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Reichstag

Hitler and the Reichstag Fire

In Jan., 1933, when Adolf Hitler became chancellor without an absolute majority, the Reichstag was dissolved and new elections were set for Mar. 5; a violent election campaign ensued. On Feb. 27, 1933, a fire destroyed part of the Reichstag building. Hitler immediately accused the Communists of having set the fire. President von Hindenburg proclaimed a state of emergency and issued decrees suspending freedom of speech and assembly. The elections gave a bare majority of seats to Hitler's National Socialists (Nazis; see National Socialism) and their allies, the German Nationalists. Severe measures were taken against the Communist party, and its deputies were barred from the Reichstag.

On Mar. 23 the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave the government, i.e., Hitler, dictatorial powers. Only the Social Democrats dissented. In the sensational Reichstag fire trial of 1933, a Dutchman named Marinus van der Lubbe was charged with having set the fire as part of a Communist plot. Several Communist leaders, including Georgi Dimitrov, were charged with complicity. Van der Lubbe was sentenced to death; the others were found not guilty. For many years it was assumed outside Germany that the Reichstag fire was carried out by the Nazis themselves as a propaganda maneuver to ensure the defeat of the Communists and other leftist parties in the elections. However, later evidence indicated that Van der Lubbe alone set the fire, and that Hitler merely used it as a pretext to launch a campaign against the Communists. During Hitler's rule, the Reichstag was merely summoned from time to time to approve important government measures. The Reichsrat was abolished in 1934, along with sovereignty of the German states.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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