The day after Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany his deputy and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary, "In conference with the Fuehrer we lay down the line for the fight against the red terror. For the moment we shall abstain from direct counter measures. The Bolshevik attempt at revolution must first burst into flame. At the proper moment we shall strike."
The Bolshevik attempt at revolution must first burst into flame? What an ironic statement, burst into flame. Almost like he knew more than he was saying. Then, "At the proper moment we shall strike." How would he know the proper moment? Would some event present itself? Did he know in advance of some plot by the Bolsheviks? Then on February 27th, three weeks later, The Fuehrer was visiting at the Goebbels' home for dinner with the family. As they all sat in the living room, Goebbels recounts again in his diary, "A telephone call from Dr. Hanfstaengl. 'The Reichstag is on fire!' I am sure he is telling a tall tale and decline even to mention it to the Fuehrer."
But at another dinner party in Berlin, Vice Chancellor Fritz Von Papen was entertaining the aged President Hindenburg. Papen later wrote in his diary, "Suddenly we noticed a red glow through the windows and heard the sounds of shouting in the street. One of the servants came hurrying up to me and whispered: 'The Reichstag is on fire!' which I repeated to the President. He got up and from the window we could see the dome of the Reichstag looking as though it were illuminated by searchlights. Every now and again a burst of flame and a swirl of smoke blurred the outline." There it is again, that phrase, " burst of flame!"
Goebbels was suddenly having second thoughts about Hanfstaegl's "tall tale" and he began making some calls. Goebbels, after a delay of six or seven minutes, bundled the Fuehrer into his personal car and headed for the scene. When they arrived they found Reichsminister Herman Goering sweating and puffing and quite beside himself with excitement. Goering said, as Papen later recalled, that "This is a communist crime against the new government." To Gestapo chief Rudolf Diels, Goering shouted, "-This is the beginning of a Communist revolution! We must not wait a minute. We will show no mercy. Every Communist official must be shot, where he is found. Every Communist deputy must this very night be strung up."
Of course these comments must be taken in context. Goering was upset, a German monument had just been destroyed by terrorists with Communist sympathies. The German people had been attacked by a group of terrorists while they lay asleep in their beds. Goering himself might have been killed if the fire had spread through the access tunnel that carried the central heating from the Reichstag to Goering's quarters in the Reichstag Presidential Palace next door.
Germany had been struck but would not be struck down again. Through quick police work it was found that the perpetrator had already been arrested a few days before. He had been arrested after being overheard in a bar boasting that he had attempted to set fire to several buildings, and that the Reichstag was next. The suspect, Marinus van der Lubbe, had been released that very morning because of liberal swinging-door justice. An avowed communist just turned loose on the street to wreck havoc on the city's innocents and to destroy sacred national landmarks. His motive was simple, he hated the German's freedom, a freedom symbolized by the Reichstag. If he could destroy that edifice he could, along with other terrorists, destroy the German Democracy.
Van der Lubbe, after intense questioning, implicated other Communists in the plot. When asked what he used to start the fire, van der Lubbe claimed that he used an old shirt. His testimony was discredited when government arson experts testified that large amounts of gasoline and chemicals were used to set numerous fires all over the building. They even commented that van der Lubbe was lucky to have escaped alive with the number and ferocity of the fires. Van der Lubbe was found guilty on all charges and given the only sentence appropriate to the crime, the death penalty.
But the German government now had to guarantee to a shaken German nation that never again would a terrorist slip through their fingers. On the very next day, February 28th, the German Chancellor asked that President Hindenburg sign a decree "for the protection of the people and the state." The act suspended seven sections of the German constitution that dealt with the trifles of individual and civil liberty. A "defensive measure against Communist acts of violence endangering the state."
Only a fool would argue in favor of civil rights when the nation was under attack. Temporary measures just for as long as the government felt the nation was at risk. Limited restrictions on personal liberty including freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and of association. Who would want to assemble in large groups anyway, giving the terrorists a perfect target? The act authorized warrantless wire taps on all phone and wire communications to assist law enforcement in rooting out any terrorist that might still be in hiding and waiting to strike, as well as warrantless home searches and property confiscations to deny the terrorist any safe havens and funding.
The day after the Reichstag fire, before the embers had gone out and the ashes cooled, the Prussian government issued an official statement with more than enough proof and evidence to calm even the looniest skeptic. "Communist documents captured through deft police work conclusively prove that the Communists were behind the Reichstag fire." Government buildings, museums, mansions and essential plants were to be burned down. . . Women and children were to be sent in front of terrorist groups to be used as human shields! The treachery and the inhumanity of these Communist groups knew no bounds. The burning of the Reichstag was to be the signal for a bloody insurrection and civil war. . . It has been ascertained that today was to have seen throughout Germany terrorist acts against individual persons, against private property, and the life and limb of the peaceful population and also the beginning of a general civil war.
The documents were never actually released to the public, owing to security concerns and potential danger to undercover sources. All completely understandable, in light of the events. One must admire the speed with which the German government apprehended the criminals and unwound the Communist plot. But that just goes to show you what can be done when you quit trying to hamstring law enforcement with touchy-feely rules that only protect the terrorists.
You'll probably laugh when I tell you this. Despite thousands of hours of sworn testimony, despite a comprehensive report given by a blue ribbon commission of arson experts, despite the signed confessions of the perpetrators themselves, each and every one given a chance to defend themselves in a legal court of law, after reams of incriminating documents of Communist plots and planning, despite all this there are some out there, you probably know who they are, who claim that it wasn't the Communists at all who burned down the Reichstag. Conspiracy theorists.
Keep laughing because it gets even funnier. These nuts, wackos and loony tunes claim that members of the sovereign German government conspired to burn down their own capital building! In an attempt to subvert its Democratic institutions! But what can you say to these people? How can you argue with those who simply ignore the expert testimony of government witnesses? Who call into question the character of the highest members of the German government with nothing but unsubstantiated rumors. The facts speak for themselves; Germany never fell victim to another terrorist attack until war broke out almost seven years later. It should be noted that Adolph Hitler was the man who had protected German freedoms in the face of terrorism, and we should remember that every February 27th.
All Quotes, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
By William Shirer