The Reichstag Fire, Berlin, (February 27, 1933.)
We will never know the absolute truth of the events surrounding the Reichstag Fire. People have debated this for decades and have never managed to get any closer to the truth. Many say the Nazis started it, others say they had nothing to do with it.
My interpretation of the facts is this:
The Reichstag Fire was started by a Dutch Anarchist named Marinus van der Lubbe, who snuck into the Reichstag on the night of the 27th of February, 1933. This act really isn’t all that surprising in hindsight. This was a period of considerable political violence across the country and one act of extreme vandalism should not necessarily be seen as “shocking”, although the effects of the event were to be enormous.
Now, many have claimed that either Marinus van der Lubbe was not responsible, and that it was actually a supporter of Hitler and the Nazi party who may or may not have been acting under orders, or that Marinus van der Lubbe was actually affiliated with the Nazi party.
Now, both of these assertions are perhaps plausible, but I would not say that they are necessarily likely, or that we should support them. The truth is that there is no evidence of either claim. There has never been a shred of credible evidence which points to either conclusion. As far as we know, and likely as far as we will ever know, Marinus van der Lubbe acted on his own instincts and to his own political ends. Any other assertions are essentially conspiracy claims. While they may be PLAUSIBLE, in my view they can not be legitimately entertained as possibilities from A HISTORICAL STANDPOINT because there is no proof of either alternative possibility being true. We can not, change the facts just because it makes the story better.
While it might sound more interesting to argue that the Nazis planned the Reichstag Fire and that they covertly hired a Dutch anarchist to carry it out, the lack of evidence pointing to this makes that claim entirely unreliable.
So who started it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The debate is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. What IS important is to look at how the Nazi party reacted to the event. The fact that Marinus van der Lubbe was unaffiliated with the Nazi party makes this story all the better. The Reichstag Fire and the subsequent passing of the Decree for the Protection of the People the very next day shows how cunning and ruthless the Nazi party was in their quest to power. They knew how to manipulate and control the volatile political culture which existed in Germany in the early 1930’s and this is a far more important distinction to make.
I think that the Nazi Party were not necessarily “puppet masters” who organized a chaotic burning of a governmental system, but rather master reactionaries who successfully seized an opportunity to wrestle more governmental and authoritative control from the Wiemar government, and it is this which makes the story of the Reichstag Fire all the more sinister and indeed all the more interesting.