On the evening of February 27th, 1933, an alarm was announcing not only a fire, but also a crucial moment in Germany’s history: the Reichstag building from Berlin, the headquarters of the German Parliament, was on fire. Before the firefighters could arrive the fire spread beyond control and the Reichstag burned down.
In 1932 the Democratic Government of Germany, imposed by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I, was in political chaos. The Nazi Party was the largest political party in the Reichstag, although it didn’t have majority. After several failed attempts to form a new government in the last part of the year, president Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933. Aiming to obtain political power, Hitler and his Nazi cohort sought various ways to strengthen their positions. Oone of those solutions was the destruction of the Reichstag building.
The evidence discovered after the Second World War showed that the fire that burned down the Reichstag only 28 days after the appointment of Hitler as head of the German government, was planned and executed by Herman Goering and Joseph Goebbels, his Nazi cronies . However, Hitler publicly blamed the communists, which gave him the chance to arrest the Communist members of the Reichstag and eliminate the main opposition parties. A young Dutch communist, who was suffering from some mental disorders, Marinus van der Lubbe, was arrested, tried and convicted of setting fire to the building.
“It’s a sign from God!”
Sefton Delmar was a reporter for the London newspaper “Daily Express” and witnessed the Reichstag fire. Here is his testimony about the events and witnessed Adolf Hitler making his dramatic statement:
“«It is a sign from God! If this fire – as I believe – proves to be the Communists’ work, then nothing will stop us from crushing this killer parasite with an iron fist. »
The fire started at 9.45 PM, in the Council Room.
It was started in five different corners and there is no doubt that this is the work of some arsonists.
One of them, a man aged 30, was arrested by the police as he was running out of the building, wearing just some pants and shoes, no shirt or coat, despite the cold weather in Berlin.
Five minutes after the ignition, I was outside the building watching the flames that were covering the big cupola from the tower.
A ribbon was placed around the building that no one was allowed to pass.
After about 20 minutes of watching, I suddenly saw the black car of Adolf Hitler passing, followed by another car in which was his bodyguard.
I rushed after them and I came just in time to join Hitler’s company as they were entering the still burning Reichstag.
I never saw Hitler with such a grim and determined look. His eyes, that were always a little protruding, almost came out of his head.
Goering, Hitler’s right hand-man, who was the Prussian Minister of the Interior and responsible for the police, joined us in the hallway. He was glowing and he was agitated.
«This is, without any doubt, the Communists work, Her Chancellor» he said.
«A number of Communist deputies were present here, in the Reichstag, 20 minutes before it ignited. We managed to arrest one of the arsonists. »
«Who is he? » asked Dr. Goebbels, the Nazi Party propaganda chief.
«We don’t know » replied Goering, with a resolute and menacing stare around his thin and sensitive mouth. «But we will make him confess, there is no doubt, Doctor. »
We entered a room. «Here you can see with your own eyes, Herr Chancellor, how they started the fire. » said Goering as he pointed to the charred remains of some beautiful oak panels. «They hung rags soaked in gasoline on the furniture and they set them alight. »
We went through another hallway full of smoke. The police blocked the way. «The chandeliers can collapse at any moment, Herr Chancellor » said the police Captain, with his arms outstretched.
Through a detour we arrived in a part of the building which was still on fire. The firefighters were pouring water over the red mass.
Hitler looked at them for a few moments and a wild fury could be seen in his pale blue eyes.
Then I came across Herr von Papen, civilized and cheerful as always.
Hitler stretched out his hand and uttered threats against the Communists that I already cited. Then he turned to Goering. «Are the other buildings safe? » he asked.
«We took all the precautions » replied Goering. «The police are in the highest state of alarm, and all the public buildings were specifically quartered. We are expecting anything. »
Then Hitler turned himself to me «My God», he said, «this is the Communists’ work. You are witnessing the beginning of a great new era in Germany’s history. This fire is the beginning. »
Then he rhetorically spoke. «Do you see this burning building? », he said, dramatically pointing with his hand. «If this communist spirit would have seized Europe even for two months, everything would have been lit as this building. »
At 12.30 the fire was already under control. Two chambers for the press were still burning, but there wasn’t any danger that the fire could spread again.
Though the dome’s glass broke and collapsed, the dome was still standing.
Until now the cleaning of the charred rubble was not possible. This could reveal if there are any bodies, especially those of the arsonists that could have been trapped in the building, among the debris.
Goering asked for a special meeting late at night, at the Interior Ministry, to discuss the measures that should be taken after the fire.
The entire district from the Brandenburg Gate, to the west, to the Spree River and to the east is isolated by numerous police cordons.”