The arson of the German parliament building was allegedly the work of a Communist-sympathizing Dutchman, van der Lubbe. More probably, the fire was started by the Nazis, who used the incident as a pretext to outlaw political opposition and impose dictatorship.
"This is a God-given signal! If this fire, as I believe, turns out to be the handiwork of Communists then there is nothing that shall stop us now crushing out this murder pest with an iron fist."
Adolf Hitler, Fascist Chancellor of Germany, made this dramatic declaration in my presence tonight in the hall of the burning Reichstag building.
The fire broke out at 9.45 tonight in the Assembly Hall of the Reichstag.
It had been laid in five different comers and there is no doubt whatever that it was the handiwork of incendiaries. One of the incendiaries, a man aged thirty, was arrested by the police as he came rushing out of the building, clad only in shoes and trousers, without shirt or coat, despite the icy cold in Berlin tonight.
Five minutes after the fire had broken out I was outside the Reichstag watching the flames licking their way up the great dome into the tower.
A cordon had been flung round the building and no one was allowed to pass it.
After about twenty minutes of fascinated watching I suddenly saw the famous black motor car of Adolf Hitler slide past, followed by another car containing his personal bodyguard.
I rushed after them and was just in time to attach myself to the fringe of Hitler's party as they entered the Reichstag.
Never have I seen Hitler with such a grim and determined expression. His eyes, always a little protuberant, were almost bulging out of his head.
Captain Goring, his right-hand man, who is the Prussian Minister of the Interior, and responsible for all police affairs,
joined us in the lobby. He had a very flushed and excited face.
'This is undoubtedly the work of Communists, Herr Chancellor,' he said.
'A number of Communist deputies were present here in the Reichstag twenty minutes before the fire broke out. We have succeeded in arresting one of the incendiaries.'
'Who is he?' Dr Goebbels, the propaganda chief of the Nazi Party, threw in.
'We do not know yet,' Captain Goring answered, with an ominously determined look around his thin, sensitive mouth. 'But we shall squeeze it out of him, have no doubt, doctor.'
We went into a room. 'Here you can see for yourself, Herr Chancellor, the way they started the fire,' said Captain Goring, pointing out the charred remains of some beautiful oak panelling.
'They hung cloths soaked in petrol over the furniture here and set it alight.'
We strode across another lobby filled with smoke. The police barred the way. 'The candelabra may crash any moment, Herr Chancellor,' said a captain of the police, with his arms outstretched.
By a detour we next reached a part of the building which was actually in flames. Firemen were pouring water into the red mass.
Hitler watched them for a few moments, a savage fury blazing from his pale blue eyes. Then we came upon Herr von Papen, urbane and debonair as ever. Hitler stretched out his hand and uttered the threat against the Communists which I have already quoted. He then turned to Captain Goring. 'Are all the other public buildings safe?' he questioned.
'I have taken every precaution,' answered Captain Goring. 'The police are in the highest state of alarm, and every public building has been specially garrisoned. We arc waiting for anything.'
It was then that Hitler turned to me. 'God grant', he said, 'that this is the work of the Communists. You are witnessing the beginning of a great new epoch in German history. This fire is the beginning.'
And then something touched the rhetorical spring in his brain. 'You see this flaming building,' he said, sweeping his hand dramatically around him. 'If this Communist spirit got hold of Europe for but two months it would be all aflame like this building.'
By 12.30 the fire had been got under control. Two Press rooms were still alight, but there was no danger of the fire spreading. Although the glass of the dome has burst and crashed to the ground the dome still stands.
So far it has not been possible to disentangle the charred debris and see whether the bodies of any incendiaries, who may have been trapped in the building, are among it.
At the Prussian Ministry of the Interior a special meeting was called late tonight by Captain Goring to discuss measures to be taken as a consequence of the fire.
The entire district from the Brandenburg Gate, on the west, to the River Spree, on the east, is isolated tonight by numerous cordons of police.