Today In History: The Reichstag Fire Decree Is Enabled, Ending Civil Rights In Germany (1933)

Konzentrationslager, Photo: CC, Publis Domain

Today In HIstory: following the Reichstag fire, Adolf Hitler urged the German President Paul von Hindenburg to enable the Reichstag Fire Decree. The law enhanced the rights of government at the expense of civilian freedoms. The decree was used as a tool to arrest anyone the Nazis government saw as opposition to their regime. It was also used to censor the publication of anything that stood against the Nazi cause.

Immediately following a fire that engulfed a German building, several communist leaders found themselves in jail. The swiftness of their arrest has left many historians concluding the fire was not set by a communist arsonist, but deliberately staged by the Nazis to provide themselves a means to boost public support for them in an upcoming election by casting doubt (and fear) over the Communist Party.

The Reichstag Fire Decree was sold to the German public as a necessity to ensure public safety. It should be noted, the decree was not new. It had been established as an emergency provision during the Weimar Republic. When it was enacted on February 28, 1933, it was slightly altered. One detail added by Nazi Interior Minister, Willhelm Fick, gave the Nazis full authority over any state government not upholding the decree and using it to its full potential. It was through small, premeditated steps the beginning of the Nazi takeover to unifying Germany under a one-party state happened.

The reichtstag Decree, Image, CC

The decree itself was made from six articles:

Article 1 indefinitely suspended many civil liberties set forth in the Weimar Constitution. This included: habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone, not to mention the protection of property and the home

Articles 2 and 3 expanded the Reich government powers.

Articles 4 and 5 established draconian penalties for certain offenses, including the death penalty for arson to public buildings, which was the penalty sentenced by the court to the Ductch communist accused of setting fire to the Reichstag building.

Article 6 made the decree effective immediately following its proclamation.