Reichstag Fire

The Reichstag building in Berlin, housing the German Parliament, on fire during the night of February 27, 1933.
The Reichstag building in Berlin, housing the German Parliament, on fire during the night of February 27, 1933.

Historical Context

Four weeks after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as the new Chancellor of Germany, the seat of the German Parliament in Berlin, the Reichstag, was burned down. This is one of the most contested and controversial events of Hitler's early years in power, as a mere one day later, Hitler signed the Reichstag Fire Decree which gave his government the legal authority to imprison opponents of the Nazis and suspend many civil liberties in Germany.

The Nazis arrested Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch Communist, with setting the fire. He was tried, and executed on January 10, 1934, for the arson act. There has been much debate on whether Lubbe acted alone or whether the Nazis set the fire as a false-flag attack in order to pass the Reichstag Decree and increase their power.

Foremost Nazi historian Ian Kershaw wrote in 1998 that the consensus was that Lubbe had acted alone and that the fire was merely a stroke of luck that the event occurred so the Nazis could use it to their advantage. However, new evidence since then has pointed to the possibility of a Nazi conspiracy. In June 2019 an affidavit in the archives of former investigator Fritz Tobias was discovered. In it Hans-Martin Lennings, an SA operative, claimed in 1955 that he and his SA group drove Lubbe to the scene of the fire - and that the Reichstag was already on fire when they arrived.

Lennings claimed that his team were made to sign a paper denying knowledge of the event, and that they had protested Lubbe's arrest. He later claimed that many involved had been executed but that he had been warned and fled to Czechoslovakia.

Whatever the case, in 2008 a German court posthumously pardoned Lubbe under a law designed to reverse unjust convictions during Nazi persecutions.

Photo Info


Photographer: Unknown
Date taken: February 27, 1933
Location taken: Berlin, Germany

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1933-02-27 The Reichstag, German parliament building, destroyed by fire; possibly set by the Nazis, who blame and execute Martin van der Lubbe, a Dutch Communist
  • 1933-02-28 On Adolf Hitler's advice, German President Paul von Hindenburg signs the Reichstag Fire Decree after the building is destroyed by fire in Berlin; this eliminates many civil liberties in Germany
  • 1933-02-28 After the Reichstag Fire Decree, the German Communist Party (KPD) is essentially outlawed (though not formally banned) after the German government blames the Communists for burning down the Reichstag building

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