On February 27, 1933, the “Reichstag fire” sets the stage for the Nazis to seize power of the government through an upcoming election. With elections only a week away, a man was arrested and sentenced to death for allegedly setting fire to a government building in Berlin. Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch citizen, and communist, was reported to have confessed to the crime while in custody. He was swiftly tried and sentenced to death.
The Nazi Party immediately used Lubbe’s communist affiliation to rally German support for an emergency decree Hitler helped pass at the onset of his reign as Chancellor. The decree suspected civil liberties and called for a merciless pursuit of the Communist Party of Germany.
The Political Landscape Before The Fire
Less than one month after he was sworn in as Chancellor, Hitler hit the road running. The Nazi Party’s political platform had always aligned itself as anti-communist. After being sworn in on January 30th he turned directly to the German President and told him he needed to pass an emergency decree that suspended civil liberties so the government could fiercely go after the communists. With the decree passed, mass arrests of communists began, including parliamentary officials of the Communist Party.
For the citizens skeptical of the decree’s validity, it was tremendously helpful a young Dutchman had set ablaze to an official building. It proved, among other things, the communists were plotting against the Germans. The Communist Party argued the fire was indeed a plot but had been masterminded and carried out by the Nazi Party. Drama surrounding the fire incident would invoke public emotions and boost support right before a critical election, which was less than a week away.
March 5th was the election date. Hitler had his mind set on the Nazis Party winning by enough votes to (mostly) legally remove any Nazi political opposition. Namely, the Communist Party. Hence, it was entirely plausible the Nazi Party staged the Reichstag fire to mislead the public to conclude the communists were a threat to democracy.
The Enabling Act
Before Hitler had time to take a breath after winning the election, he obliterated democracy in Germany. After the elections, the Enabling Act was passed. The act endowed Hitler with the power to pass laws at will — free from opposition; free from opposition voices.