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The Reichstag Fire and Consequences

Adolf Hitler
German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, 1933 (German Federal Archives)

This article is for those left wing “bleeding heart” Canadians who think the controversial Bill C-51--the Stephen Harper Conservative government anti-terror legislation had that passed earlier this year--would turn us into a police state. They should have been living in Germany in the early 1930’s when Adolf Hitler took power and turned his own country into a real police state. And it was done lightning fast, all nice and legal in the courts beginning with the Reichstag Fire: the arson attack on Berlin’s Reichstag in 1933. Nazi propaganda at its best, it paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s total power in Germany and brought about a world war six years later that killed tens of millions.

To start, a little background on how this scoundrel Herr Hitler had even got that far in politics in the first place…

A highly decorated, trench-fighting foot soldier during World War I, the Austrian born-and-raised Adolf Hitler was deeply disappointed by Germany’s defeat in 1918 at the hands of the Allies, believing that his army had been betrayed by Marxists, Jews, and gutless politicians. It infuriated him that at the 1919 Treaty of Versailles the Allies blamed Germany for the entire war and then demanded the Germans pay the Allies the equivalent of $440 billion in today’s US dollars.

After the war, Hitler continued to be employed by the army as an intelligence officer. One of his jobs was monitoring the new German Workers’ Party (DAP) and looking into their anti-Semitic, ant-Marxist views. Lo and behold, Hitler liked what he saw, instead, and joined the group in 1919, then became its leader in 1921, when those within the party saw his talent for great speeches. He changed the name of the DAP to the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), or simply the Nazi Party. He continued with the party’s policy:  inspiring speeches against Jews, Marxists, opposing politicians, and the degrading Treaty of Versailles payments that were killing the German economy and driving the country into bankruptcy.

One of Hitler’s followers was Ernest Rohm, head of the paramilitary organization called the Bund Reichskriegsflagge, which was nothing more than a group of thugs who supported the Nazis by breaking up opposition meetings and providing security at Hitler’s meetings. On the evening of November 23, 1923, Hitler and a few hundred of his followers, including Rohm and some of his cronies, disrupted a public assembly of 3,000 people at a beer hall in Munich--later known as the “Beer Hall Putsch”--to announce that a national revolution had begun and that Hitler would be forming a new government in the state of Bavaria. In the midst of the insurrection that continued into the morning, Hitler and his henchmen went into hiding when Munich’s military forces intervened.

Hitler was arrested three days later, tried for high treason, and sentenced to five years in prison. While behind bars, he began dictating his ideas for a future German society based on one Aryan race to his future Deputy Minister, Rudolf Hess, one of Hitler’s followers at the time. These ideas later emerged in Hitler’s best-selling book, Mein Kampf, which is German for “My Struggle.”

A few years ago, I found an English translation of Hitler’s book. It’s very interesting to note that in it, I saw that Hitler stated in no uncertain terms that the Soviet Union was Germany’s natural enemy and that England was Germany’s one true European ally. What? With a great Aryan master race army, he would leave England intact with its sea power, while he destroyed the Russians and the surrounding countries for the good of Europe and all humanity.

German Reichstag Fire
German Reichstag Fire, 1933 (US Public Domain)

Following his release from prison after serving only nine months, Hitler decided that in future he would use the democratic process to seize power, then legally inflict his will upon the nation and eventually Europe. So, in five federal elections called from December, 1924 to November, 1932, Hitler and his Nazi Party gradually claimed popularity from 907,300 votes (3% of the votes and 14 seats) to 11,737,000 votes (33% of the votes and 196 seats). Thanks to the panic caused by the world-wide Great Depression, which began after the 1929 New York Stock Market Crash, the Nazis now held the most number of seats, but still no majority to pull the strings. Also, in the German presidential elections in early 1932--the first round on March 13 and the second round on April 10--Hitler came in second both times to the sickly, 84-year-old incumbent, World War I hero Paul von Hindenburg.

