27 February 1933
On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag ( the German parliament ) was set alight. Even today we still do not know for sure who was responsible. Neither German socialists nor communists had ever resorted to such an act of terrorism previously. It was also obvious that, whoever might have been the incendiary, it was the Nazi regime which would gain from the Reichstag’s destruction. It was a perfectly timed propaganda gift for the Nazis who were seeking to circumvent constitutional restrictions in order to crush all democratic opposition.
It is interesting to note that of all the international journalists in Berlin, it was to Sefton Delmer, the Daily Express’ man in Berlin, that Hitler chose to direct his diatribe against communist anarchy as he watched the conflagration. ‘If this communist spirit got hold of Europe but for two months,’ the Fuhrer warned Delmer, ‘it would be all aflame like this building.’ The correspondent immediately understood what was required of him, as did his editor. The next day the newspaper led with the front page splash ‘The Reichstag in Flames Last Night. Daily Express Correspondent Accompanies Hitler into Blazing Building – Chancellor Vows Crushing Revenge on Reds,‘ while the second paragraph of the report asserted, as if it was a fact, that ‘the fire was the work of communist incendiaries.’1
The Express portrayed Hitler as a fire-defying hero bravely confronting the communists. The possibility that he might ( as some historians now believe to be the case ) have arranged the burning of the Reichstag as a pretext to arrest communists and other opponents of the regime was not even hinted at.2 This may have been what impressed the Nazis sufficiently to allow the newspaper to lead three days later with a front page Hitler interview exclusive – ‘Hitler’s Question to the Daily Express – Suppose the Reds had Set Fire to the House of Commons !‘ allowing the Fuhrer to explain his anti-communist purge on the paper’s front page without a single word of skeptical comment. In the concluding paragraph, under a sub headline of ‘Laws Too Liberal,’ Hitler assured the paper’s readers that ‘when the communist menace is stamped out the normal order of things shall return. Our laws were too liberal for me to be able to deal properly and safely with this Bolshevik underworld. But I myself am only too anxious for the normal state of affairs to be restored as soon as possible. First, however, we must crush communism out of existence.’3
- “The Reichstag in Flames Last Night”, the Daily Express 28 February 1933 p. 1 and D. Sefton Delmer, “Nothing Shall Stop Us Now”, the Daily Express, 28 February 1933 p. 1.
- See for instance Klaus P. Fischer (1995), Nazi Germany: A New History, Constable, London, 1995, p. 272.
- “Hitler’s Questions to Daily Express”, the Daily Express, 3 March 1933, p. 1.
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