Speer was born in Mannheim, Germany in 1905. After becoming an architect, he joined the Nazi Party in 1931. From 1933 to 1942, Speer designed monuments and decorations for rallies to promote the Nazi government. Sometimes called ‘the first architect of the Third Reich’, he was Hitler’s chief architect in Nazi Germany. Perhaps the most familiar of his designs are the Nuremberg parade grounds seen in Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. He also planned the post-war rebuilding of Berlin, which was to become the capital of an enlarged German state – Germania.
In 1942 Hitler made him Minister responsible for Armaments and War Production. Speer greatly increased weapons output and was responsible for the use of slave labour in German factories. He was also ordered to work out the logistics of the “final solution of the Jewish question,” making him a key figure in the perpetration of the Holocaust.
By March 1945, it was obvious Germany had lost the war. Hitler did not want enemy troops to use Germany’s industries, and so he ordered Speer to have the German Army destroy the industries. Speer knew the German people would need the industries after the war, and he refused to obey Hitler’s order – risking his life in the process.
He pleaded guilty in the Nuremberg trials after World War II and was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment in Spandau Prison for his use of slave labor. His release from prison in 1966 was a world-wide media event. He published several semi-autobiographic books until his death in London on September 1, 1981 – exactly 42 years after World War II began. His books such as Inside the Third Reich provided a unique and personal look into the personalities of the Nazi era. However, many critics believe that his books understate his role in the atrocities of the era.