To balance the politics of the nation, Hindenburg reluctantly announced that Hitler would be Chancellor of the coalition government on January 30, 1933. Hitler immediately asked Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and call for a new parliamentary election, to which Hindenburg agreed, although as President he had every legal right under German constitutional law to remove Hitler as Chancellor. But Hindenburg didn’t have the stones, not with how powerful Hitler and the Nazis had become. The election date was set for March 5, 1933. Hitler’s plan was to obtain the majority he so badly craved.

Which brings us to the Reichstag Fire…

At 21:25 hours, on February 27, a Berlin fire station took a call that the Reichstag was in flames. The Berlin Fire Department did all they could for the next two hours. But by the time they put the fire out, most of the building was far too damaged. A Dutch communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was supposedly found inside, seized, and charged with the arson attack. Within 24 hours, three others were charged with him. The day after the fire, Hitler asked Hindenburg to activate Article 48 of the Weimer Constitution. Once again, the weak-willed Hindenburg complied. Overnight, the Nazis suspended nearly all civil rights and freedoms in what was called the Reichstag Fire Decree. In addition, all publications across the country deemed anti-Nazi were banned.

Hitler claimed a Communist plot to take over Germany was afoot and, as a result, the Nazi newspapers quickly spewed out this propaganda. Thousands of Communists, including all those holding Reichstag seats (the Communists held 17 percent in the previous election), were imprisoned. When the March 5 vote was taken, Nazi popularity jumped to 44 percent of the vote. Combined with their allies in the German National Party, who took eight percent of the vote, the Nazis had a 52 percent majority.

Nuremberg Trials
Hermann Goering, first row at far left, during Nuremberg Trials, 1946 (US Public Domain)

Next on the list, Hitler needed to get his grimy hands on the Enabling Act, but that needed a two-thirds Reichstag majority. The Enabling Act was an emergency measure that gave the Chancellor power to pass laws by decree for four years (thus ignoring any Reichstag vote), then would come up for renewal after that. To achieve Hitler’s two-thirds majority, Ernest Rohm’s thugs prevented the Social Democratic Party members (the final opposition to the Nazis in the Reichstag) from taking their seats for the Enabling Act vote on March 23.

Once the ballots were counted, the Nazis had their majority, helped along by taking over or intimidating different smaller right-wing parties such as the Centre Party and the German National People’s Party to make them disband. Four days later, Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany. By July 14, 1933, the Nazi Party was the only legal political party in all of Germany. For the next 12 years of the Nazi Party’s existence, which Hitler foolishly believed would last a “thousand years,” the Kroll Opera House, across the street from the burned-out shell of the old Reichstag, became the new Third Reich’s Reichstag.

But Hitler didn’t stop there: He had enemies within the rank and file. One of them was Ernest Rohm (the former head of the Reichskriegsflagge from the 1920’s), who now ran the Sturmabteilung (SA), and who helped Hitler gain power just the year before. Rohm, along with others in the SA challenging Hitler’s authority, were shot to death during the Night of the Long Knives, which took place the end of June and beginning of July, 1934. With their leaders gone, the SA was disbanded. By the time Hindenburg died a month later in August, Hitler had abolished the presidency and combined the office with his own as chancellor. Hitler was now the supreme commander of the German armed forces and he began to mobilize his nation for yet another war which he was certain they could win this time around.

For years many historians have wondered who set the Reichstag Fire. Although Marinus van der Lubbe was beheaded for the crime in 1934, while the three others arrested with him were released, it’s still uncertain he committed the crime. It’s obvious the Nazis had the most to gain, however. William L Shirer in his masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, wrote that Reichmarshall Hermann Goring, according to German General Franz Halder, took the credit for the torching while at a birthday party for Hitler in 1943. However, Goring, under cross-examination at the Nuremberg trials in 1946, denied he had said anything about the fire.

Could something like another Reichstag Fire be perpetrated today? You tell me. What if a modern government deliberately creates a national crisis, then suspends freedoms and liberties across the board for the good of the nation, all under “National Security?”

Think about it.


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