In 1933, just a week before general elections that might place enough Nazis in office to make Hitler de-facto dictator, the Reichstag, which housed the parliament of the German Empire, was set on fire. Adolf Hitler assured everyone that communist terrorists started the fire. Hitler’s party member Hermann Göring stated that he had secret evidence that would soon be made public; evidence that proved communists did it. These proclamations came on top of weeks of Nazi-organized street violence designed to whip the public into a pathological fear of communists. The next day, the Nazis convinced a senile President von Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Decree. The decree, using defense against terrorism as an excuse, suspended just about every major civil liberty set forth in the Weimar Constitution: habeus corpus (the right to know why you’re being put in jail)? Gone. Freedom of opinion? Gone. Freedom of the press? Not any more. Freedom to organize and assemble? Deported. The Reichstag decree even allowed the government to spy on its own citizens’ personal mail and telephone conversations without a warrant.

The only thing historians seem to agree on is that Marinus van der Lubbe, a former Dutch Communist and mentally disturbed arsonist hungry for fame, was found inside the building. Despite the Nazi attempt to blame the fire on a group of communists, the communists were later acquitted by the Nazi government itself. After years of extensive investigation, most historians believe the Hitlerites themselves set fire to the Reichstag using van der Lubbe as their patsy: they knew a nut was going to try to burn down the building and not only did they let him do it, but they may have befriended him, encouraged him and even helped the blaze spread by scattering gasoline and incendiaries. Most Germans, feeling safe from terrorism again, didn’t mind that their freedom and liberty had been stolen, or that so much of their life and work had become so strictly controlled. On the contrary, they felt very enthusiastic and patriotic about the new government because they ignorantly believed the new government cared about them. And as long as the average citizen worked hard, kept his mouth shut and let his kids take part in the Hitler Youth organization, he stayed out of the detention camps.

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