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Who Set Fire to the Reichstag?

The Money you are going to save by not buying Adolf Hitler’s “My Battle” I most strongly urge you to spend on “The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror”, the American edition of which is being published by Alfred A. Knopf, the end of this month. A copy of the English edition having come into my possesson—it is published in London by Victor Gollancz, Ltd.—I am enabled now to convey a brief suggestion of its crowded and astonishing contents. But, I assure you, no matter how much I tell you about this book, I cannot tell you so much as to justify you in not purchasing a copy when the American edition is made available.

In the first place, “The Brown Book” is not a summary and analysis of facts about Germany which already have been made known in the newspapers in the form of unorganized despatches. It is based on original investigation. The book was prepared by an international committee, of which Albert Einstein is the president, and upon the basis of data furnished by investigators who risked their necks in Germany for what they brought out of it. The book makes its impact not through the force of tirade, or the originality of expression, but through the calm statement of data and document. The spirit is that of deliberate presentation of court evidence. There is very little in this book which is incompetent, irrelevant or immaterial.

The publication of the book is justified by the section on the burning of the Reichstag. It has been said that no foreigner in Germany believed that the accused Communists—whose trial at Leipzig has just begun—are guilty of having set fire to the Reichstag. The evidence in this book tells why. The evidence in this book traps the Nazis in more than thirty contradictions. It exonerates the accused completely. Whether the court at Leipzig will do likewise is a dubious matter. Furthermore, this book traces the mysterious deaths of Dr. Bell, who introduced the so-called Communist and tool, Van der Lubbe, to the Nazis who later employed him; Hanussen the clairvoyant in the confidence of the Nazis who predicted the Reichstag fire, and most important of all, of Dr. Oberfohren, the assistant whom Hugenberg was compelled to dismiss, to what they knew about the origin of the fire and the identity of those who wielded the torches. This book does more, and in the same calm spirit of evidence-stating; it accuses those it calls the real incendiaries—Goebbels as the man who proposed the idea; Goering as the man who carried it through, and, among the trusted tools who escaped the building, leaving only Van der Lubbe, so that real Communists might be implicated, Heines the Silesian storm troop chief and convicted murderer.

This book of evidence raises and answers several important questions in connection with the fire. Until these are answered more satisfactorily than they have been, the conclusion that the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag is simply inescapable, at least to this reviewer.

If the burning of the Reichstag was to be the signal for a Communist uprising, why was there not the least little flicker of an uprising?

Which of the political parties then functioning in Germany gained most by the fire and which was most badly damaged? The fact is that as a result of Nazi machinations and Nazi propaganda, that party won the subsequent elections in March and thus became enabled to beat down its Nationalist allies with whose numerical superiority in the Cabinet it had become impatient; and as a direct result of the fire, and the Nazi-promulgated belief that the Communists started it, the Communists became outlawed.

In what only manner could the incendiaries have escaped from the Reichstag? Only through the tunnel which led to Goering’s house, guarded at all times by thirty Storm Troopers. And Goering himself blundered into this admission.

Why were firemen who arrived promptly—in fact, too promptly—held off from entering the Reichstag until the flames had made more headway?

And why was it that hardly had the fire started when storm troopers who had been held in barracks through the day were told off to certain cafes to spread the rumor through the city that the Communists had fired the Reichstag, and why did Hitler, in an unguarded moment, at the beginning of the fire, express the hope that it would be proven that the Communists had applied the torch, before he had a shred of evidence? The answer to the last is that he must have known the purpose for which the Reichstag had been fired. And furthermore, by what trick of divination was it that a Nazi source of information telephoned certain newspapers that the Reichstag was in flames before the fire started? And why were the Reichstag guards, without reason, sent home hours earlier than the accustomed period? And in what manner could as much as a lorry-load of incriminating Communist propaganda material have been strewn about the halls of the Reichstag to help the fire along without detection by guards or members, excepting through the tunnel leading from Goering’s house? And by what miracle did the Nazis have ready 1,500 warrants, with photographs attached, and only the date written in ink, less than three hours after the fire had started?

One may not know a hawk from a handsaw, but the direction to which points the finger of this evidence is so unmistakable that one surely may be forgiven for violating editorial good manners by suggesting during the course of a trial that the accused are not guilty. Just in passing one might suggest that the Reichstag fire was the best thing that ever happened for the Nazi cause and that the Sacco-Vanzetti case was only a ping-pong tournament compared to it.

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