13 Feb Albert Speer
SPEER: …I would tell myself that, in this modern technological age, genocide becomes an assembly-line process, with the number of murdered rising even as the number of murderers decreases, that under such circumstances, it is easy to be ignorant. I argued that in such a system, the mania for secrecy is self-justifying and self-perpetuating and, therefore, I could not be blamed for not knowing what happened. In each of those arguments, there is a considerable measure of objective truth. But in the larger moral sense, they are all lies, evasions of my responsibility as a human being. If I was isolated, I determined the degree of my own isolation. If I was ignorant, I ensured my own ignorance. If I did not see, it was because I did not want to see.
PLAYBOY: You never had any qualms of conscience whatever about the treatment of the Jews?
SPEER: No. As the anti-Semite campaign escalated, my conscience was progressively calloused and blunted. Of course, one’s conscience does not just cease to exist overnight; it is slowly eroded over the years, eaten away day by day, anesthetized by a multiplicity of little crimes. Things that would have shocked and horrified me in 1934, such as the assassination of opposition leaders, the persecution of the Jews, the incarceration and torture of innocent men in concentration camps, I tolerated as unfortunate excesses in 1935; and things I couldn’t have stomached in 1935 were palatable a few years later. This happened in one way or another to all of us in Germany. As the Nazi environment enveloped us, its evils grew invisible-because we were part of them.
PLAYBOY: How could a man of your intelligence and sensibility allow himself to remain part of so evil a system, However gradually it enveloped you?
SPEER: There is, unfortunately, no necessary correlation betweeen intelligence and decency; the genius and the moron are equally susceptible to corruption. Almost 200 years ago, Goethe wrote in Iphigenie auf Tauris that even “the best man” finally “becomes accustomed to cruelty” and “in the end makes a law of that which he despises.” As far as sensibility is concerned, I would have been shocked and outrated if I had seen some hoodlum throw a brick through a Jewish store window in 1930. But on the day after Kristallnacht in 1938, the great pogrom in which dozens of synagogues and thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were burned and looted, I strolled by the smoldering ruins of a Berlin synagogue, and my only reaction was to be aesthetically offended by the ruins’ spilling over onto the Fasanenstrasse. That was all; I was bothered only by the litter. The memory of that day is one of the most painful of my life. What makes it worse is that on Kristallnacht, Hitler crossed a Rubicon; barbarous as his treatment of the Jews had been, I don’t think even he had contemplated their physical extermination until then. More was shattered than glass that night.
PLAYBOY: You paid for your crimes with 20 years’ imprisonment. Do you believe you have atoned for your guilt?
SPEER: No, I don’t. I don’t believe there can be any atonement in this lifetime for sins of such huge dimension. But I also sincerely believe that I am a much different man today than I was in 1945…