Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Berlin

The Reichstag Fire, Berlin, (February 27, 1933.)

468px-Reichstagsbrand

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.

reichstag-fire

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┬ávan 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.

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In August 1961, two young girls speak with their grandparents in East Germany over a barbed wire fence, a barricade which later became the Berlin Wall.

It's interesting to see the still battered buildings from the battle of Berlin show their scars. I know it took time for parts of Germany to recover and rebuild but pictures like this really put it into perspective.

It’s interesting to see the still battered buildings from the battle of Berlin show their scars. I know it took time for parts of Germany to recover and rebuild but pictures like this really put it into perspective.

 

 


The Kroll Opera House in Berlin on April 28, 1939. Hitler makes keynote address answering Roosevelt’s appeal to avoid war.

I play a little game, a variant of “where’s Waldo”, with pictures like this.
The challenge is to try and figure out everyone in the photo who will be dead or in jail by 1946. It’s quite gratifying.

Hitler’s speech that day was a response to a letter sent by Roosevelt to get Hitler’s assurances that it would not attack other countries. You can read it here.

Roosevelt asked for Hitler to give assurances that he would not invade a number of specific countries, mostly British possessions and European neighbors, most of which became involved in the war anyway. Hitler’s view of peace seemed to be between the major powers, and that Germany should be entitled to expand into Poland and Czechoslovakia if it wanted to. He was telling Britain, France, the US and Russia to stay out of Germany’s area so that he could continue his ambitions. This is not at all what those other countries, especially Poland wanted.

In my understanding this letter came at a time when the world had already geared up for war. Although it hadn’t been declared yet, all the major powers were building up their stockpiles and constructing more and more weapons, like bombers. Even the US, which wouldn’t join the war for another 2 years was already preparing for it.

There were a few warning signs that that just got ignored. One that I think should not be forgotten is that most Western countries did not raise their immigration quotas and allow more Jewish refugees to enter their countries until late in the war. Anti-semitism and fear over immigration in general led to refugees being rejected until public opinion turned around 1944. Even though their was ample evidence of violence and discrimination, the US and Britain still refused to increase their quotas. It saddens me to think about the lives that could have been spared by a bit of bureaucratic empathy.

It is possibly the greatest tragedy of human history that the Second World War happened with so much warning, yet nothing was done to truly stop it.

(Here’s some of the speech, with subtitles.)