Marinus van der Lubbe
Marinus van der Lubbe
|Died||10 January 1934 (aged 24)|
Marinus van der Lubbe (13 January 1909 – 10 January 1934) was a Dutch council communist tried, convicted and executed for setting fire to the German Reichstag building on 27 February 1933, an event known as the Reichstag fire.
Marinus van der Lubbe was born in Leiden in the province of South Holland. His parents were divorced and, after his mother died when he was twelve years old, he went to live with his half-sister's family. In his youth, Van der Lubbe worked as a bricklayer. He was nicknamed Dempsey after boxer Jack Dempsey, because of his great strength. While working, Van der Lubbe came in contact with the labour movement; in 1925, he joined the Dutch Communist Party (CPN), and its youth wing; the Communist Youth Bund (CJB).
In 1926, he was injured at work, getting lime in his eyes, which left him in the hospital for a few months and almost left him blind. The injury forced him to quit his job, so he was unemployed with a pension of only 7.44 guilders a week. After a few conflicts with his sister, Van der Lubbe moved to Leiden in 1927. There he learned to speak some German and founded the Lenin House, where he organised political meetings. While working for the Tielmann factory a strike broke out. Van der Lubbe claimed to the management to be one of the ringleaders and offered to accept any punishment as long as no one else was victimised, even though he was clearly too inexperienced to have been seriously involved. During the trial, he tried to claim sole responsibility and was purportedly hostile to the idea of getting off free.
Afterwards, Van der Lubbe planned to emigrate to the Soviet Union, but he lacked the funds to do so. He was politically active among the unemployed workers' movement until 1931, when he fell into disagreement with the CPN and instead approached the Group of International Communists. In 1933, Van der Lubbe fled to Germany to take action in the local communist underground. He had a criminal record for arson.
Van der Lubbe said that he set the Reichstag building on fire as a cry to rally the German workers against the fascist rule. He was brought to trial along with the head of the German Communist Party and three Bulgarian members of the Comintern. At his trial, Van der Lubbe was convicted and sentenced to death for the Reichstag fire. The other four defendants (Ernst Torgler, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov, and Vasil Tanev) at the trial were acquitted. He was guillotined in a Leipzig prison yard on 10 January 1934, three days before his 25th birthday. He was buried in an unmarked grave on the Südfriedhof (South Cemetery) in Leipzig.
After World War II, moves were made by Marinus van der Lubbe's brother, Jan van der Lubbe, in an attempt to overturn the verdict against his brother. In 1967, his sentence was changed by a judge from death to eight years in prison. In 1980, after more lengthy complaints, a West German court overturned the verdict entirely but this was protested by the state prosecutor. The case was re-examined by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany for three years until, in 1983, the court made a final decision on the matter, overturning the result of the earlier 1980 trial on grounds that there was no basis for it, making it therefore illegal. However, on December 6, 2007, the Attorney General of Germany Monika Harms nullified the entire verdict and posthumously pardoned Van der Lubbe based on a 1998 German law that makes it possible to overturn certain cases of Nazi injustice. The determination of the court was based on the premise that the National Socialist regime was by definition unjust; and, since the death sentence in this case was politically motivated, it was likely to have contained an extension of that injustice. The finding was independent of the factual question of whether or not it was Van der Lubbe who actually set the fire.
Historians disagree as to whether Van der Lubbe acted alone, as he said, to protest the condition of the German working class. The Nazis blamed a communist conspiracy. The responsibility for the Reichstag fire remains an ongoing topic of debate and research. According to Ian Kershaw, writing in 1998, the consensus of nearly all historians is that Van der Lubbe did, in fact, set the Reichstag fire. William Shirer writing in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" surmises that Van der Lubbe was goaded into setting a fire at the Reichstag, but the Nazis set their own, more elaborate fire at the same time. The case is still actively discussed.
In July 1933, Marinus van der Lubbe, Ernst Torgler, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov, and Vasil Tanev were indicted on charges of setting the Reichstag on fire. From September 21 to December 23, 1933, the Leipzig Trial took place and was presided over by judges from the old German Imperial High Court, the Reichsgericht, Germany's highest court. The presiding judge was Judge Dr. Wilhelm Bürger of the Fourth Criminal Court of the Fourth Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court. The accused were charged with arson and with attempting to overthrow the government. At the end of the trial, however, only Van der Lubbe was convicted, while his fellow defendants were found not guilty.
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