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Reichstag fire


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Caleb
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« on: July 15, 2007, 03:46:33 pm »



The Reichstag fire was a pivotal event in the establishment of Nazi Germany.
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Caleb
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« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2007, 03:47:28 pm »

The Reichstag fire was a pivotal event in the establishment of Nazi Germany. At 21:15 on the night of February 27, 1933, a Berlin fire station received an alarm call that the Reichstag building, the assembly location of the German Parliament, was ablaze. The fire seemed to have been started in several places, and by the time the police and firemen arrived the main Chamber of Deputies was in flames. Looking for clues, the police quickly found Marinus van der Lubbe, shirtless, inside the building. Van der Lubbe was a Dutch insurrectionist council communist and unemployed bricklayer who had recently arrived in Germany. Hitler used this as evidence that the communists were plotting against his government. That night Van der Lubbe and 4000 Communist leaders were arrested. Hitler forced President Hindenburg to pass an 'emergency decree' suspending all articles that guaranteed freedom and liberty. Hitler's police were then allowed to seize property and take people without any sort of trial. The death penalty was introduced again for many crimes and concentration camps were set up. The Nazis' twelve year terror over their opponents had started.

The party leaders were determined to demonstrate the Reichstag Fire was a deed of the Comintern, and in early March 1933, three men were arrested who were to play pivotal roles during the Leipzig Trial, known also as "Reichstag Fire Trial," namely three Bulgarians: Georgi Dimitrov, Vasil Tanev and Blagoi Popov. The Bulgarians were known to the Prussian police as senior Comintern operatives, but the police had no idea how senior they were: Dimitrov was head of all Comintern operations in Western Europe.

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« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2007, 03:48:00 pm »

Background

Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor and head of the coalition government on January 30, 1933. His first act was to ask German President (Reichspräsident) Paul von Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag so that he could increase the number of Nazi seats in the government. Hitler's request was granted and elections were set for March 5, 1933. Hitler's aim was first to acquire a majority in order to become Chancellor by right and secure his position, which at the time was relatively weak since he had been installed by the President and could be easily removed by him. Hitler did, however, plan in the near future to abolish democracy in a more or less legal fashion by passing the Enabling Act. The Enabling Act was a special law which gave the Chancellor the power to pass laws by decree without the involvement of the Reichstag. These special powers would remain in effect for four years, after which time they were eligible to be renewed. Under the existing Weimar constitution, under Article 48, the President could rule by decree in times of emergency. The unprecedented element of the Enabling Act was that the Chancellor himself possessed these powers. An Enabling Act was only supposed to be passed in times of extreme emergency, and in fact had only been used once before, in 1923-24 when the government used an Enabling Act to rescue Germany from hyperinflation. To pass an Enabling Act a party required a vote by a two-thirds majority in the Reichstag. In January 1933, the Nazis had only 32% of the seats and thus were in no position to pass an Enabling Act.

During the election campaign, the Nazis had run on a platform of fervent anti-communism, insisting that Germany was on the verge of a Communist revolution, and that the only way to stop the revolution was to pass the Enabling Act. Hitler's platform in the campaign comprised little more than demands that voters increase the Nazi share of seats so that the Enabling Act could be passed. In order to decrease the number of opposition members who could vote against the Enabling Act, Hitler had planned to ban the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (the Communist Party of Germany or KPD), which at the time held 17% of the parliament's seats, after the elections and before the new Reichstag convened. The Reichstag Fire allowed Hitler to accelerate the banning of the Communist Party and was used to confirm Nazi claims of a pending Communist revolution. The Nazis argued the Reichstag fire was meant to serve as a signal to launch the revolution, and warned the German public about the grisly fate they would suffer under Communist rule.
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« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2007, 03:48:39 pm »

The Fire

At 10:00 PM on February 27, 1933, the Berlin Fire Department received a message that the Reichstag was on fire. Despite the best efforts of the firemen, the building was gutted by the blaze. Only by 11: 30 PM was the fire put out. The firemen and policemen inspected the ruins, and found twenty bundles of flammable material unburned laying about. At the time the fire was reported, Adolf Hitler was having dinner with Joseph Goebbels at Goebbels' apartment in Berlin. When Goebbels received a phone call informing him of the fire, he regarded it as a joke 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 were 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 (coup). The next day, the Preussische Pressedienst (Prussian Press Service) reported that "this act of incendiarism is the most monstrous act of terrorism carried out by Bolshevism in Germany". The Vossische Zeitung newspaper warned its readers that "the government is of the opinion that the situation is such that a danger to the state and nation existed and still exists"
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« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2007, 03:49:11 pm »

