More Speer Revelations
For decades after the end of World War II, Albert Speer's reputation managed to stay fairly clean. Despite being one of Hitler's closest advisors, armaments minister/architect Speer was seen has having been a fairly benign force -- or at least as benign a force as possible given the times. At the Nuremburg Trials, he was the only defendant to plead guilty. His life was spared, but throughout his 21-year prison sentence and up until his death in 1981 he maintained that he knew nothing about the Holocaust. The scrim of lies has been pulled back though, though, revealing Speer to in fact have been one of the central builders of the Nazi death machine. Berlin historian Susanne Willems recently discovered documents from the construction of the Auschwitz death camp that specifically call its expansion a "special program" lead by Speer.
The documents make clear that by May 1943 at the very latest, Speer knew what was happening at Auschwitz. As the head of armaments for the Third Reich, he oversaw the regulation of resources, including building materials, and had sent two of his advisors, Friedreich Desch and a man named Sander to investigate several concentration camps around Germany and Poland, including Auschwitz (according to SPIEGEL sources, Sander is probably Armin Sander, Nazi party member 2638019). In 1943, Speer visited the Mathausen camp himself, and warned SS head Heinrich Himmler that he was being "more than generous" in his use of construction materials for housing prisoners. He then admonished Himmler to immediately switch to more "primitive construction."
Until recently, historians couldn't be sure just how much Desch and Sander had seen while on their trip to Auschwitz -- and thus how much Speer would have found out from them. Now, thanks to Willems research, they know that Desch and Sander definitely knew about the "Final Solution" no later than the day of their visit. On that day, 900 Jews from Poland were murdered in the gas chambers. Later, Speer approved a shipment of a thousand tons of iron to Auschwitz. Himmler, who Speer had criticized before, thanked him "very much" for the shipment, and said that he felt "assured in the conviction that justice exists." Unfortunately, it doesn't. After his release from prison in 1966, Speer became a best-selling author and moved to London.(2:34 p.m. CET)
Bush Blog: Georgia Edition
President Bush is in Georgia on Tuesday, the first time a US president has visited the country, and it appears it was a good choice: Georgia is about the only place on the planet where he's universally seen as a hero. After lecturing Putin on the good graces of democracy and putting his support behind Georgian independence, Bush has been met with an avalanche of support in the former Soviet state, an outpouring that has included billboards bearing his grinning likeness and huge, attentive crowds at his speeches. On Tuesday morning, while addressing a crowd in the capital's central square, people broke through the police line to get closer to Bush -- not out of protest, but out of sheer desire to get closer to him.
Bush, meanwhile, is not so insanely popular with his wife. In addition to her recent complaints about his early bedtime habits, she told Dutch television on Sunday that he'd totally forgotten Mother's Day -- no flowers, no box of peppermints, not even a card. She did defend him a bit -- saying "It's not easy to be popular when you have to make difficult decisions," -- but she was referring to Iraq and North Korea, not the tough choice of deciding between sending red or pink roses. (11:15 a.m. CET)
China Chomping Up Asian Forests
Lest anyone think that China is importing vast quantities of illegally harvested hardwoods from Indonesia, not to worry. The two countries, as it happens, signed a treaty banning such trade in 2003. What a relief! Lest anyone imagine that the treaty changed the demand for such illegal hardwoods in China one jot, think again. In fact, according to a number of environmental groups, Chinese traders have close ties to Indonesian tree poachers and roughly 300,000 cubic meters of lumber from Papua, New Guinea, are unloaded each month in Shanghai -- each shipment lubricated with up to $200,000 in bribes to the Indonesian government.
As China's appetite for wood products grows, large swaths of Siberian forests are also endangered. At least one fifth of the wood harvested in Siberia takes place without any kind of state permit and is then smuggled over the border into China. In addition, China has found an additional source of hardwoods in Myanmar. Especially in the north of the country, warlords seek to finance their fiefdoms by illegally felling tropical forests and shipping them up north to China. And China needs such imports. After all, its own forests are strictly protected. (10:23 a.m. CET)
"Jahrmarkt der Eitelkeit" Just Doesn't Have the Same Ring, Does It?
German publishing house Gruner + Jahr recently announced plans for a new magazine, which should be hitting the stands in July. So far just given the working title "Society," the glossy, elite publication will cover politics, business and culture -- and takes Conde Nast's old American elite standby Vanity Fair as its model (there is no existing German version, and hence no competition). It's hoped the magazine will spice up the somewhat melancholy glossy magazine market in Germany, and the cover, supposedly, will prove to the world once and for all that German stars have glamour, too. Right now, the company is still lining up writers and editorial staff, as well as searching for a more fitting title -- but we'll keep our sarcastic suggestions to ourselves. (9:41 a.m. CET)