Newly discovered account of 1933 Reichstag fire casts doubt on Nazi narrative

The seat of the German parliament was burned down on February 27, 1933. Dutch Communist Marinus van der Lubbe was convicted of arson and executed.

July 28, 2019 12:29
1 minute read.
The Reichstag building burns, February 27 1933

The Reichstag building burns, February 27 1933. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A previously undiscovered testimony has cast fresh doubt over the perpetrators behind the famous 1933 Reichstag fire.

The Reichstag was the seat of the German parliament. It was burned down on February 27, 1933; Dutch Communist Marinus van der Lubbe was convicted of arson by the Nazi government and executed by guillotine.

Van der Lubbe admitted committing the act alone, saying that he did it to rally fellow communists against fascist rule. Four other defendants in the trial were acquitted. The fire is considered by historians to be the pretext for the passing of the Nazi law called the Reichstag Fire Decree, nullifying many civil liberties of German citizens, allowing for the arrest of communists nationwide and increased police surveillance.

However, a publication by Germany's RND newspaper group may cast doubt on the accepted version of events.

An account by Hans-Martin Lennings, a former member of the Nazi paramilitary SA group, was found in the archives of a Hanover court. In the account, Lennings stated that he drove Van der Lubbe to the Reichstag on the night of the fire.

According to his testimony, when Lennings, Van der Lubbe and other SA members arrived they noticed "a strange smell of burning and there were clouds of smoke billowing through the rooms," indicating that the fire had already started when they arrived.

Lennings also stated in his testimony that he and several colleagues protested the arrest of van der Lubbe. He stated, "We were convinced that van der Lubbe could not possibly have been the arsonist, because according to our observation, the Reichstag had already been burning when we dropped him off there."

Lennings also claimed that he and other witnesses were detained and were forced to sign a notice denying any knowledge of the incident. Lennings said that to escape further punishment, he escaped to the former Czechoslovakia; several colleagues who were with him the night of the fire were executed.

The former SA member, who died in 1962, gave his testimony in a 1955 affidavit in the event that the Reichstag fire case ever went back to trial.

Van der Lubbe was posthumously pardoned by the German government in 2008, under a 1998 law lifting the convictions of people who committed crimes against the Nazi regime.

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