Chancellor Heinrich Bruening announces to the Reichstag (German parliament) President Hindenburg's order for its dissolution and for new elections, invoking powers granted to him under the Weimar Constitution. Berlin, Germany, July 18, 1930.
— National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.
By Steven Jonas
On January 30, 1933, the then President of the German Weimar Republic (1919-1933), the World War I hero Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg, as part of a deal with the non-Nazi Right-Wing political parties, appointed Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party, as Chancellor of Germany. Among other things, the Nazis begin moving very quickly against the trade unions and the two left-wing parties, the Socialists (SPD) and the Communists (KPD), arresting certain members of their leaderships and driving others into exile.
On February 27, the grand, historic, German Parliament building in Berlin, the Reichstag, is hit by a fire that would make it unusable until it was eventually restored after the end of World War II. Although it is not likely that the cause of the fire will ever be known for certain, most historians agree that it was most likely set at the direction of Hermann Goering, one of Hitler's principal deputies, either by a lone native of Holland, a mentally-handicapped member of the Communist Party, Marinus van der Lubbe, or a crew organized by Goering.
The story of "the cause" that was released almost immediately (within hours) by the Nazis was that the fire was set by van der Lubbe, as the result of a KPD plot. And the Nazis very quickly came up with a series of documents, later proved to be forgeries), that the "KPD Did It." (Actually, the KPD was as surprised by the Fire as was most everyone else.) The Reichstag conveniently happened to be decorated with highly flammable furniture, drapes, and wall-coverings. Apparently, a few matches did the trick. It happened that the KPD knew nothing of it and that the "incriminating documents" quickly produced by the Nazis were later proved to be forgeries. But that meant nothing at the time.
The Nazis quickly created a national hysteria over the "threat of the KPD and the SPD," lumped together as "the Marxists," to the "peace and tranquility of the German nation," to the "security of the German volk." To deal with "the Marxist threat," on Feb. 28, the day after the Fire, before there could be any kind of investigation beyond the Nazi declarations and proffered false documents, with Pres. Hindenburg's approval, and in accord with a provision of the post-World War I Weimar Republic's Constitution, all of the civil liberties protections in it were suspended. But this wasn't enough for the Nazis.
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