reichstag fire

The Burning of the reichstag

February 28, 1933

Just one month after President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany, the parliamentary building was burnt down.  To this day nobody knows who started the fire – many suspect the Nazis were responsible – but the implications were dramatic.  This is considered the start of the Holocaust because it enabled Hitler to consolidate his power and eliminate enemies and opposition.

The Reichstag Fire Decree

The decree consisted of six articles. Article 1 indefinitely suspended most of the civil liberties set forth in the Weimar Constitution, including habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone, not to mention the protection of property and the home. Articles 2 and 3 allowed the Reich government to assume powers normally reserved for the federal states. Articles 4 and 5 established draconian penalties for certain offenses, including the death penalty for arson to public buildings. Article 6 simply stated that the decree took effect on the day of its proclamation.

Consequences

Enabling Act

The Enabling Act came three weeks after the Reichstag Fire Decree and was used to further Hitler’s grasp on the German people.  It simply gave the Chancellor (Hitler) power to enact laws without the approval of the Reichstag.  Essentially it established him as the dictator.  The act was able to pass because there were fewer opposition members of parliament due to the arrests of Communists the weeks prior.