Goering: Reichstag Fire

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 84, Hermann Goering is cross-examined by Justice Jackson, the chief US prosecutor.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Now, in tracing the rise of power of the Party you have omitted some such things as, for example, the Reichstag Fire of 27 February 1933. There was a great purge following that fire, was there not, in which many people were arrested and many people were killed?

Goering: I do not know of a single case where a man was killed because of the Reichstag fire, except that of the incendiary Van der Lubbe, who was sentenced by the court. The other two defendants in this trial were acquitted. Herr Thalmann was not, as you recently erroneously believed, accused; it was the communist representative, Torgler. He was acquitted, as was also the Bulgarian Dimitroff. Relatively few arrests were made in connection with the Reichstag fire. The arrests that you attribute to the Reichstag fire are the arrests of communist functionaries. These arrests, as I have repeatedly stated and wish to emphasize once more, had nothing to do with this fire. The fire merely precipitated their arrest and upset our carefully planned action, thus allowing several of the functionaries to escape.

Mr. Justice Jackson: In other words, you had lists of Communists already prepared at the time of the Reichstag fire of persons who should be arrested, did you not?

Goering: We had always drawn up, beforehand, fairly complete lists of communist functionaries who were to be arrested. That had nothing to do with the fire in the German Reichstag.

Mr. Justice Jackson: They were immediately put into execution--the arrests, I mean--after the Reichstag fire?

Goering: Contrary to my intention of postponing this action for a few days and letting it take place according to plan, thereby perfecting the arrangements, the Fuehrer ordered that same night that the arrests should follow immediately. This had the disadvantage, as I said, of precipitating matters.

Mr. Justice Jackson: You and the Fuehrer met at the fire, did you not?

Goering: That is right.

Mr. Justice Jackson: And then and there you decided to arrest all the Communists that you had listed?

Goering: I repeat again that the decision for their arrests had been reached some days before this; it simply meant that on that night they were immediately arrested. I would rather have waited a few days according to plan; then some of the important men would not have escaped.

Mr. Justice Jackson: And the next morning the decree was presented to President Von Hindenburg, suspending the provisions of the constitution which we have discussed here, was it not?

Goering: I believe so, yes.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Who was Karl Ernst?

Goering: Karl Ernst--whether his first name was Karl I do not know--was the SA leader of Berlin.

Mr. Justice Jackson: And who was Helldorf?

Goering: Count Helldorf was the subsequent SA leader of Berlin.

Mr. Justice Jackson: And Heines?

Goering: Heines was the SA leader of Silesia at that time.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Now, it is known to you, is it not, that Ernst made a statement confessing that these three burned the Reichstag and that you and Goebbels planned and furnished the incendiary materials of liquid phosphorus and petroleum which were deposited by you in a subterranean passage for them to get, which passage led from your house to the Reichstag building? You knew of such a statement, did you not?

Goering: I do not know of any statement by the SA leader Ernst. But I do know of some fairytale published shortly after in the foreign press by Rohm's chauffeur. This was after 1934.

Mr. Justice Jackson: But there was such a passage from the Reichstag building to your house, was there not?

Goering: On one side of the street is the Reichstag building, and opposite is the palace of the Reichstag president, The two are connected by a passage along which the wagons run which carry the coke for the central heating.

Mr. Justice Jackson: And, in any event, shortly after this, Ernst was killed without a trial and without a chance to tell his story, was he not?

Goering: That is not correct. The Reichstag fire was in February 1933. Ernst was shot on 30 June 1934, because together with Rohm he had planned to overthrow the Government and had plotted against the Fuehrer. He, therefore, had a year and a quarter in which he could have made statements regarding the Reichstag fire, if he had wished to do so.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Well, he had begun to make statements, had he not, and you were generally being accused of burning the Reichstag building? You knew that, did you not? That was the ...

Goering: That accusation that I had set fire to the Reichstag came from a certain foreign press. That could not bother me because it was not consistent with the facts. I had no reason or motive for setting fire to the Reichstag. From the artistic point of view I did not at all regret that the assembly chamber was burned; I hoped to build a better one. But I did regret very much that I was forced to find a new meeting place for the Reichstag and, not being able to find one, I had to give up my Kroll Opera House, that is, the second State Opera House, for that purpose. The opera seemed to me much more important than the Reichstag.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Have you ever boasted of burning the Reichstag building, even by way of joking?

Goering: No. I made a joke, if that is the one you are referring to, when I said that, after this, I should be competing with Nero and that probably people would soon be saying that, dressed in a red toga and holding a lyre in my hand, I looked on at the fire and played while the Reichstag was burning. That was the joke. But the fact was that I almost perished in the flames, which would have been very unfortunate for the German people, but very fortunate for their enemies.

Mr. Justice Jackson: You never stated then that you burned the Reichstag?

Goering: No. I know that Herr Rauschning said in the book that he wrote, and which has often been referred to here, that I had discussed this with him. I saw Herr Rauschning only twice in my life and only for a short time on each occasion. If I had set fire to the Reichstag, I would presumably have let that be known only to my closest circle of confidants, if at all. I would not have told it to a man whom I did not know and whose appearance I could not describe at all today. That is an absolute distortion of the truth.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Do you remember the luncheon on Hitler's birthday in 1942 at the Kasino, the officers' mess, at the headquarters of the Fuehrer in East Prussia?

Goering: No.

Mr. Justice Jackson: You do not remember that? I will ask that you be shown the affidavit of General Franz Halder (above), and I call your attention to his statements which may refresh your recollection. I read it. "On the occasion of a luncheon on the Fuehrer's birthday in 1942, the people around the Fuehrer turned the conversation to the Reichstag building and its artistic value. I heard with my own ears how Goering broke into the conversation and shouted: 'The only one who really knows the Reichstag is I, for I set fire to it.' And saying this he slapped his thigh."

Goering: This conversation did not take place and I request that I be confronted with Herr Halder. First of all I want to emphasize that what is written here is utter nonsense. It says, "The only one who really knows the Reichstag is I." The Reichstag was known to every representative in the Reichstag. The fire took place only in the general assembly room, and many hundreds or thousands of people knew this room as well as I did. A statement of this type is utter nonsense. How Herr Halder came to make that statement I do not know. Apparently that bad memory, which also let him down in military matters, is the only explanation.

Mr. Justice Jackson: You know who Halder is?

Goering: Only too well.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Can you tell us what position he held in the German Army?

Goering: He was Chief of the General Staff of the Army, and I repeatedly pointed out to the Fuehrer, after the war started, that he would at least have to find a chief who knew something about such matters.
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