The Reichstag Fire

Nazi Germany

The Reichstag Fire and subsequent Enabling Act transformed Hitler from being ‘just another Chancellor’ into a leader with powers well beyond those usually associated with democratic systems. The Reichstag Fire and Enabling Act allowed the Nazi’s to consolidate their power base and lay down the foundations for what became their totalitarian state. The following resources relate to the Reichstag Fire.

Video providing an overview of the Reichstag Fire and Enabling Act.

The Reichstag Fire

My original intention had been to write a reasonably detailed account of the Reichstag Fire and the subsequent court case. My time has been saved through two well timed news / social media alerts about articles about the Reichstag Fire. have an excellent description of the events surrounding the Reichstag Fire. Though quite lengthy the article ought to be accessible for many GCSE pupils. It provides a good summary of what actually happened; who van der Lubbe was; what he claimed; the Nazi claims against Van der Lubbe; alternative theories about the cause of the fire and of the way in which Hitler and the Nazi Party were able to manipulate the fire for their own political ends. In short, it covers everything a good GCSE candidate ought to know!

What caused the Reichstag Fire? is a very useful read for students wanting to look at the historiography relating to the Reichstag Fire. It outlines the known facts before looking at the manner in which the investigation took place. Included in the article are references to official and foreign reports on the trial – which were rather different! The article then looks at the way that the fire was interpreted after the war and explains reasons why evidence presented by several key individuals may have changed between 1934 and 1945/6. It’s conclusion is interesting in that it does not point the finger of blame at anyone or any party. Rather, it points out that historians and forensic science have drawn different conclusions about who was to blame for the fire.

Eyewitness History covers the fire in it’s usual style. The documents that this entry use are the reports of Hitler’s speech following the fire. The speech was reported by D. Sefton Delmar, a journalist for the London Daily Express.

In terms of classroom resources and activities there was one particular activity that immediately struck me as being outstanding for a study of the Reichstag Fire. This roleplay (Word Document) was created by John D Clare is association with Richard Jones Nerzic some ten years ago. It has definitely stood the test of time and has resulted in some excellent work being produced. Below is a video of Richard utilising part of the roleplay with one of his classes:

A similar – indeed possibly updated – version of the Roleplay can be found on along with a prompt sheet.

Alternatively, this powerpoint on the TES website could be used to structure a lesson on the Reichstag Fire. It also incorporates a roleplay and has a number of short written tasks and sources within the presentation.