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On This Day… The Reichstag Fire Decree

Written by: George Chittenden : 07 Jul 2019

It was on this day, 28th February, back in 1933 when German President Paul von Hindenburg issued a document that would have devastating effects in the years that followed. That document was the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State, which is commonly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree and it suspended important provisions of the German constitution, especially those safeguarding individual rights and due process of law. The decree permitted the restriction of the right to assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and it removed all restraints on police investigations.

It allowed Hitler to arrest and incarcerate political opponents without specific charge, dissolve political organisations, and suppress publications not considered "friendly" to the Nazi cause. Bottom line it allowed the establishment of a one-party Nazi state in Germany. Only weeks earlier on Jan 30th Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of Germany when he’d been invited by President von Hindenburg, who was eighty-seven at the time, to lead a coalition government. Then disaster struck on Feb 27th when a fire broke out in the Reichstag building, home of the German parliament in Berlin.

President Paul von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler

President Paul von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler

While the exact circumstances of the fire remain unclear to this day, we do know that Hitler and his supporters quickly capitalised on the fire as a means by which to speed their consolidation of power. Hitler almost immediately blamed the Communist Party of Germany and advised President Paul von Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree in immediate response to the fire.

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