The Reichstag Fire and Emergency Powers

The cause of the Reichstag Fire is disputed by Historians to this day!

Some viewpoints are:

The Communists plotted to seize control over Germany, so they started the Reichstag Fire.

  • Evidence

- Not much. Goering claims they had 'terror squads' of 200 members who planned to poison food and burn down buildings.

2. Van der Lubbe, A Dutch Communist, set fire to the Reichstag by himself.

  • Evidence

- Karl Ernst said Van Der Lubbe was an arsonist and lit his own fires.

- The Head of Police, Rudolph Deils, said Van Der Lubbe had a bay of inflammable materials and matches in his pocket

- Goering swore he had nothing to do with it. He claimed it was an inconvenience to the Nazis and wouldn't benefit them in any way.

- Van Der Lubbe claimed that he was previously a member of the communist party, but he set the Reichstag alight all by himself.

3. The Nazis started the fire and blamed the communists. They used the fire as an excuse to ban all other political parties in Germany

  • Evidence

- A British Journalist said that Hitler said on the night of the fire that he wasn't sure the communists started the fire, but hoped that it was them.

- General Hadler claimed that during Hitler's birthday lunch, Goering shouted that he was the only one who really knew about the Reichstag Fire because he started it.

- An underground passage ran from Goering's Palace House to the Reichstag Building where the fire was set. This meant that it was so easy for the Nazis to get to the building unnoticed and start the fire.

- A British Textbook from 1998 stated that the Doors in the underground tunnel were all locked. (a bit unusual as they were all locked from Goering's side)


As a result of the Reichstag Fire, Hitler asked Hindenburg to give him Emergency Powers.

Hitler used his Emergency Powers to pass these laws and order the following:

  • Members of Opposition Parties (to the Nazis) were to be arrested and sent to concentration camps

  • Enemies of the Reichstag (or just Nazis) were to be executed (i.e the communists)

  • The SA (sturmabteilung) were allowed to search the homes of those suspected to be enemies of the state

  • All trade unions were banned and workers were banned from going on strike.

  • During the Reichstag Elections of 1933, the SA were allowed to intimidate voters by watching them as they marked their votes on the ballot papers.


*Trade Union: an organized association of workers in a trade, group of trades, or profession, formed to protect and further their rights and interests (according to the Oxford Dictionary).

The Reichstag Building on fire!

(image from Wikimedia)

Van der Lubbe with policemen after the Reichstag Fire.

(image from Wikimedia)

Hindenburg was President of Germany from 1925 until his death in 1934.

(image from Wikimedia)