The Burning of the Reichstag

To the Editors:

I enjoyed Martin Filler’s comments on the new Berlin [“Berlin: The Lost Opportunity, NYR, November 1]. I live in Potsdam, and have watched how the grand promises of a new metropolis have turned into the disappointing reality of a Las Vegas. As a historian, however, I wanted to point out that most experts now believe that the Nazis did not “torch the Reichstag,” but that the young Dutch anarchist arrested in the building and later beheaded for the deed, Marinus van der Lubbe, indeed acted on his own. In his new standard work on Hitler, for example, Ian Kershaw shows how apparently genuine Hitler and Goebbels’s shock was upon hearing that the Reichstag was burning. Strangely enough, Hitler admired the architecture of the Reichstag, even though he loathed its purpose as a democratic assembly. That’s why he refused to let Albert Speer tear the burned-out hulk down to make space for their common “Germania”project.

Kevin Kennedy
Potsdam, Germany

Martin Filler replies:

I am indebted to Kevin Kennedy for pointing out to me the current state of informed opinion on Marinus van der Lubbe’s true role in the burning of the Reichstag, which during most of my life was assumed to have been the work of the Nazis, with the young Dutch anarchist as a hapless scapegoat.