The Reichstag fire

The German Reichstag building burning with plumes of smoke rising from the building
The German Reichstag building on fire

On 27 February 1933 the Reichstag building, which was home to the German Parliament, was burned down. The communists were blamed for the fire because a Dutch communist, called Van der Lubbe, was found in the building as it burned.

Hitler used the fire to the Nazi Party's advantage in two ways:

  • He expelled the communists from Parliament and imprisoned many communist leaders. This stopped them campaigning prior to the March elections.
  • He announced that the country was in danger from the communists during the election campaign. This encouraged many to vote for the Nazis, who were seen as anti-communist.
  • Hindenburg declared a state of emergency using Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. This resulted in newspapers being censored and personal letters and phone calls being checked. This is seen as the start of the end of democracy in Germany.

Both these actions helped the Nazis to win more seats in the election of 5 March 1933, increasing their share of the vote from 33 per cent to 44 per cent. This gave the Nazis and their allies, the German National People's Party (who won 8 per cent of the vote), a majority of 52 per cent in the Reichstag.

The Reichstag fire was so beneficial to the Nazis that it has been suggested they started it themselves.