Tinted photograph of the Reichstag Fire
Today I am taking a break from the fun movie posts to remember a dark day in history, a day that many of us wish had never happened—the Reichstag fire of 1933.
The Reichstag building opened in Berlin in 1894 and was home to the Imperial Diet (essentially, the German parliament) of the German Empire and its successor the Weimar Republic (est. 1919) until 1933.
The Night of the Reichstag Fire
At about 10 p.m. on the night of February 27, 1933, the Berlin Fire Department was called out to extinguish a fire had engulfed the Reichstag building, sparked by a smaller fire that was started in the building’s great chamber.
Soon after, a young Dutch Communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was found on the premises and he, along with four other known Communists, was charged with arson and trying to overthrow the government.
The Reichstag Fire Decree
Adolf Hitler, as we all know by now, was mad for power. The Nazi party needed something to push the Communists out of the way and gain a clear majority at the Reichstag. Hitler went to President Paul von Hidenburg, convinced him that the fire was a Communist plot, and got him to sign what is now commonly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree.
Hitler used the decree to wage a war on Communism. Thousands of Communists and suspected Communists were arrested, and the Communist party was prohibited from participating in the 1933 elections, giving the Nazis the majority they needed in the Reichstag.
And with the passage of the Enabling Act in in March that year, Hitler’s rise to power began. He was able to pass laws and dictate whatever he wanted outside of the Reichstag.
What Happened to Marinus van der Lubbe?
Marinus van der Lubbe (1933)
At trial, the four other Communists arrested were acquitted because of insufficient evidence. Marinus van der Lubbe confessed to starting the fire on his own and was sentenced to death.
On January 10, 1934, just three days shy of his 25th birthday, he was sent to the guillotine (a favorite of the Nazis) and was beheaded for his crime.
Van der Lubbe May Not Have Acted Alone
One of the theories surrounding the Reichstag fire is that Marinus van der Lubbe may have started the fire on the orders of someone else. And that someone else is of course the Nazi Party.
This theory is plausible considering how the Nazis would do anything to obtain power, and they often used scapegoats to get it. Van der Lubbe was mentally handicapped, so he was an easy target and could be used to do whatever the Nazis wanted him to do.
After the Reichstag Fire
On August 2, 1934, nearly eight months after van der Lubbe’s brutal execution, Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany and began eliminating all opposition. His reign of terror is well-known, taking down anyone considered a political suspect. No one was safe from the genocide, but the Jews are who got the brunt of it. An estimated six million Jews and suspected Jews were executed during the Holocaust.
Like so many events in world history, the Reichstag Fire and the subsequent events that happened in Europe during that time should not be forgotten. This was a dark day in history indeed, and we should treat it as such, and learn from what can happen when we give people too much power.
What are your thoughts on the Reichstag Fire? Can you imagine what the world would be like today if it had never happened? Leave a comment below and share what’s on your mind!