Thursday, September 14, 2006

Joachim Fest Has Left the Building...

...and that is my super-adult way of saying he has died.

Joachim Fest, a journalist and historian who worked closely with Adolf Hitler's architect Albert Speer on his memoirs and wrote one of the best-regarded biographies of the Nazi dictator, has died at age 79, his newspaper said Tuesday.

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The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, where Fest worked for two decades until 1993, said he died Monday at his home in Kronberg of unspecified causes.

Born in Berlin in 1926, Fest was the son of a teacher who lost his job for his opposition to the Nazi regime.

In his memoirs, "Ich Nicht," or "Not Me," due for publication in German next week, Fest recalls his father's reaction when he told him he was volunteering for the armed forces in 1944 in order to avoid being conscripted into the fanatical SS.

His father sent him a letter in Freiburg, where he was studying, saying that "one doesn't volunteer to take part in Hitler's criminal war, not even to avoid the SS," Fest wrote, according to an excerpt released by the FAZ newspaper.

Fest was captured during the war, serving time in an American prisoner of war camp.

After the war, he recalled talking to his father again about his decision to volunteer.

"You weren't wrong," he remembered his father telling him. "But I was the one who was right!"

After the war he worked as a journalist in radio, television, newspapers and magazines. In addition to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he worked with several other respected German media outlets including Der Spiegel magazine, and Norddeutschen Rundfunk television.

"Joachim Fest was one of the greatest journalists and publishers of our age," literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki told Der Spiegel Online. "His book on Hitler was without a doubt one of the most important books on the subject."

Fest gained close insight into the inner workings of Hitler's Third Reich in working with Speer, the Fuehrer's favorite architect who became minister of armaments and was instrumental in keeping the Nazi war machine going until the end.

Speer was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Nuremberg tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Following Speer's release from Berlin's Spandau Prison in 1966, Fest worked with him as the general editor of his controversial memoirs published in 1970, "Inside the Third Reich" and later, in 1976, "Spandau: The Secret Diaries."

Fest's biographical portrait "Hitler," published in English in 1974 the year after its German release, is widely regarded as the best, among many, on the dictator.

Other works included "Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich," which was the basis for the acclaimed 2004 film "Downfall," "The Face of the Third Reich: Portraits of the Nazi Leadership," and "Speer: The Final Verdict."

In recent weeks, Fest was extremely critical of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Guenter Grass, who admitted in August that he had served in the Waffen-SS during World War II after years of keeping it quiet.

Fest said Grass had seriously damaged his credibility as a moral authority in Germany.

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