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France (37)

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Reichstag fire

Marinus Van der Lubbe Guilty ?

Reichstag fire

It is the founding act of the Nazi regime. Already chancellor, Hitler must win the legislative elections of March 5, 1933. At any cost. The burning of the parliament, attributed to a communist plot, is timely. Even if the shadow of SA hangs over the attack ... But it will be until 1993 and the opening of the mysterious “Fund n. 551” to find out what really happened.

Passers-by do not believe their eyes. However, it is many flames that suddenly burst the roof of the Parliament building. The Reichstag is burning! The schupos (police) rush to the imposing building with the firefighters. It is a little more than 8 pm, this February 27, 1933. The meeting room is at the heart of the blaze, we immediately detect several starts of fire, the fire is not accidental. The new Chancellor Hitler, established in office on January 30, went to the scene. Beside him, Goebels, in charge of propaganda, and Hermann Goering, Minister of the Interior of Prussia and president of the Reichstag. For the three men, this attack is unexpected. The führer did not reach the chancellery until after ministerial intrigue, alliances of circumstances, and sinuous negotiations. His power remains fragile, he depends on the goodwill of the Deutschnational party, he is at the mercy of a coup or an electoral breakthrough by the left parties. Hitler and the Nazis must win the legislative elections on March 5. Question of survival.

The day after the Reichstag fire, the Goering police exhibited their culprit, Marinus Van der Lubbe, twenty-four years old, a mason by trade, Dutch and anarcho-communist. He was found in the corridors of the parliament, half suffocating, barely saved from the flames he had himself lit. Questioned by Commissioner Walter Zirpins, he admitted the facts, but denied having acted on the orders of the Communists. What does it matter! The plot is proven; in the hours that follow, we track down accomplices and sponsors. Leader of the Communist group in the Reichstag, Ernst Torgler is arrested, as are three Bulgarian Communists, including one responsible for the Comintern (the Third International), Gueorgui Dimitrov. Hitler snatches from old President Hindenburg an emergency decree abolishing the guarantee of civil and individual liberties, roundups take place in the ranks of opponents of the Nazi party, the social-communist press is prohibited. And on March 5, 1933, the National Socialists allied with the Deutschnational won 51.8% of the vote. German democracy has lived.

As for the trial of the authors of the Reichstag fire, which began on September 21, in Leipzig, it is not surprising. Marinus Van der Lubbe, prostrate, behaves like an automaton capable only of answering guilty. Sentenced to death on December 23, 1933, he was beheaded on January 10. But, strangely, the other four accused, accused with Van der Lubbe of having wanted to start a “communist insurrection”, obtain release. There would therefore still be impartial justice in Germany! Or is it a propaganda maneuver orchestrated by Goebbels for international opinion? Or something else, more complex? On February 15, 1934, Gueorgui Dimitrov and his two comrades adopted Soviet nationality. On the 27th, they arrived in Moscow, carriers - we will learn much later - of a message from Rudolph Diels, the head of the Gestapo: "We want to have good relations with the Soviet Union." It is all confusing. Many people, however, remain convinced that Marinus Van der Lubbe, who left the Dutch Communist Party in 1931, is just a scapegoat, a poor red rag agitated by the Nazis at the right time. Moreover, in 1938, a prison director by the name of Brucks wrote to the Reich prosecutor that he had obtained, at the time of the trial, the confessions of a member of the Hitler SA, a certain Rail, certifying that the Reichstag fire was the work of Section 17 of the SA. But Rail is assassinated, his file has disappeared from prison and Brucks dies unexplained.

At the beginning of the 1950s, there was still an unsuccessful attempt to prove the innocence of Van der Lubbe and the guilt of the Nazis in the Reichstag fire. All of the trial documents appear to have been lost. At the same time, a former leader of the Austrian and then German communist parties, Ruth Fischer, said that the three Bulgarians, led by Dimitrov, were acquitted following secret collusion between the Nazis and the Soviets. However, Ruth's testimony will be excluded until the publication, in 1997, of the Journal of ... Gueorgui Dimitrov, Bulgarian Prime Minister from 1946 to 1949. Collusion, therefore, but this does not clarify the exact role played by Marinus Van der Lubbe. In 1959, a dramatic coup, the West German magazine Der Spiegel published several articles in which it was revealed that Van der Lubbe was the only culprit in the Reichstag fire. Nazis and Communists are cleared from the pen of the German historian Fritz Tobias and following the allegations of Commissioner Walter Zirpins, who had interrogated the suspect. Hauptsturmführer (SS captain) on an honorary basis during the war, Zirpins then peacefully pursued his career and became director of the Hanoverian police. In support of his testimony, Der Spiegel propagates the thesis that Hitler only exploited a providential fire. And the proponents of other theses are systematically accused of using falsified documents. Until 1993. Eleven years earlier, all the documents relating to the affair, seized in 1945 by the Soviets, had been returned to the archives of the East German Communist Party under the name of “Fund n. 551”. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, they were transferred to the federal archives of Postdam, recognized as authentic and finally opened to historians.

Consequently, the “Fund n. 551” delivers most of the machinery of the scheme. Marinus Van der Lubbe was a perfect culprit. He frequented a Berlin left-wing organization independent of Moscow: the aim was to provide a potential ally. This organization (the AAU) was infiltrated by Nazi agents, including Wilfried Van Oven, future press officer for Goebbels and, after the war, correspondent for ... Der Spiegel in Argentina. Marinus was probably brought into the Reichstag against his will, through portal 2, and prevented from leaving it. The real arsonists, who came by the same route, consisted of Nazis, but also of some of their close allies from the Deutschnational party of Hindenburg and the Stalhelm (Steel Helmets, veterans association). Officially, Goebbels was notified of the Reichstag fire by a phone call from the head of the foreign press, the Nazi Ernst Hanfstaengl, who is supposed to be staying in the Reichstag palace. In reality, Reichstag doorman Paul Adermann told police that Hanfstaengl had never stayed at the palace and that he was not in parliament anyway that evening. So who warned Goebbels if not the arsonists? Adermann was not summoned by the Leipzig judges. Arrests of opponents, according to Zirpins in Der Spiegel, “in reaction” to the Reichstag fire were scheduled several hours before the facts. The “Fund n. 551” also indicates that two other people were arrested at the same time as Van der Lubbe, while fleeing from the Reichstag. Wilhelm Heise, a prominent Nazi activist, and Dr. Albrecht, a National Socialist deputy, were quickly released.

The executioner was supplied with a communist, but a communist who had no connection with Moscow. And we sent safely back to Moscow senior officials of the Comintern. The first step towards the German-Soviet pact was taken on February 27, 1933. However, certain pages of the “Fund n. 551” are missing. The fact remains that the magazine Der Spiegel never went back on its assertion of the guilt of Marinus Van der Lubbe in the Reichstag fire. There are truths that continue to disturb. Long time.