The Architecture of Evil: Though He Later Claimed No Knowledge of the Holocaust, Albert Speer Became a Friend to Adolf Hitler
Examining the unique ability of engineers to make reality of dreams — and nightmares.
Someone designed the furnaces of the Nazi death camps. Someone measured the size and weight of a human corpse to determine how many could be stacked and efficiently incinerated within a crematorium. Someone sketched out on a drafting table the decontamination showers, complete with the fake hot-water spigots used to lull and deceive doomed prisoners. Someone, very well educated, designed the rooftop openings and considered their optimum placement for the cyanide pellets to be dropped among the naked, helpless men, women, and children below. This person was an engineer, an architect, or a technician. This person went home at night, perhaps laughed and played with his children, went to church on Sunday, and kissed his wife goodbye each morning.
The technical professions occupy a unique place in modern society. Engineers and architects possess skills most others lack — skills that allow them to transform dreams of design into reality. Engineers can convert a dry, infertile valley into farmland by constructing a dam to provide irrigation; they have made man fly; and architects have constructed buildings that reach thousands of feet into the sky. But these same technical gifts alone, in the absence of a sense of morality and a capacity for critical thought and judgment, can also make reality of nightmares. Ferdinand Porsche, the engineer who designed the Volkswagen — an automobile that revolutionized personal travel for the common man — also designed a terrifying battle tank that helped kill millions of Russians on the Eastern Front. Wernher von Braun, who would later design the Saturn V rocket that brought American astronauts to the Moon, designed the V-2 rockets with which the Nazis terrorized Antwerp and London in the waning months of the Second World War.
Few men better exemplify this danger than Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. From bold, looming edifices, to giant swastika banners, to the intimidating searchlights of the “cathedral of light” piercing the night sky around one of the Nazi Party rallies at Nuremberg, Speer’s designs became icons of Nazi megalomania. He shared with the dictator a vision of a redesigned Berlin that, when the Third Reich conquered the world, would be a lasting monument to its power for ages to come. “Your husband is going to erect buildings for me such as have not been created for four thousand years,” Hitler told Speer’s wife, reflecting both the scale of their shared ambition and the shared admiration and peculiar friendship that developed between the two men over the course of the war