Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Reichstag Fire

Berliners watch the Reichstag burn

President Hindenburg finally agreed to install Adolf Hitler as chancellor on 30 January 1933 as part of a coalition – in the hope that Hitler might be able to garner a majority in the fractious and divided Reichstag (parliament). The coalition ministry contained only two other Nazis – Wilhelm Frick and Hermann Göring.

In response to the appointment, the Nazis staged torchlight processions – trumpeting the dawn of a new age for Germany.

Hitler failed to negotiate parliamentary support. On 1 February Hindenburg dissolved the Reichstag and ordered elections for 5 March.

On 27 February 1933, the immense Reichstag building, the focal point of Berlin’s imperial district, was set on fire and destroyed. Only the shell remained. It was a shocking act of terrorism.

In the midst of the public alarm that followed, Hitler presented President Hindenburg with an emergency decree, drafted by non-Nazi public servants, ‘for the protection of the people and the state’.

The decree abrogated basic civil rights. Hitler said that with this decree he could ‘try enemies of the state legally and deal with them in a way that will put an end to conspiracies once and for all.’

In the final week of the campaign, the Nazis rode the panic about the fire shamelessly – loudly blaming the Communist Party and whipping up hysteria about the communist menace. Today, there is widespread suspicion that the Nazis burnt the Reichstag.

Hermann Göring was Prussian minister for the interior – giving him control of security for almost two thirds of Germany. Immediately he installed Nazis in key positions. He ordered police not to interfere with Nazi brownshirts (the Sturmabteilung – storm troopers, or SA, which constituted the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party) but to shoot at communists. He also established a force of 50,000 auxiliary police – mostly brawling thugs of the Nazi SA and SS (the Schutzstaffel, or ‘guard detachment’ – or blackshirts – at this stage a small elite force theoretically part of the SA) – who simply pulled a white armband over their brown or black shirts to become the law.

On 5 March, having rigged the result, the Nazis increased their vote to 43.9 per cent (the highest they had ever received). It was still short of a majority, but the Nazis had enough coalition support for Hitler to remain as chancellor. There would be no need for more free elections.

The alleged perpetrators of the Reichstag fire were tried before judges of Germany's highest court - the Reichsgericht. Marinus van der Lubbe was convicted and executed. However, the four co-accused - Ernst Torgler, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov and Vasil Tanev - all officials of the Communist Party - were acquitted. Those acquittals prompted a furious Adolf Hitler to establish a 'People's Court' which would deal with so-called 'political' crimes.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The White Rose

Sophia Magdalena Scholl

9 May 1921 – 22 February 1943

Hans Fritz Scholl

22 September 1918 – 22 February 1943

Christoph Hermann Probst

6 November 1918 – 22 February 1943

Hans Scholl was a medical student. 

His sister Sophie was horrified by her boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel’s accounts of atrocities committed by Nazis on the eastern front.

She was a committed Christian, and her religious beliefs were an important motivation in her opposition to the Nazi regime.

Between June 1942 and February 1943, together with a group of their friends, they distributed anti war leaflets which also opposed Nazi rule. They called themselves 'The White Rose'.

On 18 February 1943 – shortly after the collapse at Stalingrad - Hans and Sophie Scholl brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the University of Munich and distributed them around the corridors for students to find at the change of lectures. Realising they had some left, they returned and climbed the stairs to the top of the atrium. Sophie spilled the remaining leaflets into the void.

The university porter saw this and came after them shouting ‘You’re under arrest!’ and rather than run, they decided to submit.

Sophie and Hans were interrogated by the Gestapo. 

Christoph Probst was a medical student and a member of the White Rose resistance group.

He was married with three children.

When Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested, Hans carried a draft of a further leaflet designed by Christoph Probst. The leaflet referred to Hitler as a ‘military conman’ and said that the war must be lost so that Germany could live on. 

The handwriting matched the letters Probst had sent Hans Scholl.

Christoph Probst was arrested by the Gestapo on 19 February 1943 as he was on his way to visit his newborn daughter Katja and his wife, who was unwell following childbirth. He underwent extensive interrogation. 

All three were charged with treason, while the People’s Court hurried down to Munich to try them.
At their trial on 22 February 1943 the Scholls' parents Robert and Magdalene were not permitted entry. When they tried to enter the courtroom. Magdalene said to the guard: ‘But I'm the mother of two of the accused!’ The guard responded: ‘You should have brought them up better.’

Robert Scholl forced his way into the courtroom and told the court that he was there to defend his children. He was seized and forcibly escorted outside. The entire courtroom heard him shout: ‘One day there will be another kind of justice! One day they will go down in history!’

Sophie told Roland Freisler:

Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did.

Later she said to him:

            You know the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it?

Freisler sentenced all three defendants to death - and the sentence was carried out that day.

Sophie walked to the guillotine a few hours later, with great courage. Confronting death, she said:

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

Christoph Probst was also guillotined that day, before his family knew that he had even been arrested.

He never saw Katja.

Helmuth von Moltke smuggled a copy of the offending pamphlet to the Allies, who distributed millions of them over Germany.