Reichstag Fire

Hitler’s position as Chancellor wasn’t very strong because the Nazis didn’t have a majority in the Reichstag. President Hindenburg also detested Hitler which didn’t strengthen his position at all. Hitler would, however, prove very difficult to control.

The first thing Hitler did was call a general election for 5th March. He hoped that the results would be more in his favour, that he’d get lots of votes for the Nazi Party and that they would get a majority of seats in the Reichstag. If he had strong control over parliament he knew he’d be able to create new laws.

Hitler began an election campaign that was full of violence and threats. There were around 70 people killed by the Nazis in the run up to the election.Hitler received lots of money to support his campaign from big businessmen in industry. He used Goebbels to spread the Nazi message via the media.

One week before the election, the Reichstag building was set on fire (27th February 1933). Nobody knows who actually started the fire but Hitler took the opportunity to blame the communists. A Dutch communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was found near the scene of the fire and was arrested. Hitler and Goebbels strategised and exaggerated the communist threat. This was to get rid of them as opposition to the Nazi Party. They made everyone believe that the communists were planning to takeover Germany. Their main political building going up in flames had rattled people enough for them to more easily believe Hitler’s exaggerations.

The day after the fire Hitler managed to persuade Hindenburg to sign the ‘Decree for the Protection of People and State’. It placed Germany in a state of emergency during which civil rights were suspended for the duration of the emergency. It allowed the Nazis complete control over arresting political enemies and it was legal according to the Weimar Constitution – Article 48 was there for the President to declare an emergency and Hitler had persuaded him that it was necessary. In the week after the fire and before the election, the Nazis arrested 4000 communists and the SA killed 51 Nazi opponents. The police did nothing. Communist and socialist newspapers were banned. All of this was done to secure a Nazi majority in parliament at the election.