Images of the Reichstag Fire,
February 27th 1933, along with
a newspaper account from the
following day.
Account by Rudolf Diels, Chief of Police
“When I arrived, a few officers of my department were
already engaged in interrogating Van Der Lubbe. Naked
from the waist up, smeared with dirt and sweating, he sat
in front of them, breathing heavily. He panted as if he had
completed a tremendous task. There was a wild
triumphant gleam in the burning eyes of his pale, haggard
young face. I sat opposite him several times that night and
listened to his confused stories. I read the Communist
pamphlets from his trouser pockets. His voluntary
confessions prevented me from thinking that an arsonist
who was such an expert in his folly needed any helpers.
Why should not a single match be enough to set fire to the
cold yet inflammable splendour of the Chamber, the heavy
curtains and the bone-dry wooden panelling! But this
specialist had used a whole knapsack full of inflammable
material. He had been so active that he had laid several
dozen fires.”
Initial Nazi reaction, in the ruins of the Reichstag
“Hitler stood leaning his arms on the stone parapet of the
balcony and stared silently into the red sea of flames.
Goring came towards me ‘this is the beginning of the
Communist revolt, they will start their attack now! Not a
moment must be lost’
“I reported on my interrogation of Van Der Lubbe, that in
my opinion he was a maniac. Hitler ridiculed this, saying
‘this is something really cunning, prepared a long time ago.
The criminals have thought all this out beautifully, but
they’ve miscalculated…. There will be no mercy now.
Anyone who stands in our way will be cut down.’
“Goring did not let me speak; ‘Police on an emergency
footing; shoot to kill, and any other emergency regulations
which might be appropriate in such a case.’”
Extract from Rudolf Diels’ Account (Chief of Police)
Hitler and Goering
Marinus Van Der Lubbe
(1909 - 1934)
Marinus Van Der Lubbe was born in
Holland. After an industrial accident that
damaged his sight in 1926, he became
active in Communist politics. After moving
to Germany, he became increasingly
involved in opposing Hitler. Throughout this
period, he faced mental health problems.
On 27 February 1933, he was found
wandering round the burning Reichstag
building, with matches in his pocket. He
confessed to the arson, and was beheaded
a year later and buried in an unmarked
From Ferriby and McCabe (2000): “Modern World History”
“Van Der Lubbe was known to have been of
limited intelligence and his interrogation by the
Nazi-controlled police force may well have
resulted in a forced confession. It is possible,
although again not proven, that the Nazis
themselves planned and set fire to the
“There was an underground passage that ran
from the SA offices into the Reichstag building,
and so access to the Reichstag would have
been easy. A few days before the fire, the SA
had picked up Van Der Lubbe after hearing
him boast that he planned to set fire to the
Reichstag. It would have been easy to set him
up to take the blame.”
Hitler’s Statement, 28th February 1933
“This act of arson is the
most outrageous act yet
committed by Communism
in Germany. The burning of
the Reichstag was to have
been the signal for a
bloody uprising and civil
Emergency Decree: 28 February 1933
“For the Protection of of People and State: to guard against Communist
acts of violence endangering the State”
“Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion,
including freedom of the press, on the right of association and assembly, and
violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications,
and warrants for house-searches, orders for confiscations as well as
restrictions on property rights are permissible beyond the legal limits
otherwise allowed.”
Signed by President Hindbenburg, under Article 48 of the Weimar Constitutions
Nazi accounts of the purpose of the fire, and the
Middle Class response
“Goering reported dryly and very gravely the dreadful murder
plans of the Communists. Proof was brought to light by the
hundredweight. Hostages from bourgeois circles, wives and
children of police officers were to be taken and used as
shields, all cultural monuments were to be destroyed as in
Russia: palaces, museums, churches. [Goring said they] had
started with the Reichstag, where fire broke out in 28 places …
They wanted to send armed gangs to murder and start fires in
the villages; in the meantime, terrorism was to take over the
big cities stripped of their police forces. Poison, boiling water,
every tool from the most refined to the most primitive were to
be used as weapons.
“Goering said he had not lost his nerve nor would he lose it. I
hope the voters don’t lose their nerve and stay away from the
polling booths out of fright.”
From Frau Solmitz’s Diary, 1 March 1933
Goering in 1933
A German newspaper
front page from 3rd
March, 1933,
announcing its own
Nazi Posters for the March 1933 Reichstag Election
“The Reich will never be
destroyed if you united and loyal”
“In the deepest need Hindenburg chose Adolf
Hitler for Reich Chancellor. You too should
vote for Hitler”
Reichstag Election Results,
November 1932 and March 1933
1932 (Nov)
1933 (March)
Social Democrats
Centre (Catholic)
(independent, pro-Nazi)
Testimony from the Nuremburg War Crime Trials, 1945
“At a lunch on the birthday of
the Fuhrer in 1942, the
conversation turned to the topic
of the Reichstag building. I
heard with my own ears when
Goering interrupted the
conversation and shouted: ‘the
only one who really knows
about the Reichstag is me,
because I set it on fire!’”
General Halder (right)