There are two important things to consider.
What this all is supposed to mean is pretty clear from context. Quoted below.
In essence: The impressive people are "the Reds". They are to be "made use of", once Hitler finishes the East and turns back to the West, in this case towards dealing with the "reactionary" bunch around Franco. That is – according to this account – the Spanish Civil War is depicted as having been just a prelude to fighting out having power over Spain in the mid-term. This time envisioned as Germany teaming up with "the Reds" as allies, 'useful idiots', against Franco, to bring Spain from falangist (or perhaps better: francoist) to nation-socialist control. This plan is ridiculously easy, as Hitler can sway anyone any way anyway, just by looking them in the eye – except for Franco himself of course, apparently.
Nothing in that statement above can be taken at face value. The information about Hitler gained from this is dubious at best. We cannot assume to gain any truthful information from this. Our source is admittedly hearsay from a notorious lier. Speer is not known to be a reliable source for anything. We know he lied at Nuremberg, he lied after Spandau, to all those interviewers, he lied to his biographer Fest, he was caught multiple times manipulating, through order to others physical evidence in the form of files and guarding or guiding what people said about the time. Truth be damned, image be saved.
We only see how Speer wants to unfold the narrative. That is primarily: Speer convinces Hitler to do some good, Hitler – the manipulative madman – agrees on grounds of twisted logic, 'his' logic, as always, and Speer now has proven to having improved the prison lives of "Reds".
Nothing more, until confirmed otherwise form other sources.
Do we have any for these two events? Either for Speer in Bordeaux with Spanish Reds on Christmas 1942, or for Speer influencing Hitler in front of Keitel to "treat the Spaniards well"?
It doesn't look good, to say the least. So all exegesis of "What did Hitler mean" is probably a bit between moot and entirely futile. This passage seems to be made up entirely in Speer's mind.
Anyway. The question generating quote in full context:
When we celebrated Christmas of 1942 in the vicinity of Bordeaux, I heard from the head of the construction unit during the dinner that a group of former so-called Spanish Reds who were interned in a nearby camp had invited me to their Christmas party. Without an SS escort squad — right up to die end of the war this distinction was accorded only to Dönitz, Bormann, Keitel, Ribbentrop, Funk, and Goebbels, in addition to Hitler and Himmler — I drove over to the camp with a small following. The party had already begun. A Spaniard made a short speech to introduce me; the throng responded with faint applause. Folk dances and other popular offerings followed, each time to stormy applause. The rather stiff attitude toward me relaxed only after I had a sizable supply of cigarettes and wine distributed. These Spaniards, who had fought on the side of the Republic, had fled across the Pyrenees to France at the end of die civil war. By now they had been held behind barbed wire for almost three years. They were people with likable, courageous faces; we sat together until late at night, and there was a note of cordiality in our goodbyes.
Two weeks later I told Hitler about the incident and asked him to
authorize preferential treatment for these Spaniards. They hated Franco, who had defeated them, I said, and likewise the French brand of democracy that was keeping them imprisoned. “That's highly interesting,” Hitler interrupted eagerly. “Did you hear that, Keitel? You know my opinion of Franco. Two years ago, when we were about to meet, I still thought he was a true leader, but I met a fat little sergeant who couldn’t at all grasp my far-reaching plans. We ought to keep these Red Spaniards on the back burner — there are many thousands of them, after all. They’re lost to democracy, and to that reactionary crew around Franco too — we have real chances there. I believe you to the letter, Speer, that they were impressive people. I must say, in general, that during the civil war the idealism was not on Franco's side; it was to be found among the Reds. Certainly they pillaged and desecrated, but so did Franco’s men, without having any good reason for it — the Reds were working off centuries of hatred for the Catholic Church, which always oppressed the Spanish people. When I think of that I understand a good many things. Franco knows perfectly well why he objected only half a year ago to our employing these Spanish Reds. “But one of these days” — Hitler stabbed the air with his finger — “one of these days we’ll be able to make use of them. When we call it quits with Franco. Then we’ll let them go home. And you’ll see what happens then! The whole thing will start all over again. But with us on the opposite side. I don’t give a damn about that. Let him find out what I can
Hitler had never been able to bear opposition, and he could not forgive the Spanish dictator for having refused to go along with his plans, in particular for the occupation of Gibraltar. Personal rancor of this sort invariably counted for much more with Hitler than ideological agreement. That same day he issued orders to treat die "Spanish Reds” well.
