The Reichstag in flames. February 27, 1933. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park

February 27, 1933

Reichstag Fire Plunges Germany into Virtual Martial Law

On February 27, 1933, the German parliament (Reichstag) building burned down. Nazi leadership and Nationalist coalition partners exploited the fire to pass emergency legislation, paving the way for Nazi dictatorship.

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Reichstag, Communist, Hitler, Berlin, Goering, Van der Lubbe, Reich, Protection of the People and State, Protection of the German People

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On February 27, 1933, the German parliament (Reichstag) building in Berlin burned down due to arson. Though the origins of the fire are still unclear, the Nazi leadership and its coalition partners used the fire to falsely claim that Communists were planning a violent uprising. They claimed that emergency legislation was needed to prevent this. As early as February 4, 1933, Adolf Hitler’s cabinet had already used emergency powers to issue a Decree for the Protection of the German People that placed constraints on the press and authorized police to ban political meetings and marches. This had effectively hindered electoral campaigning. A temporary measure, it was now followed by a more dramatic and permanent suspension of civil rights and constitutional protections, paving the way for Nazi dictatorship.

Implemented on February 28, 1933, one day after the fire, the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and the State (popularly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree) suspended the right to assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other constitutional protections, including all restraints on police investigations. The decree permitted the regime to arrest and incarcerate political opponents without specific charge, to dissolve political organizations, and to confiscate private property. The decree also gave the regime the authority to overrule state and local laws and overthrow state and local governments. It remained in effect until Nazi Germany was defeated in May 1945.

The Nazi press described the Reichstag fire as the work of the Communists and a signal for their planned uprising. Even the US independent Fox Movie Tones newsreel reflected the German government version. Although the Communists had not, in fact, developed any plans for an uprising, the impact of propaganda and terror on existing fears of a Communist takeover convinced many Germans that Hitler’s decisive action had saved the nation from “Bolshevism.”

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Typically, daily newspapers reported news the morning after it occurred. However, some papers were printed in multiple editions, including evening news. If you are using an evening paper, begin your search on the same day as the event being researched.


February 27, 1933 - early March 1933 News articles, editorials, opinion pieces, letters-to-the-editor, and political cartoons about the Reichstag fire and its immediate aftermath.


March 1933 News articles, editorials, opinion pieces, letters-to-the-editor, and political cartoons about restrictive decrees and Nazi attacks on political opponents in the aftermath of the Reichstag fire.

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