February 27, 1933: Germany’s Reichstag building is set on fire.
Less than a month earlier, Adolf Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor and head of the new coalition government. At this time, he was not a dictator - he could still be impeded by President Paul von Hindenburg or by his Communist opponents in the Reichstag (the parliament) - to Hitler’s dismay.
Luckily (?) for him, on the evening of February 27, it was reported that the Reichstag building had caught fire, and Communist arsonists were the immediate suspects. Whether the Nazis had actually directly set fire to the building themselves remains unclear, but the Reichstag fire was the ultimate stroke of luck for their aims. Hitler and his propagandists were able to paint the event as the beginning of a Communist uprising and, feeding off German paranoia, the NSDAP could pass the momentous Reichstag Fire Decree (pictured above) and the equally momentous Enabling Act soon after. The first nullified key civil liberties of German citizens (such as the writ of habeas corpus, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications), while the latter allowed Hitler’s government to pass laws without the consent of parliament.
These events (along with the Reichstag fire itself) marked the beginning of Hitler’s (surprisingly legal) consolidation of power, and they exemplified Hermann Goering’s (frighteningly true) quote:
“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”