In late February 1933, a deliberately lit fire took hold inside the Reichstag building in Berlin, causing extensive damage to much of the building’s interior. Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist (NSDAP) government responded by drafting and passing this emergency edict, later dubbed the Reichstag Fire Decree. It was an important stepping stone in the path towards Nazi totalitarianism:
“A decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and State, dated February 28th 1933.
On the basis of Article 48, Section Two, of the German Constitution, the following is decreed as a defensive measure against Communist acts of violence that endanger the state:
Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications, and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property are permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.
If any state fails to take the necessary measures to restore public safety and order, the Reich Government may temporarily take over the powers of the highest state authority.
State and local authorities must obey the orders decreed by the Reich government on the basis of Section 2.
Whoever provokes, appeals for or incites the disobedience of the orders given out by the supreme state authorities or the authorities subject to them for the execution of this decree, or the orders given by the Reich government according to Section Two, can be punished – insofar as the deed is not covered by other decrees with more severe punishments – with imprisonment of not less than one month, or with a fine from 150 to 15,000 Reichsmarks.
Whoever endangers human life by violating Section 1 is to be punished by sentence to a penitentiary, under mitigating circumstances with imprisonment of not less than six months and, when the violation causes the death of a person, with death, under mitigating circumstances with a penitentiary sentence of not less than two years. In addition, the sentence may include the confiscation of property. Whoever provokes or incites an act contrary to the public welfare is to be punished with a penitentiary sentence, under mitigating circumstances, with imprisonment of not less than three months.
The crimes which under the Criminal Code are punishable with life in a penitentiary are to be punished with death: i.e., in Sections 81 (high treason), 229 (poisoning), 306 (arson), 311 (explosion), 312 (flooding), 315, paragraph 2 (damage to railways), 324 (general public endangerment through poison). Insofar as a more severe punishment has not been previously provided for, the following are punishable with death or with life imprisonment or with imprisonment not to exceed 15 years:
1. Anyone who undertakes to kill the Reich President or a member or a commissioner of the Reich Government or of a state government, or provokes such a killing, or agrees to commit it, or accepts such an offer, or conspires with another for such a murder.
2. Anyone who under Section 115, paragraph 2, of the Criminal Code (serious rioting) or of Section 125, paragraph 2, of the Criminal Code (serious disturbance of the peace) commits these acts with arms or cooperates consciously and intentionally with an armed person
3. Anyone who commits a kidnapping under Section 239 of the Criminal Code with the intention of making use of the kidnapped person as a hostage in the political struggle.
This decree enters into force on the day of its promulgation.
President, Paul von Hindenburg
Chancellor, Adolf Hitler
Minister of the Interior, Herr Frick
Minister of Justice, Dr Gürtner