Oxford University Press, £19.99. Order at the discounted price of £15.99 inc. p&p from the Independent Bookshop
Burning the Reichstag by Benjamin Carter Hett, book review
Who set fire to the Reichstag on or around 9.16pm on 27 February 1933? Hitler had been Chancellor of Germany for a month, a minority partner in a coalition dominated by aristocratic mates of the venerated President Hindenburg.
These men were unlikely simply to hand the Nazis absolute power. The Nazis needed a crisis for that. The fire gave Hitler his chance – it was claimed to be the start of a Communist revolution. He got Hindenburg to sign an emergency decree that suspended every human right in the Weimar constitution: this was, in effect, the legal basis of the Third Reich.
So as an event that helped establish the most violently, bestially destructive regime in human history, the fire matters. In its way, though much more momentously, it is a German counterpart to the JFK assassination in America – a national trauma that endless conspiracy theories and bitter controversies about a 'sole culprit', driven by trauma.
There are three competing explanations for the fire, forensically examined by lawyer-historian Benjamin Carter Hett in Burning the Reichstag. The easiest to dismiss is the Nazis' (possibly sincere) claim that a Communist uprising was imminent. This was nonsense. First, Stalin, leader of world Bolshevism, had no interest in it, wanting to cosy up to Germany even under Hitler (a misapprehension that was to persist until Barbarossa in 1941). Second, Stalin’s local representatives clung pathetically to the Marxist notion that they could just sit back and wait for their revolution.
True, the only person definitively linked to the fire, its self-confessed principal arsonist, Marinus van der Lubbe, did have a Communist past in his native Holland. However, in his confused testimonies he also said he'd been with Nazis before the fire, had taken his firelighters into the German parliament for “personal” reasons and that it was a protest on behalf of the working class. Was Lubbe, as confused in his politics as Lee Harvey Oswald, the 'sole culprit'? Was he a Communist dupe? Or a Nazi dupe?
A number of respectable historians in Germany have suggested that he acted alone. This suggestion that the the Nazis did not in fact stage the thing is offensive to many, but it need not be. If it was a random event, though fortuitously timed days before crucial elections, that doesn't justify what they did immediately after, let alone the Holocaust or their other crimes against humanity. The Nazis would have concocted another crisis - a staged attempt on Hitler's life being the likeliest scam - to do what they wanted. Certainly, no-one thinks that the German Communist MP Ernst Torgler or the three Bulgarian comintern officials, also arraigned, were guilty. All were acquitted even in this show trial. Lubbe alone was beheaded.
Hett raises again the biggest problem with the “sole culprit” theory; how it was that Lubbe managed to get the vast solid oak debating chamber fully combusted in about ten minutes. There remains no adequate explanation. Despite the efforts of Mr Hett and many others, the embers of the Reichstag fire still glow.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What if 35 Palestinians had died, and 800 Israelis?
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 4 'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
- 5 Ross Burden dead: MasterChef and Ready Steady Cook star dies at age 45 after suffering from cancer
Led Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Freddie Prinze Jr on 24: 'Kiefer Sutherland was the most unprofessional dude in the world – I hated every moment of it'
50 best running songs: From Avicii and Pharrell Williams to the classic 'Eye of the Tiger'
Coolio has sold his soul to Pornhub
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
- < Previous
- Next >