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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

February 27, 2008

A "Whodunnit" 75 years later

Filed under Life in Europe

75 years ago today the Reichstag went up in flames. The blaze gave the Nazi party a chance to declare a state of emergency. Who was responsible for the fire?

That’s been a question of considerable debate for 75 years. Reichstag fire A new book by author Sven Felix Kellerhoff offers a convincing answer: the fellow arrested at the scene on the night of the fire probably acted on his own. The book "Der Reichstagsbrand: Die Karriere eines Kriminalfalls" ["The Reichstag fire: the career of a criminal case"] is being published on the anniversary of the fire. When Berlin police arrested Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, he claimed to have set the fire on his own as an act of protest. The final police report confirmed van der Lubbe’s statements. However, what would have been just a criminal case turned into a political crisis when the Nazis accused the Communists of having been involved in setting the fire. The situation enabled the Nazis to declare a state of emergency and suspend civil rights, allowing them to arrest 40,000 opponents within two months – most of those arrested were Communists and Socialists. Van der Lubbe was later sentenced to death, but four Communists tried with him were acquitted. Some wondered whether the Nazis set the fire themselves. Hermann Göring is said to have claimed responsibility for setting the fire in 1942, a claim he later denied during the Nuremberg trials. Kellerhoff comes to the same conclusion that several other historians did in the recent years: Marinus van der Lubbe really did act alone, and the Nazis seized the opportunity provided via a criminal case to cement their hold on power irreversibly.

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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