On February 27, 1933 the Reichstag, the main legislative building of the German state, was set ablaze by arsonists.
The event was key in the establishment of the growing authoritarian/fascist power of the new Nazi government who quickly moved to lay blame and assume emergency powers.
Communist party leadership (the biggest threat to Nazi authority) and members were blamed and quickly arrested. Whether the Nazis were complicit or not they used the event to galvanize popular support and secure a majority in the next election.
There was so little evidence to convict that four of the five people blamed eventually won the trial against them and were freed.
On the following March 2 the Nazis were able to convince the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act 444-94 transferring all legislative authority to the Reich Cabinet effectively establishing the dictatorship which led to World War 2, the holocaust and the other atrocities of the Nazis.
There was opposition to the Enabling Act but it was small as evidenced by the vote. Otto Wels of the Social Democrats spoke in the Reichstag against the passing of the act warning of the authority it gave a party that already held a majority:
“Since there has been a German Reichstag, never before has the control of public affairs by the people’s elected representatives been reduced to such an extent as is happening now – and will happen even more, through the new Enabling Act. The expansive power of the government must also have serious repercussions, as the press too lacks any freedom of expression.“
But in the wake of WW1 and the economic crisis that ensued along with the recent fire at the Reichstag and the Nazi propaganda machine working overtime to convince the people of conspiracy and enemies all around seeking to undermine the will of the German people.
When people feel oppressed, when they feel hopeless and attacked they deeply desire to believe leaders who claim they can help them. Despite a lack of evidence they will believe them when they lift up scapegoats for self-serving and sacrificial means and it is difficult to convince them otherwise.
None of these things comes close to justifying what occurred and what the Nazis did. Nothing will. They simply provided fertile soil for mass numbers of people to abdicate moral and ethical responsibilities to the state.
We need to remember and be reminded of our history.