Hitler's architect Albert Speer, who cooperated with prosecutors at Nuremberg and avoided being executed, managed to get a relatively benign image for himself through the publication of his memoirs.
It was an undeserved reputation. At Nuremberg, he was prosecuted on the basis of having used slave labor for some of his projects. He always claimed to have not even known about the mass murder of Jews.
Volker Ullrich, one of Germany's leading historians, explains in a recent article that he got off lightly: Speers Erfindung Die Zeit (Hamburg) 19/2005 04.05.2005. According to various documents that have come to light since 1982, it is now known that Speer took part in deporting Jews from Berlin to extermination camps; was involved in the building of the concentration camp system; ans apparently had an even larger role in the slave labor program than had been thought before.
"Had the judges of the Nuremberg Tribunal known then what we know today," Ullrich writes, "then Speer would certainly have been hanged."
Ullrich complains that Joachim Fest, another leading German historian and author of one of the most highly regarded biographies of Hitler, helped Speer promote the more benign - and phony - image of himself that became widely accepted for years after he was released from prison. Fest was assigned by Speer's publisher to help him prepare his memoirs after his release. According to Ullrich's reading of a recent publication by Fest on his work with Speer, Fest continued to work with Speer on his memoirs even though he had very strong indications that Speer was being less than honest in his account.
Speer's self-portrait, which he used in his defense strategy at the Nuremberg trials, was to claim that he felt responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich, but that his own knowledge and participation in them was minimal.
Speer, says Ullrich, was not seduced by Hitler and his demagoguery. Rather, "he was a perpetrator - one of the worst among the Nazi leaders. He and those like him were just the ones who made the crime against humanity possible."