Political consequences of the Fire

The day after the fire, Hitler asked for and received from President Hindenburg the Reichstag Fire Decree, signed into law by Hindenburg using Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. The Reichstag Fire Decree suspended most civil liberties in Germany. As a consequence of the Reichstag Fire Decree, the Communist Party of Germany was banned on March 1, 1933 under the grounds that they were preparing a putsch. In the March 5, 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis increased their share of the vote to 44 percent, which gave the Nazis and their allies, the German National People's Party, who won 8% of the vote a majority of 52% in the Reichstag. The March elections were a major success for the Nazis, but were not the success they were hoping for. The Nazis had aimed to win about 50%–55% of the vote. The Nazis coerced and bribed the remaining parties, with the exception of the Social Democrats, to give them the two-thirds majority needed to pass the Enabling Act on March 27, which gave them the right to rule by decree.

Because the Communist Party had been banned , it had no representatives in the Reichstag to vote against the Enabling Act on March 23. (They would surely have voted against the Act because it gave Hitler dictatorial powers). Since the Communist representatives would have had 17% of the Reichstag votes, they would easily have prevented passage of the Enabling Act. According to one report, the Communist representatives were placed under arrest on suspicion that they were involved in planning the fire.

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« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2007, 03:52:27 pm »

The Reichstag Fire Trial

In July 1933, Marinus van der Lubbe, Ernst Torgler, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov, and Vassili Tanev were indicted on charges of setting the Reichstag on fire. From September 21 to December 23, 1933, the Leipzig Trial took place and was presided over by judges from the old German Imperial High Court, the (Reichsgericht). This was Germany's highest court. The presiding judge was Judge Dr. Wilhelm Bürger of the Fourth Criminal Court of the Fourth Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court. [2] The accused were charged with arson and with attempting to overthrow the government.

The Leipzig Trial was widely publicized and was broadcast on the radio. It was expected that the court would find the Communists guilty on all counts and approve the repression and terror exercised by the Nazis against all opposition forces in the country. At the end of the trial, however, only van der Lubbe was convicted, while his fellow defendants were found not guilty. In 1934, van der Lubbe was beheaded in a German prison yard. In 1981, a West German court posthumously overturned van der Lubbe's 1933 conviction and found him not guilty.

The trial began at 8:45 on the morning of September 21, with van der Lubbe testifying. Van der Lubbe's testimony was very hard to follow as he spoke of losing his sight in one eye, wandering around Europe as a drifter, and that he had been a member of the Dutch Communist Party, which he quit in 1931, but still considered himself a Communist. Dimitrov began his testimony on the third day of the trial. Georgi Dimitrov gave up his right to a court appointed lawyer and defended himself successfully. When warned by Judge Bürger to behave himself in court, Dimitrov stated: "Herr President, if you were a man as innocent as myself and you have passed seven months in prison, five of them in chains night and day, you would understand it if one perhaps becomes a little strained". During the course of his defence, Dimitrov claimed that the organizers of the fire were senior members of the Nazi Party, and frequently verbally clashed with Göring at the trial. The highpoint of the trial occurred on November 4, 1933 when Göring took the stand, and was cross-examined by Dimitrov[3]. The following exchange took place:
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« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2007, 03:54:04 pm »

