Arrest the Communists
Hitler was already in power the day the Reichstag burned. An aging Hindenberg had made the transition of handing over power; the Chancellorship was in the hands of Hitler and the Nazis, but the control of the legislature was not yet theirs. The Communists and Labor parties as well as some fractioned parties still held special interests: as long as power was only partial, the National Socialists would never succeed in their ultimate but stll clandestine plans. Without warning, during a Legislative break, the building housing the German Legislature caught on fire and burned down, reportedly from Arson. A mentally-slow person by the name of von Lubbe is named. He has a history of falsely claiming responsibility for arson and has been signed to a Communist party membership at his workplace.
The arson had one fatal characteristic: it was carried out with utter precision, accomplished in the span of less than a half hour. In that short time, the massive stone structure is burned violently followed by an explosion so great that it completely destroyed the building. The obscure von Lubbe is immediately arrested.
The Nazi Party already had one success: Göring had recruited the Interior Ministry of Prussia to the side of the NSDAP, which left the National Socialists under Hitler in charge of 2/3 of the German Police.
- 8:30pm: Caretaker observes nothing
- 8:50pm: A Postman notices nothing
- 9:05pm:Student sees man with "Burning Brand on 1st floor"
- 9:14pm:Fire alarm sounds at Fire Station
- 9:27pm: Amidst massive fire, explosion occurs: Great Chamber in flames
- same: Marinus van der Lubbe Arrested: reports claim he said it was "protest" 1
Even with the building support, including 2.5 million SA members and overlapping and growing Party membership, control over police and pending control over labor unions or trade unions, though, the power of the incoming regime was not complete. A pending legislative vote in the next session would determine much, and the communists or 'Bolsheviks' and others in opposition still had enough seats to keep Nazi control from becoming 'totalitarian'.
The Führer Comes to
Immediately after the burning of the Reichstag, Hitler and Göring showed up on the scene, with plans to rebuild. The Nazis immediately place the blame for the fire on the Communists: this, they claimed was a terrorist act by those they considered 'degenerate'. In this state of contrived "emergency" the Nazis implored the enactment of severe civil rights restrictions until this period of 'danger' was over. The enactment, meant to create a temporary safe period of time until matters could be sorted out, was instead used to divest the Communists of power and Civil Rights. Not to be stopped, Hitler extended interpretations to allow the arrest of many of the opposition, creating a situation in which he was able to take power. As mentioned elsewhere in this site, the Chancellorship and the Presidency were then combined giving Hitler control over the Legislature, (See Weimar Republic) Military, Police, and in essence creating for him one of the most exclusive dictatorships in history.
Who burned the Reichstag?
The 'mystery' over who was actually responsible for the burning of the Reichstag has been a favorite discussion of WWII historians since the 1940s. Some believed von Lubbe acted alone, but he had falsely 'confessed' to at least one other arson which he was never a part of. Some believe von Lubbe was set up. The Nazis blamed the Communists. Most historians generally now agree that the neatly planned arson with an explosion which allowed the suspension of civil rights and arrest of Communist Party members one month before the re-convening the legislative session in which the National Socialists took power. History would later see the Nazis perform other 'planned' 'random' acts, such as Krystallnacht , which was made to appear as public outrage, even though documentation has subsequently shown that all mechanisms for the "night of broken glass" were already in place.
One thing is certain: the burning of the Reichstag immediately gave an airtight platform for the Nazis to take power in Germany. Hitler gained control over the legislature, and plans to rebuild the Reichstag were already in action. Communist members of the Reichstag were arrested, leaving them absent from the next vote, and the Enabling Act of 1933, an emergency move to give Hitler total power in an emergency situation, suspending normal Civil Rights and Laws regarding Governmental privileges, was set in place. Anti-Communist rhetoric found a facile place in the heart of domestic Germany: the Communists were now 'enemies of the State', allowing actions against them to prevail with little opposition. No one incident was totally responsible for the establishment of Hitler as dictator, but the burning of the Reichstag was figured prominently in the transition from Republic to Fascist State.
One Nazi official, years after the war asked if the Nazis had anything to do with the fire. His reply was telling. He responded that he would be a fool to say that they did, and a d---- liar to say that they did not.1 The Reichstag has been rebuilt/refurbished
as the "Bundestag" and now once again is the seat of lawmaking