A Berlin police chief on the Reichstag fire (1933)

This report on the Reichstag fire was written by Rudolf Diels, a Prussian police chief. Diels was one of the first on the scene on the night of the fire:

“When I pushed my way into the burning building, we had to climb over the bulging hoses of the Berlin fire brigade, although as yet there were few onlookers.

A few officers of my department were already engaged in interrogating Marinus van der Lubbe. Naked from the waist upwards, smeared with dirt and sweating, he sat in front of them, breathing heavily. He panted as if he had completed a tremendous task. There was a wild triumphant gleam in the burning eyes of his pale, haggard young face.

I sat opposite him in the police headquarters several times that night and listened to his confused stories. I read the Communist pamphlets he carried in his trouser pockets. They were of the kind which in those days were publicly distributed everywhere…

But meanwhile, things of a quite different nature had happened. Shortly after my arrival at the burning Reichstag, the National Socialist elite had arrived. Hitler and Goebbels had driven up in their large cars; Göering, Frick and Helldorf arrived.

One of Hitler’s chief adjutants came to look for me in the maze of corridors, now alive with the fire brigade and the police. He passed me Göering’s order to appear in the select circle. On a balcony jutting out into the Chamber, Hitler and his trusty followers were assembled. Hitler stood leaning his arms on the stone parapet of the balcony and stared silently into the red sea of flames.

The first hysterics were already over. As I entered, Goering came towards me. His voice was heavy with the emotion of the dramatic moment: ‘This is the beginning of the Communist revolt, they will start their attack now! Not a moment must be lost!’

Goering could not continue. Hitler turned to the assembled company. Now I saw that his face was purple with agitation and with the heat gathering in the dome. He shouted uncontrollably, as I had never seen him do before, as if he was going to burst:

‘There will be no mercy now. Anyone who stands in our way will be cut down. The German people will not tolerate leniency. Every Communist official will be shot where he is found. The Communist deputies must be hanged this very night. Everybody in league with the Communists must be arrested. There will no longer be any leniency for Social Democrats either’.”