Dimitrov: Herr Prime Minister Göring stated on February 28 that when arrested the "Dutch Communist van der Lubbe had on his person his passport and a membership card of the Communist Party". From whom was this information taken?
Göring: The police search all common criminals, and report the result to me.
Dimitrov: The three officials who arrested and examined van der Lubbe all agreed that no membership card of the Communist Party was found on him. I should like to know where the report that such a card had been found came from.
Göring: I was told by an official. Things which were reported to me on the night of the fire...could not be tested or proven. The report was made to me by a responsible official, and was accepted as a fact, and as it could not be tested immediately it was announced as a fact. When I issued the first report to the press on the morning after the fire the interrogation of van der Lubbe had not been concluded. In any case I do not see that anyone has any right to complain because it seems proved in this trial that van der Lubbe had no such card on him.
Dimitrov: I would like to ask the Minister of the Interior what steps he took to make sure that van der Lubbe's route to Hennigsdorf, his stay and his meetings with other people there were investigated by the police to assist them in tracking down van der Lubbe's accomplices?
Göring: As I am not an official myself, but a responsible Minister it was not important that I should trouble myself with such petty, minor matters. It was my task to expose the Party, and the mentality, which was responsible for the crime.
Dimitrov: Is the Reichsminister aware of the fact that those that possess this alleged criminal mentality today control the destiny of a sixth part of the world - the Soviet Union?
Göring: I don't care what happens in Russia! I know that the Russians pay with bills, and I should prefer to know that their bills are paid! I care about the Communist Party here in Germany and about Communist crooks who come here to set the Reichstag on fire!
Dimitrov: This criminal mentality rules the Soviet Union, the greatest and best country in the world. Is Herr Prime Minister aware of that?
Göring: I shall tell you what the German people already know. They know that you are behaving in a disgraceful manner! They know that you are a Communist crook who came to Germany to set the Reichstag on fire! In my eyes you are nothing, but a scoundrel, a crook who belongs on the gallows!
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« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2007, 03:55:16 pm »

Only Van Der Lubbe was found guilty and sentenced to death. The rest were acquitted, and (with the exception of Torgler, who was taken into “protective custody" by the Gestapo after the trial), were expelled to the Soviet Union, where they received a hero's welcome. Hitler was furious with the outcome of this trial. He decreed that henceforth treason – among many other offenses – would only be tried by a newly established People's Court (Volksgerichtshof). The People's Court later became infamous for the enormous number of death sentences it handed down while led by Judge-President Roland Freisler.


Van der Lubbe's execution

At his trial, Van der Lubbe was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was beheaded (the customary German execution method at the time) on January 10, 1934, three days before his 25th birthday. The Nazis alleged that Van der Lubbe was part of the Communist conspiracy to burn down the Reichstag and seize power, while the Communists alleged that Van der Lubbe was part of the Nazi conspiracy to blame the crime on them. Van der Lubbe for his part maintained that he had acted alone, to protest the condition of the German working-class.


Dispute about van der Lubbe's role in the Reichstag Fire

Historians generally agree that van der Lubbe was involved in the Reichstag fire. The extent of the damage, however, has led to considerable debate over whether he acted alone. Considering the speed with which the fire engulfed the building, van der Lubbe's reputation as a mentally disturbed arsonist hungry for fame, and cryptic comments by leading Nazi officials, it was generally believed at the time the Nazi hierarchy was involved in order to reap political gain. Some have contended that van der Lubbe acted alone, and the Reichstag fire was merely a stroke of good luck for the Nazis. The idea that he was a "half-wit" or "mentally disturbed" was propaganda spread by the Communist party to distance themselves from an insurrectionist anti-fascist who was once a member of the party and took action where they failed to[5]. The historian Hans Mommsen concluded that the Nazi leadership was in a state of panic the night of the Reichstag fire, and they seemed to have regarded the Reichstag Fire as a confirmation that all their propaganda about a Communist revolution being imminent was actually true[6].

British reporter Sefton Delmer witnessed the events of that night firsthand, and his account of the fire provides a number of details[7]. Delmer viewed van der Lubbe as solely responsible, that the Nazis sought to make it appear to be a "Communist gang" who set the fire, whereas the Communists sought to make it appear that van der Lubbe was working for the Nazis, and that they had plotted the whole thing.

In 1960, the West German Social Democratic journalist Fritz Tobias published a series of articles in Der Spiegel, later turned into a book, which showed that Van Der Lubbe had acted alone. At the time, Tobias was widely attacked for his articles, which showed that Van der Lubbe was a pyromaniac with a long history of burning down buildings or attempting to burn down buildings. In particular, Tobias established that Van der Lubbe had attempted to burn down a number of buildings in the days prior to February 27. In March 1973, the Swiss historian Walter Hofer organized a conference intended to rebut the claims made by Tobias. At the conference, Hofer claimed to have found evidence that some of the detectives who had investigated the fire may have been Nazis. Mommsen commented on Hofer's claims by stating "Professor Hofer's rather helpless statement that the accomplices of Van der Lubbe 'could only have been Nazis' is tacit admission that the committee did not actually obtain any positive evidence in regard to the alleged accomplices' identity"[8].

