Reichstag Fire

ReichstagFireAt approximately 9:15pm on February 27, 1933, a fire broke out in the Reichstag building in Berlin. Although extinguished by 11:30pm, and despite firemen’s best efforts, most of the building was gutted by the blaze. Examining the wreckage later on, firemen and policemen found numerous bundles of unburned firelighters strewn about. After a more extensive search of the rest of the building, Dutch Communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found inside. He and four other Communist leaders were later arrested, charged with arson and put on trial in Leipzig.

Three men were acquitted and sent to the Soviet Union; one man was taken into protective custody until 1935; van der Lubbe was found guilty of arson and beheaded by guillotine on January 10, 1934. In the aftermath of the fire, Hitler urged President von Hindenburg to instate an emergency decree suspending civil liberties, the Reichstag Fire Decree, to help counter “ruthless confrontation of the Communist Party of Germany.” This allowed for the mass arrest of many German Communists and allowed the Nazis to gain a larger, but not absolute, majority in the Reichstag. For years, it was contested whether or not the fire was an arson attack or deliberately started by the Nazis.

The Reichstag Fire
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Reichstag Fire
History in an Hour

The Reichstag Burns
The History Place

The Reichstag Fire, 1933
Eyewitness to History
Includes an account by a witness to the fire, and the reactions of Nazi officials

What Really Caused the Reichstag Fire
History News Network
A discussion of some of the complexities involved in actually determining the truth about the cause of the fire

The Reichstag Fire Trial, 1933–2008: The Production of Law and History
Monthly Review
Detailed discussion of the political setting of the fire, the trial and surrounding events, and the lessons that may be drawn from the changing historical accounts of the trial.

The brown book of the Hitler terror and the burning of the Reichstag, prepared by the World committee for the victims of German fascism, with an introduction by Lord Marley.
Hathi Trust Digital Library
Complete text of book: “the first comprehensive report on the concentration camps…the persecution of Jews [and others], the repression of literature, and other aspects of the terror.” The Brown Book contained an impressive array of evidence that the accused were innocent of setting the Reichstag fire, and that the Nazis had set the fire.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Documents – Building the Nazi Regime
Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and State (“Reichstag Fire Decree”) (February 28, 1933)
German History in Documents and Images (GHDI)

Nazi Germany – The Reichstag Fire
History on the Net

The Reichstag Fire
Alpha History

Marinus van der Lubbe
Spartacus International
Information about the man accused of setting the Reichstag fire

Burning the Reichstag
The Center for Media and Democracy

Rudolf Diels, Head of the Prussian Political Police, on the Reichstag Fire of February 27, 1933 (Retrospective Account, 1949)
German History in Documents and Images (GHDI)
This account makes it clear that the Nazi leadership was determined to present the Reichstag fire as incontrovertible evidence of a Communist plot and to use it as a pretext for eliminating the political opposition once and for all.

Images – Building the Nazi Regime
The Accused in the Reichstag Arson Trial (September 1, 1933)
German History in Documents and Images

Images – Building the Nazi Regime
Before the Reich Court in Leipzig: The Defendant Marinus van der Lubbe with his Interpreter (September 24, 1933)
German History in Documents and Images

Images – Building the Nazi Regime
Communist Party Functionaries Wanted by the German Criminal Police (1933)
German History in Documents and Images

Video Clip:
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum



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