"By mid-April, just one day before the Battle of Berlin was to begin, who was present in the bunker? Ã¢ÂÂ¦Johannes HentschelÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Sergeant MischÃ¢ÂÂ¦ working the shift withÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Corporal Exmann. Some thirty members of the FBK, under Lieutenant Colonel Franz SchaedleÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Major General RattenhuberÃ¢ÂÂ¦ pilot Hans BaurÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Martin Bormann is not only present; he is omnipresentÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Major Otto Guensche, the tall rugged soldierÃ¢ÂÂ¦ There are some dozen women presentÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Fraulein Constanze ManzialyÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Fraulein Else KruegerÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Fraulein Johanna WolfÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Fraulein Christa SchroederÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Frau Gerda ChristianÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Frau Gertrud JungeÃ¢ÂÂ¦ KempkaÃ¢ÂÂ¦ is usually in or about the bunker - as are Heinz Linge and some half-dozen other minor charges. Ernst KaltenbrunnerÃ¢ÂÂ¦ and Heinrich Mueller, chief of the GestapoÃ¢ÂÂ¦ SS Lieutenant General Hermann FegeleinÃ¢ÂÂ¦ The Reich Chancellery Group in 1945 included two ministers, Speer and GoebbelsÃ¢ÂÂ¦" (O'Donnell 97)
Through daunting vocabulary, the perplexing allusions, the numerous threads of rumor that lead to nowhere and the sheer twenty-two pages of prologue, I managed to wrestle my way and managed to appreciate this detailed series of interviews stringed together to make a story of the last weeks of war.
The Bunker by James P. O'Donnell at times is as dull as an old documentary, while some spots are as fresh as gossip. However, through the monotonous and the appealing, my favorite places were the sections where new characters of this storybook were introduced and fleshed out. And out of the characters, my favorite was Albert Speer.
I have no doubt that my own admiration may be heavily influenced from the author's. Even in the prologue, when the author quoted Speer, he stated, "It was the first of seventeen interviews I had with himÃ¢ÂÂ¦" (O'Donnell 13) On the next page: "Speer, of course, is a most exceptional man, able to articulate his experience." (O'Donnell 14) Throughout this book, I felt the same way, admiring how Speer, or rather any of the witnesses could speak so freely about their experiences in the Fuehrerbunker.
In Chapter III, The Bunker Brutus, Speer's life seems summarized. He began as "a young and ambitious architect" (O'Donnell 66) with "a deep streak of patriotism in him" (O'Donnell 66). After he became the war production minister, Speer was excellent and he had doubled, even tripled German arms production. However, he first love was architecture, and as an talented architect, "Speer had always been treated by Hitler as an equal" (O'Donnell 66). He designed many structures, including the second Reich Chancellery, but unfortunately, the only tributes to him today are the double row of lampposts he designed on the road through the Tiergarten.
Speer was one of the few in Hitler's closest circle who outwardly protested against Hitler's means. All his loyalty to the Fuehrer seems to have evaporated when he first read the quotes (from Mein Kampf) given to him by Dr. Lueschen. He realized that Hitler was just about "NationÃ¢ÂÂ¦ TyrannyÃ¢ÂÂ¦ FolkÃ¢ÂÂ¦ DutyÃ¢ÂÂ¦" (O'Donnell 68), and cared about little else. Thus, he seriously began thinking about "the last of at least nine serious assassination attempts." (O'Donnell 60)
When walking with Hentschel, Speer realized that the only way to end the war now is to kill Hitler. And as Hitler is currently in the Fuehrerbunker, there weren't many ways to accomplish such an intimidating task. Seeing his chance, Speer asked for Hentschel to remove the old filter in the air-intake. Now all had been set up, Speer just needed the gas. However, ironically, Speer, as the armament minister, had access to large weapons (such as "a bomber, a Tiger tank," and "even a V-2 rocket" (O'Donnell 71)), yet could not request any gas without arousing suspicion.
With the help of a close friend and ally, Stahl, Speer finally managed to secure some mustard gas. The day before his plan was to take action, Speer wandered into the Chancellery garden and was ready to ask Hentschel to remove the filter of the air-intake. "Four armed SS guards of the FBK" greeted him, and "Speer froze in sheer terror" (O'Donnell 73). Fortunately, they SS men were focused on the chimney they were installing rather than Speer. Not frustrated, but relieved by this failed attempt, Speer decided to be smarter and instead postpone Hitler's plans in other ways.
This demonstration of courage on Speer's part is astounding. Speer had always been Hitler's protÃÂ©gÃÂ©, and to backstab Hitler like so seems unimaginable. I doubt Hitler would have ever suspected that Speer had such rebellious thoughts, seeing that he brought Speer out of anonymity and made him the important minister he was at the height of Hitler's reign.
While the other Reich Group members seem irreproachable, Albert Speer, in Hentschel's words, "Ã¢ÂÂ¦was one of the few National Socialist big wheels who was also a naturally friendly man. He knew how to talk to a worker without talking down to him" (O'Donnell 60). Speer understood people, and was friendly with most of the Reich group and Hitler's personal friends, including Eva Braun. Speer was simply nice.
Speer also shows genuine compassion, which I feel Bormann, Goebbels and others lacked. Even as Berlin's fall was imminent, Speer was still thinking about the Goebbels' children. "The plan was to hide them aboard the barge, with ample provisions, then quietly float the self-propelled bargeÃ¢ÂÂ¦ to the Americans" (O'Donnell 126). He had known all the children and liked all of them. However, his plan was foiled/prevented from happening by Joseph Goebbels, and he was ashamed when he saw the children "whom he tried to save but was now abandoning" (O'Donnell 128). Abandon is too harsh of a word to use here, as Speer clearly meant well.
Speer also reached a touchy matter with Hitler to airlift some Czech managers to Munich. After Hitler approved of it without any objections, Speer also proved himself to be realistic. The frustratingly pompous foreign minister Ribbentrop wanted the document to mention because he believed "that such a project required his approval" (O'Donnell 132). Speer did not wish to argue with such a ridiculous claim, thus he added, "approved by the Fuehrer at the suggestion of the foreign minister" (O'Donnell 126), to appease Ribbentrop.
I know I have glorified, and perhaps deified Albert Speer, but I truly believe he deserves such praise. He was a dedicated and talented architect. He was frank about his activities during the Nuremberg Trials, as he really did not know about the Holocaust. It was outside of his field, and although he deployed the weaponry around the Reich, Speer did not design the concentration camps. He should have inquired about the Jews, but for someone so close to the Fuehrer, all his actions were watched, and there was little he could do without provoking suspicion. In the whole, he is someone I would like to be. I doubt I would have ever stood up to Hitler, and would I have felt compelled to help Magda Goebbels and her children? But then again, I am a high school student.
This book opened my eyes to World War II. Goring, Axmann, Fegelein, Baur, Ribbentrop, I'm proud to say, are all my new acquaintances. (The photos in the book helped.) Surprisingly, after other students warned me, this book wasn't as dry, and I know I will re-read the exploits of Speer, Stahl, and all the others who dared to defy Hitler.