Reichstag Fire

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A pivotal event which paved the way for the rise of Nazi dominance over Germany burned brightly on the night of February 27th 1933. At 9:25 pm, a Berlin fire station received an alarm call that the Parliament (the Reichstag) was ablaze. The fire apparently started in the Session Chamber, and by the time the police and firefighters had arrived, the main Chamber of Deputies was engulfed by flames.

At that time, Hitler was having dinner with Joseph Goebbels at the latter’s apartment in Berlin. When Goebbels received a phone call informing him of the fire, he regarded it as a “tall tale” at first and only after the second call did he report the news to Hitler. Hitler, Goebbels, the Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen and Prince Heinrich Günther von Hohenzollern were taken by car to the Reichstag where they met by Hermann Göring. Göring told Hitler “This is a Communist outrage! One of the Communist culprits has been arrested”. Hitler called the fire a “sign from heaven”, and claimed the fire was a Fanal (signal) meant to mark the beginning of a Communist Putsch.

A sign from heaven indeed. Whether it was orchestrated by the government or not, the culprit of the Reichstag Fire had been predetermined since Hitler came to power four weeks before. Inside the building, the police found a naked man, a Dutch insurrectionist by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe. He had, more or less by accident, set fire to the building’s most vulnerable spots — the huge curtain at the back of the meeting hall and the bone dry oak panelling behind. Within minutes, the giant hall was ‘an inferno of burning benches and lecterns.’

Although van der Lubbe had no ties with the German communists, Hitler demanded that all KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) parliamentarians be arrested and hanged immediately. Civil liberties were suspended, and countless political and journalistic heavyweights were locked up. Van der Lubbe was found guilty and beheaded. In total, fifty one anti-Nazis disappeared; the movements of the left were robbed of their leadership at a single blow. With the communist delegates gone, the Nazis became the majority party from a plurality party. On the next election a week later (March 5th), the Nazis consolidated their victory.