Göring's possible role

William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich details how at Nuremberg, General Franz Halder stated in an affidavit that Hermann Göring had joked about setting the fire:

"On the occasion of a lunch on the Führer's birthday in 1942, the people around the Führer turned the conversation to the Reichstag building and its artistic value. I heard with my own ears how Göring broke into the conversation and shouted: 'The only one who really knows about the Reichstag building is I, for I set fire to it.' And saying this he slapped his thigh"[9]
Under cross-examination at Nuremberg, Göring was read Halder's affidavit and denied he had any involvement in the fire, characterizing Halder's statement as "utter nonsense". Göring stated:

"I had no reason or motive for setting fire to the Reichstag. From the artistic point of view I did not at all regret that the assembly chamber was burned; I hoped to build a better one. But I did regret very much that I was forced to find a new meeting place for the Reichstag and, not being able to find one, I had to give up my Kroll Opera House ... for that purpose. The opera seemed to me much more important than the Reichstag
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« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2007, 03:55:59 pm »

"Counter-trial" organized by the German Communist Party

During the summer of 1933, a counter-trial was organized in London by a group of lawyers, democrats and other anti-Nazi groups under the aegis of German Communist émigrés. The chairman of the "Counter-trial" was the Labour barrister D. N. Pritt K.C., but the chief organizer behind the counter-trial was KPD's propaganda chief Willi Münzenberg. The other "judges" were Maìtre Pierre Vermeylen of Belgium, George Branting of Sweden, Maìtre Vincent de Moro-Giafferi and Maìtre Gaston Bergery of France, Betsy Bakker-Nort of the Netherlands, Vald Hvidt of Denmark, and Arthur Garfield Hays of the United States.[11]

The Counter-trial began on September 21, 1933. It lasted one week and ended with the conclusion the defendants were innocent, and the true initiators of the fire were to be found amid the leading Nazi Party elite. The "Counter-trial" received much media attention, and Sir Stafford Cripps delivered the opening speech. Göring was found guilty at the counter-trial. The Counter-trial served as a workshop during which all possible scenarios were tested and all speeches of the defendants were prepared. Most of the "judges", such as Hays and Moro-Giafferi, complained that the atmosphere at the "Counter-trial" was more like a show-trial with Münzenberg constantly applying pressure behind the scenes on the "judges" to deliver the "right" verdict without any regard for the truth. One of the "witnesses", a supposed SA man, appeared in court wearing a mask and claimed that it was the SA that really set the fire; in fact, the "Stormtrooper" was really Albert Norden, the editor of the German Communist newspaper Rote Fahne. Another masked witness whom Hays described as "not very reliable" claimed that Van der Lubbe was a drug-addicted homosexual who was the lover of Ernst Röhm and a Nazi dupe. When the lawyer for Ernst Torgler asked for the "Counter-trial" organisers to turn over the "evidence" exonerating his client, Münzenberg refused the request because he in fact, lacked any "evidence" to exonerate or convict anyone of the crime.[12] The "Counter-trial" was an enormously successful publicity stunt for the German Communists. Münzenberg followed this triumph with another by having written under his name the best-selling The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror, an expose of what Münzenberg alleged to be the Nazi conspiracy to burn down the Reichstag and blame the act on the Communists. (In fact, as with all of Münzenberg's books, the real author was one of his aides, in this case a Czechoslovak Communist named Otto Katz.[13]). The success of The Brown Book was subsequently followed by another best-seller published in 1934, again ghost-written by Katz, The Second Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and the Hitler Terror.

The Brown Book was divided into three parts. The first part, which traced the rise of the Nazis (or “German Fascists” as Katz called them in conformity with Comintern practice, which forbade the use of the term Nazi), portrayed the KPD as the only genuine anti-fascist force in Germany, and featured a savage attack on the S.P.D, who The Brown Book labeled “Social Fascists” and accused the entire membership of the S.P.D of secretly working in close collaboration with the Nazis. The second section, featured numerous examples of Nazi terror directed against Communists, but completely ignored non-Communist victims of Nazi terror: no mention is made of non-Communist Nazi victims, and likewise, the persecution of the Jews is totally ignored. The impression The Brown Book gives is that Communists and Communists alone are victims of Nazism. In addition, the second section deals with the Reichstag fire, which is described as a Nazi plot to frame the Communists, who are represented as the most dedicated opponents of Nazism. The third section deals with the supposed puppet masters behind the Nazis, who Katz quoting anti-Semitic remarks by Vladimir Lenin about middle-class Jews, described as a cabal of Jewish bankers. Both books are today widely seen as totally worthless by historians, with particular criticism focusing on the last chapter of the first Brown Book where it was claimed that Hitler was a merely a front-man for a group of international Jewish bankers, and that Nazi anti-Semitism was just a ruse to disguise that it was Jewish bankers who really ruled Nazi Germany.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_fire
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« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2007, 05:17:29 pm »




