had to move large numbers of people, especially Slavic peoples whom he despised.
His treatment of Slavic peoples was the same as his brutal treatment of the Jews, gypsies and others considered undesirable. Measures taken included the shipment of these peoples to the east and their replacement by those considered to have the desired traits. This required assessing and measuring a person’s birth traits. The final solution emerged when it became clear that battle on the eastern front with Russia was being lost. There was then no space to relocate people from occupied territories and the administration of death camps was decided on at the 1942 Wannsee Conference.
“The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior officials of the Nazi German regime, held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. The purpose of the conference was to inform administrative leaders of Departments responsible for various policies relating to Jews, that Reinhard Heydrich had been appointed as the chief executor of the “Final solution to the Jewish question”. In the course of the meeting, Heydrich presented a plan, presumably approved by Adolf Hitler, for the deportation of the Jewish population of Europe and French North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) to German-occupied areas in eastern Europe, and the use of the Jews fit for labour on road-building projects, in the course of which they would eventually die according to the text of the Wannsee Protocol, the surviving remnant to be annihilated after completion of the projects. Instead, as Soviet and Allied forces gradually pushed back the German lines, most of the Jews of German-occupied Europe were sent to extermination or concentration camps, or killed where they lived. As a result of the efforts of historian Joseph Wulf, the Wannsee House, where the conference was held, is now a Holocaust Memorial (Source Wikipedia).”
Speer notes Hitler’s admiration for the British and the latter’s professed desire at the outset not to go to war with England. This may explain why Hitler held back from wiping out the British forces on the beaches of Dunkirk. Over a nine day period in May-June1940, 338,000 troops were rescued from the beaches. Even the British thought they would be lucky to rescue 10% of this total.
Hitler as a leader
Hitler’s leadership style was to discuss operations verbally with his senior staff and to leave them with the objectives that he wanted achieved. The staff would then go off and fulfill these so-called orders in whatever way they thought fit. Often he would appoint two people to the same post and let them compete to see who could come up with the best solution. This encouraged leaders to be ruthless in the conduct of military and civilian objectives.
As the war progressed, Hitler visited the military and civilian fronts less and less often especially after the withdrawal from the eastern front. He stayed within his headquarters visited by generals and others who kept him informed about the progress of the war. As time passed no one wanted to give him bad news and thus he became increasingly divorced from the actual fighting and Allied bombing of targets in Germany. However he gave orders about the movement of troops on the ground when these forces either did not exist or were partially decimated. In the end he was a self-imposed prisoner in his bunker in Berlin and hardly went outside let alone visit the scene of any fighting.