The Zeppelin airship “Graf Zeppelin” flying over the Reichstag building in Berlin; October 1928
LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin (Deutsches Luftschiff Zeppelin #127; Registration: D-LZ 127) was a German-built and -operated, passenger-carrying, hydrogen-filled, rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a Count in the German nobility.
The ‘Graf Zeppelin’ is considered the finest airship ever built. It flew more miles than any airship had done to that time or would in the future. Its first flight was on September 18, 1928. In August 1929, it circled the globe. Its flight began with a trip from Friedrichshaften, Germany, to Lakehurst, New Jersey, allowing William Randolph Hearst, who had financed the trip in exchange for exclusive rights to the story, to claim that the voyage began from American soil.
Piloted by Eckener, the craft stopped only at Tokyo, Japan, Los Angeles, California, and Lakehurst. The trip took 12 days—less time than the ocean trip from Tokyo to San Francisco.
During the 10 years the Graf Zeppelin flew, it made 590 flights including 144 ocean crossings. It flew more than one million miles (1,609,344 kilometers), visited the United States, the Arctic, the Middle East, and South America, and carried 13,110 passengers.
“The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed! Long live the new; long live the German republic!” Declaration of the “Weimar Republic” by Philipp Scheidemann on a balcony of the Reichstag; November 19th, 1918.
Listen to a recording of the speech [Recited afterwards by Scheidemann]
„Arbeiter und Soldaten! Furchtbar waren die vier Kriegsjahre. Grauenhaft waren die Opfer, die das Volk an Gut und Blut hat bringen müssen. Der unglückselige Krieg ist zu Ende; das Morden ist vorbei. Die Folgen des Kriegs, Not und Elend, werden noch viele Jahre lang auf uns lasten. Die Niederlage, die wir unter allen Umständen verhüten wollten, ist uns nicht erspart geblieben. Unsere Verständigungsvorschläge wurden sabotiert, wir selbst wurden verhöhnt und verleumdet. Die Feinde des werktätigen Volkes, die wirklichen inneren Feinde, die Deutschlands Zusammenbruch verschuldet haben, sind still und unsichtbar geworden. Das waren die Daheimkrieger, die ihre Eroberungsforderungen bis zum gestrigen Tage ebenso aufrechterhielten, wie sie den verbissensten Kampf gegen jede Reform der Verfassung und besonders des schändlichen preußischen Wahlsystems geführt haben. Diese Volksfeinde sind hoffentlich für immer erledigt. Der Kaiser hat abgedankt; er und seine Freunde sind verschwunden. Über sie alle hat das Volk auf der ganzen Linie gesiegt! Prinz Max von Baden hat sein Reichskanzleramt dem Abgeordneten Ebert übergeben. Unser Freund wird eine Arbeiterregierung bilden, der alle sozialistischen Parteien angehören werden. Die neue Regierung darf nicht gestört werden in ihrer Arbeit für den Frieden und der Sorge um Arbeit und Brot. Arbeiter und Soldaten! Seid euch der geschichtlichen Bedeutung dieses Tages bewußt. Unerhörtes ist geschehen! Große und unübersehbare Arbeit steht uns bevor. Alles für das Volk, alles durch das Volk! Nichts darf geschehen, was der Arbeiterbewegung zur Unehre gereicht. Seid einig, treu und pflichtbewußt! Das Alte und Morsche, die Monarchie ist zusammengebrochen. Es lebe das Neue; es lebe die deutsche Republik!
Workers and soldiers! Terrible the four years of war have been. Gruesome have been the sacrifices that the people had to make in all facets of life. The horrible war is over, the murdering is over. The results of the war, misery and suffering, will keep on haunting us for years to come. The defeat that we tried to avoid under all circumstances, we were not able to. Our reconciliation-efforts were sabotaged, we ourselves were ridiculed and defamed. The enemies of the working people, the real enemies at home that are responsible for Germany’s collapse have become quiet and invisible. Those were the armchair generals that kept up their demands for annexations until yesterday. Just like they fought a bitter fight against any reform of the constitution and especially the shameful Prussian electoral system. These enemies of the people hopefully are dealt with forever.The Kaiser has abdicated, he and his friends have vanished. Against them the people have won a total victory! Prince Max von Baden has turned over the position of Reich Chancellor to the MP [Friedrich] Ebert. Our friend will construct a worker’s government of which all socialist parties will be a part. The new government shall not be disturbed in its work for peace and its care for work and food. Workers and soldiers! Be aware of the historic meaning of this day. Incredible things have happened! Immense and immeasurable work lays before us. Everything for the people, everything through/by the people! Nothing shall happen that may dishonour the worker’s movement. Be united, loyal and dutiful! The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed. Long live he new; long live the German Republic!
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.