Chance or Nazi plot? Exhumation of 1933 Reichstag fire 'arsonist' could show Hitler orchestrated blaze to stay in power

27 February 2023, 16:03

The Reichstag fire took place in 1933
The Reichstag fire took place in 1933. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

On this day 90 years ago, flamed engulfed Germany's parliament building - the Reichstag - six days before a national election, which historians say helped Adolf Hitler secure re-election as chancellor.

Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe confessed to the attack and was sentenced to death, aged 24. Then, and for a longer time afterwards, he was considered the sole perpetrator of the fire.

There have been some debates among some historians over whether the fire was simple dumb luck, handing Hitler his re-election, or whether it was an orchestrated manoeuvre by the Nazi Party to regain power.

Now, nearly 100 years on, van der Lubbe's body has been exhumed in the hope of finding a more definitive answer.

The main purpose of his exhumation was to determine whether it was indeed van der Lubbe that had been buried in the Leipzig South Cemetery.

The fire took place on this day in 1933
The fire took place on this day in 1933. Picture: Getty

But a pathologist is also examining his remains to see if there are any traces of toxins due to speculation that he had been given to confess to his crime, The Guardian reported.

There has been major support for the theory that it was solely van der Lubbe that committed the crime since Fritz Tobias published a book that argued the Reichstag fire was a "blind chance".

This theory argues that only one perpetrator could have carried out the attack as the Nazi party appeared surprised by the news, worrying that it was the beginning of a communist revolution.

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Van der Lubbe was also the only person arrested in the building at the time of the fire and was the only person who confessed to the crime.

But others believe that the "thoroughly prepared" nature of the arson attack suggests a larger plan beyond the capabilities of a mere 24-year-old communist.

“When it comes to the question of whether Marinus van der Lubbe could have carried out the arson attack all by himself, the evidence is overwhelming,” Carter Hett told the publication.

Marinus van der Lubbe
Marinus van der Lubbe. Picture: Getty

“There is no way he could have set fire to the plenary chamber within the 15 to 20 minutes at his disposal. He would have needed a hydrocarbon accelerant.”

“It is true that we are lacking any evidence as to how a link-up between Van der Lubbe and the SA could have come about,” Carter Hett added.

“It does still seem insane that they would have picked this unstable, almost blind young man as the fall guy.”

"Blind chance, an error" or Nazi plot?

Adolf Hitler used the fire to seize power in Germany
Adolf Hitler used the fire to seize power in Germany. Picture: Getty

Regardless of the cause of the fire, it is widely accepted that the chaos generated by the Reichstag fire helped Hitler to secure re-election as chancellor.

The fire, which was blamed on the "enemy within", took place just six days before the 1933 German federation.

Hitler was able to persuade Germany's president at the time to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree, suspending civil liberties in Germany.

A huge number of communists were arrested, including in the Reichstag, crippling communist participation in the election and helping Hitler to victory.

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