Albert Speer: "Spandau. The Secret Diaries", translated from the German (1975) by Richard & Clara Winston, Ishi Press International: New York, 2010. (p 163–164)
What do we have here? Speer's Christmas of 1942, not mentioned in his memoirs. He gets off to a camp near Bordeaux, without the SS (what a distance he has to them) but also conveniently alone as well, without witnesses. He is a top Nazi and still greeted warmly by internees? Who are "Reds"? And forced labour slaves for his projects?
Anyway, Speer's sympathisers: he liked them and they warmed up to him and he improved their condition by having this crazy talk with Hitler. Seems legit. How nice of him.
Or is it. The camp nearby is
The Camp of Merignac, opened in 1941, was then intended for the internment of the Communists from south-west and "common right". But before, it had accomodated nomads and Jews which were then transferred in camps from the Indre-and-Loire (La Lande and La Morellerie).
July 2, 1942, on the request of the Police force of German Safety, Jews of both sexes from 16 to 45 years old will be held there, except for the Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Finnish, Norwegian, English, American and Mexican Jews! It requires also the installation of the appendix of the Camp of Merignac located Quai de Bacala, the principal camp not being able to receive an important manpower.
From July to November 1942, 459 Jews will be transferred to Drancy and then deported.
Where were the Spanish refugees from the retirada primarily interned? Not that many near Bordeaux. But a few lesser known sites existed, like Saint-Médard-d'Eyrans Eysines http://invisiblebordeaux.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-forgotten-wartime-camp-in-eysines.html
Where the Spaniards in the Bordeaux Gironde region? They were. And their conditions improved or deteriorated according to local agreements between Vichy France officials and their German overlords. ( Scott Soo: "The routes to exile: France and the Spanish Civil War refugees, 1939-2009", Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2016, p
And what changed in that camp after December 1942?
A quite detailed report for this is found on a site (Rotspanier.net Spanish Forced Workers during World War II) dedicated to remembering the Red Spaniards forced into slave labour for Vichy or the Reich Peter Gaida: "Le camp d ́internement de Mérignac 1940-1944" PDF. Neither is Speer mentioned nor are any conditions improved much after December 1942.
Just for comparison:
Since his imprisonment in Nuremberg and Spandau, Speer has worked to stabilize his somewhat positive image as an apolitical technocrat and misguided idealist through extensive secret written records (which were smuggled outside to his friend Rudolf Wolters in Coesfeld with the help of a nurse) by the Nuremberg Trial, while concealing all the negative points of his biography (promotion of the concentration camp expansion, expulsion of Jews from Berlin). Particularly in his two very successful book publications, Erinnerungen von 1969 and Spandauer Tagebücher von 1975, he reverses decisive phases of his activities in the "Third Reich" to some extent.
The Speer biography of historian Magnus Brechtken, published in 2017, confirms Schwendemann's assessment by means of a confrontation of Speer's narratives with the sources. Speer's memoirs with a world circulation of almost three million copies, as a seemingly authentic contemporary witness report, had shaped the historical picture of a small group of criminals around Hitler who were responsible for war, the Holocaust and slave labor, while Speer wanted nothing to know about it.
The Spandauer diaries, in which Speer describes the years of his captivity and at the same time recalls his time in the closest NS leadership circle, served the same purpose, describing and ridiculing the characteristics of his fellow prisoners (Baldur von Schirach, Rudolf Heß, Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Konstantin von Neurath, Walther Funk). The legend that he had the New Reich Chancellery built in less than twelve months is also repeated in both books (and thus a legend devised by Nazi propaganda to underpin the alleged efficiency of the Nazi system) Spear biographer Magnus Brechtken describes the diaries presented in Speer's preface as allegedly authentic as "literary invention" in the light of the sources. They presented a young, artistically gifted architect who struggled with himself, seduced by Hitler, who actually never wanted anything to do with politics - and certainly with war and crime. Nevertheless, he had, after all, formally entered the inner circle of leadership, assumed abstract responsibility and had thus been imprisoned without being to blame for concrete crimes committed by others.
Wikipedia: Albert Speer
Absolutely zero mentions for the episode celebrating Christmas 1942 with slaves in his own memoir or:
– Martin Kitchen: "Speer. Hitler’s Architect", Yale University Press: New Haven, London, 2015.
– Joachim C. Fest: "Albert Speer: Conversations with Hitler's Architect", Polity Press, 2007
– Joachim C. Fest: "Speer. The Final Verdict", Harcourt: (1999) 2001.
– Gitta Sereny: "Albert Speer. His Battle with Truth", Picador, 1996.