A fresh investigation into responsibility for the Reichstag fire, from historian and former trial lawyer Hett (History/Hunter Coll.; Crossing Hitler: The Man Who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand, 2008, etc.).
The fire broke out on the night of February 27,1933, just a few weeks after Hitler became chancellor; the hysteria created by the Nazis around it, blaming the communists, allowed him a convenient way to dissolve civil liberties, persecute his enemies (lists had already been drawn up) and launch the beginning of the Nazi police state. In the flaming building, one crazed Dutch-German émigré, Marinus van der Lubbe, was arrested and confessed to being the lone arson, yet experts then and now are fairly convinced that such a fast-moving fire could not have been set without the aid of flammable substances like kerosene, which van der Lubbe did not possess. Hett carefully sifts the record, examining the many contradictory accounts by witnesses, firemen, police, government leaders, Nazis, communists and prisoners, at the time of the fire, as well as the subsequent trial of van der Lubbe and three Bulgarian Communists picked up as accomplices (the latter three were acquitted). The author also follows the story for many years following the event, after denazification had prompted the altering of public opinion and cleansed personal records. These denazified ex-officials received new life with the publication of Fritz Tobias’ Der Spiegel articles in the winter of 1959-60, in which he argued for the lone arson theory and absolved Hitler and the Nazis of plotting the fire for political gain. Tobias’ account was accepted ever since as the “dominant narrative,” at least in Germany, now challenged with authority by Hett.
This painstaking new examination of evidence surrounding the Reichstag fire lays blame squarely with the ascendant Nazis and underscores deeper notions about nationalism, complicity and guilt.