GHDI logo

Cabinet Discussion of the Reichstag Fire and Necessary Changes in the Law (March 7, 1933)

On March 7, 1933, two days after the elections, the new cabinet discussed the fate of the arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe. The following excerpt reveals the general contempt that the new government felt for the constitutional state [Rechtsstaat]. But it also shows how limited Hitler’s power still was at this point. At his later trial, van der Lubbe was sentenced to death for treason and arson.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 2

Minutes of the Conference of Ministers on March 7, 1933

[ . . . ]

The Reich Minister of the Interior [Frick] spoke about the Reichstag fire and the punishment of the culprits, and stated that it was urgently necessary to hang van der Lubbe at once, and that this needed to happen on Königsplatz at that. To be sure, the law that currently applied to arson only provided for a prison sentence, but it had to be possible to impose the penalty of death by hanging for such a heinous crime and to apply it retroactively. The principle of nulla poena sine lege should not be applied without restriction. Professor Dr. Nagler (Breslau), Professor Dr. von Weber (Jena), and Professor Dr. Öttler (Würzburg) had rendered opinions to this effect.

The Reich Minister of the Interior then reported on the substance of the opinions as enclosed.

The Chancellor stressed the fact that, in his opinion also, it was urgently necessary to hang van der Lubbe. The German public absolutely expected this. He could not recognize the doctrine of “the law must be observed,” if the entire national life had to perish as a result.

Reich Minister Göring stated that the Reichstag fire had been previously announced at four different places. Whether the person arrested at the Belgian border had any connection with the deed was still uncertain. In the meantime, however, it had become known that van der Lubbe had already been summoned to court three times in Holland.

He [Göring] had seized the Karl Liebknecht House. A special commission for the struggle against the German Communist party was to be installed there.

The attempt planned on the life of the Chancellor in Königsberg was serious. It had been carefully prepared. Three persons had also been arrested. It was necessary to await the results of the investigation.

The Reich Chancellor stated that, as far as his person was concerned, he had no fears of assassination. The consequences of a successful attempt would, however, be terrible for the public. In that event, 100,000 Communists would probably be killed.

State Secretary Dr. Schlegelberger stated that he agreed entirely with the view of the Reich Chancellor that the law had to be adjusted to the circumstances.

A preliminary investigation of van der Lubbe had opened today (March 7) on grounds of high treason and arson.

first page < previous   |   next > last page