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Gitta Sereny (1921–2012)

Author of Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth

9+ Works 2,297 Members 46 Reviews 6 Favorited

About the Author

Her previous books include Into That Darkness, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth & most recently Cries Unheard. Born in Vienna, she lives in London. (Bowker Author Biography)

Includes the name: Gitta Sereny

Works by Gitta Sereny

Associated Works

Granta 51: Big Men (1995) — Contributor — 117 copies


20th century (26) Albert Speer (32) architecture (8) biography (244) concentration camps (19) crime (28) criminology (9) essays (13) European History (22) fascism (8) fiction (12) Franz Stangl (16) genocide (14) German (14) German History (41) Germany (135) Granta (23) hardcover (9) history (249) Hitler (22) Holocaust (146) murder (10) Nazi (23) Nazi Germany (27) Nazis (32) Nazism (62) non-fiction (116) politics (8) psychology (20) read (12) sociology (8) Speer (11) Third Reich (20) to-read (120) Treblinka (34) true crime (54) unread (8) war (18) World War II History (8) WWII (245)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Sereny, Gitta
Date of death
Austria (birth)
Country (for map)
Vienna, Austria
Place of death
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, UK
Places of residence
Vienna, Austria
Paris, France
London, England, UK
Stonar House, Sandwich, Kent, England, U.K.
Realgymnasium and Lyzeum Luithlen, Vienna, Austria
Max-Reinhardt-Seminar, Vienna, Austria
Sorbonne, Paris, France
von Mises, Ludwig (stepfather)
Honeyman, Don (husband)
United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA)
Awards and honors
The Duff Cooper Prize (1995)
Stig Dagerman Prize (2002)
Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2004)
Short biography
Gitta Sereny was born in Vienna to an aristocratic Hungarian-German family. As an 11-year-old schoolgirl, she heard Hitler speak at one of the Nazi Nuremberg rallies. She was educated in England and Vienna, where she studied at the drama school founded by director Max Reinhardt. After the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938, she moved to France, where she worked as a volunteer nurse with orphans and participated in the French Resistance, until she had to flee the country when the Germans occupied it. After World War II, she was a welfare worker with displaced persons before becaming a journalist, and gained fame for a book about Albert Speer. In 1948, she married photographic journalist Don Honeyman and moved with him to London, where they raised their two children. Gitta Sereny wrote investigative articles for newspapers and magazines as well as books. Her subjects included the trials of Nazi concentration camp personnel and young child murderer Mary Bell.



It is really difficult to give this book five stars because its content is so repugnant and disturbing. A quote from a review by Elie Wiesel on the rear cover perfectly sums it up - "Most often one is sick to one's soul. Yes, that is the word that is needed ... one is gripped by a profound existential nausea." And I did feel sick to my stomach while reading much of this book - but it is important precisely because it serves as a most necessary reminder that each and every one of us is capable of deep good and profound evil. It is our work in this life to face up to this truth and do our best to work toward the former and away from the latter. This requires an understanding of how evil is allowed to persist. Gitta Sereny does a masterful job of cross-examining both her subject, Franz Stangl, and his friends and family members about their support for and participation in mass murder and torture, and the psychological mechanism of deep denial. For any student of human rights, the Holocaust, or genocide, this is difficult, but essential reading.… (more)
1 vote
jgmencarini | 13 other reviews | Jul 11, 2021 |
What an extraordinary book! This is a biography of Albert Speer, architect to Hitler and government minister in the Third Reich, but it is a particular sort of biography. You could say it is a psychological or intellectual biography, but even those words don't do justice to its uniqueness. I see it as a moral biography, set within a conversation between Speer and the author, Gitta Sereny, who came to know Speer in the final years of his life. She became friends with him and she liked him. But her portrayal is a constant, unflagging challenge to Speer, and a challenge to which he consents. The topic of this challenge is, as the subtitle states, Speer's battle with truth. Sereny is well equipped for this task, as a person of great empathy and thoughtfulness and as a German who lived through the Nazi years.
Early in the book, and throughout, I marveled at her ability to deal with Speer sympathetically without ever tipping over into rationalizing or excusing his actions, motives, and experience--which was both a counterweight to his rationalizations as well as, I think, what allowed him to stay with their inquiry all the way to the end.

The portrait of Speer is highly personal, even intimate--this in spite of his tendency to evade the personal and intimate at all times. He comes across as a greatly talented man, sophisticated, naive in some ways, with a gaping hole in his soul. Then the stunner is that to a greater and lesser degree at different stages throughout his life, he recognizes this. All individuals are complex and finally ineffable, but what unites Speer and Sereny is their commitment to try to give as full an accounting of him as possible. Necessarily they fail, but not without coming a great distance in that effort. It should also be said, that Sereny never approaches Speer with a pre-set theory based in psychology or anything else, even though she is smart enough to look at all the various aspects that can shed light on a man's life.

Reading this book, I was constantly back and forth with Wikipedia familiarizing myself with the many other characters discussed. When I felt myself feeling too much sympathy with Speer, I watched a holocaust film to remind myself of what was at stake. Because the Holocaust is at the heart of it--Speer's guilt, his excuses, and his courage.

Speer, as a favorite of Hitler, describes "loving" Hitler and being totally committed to him. He was not alone in this. I don't see it as a fault of the book, but Hitler himself remains a cipher, a black hole, in my mind. I never had any experience of seeing something human, humorous, attractive, compelling in him, although many did. So even though I felt I came to know Speer to some extent, that he became an intelligible, flawed human being, I could never get the contour of the spell Hitler cast over others. I wonder why. I wonder if anyone can ever make sense of a Hitler, or a Charles Manson. It's not necessary, perhaps, but I do wonder about it.

After Nuremburg, Speer was sentenced to 20 years in Spandau Prison. He served that entire time, entering at 41, exiting at 61. During that time--and in some ways, I found this the most interesting period of his life--he read 5000 books and dedicated himself to becoming "a new man." I think, again, that he failed at this, but the effort was fascinating as were the people who mentored him (both at Spandau and after). These included Georges Casalis, Father Athanasius, and Robert Raphael Geis, all of whom Sereny was able to meet and speak with. Perhaps this counts as a spoiler, but Sereny ends her book with this sentence: "It seemed to me it was some kind of victory that this man--just this man--weighed down by intolerable and unmanageable guilt, with the help of a Protestant chaplain, a Catholic monk and a Jewish rabbi, tried to become a different man."

Highly recommended.
… (more)
jdukuray | 18 other reviews | Jun 23, 2021 |
What they call 'a real page-turner'. An in depth look into the life of one of Hitler's top advisors + his dealing with the past during later life. Many interesting details of his work + encounters with key figures from the dark days of WWII.
clfbooks | 18 other reviews | Feb 23, 2020 |
Decided to read this after reading her books on the Mary Bell case. Disappointing.
Carolinejyoung | Nov 6, 2019 |



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