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Reichstag Fire Decree

The Reichstag Fire Decree (in German, Reichstagsbrandverordnung) is the commonly used abbreviation for the law that was passed by the Nazi government in direct response to the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933. It only took the government one day to pass it on February 28.

The actual name of the decree is Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat (Decree of the Reich President for the protection of people and state). Issued by the aging (and lapsing in and out of senility) Paul von Hindenburg on the grounds of Art. 48 subsection 2 of the constitution, which allowed the Reichspräsident to take any appropriate measure to remedy dangers to public safety, it represents one of the major steps in which the Nazi government established its rule, commonly referred to as Gleichschaltung.

It suspended most of the human rights set forth in the constitution of the 1919 Weimar Republic. Since the decree is quite exemplary of how the Nazis quite legally abolished all remainders of what makes a modern democracy, § 1 shall be reproduced in full:

German English Translation
§ 1. Die Artikel 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 und 153 der Verfassung des Deutschen Reichs werden bis auf weiteres außer Kraft gesetzt. Es sind daher Beschränkungen der persönlichen Freiheit, des Rechts der freien Meinungsäußerung, einschließlich der Pressefreiheit, des Vereins- und Versammlungsrechts, Eingriffe in das Brief-, Post-, Telegraphen- und Fernsprechgeheimnis, Anordnungen von Haussuchungen und von Beschlagnahmen sowie Beschränkungen des Eigentums auch außerhalb der sonst hierfür bestimmten gesetzlichen Grenzen zulässig. § 1.The articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153 of the constitution are suspended until further notice. It is therefore permissible to restrict the rights to personal freedom [meaning habeas corpus], freedom of speech, including the freedom of the press, the freedom to organize and assemble, the privacy of letters, mail, telegraphs and telephones, order searches and confiscations and restrict property, even if this is not otherwise provided for by present law.

In the following articles (§§ 2-5), the decree allowed the Reich government to seize state powers and introduced the death penalty for a large number of offenses. According to § 6, the law was put into effect immediately with its rendition.

The decree served Hitler well to have communist leaders arrested right before the upcoming elections. When the newly elected Reichstag first convened on March 23, 1933 to vote on the Enabling Act, most communist deputies were already jailed. The Reichstag Fire Decree was thus one of the major steps that allowed Hitler to seize power (see Gleichschaltung).

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