The Reichstag fire
by Soren Swigart

 The night of February 27, 1933 loomed dark and gray over the city of Berlin. The Reichstag, seat of parliamentary government in Germany had been in recess since December of the preceding year. New elections were scheduled for March 5th. The great building was quiet and except for a watchman, empty. At 9:05 that evening, a student passing by saw a man carrying a burning torch through the windows of the first floor but did not report it. Ten minutes later smoke was observed coming from the building and the first fire alarm was received by the Berlin Fire station. In less than ten minutes the firemen were on the scene but already flames were breaking out all over the building. At 9:30 there was a tremendous explosion and the great central chamber was totally enveloped in flames. The fire quickly raced out of control despite the efforts of the fire fighters and soon only the walls of the gutted building were still standing. Within minutes police arrested a half naked and seemingly dazed Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe, who was discovered at the scene.

It wasn't long before Chancellor Hitler and Prussian Minister Göring arrived amid a flurry of reporters and photographers. Although he had just stepped out of his car, Göring at once accused the communists of setting the fire. The debate over who set the fire continues and may never be solved to everyone's satisfaction. Despite attempts to support the case against van der Lubbe, who was tried and executed for the crime, a great deal of evidence collected and analyzed by Walther Hofer of Bern points in the direction of a SA/SS Sondergruppe headed by Reinhard Heydrich and an official of the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, Kurt Dalüge. Less important than the cause of the fire however was the result. Before the sun rose on the morning of the 28th, over 4,000 communists and a miscellany of intellectuals and professional men who had incurred the wrath of the Nazi Party were arrested. A shaken President Hindenburg, 86 years old, was easily convinced that the nation was on the verge of a communist revolution, was induced by Hitler to sign an emergency decree suspending the basic rights of the citizens for the duration of the emergency. This decree also authorized the Reich government to assume full powers in any federal state whose government proved unable to restore public order, ordered death or imprisonment for a number of crimes including some newly invented such as resistance to the decree itself. The decree did not include any provision guaranteeing an arrested person a quick hearing, access to legal counsel, or redress for false arrest. Those arrested often found their detention extended indefinitely without legal proceedings of any kind.

On March 2, Hitler was asked by a corespondent of the Daily Express whether the suspension of liberties was permanent. He answered in the negative saying that full rights would be restored as soon as the Communist danger was over. The reality was that the decree of February 28th established what would become the normal order of things under National Socialism - arrest on suspicion, imprisonment without trial, the horrors of the concentration camps. This condition would persist until the end of the Third Reich.

Immediately after its promulgation the decree was turned against the real and fancied enemies of the Nazi Party. In the last weeks of the election campaign the Marxist press was silenced. The Social Democrats found it impossible to campaign effectively and even respected Center party politicians like former Reich Chancellor Heinrich Bruning had their meetings broken up by brownshirted SA thugs. Despite this the Nazi Party fell far short of the two thirds majority needed to change the constitution. Hitler now showed his contempt for the rule of law by turning the decree of February 28th against those states where significant opposition still existed. Using the argument that local authorities were unable to maintain order, which was in the main being disrupted by drunken brownshirts and SS members, the government replaced the legally constituted governments of Wurttemburg, Baden, Bremen, Hamburg, Lubeck, Saxony, Hessen and Bavaria. Soon, with the support of the Center, Catholic and Bavarian Peoples Parties, the Nazis gained the passage of the Enabling Act, and Adolf Hitler on the afternoon of March 23rd, became the supreme dictator of Germany, free from any restraint from his cabinet or the aged President Hindenburg and free to mold Germany into the nightmare state of his darkest dreams.
 
http://worldatwar.net/event/reichstagsbrand/
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« Reply #10 on: July 15, 2007, 05:20:54 pm »

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« Reply #12 on: July 15, 2007, 05:24:26 pm »

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« Reply #14 on: July 15, 2007, 05:27:19 pm »

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