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Hitler's "Scorched Earth" Decree (Nero Decree) (March 19, 1945) and Albert Speer's Response (March 29, 1945)

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II. Albert Speer’s Response of March 29, 1945

[ . . . ] When I gave you my memorandum on 18 March, I was convinced that the conclusions which I was drawing from the present situation for the maintenance of our national energy would definitely meet with your approval. For you yourself had already on one occasion determined that, in the event of a lost war, it was the task of the leadership to preserve the nation from a heroic end.

However, that evening you made statements to me from which – unless I have misunderstood you – it is clear and evident that if the war is lost the nation will also be lost. This fate is unavoidable. It is not necessary to show any consideration for the bases, which the people will need for their very primitive further existence; on the contrary, it is better to destroy even these things. For the nation has showed itself to be the weaker one and the future belongs exclusively to the stronger eastern nation. Those remaining after the struggle are in any case the less valuable ones because the good ones have been killed.

On hearing these words I was deeply shocked. And when, a day later, I read your destruction order and shortly afterwards the tough evacuation order, I interpreted these as the first steps in the implementation of these intentions.

Until then, I had believed with all my heart in a successful conclusion to this war. [ . . . ]

However, I can no longer believe in the success of our good cause if, during these decisive months, we simultaneously and systematically destroy the foundations of our national life. That is such a great injustice towards our people that fate could no longer favour us.

[ . . . ]

I therefore beg you not to carry out a step so destructive of the nation.

If you could decide to do this in some form then I would regain the faith and courage with which to continue working with the greatest energy.

You will be able to understand my inner conflict. I cannot work to my full capacity and generate the necessary confidence if, at the same time as I am demanding from the workers their fullest commitment, I am preparing to destroy the foundation of their lives.

[ . . . ]

Source of English translation: Jeremy Noakes, ed., Nazism, 1919-1945, Vol. 4: The German Home Front in World War II. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1998, p. 660.

Source of original German text: Bundesarchiv Koblenz N 1340/215 "29. März 1945 Schreiben Speers an Adolf Hitler Zusammenbruch des Deutschen Reiches, Opposition, insbes. gegen die Zerstörungsbefehle Hitlers (vgl. R 3/1538);" also reprinted as (Beweisstück Speer-24) Schreiben Speers an Hitler vom 29. März 1945: Ersuchen um Aufhebung des Zerstörungsbefehls Hitlers vom 19. März 1945 (Dokument Speer-30), in Der Prozess gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher vor dem Internationalen Militärgerichtshof. Nürnberg 14. November 1945 - 1. Oktober 1946, Volume XLI, Amtlicher Text – Deutsche Ausgabe, Urkunden und anderes Beweismaterial. Nuremberg 1949. Reprint: Munich, Delphin Verlag, 1989, pp. 425-29.

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