year, 1933, was however the year of the
Big Lie. On Monday evening February 27
occurred one of the most controversial
episodes of the whole era. Hitler had
come to dine with the Goebbels family.
Shortly, Goebbels was called away to
take a phone call from Hitler's friend
Ernst 'Putzi' Hanfstaengl, a
well-known prankster. Hanfstaengl
shouted excitedy that the Reichstag
building was on fire. Since Goebbels
had twitted him with a phone call only
days before, he ignored the call.
Hanfstaengl phoned again, this time to
report that he could see flames leaping
out of the Reichstag's cupola.
Goebbels tried to phone the Reichstag;
nobody answered-- small wonder, because
a phone call to the Brandenburg Gate
police station confirmed that the
Reichstag was on fire. They drove off
at top speed down the Charlottenburg
world's press clamoured that the Nazis
themselves had started the blaze. With
this author's discovery of the missing
Goebbels Diary entries in Moscow, that
version is finally laid to rest. He,
Hitler, and Göring were equally
stunned by the news.
summons me to the Kaiserhof [the
unpublished entry begins]. He's
enthusiastic about my [radio]
commentaries. Says Munich and Nuremberg
were really great... Hitler fabulous as
always... Back home to work. Much to
do. At nine P.M. Hitler and Auwi
[Prince August-Wilhelm] come
over. Music and gossip. Then
Hanfstaengl phones: says the
Reichstag's burning. What an
imagination! But turns out to be true.
Race straight down there with Hitler.
The entire building a mass of flames.
[We] go in. Göring
follows. Papen, whose acquaintance I
thus make, is also there. Thirty arson
sites. Fires set by the communists.
Göring rampant, Hitler raging,
Papen clear-headed. The main assembly
chamber a picture of devastation. So
take action now! ... To work! Hitler
consults with Papen. We meet back at
the Kaiserhof. Everybody beaming. This
was the last straw. Now we're well
away. Culprit caught, a twenty-four
year old Dutch communist.
interrogated now,' Göring told
them. 'We decided straight away,'
Goebbels related at the subsequent
trial, 'to ban the communist press and
later the social democrat press too,
and to take the top communist officials
ordered the S.A. to stand by in case of
an all-out communist uprising. At
midnight Hitler and Goebbels hurried
over to the Völkischer
Beobachter's Berlin office. It took
half an hour even to get into the
sleeping building, and more time was
wasted while printworkers, compositors
and a surly sub-editor were found.
There was no sign of Rosenberg himself,
the editor. Devouring the proofs of the
next day's edition, Hitler finally
found the sensational news tucked away
in the Berlin in Brief column ('Fire
damage to the Reichstag'). 'Man, are
you mad,' he shouted at the subeditor.
'This is an event on a colossal scale!'
drove over to the VB [Goebbels'
diary continues]. It is really
badly laid out. Hitler sets to work
there straight away. I dictate a new
gau poster and a fabulous article ...
During the night all communist party
officials are arrested. Entire
communist and social democrat press
banned. Good work done... Over to
Hitler at Kaiserhof. He's delighted
with my article. It is half-past five
in the morning... Two S.A. men shot in
Berlin. To sleep at seven. Three hours.
Then straight back to work !
The fire was a
Godsend to the Nazi radicals. Goebbels
was already disquieted by the speed
with which Hitler and even Göring
were succumbing to Hindenburg's
bourgeois spell. This lone communist
fire-raiser had rescued the revolution.
During the night he sent for the
journalist Alfred-Ingemar Berndt
to take down a fiery press release.
Goebbels' press release announced the
sweeping arrests, and described the
Reichstag fire as a communist beacon, a
signal for a marxist insurrection. This
was as much a lie as the claim by
Jewish and communist agencies worldwide
that the Nazis had staged the fire.
Even the authoritative Manchester
Guardian published a dispatch from
an anonymous special correspondent
alleging that Hitler, Göring, and
Goebbels had foregathered in Berlin
that evening 'awaiting their fire.'
press readily copied this Big Lie, and
historians in time adopted it from