Knell & Nails On The Coffin Of Democracy
Benjamin Carter Hett is a former trial lawyer and a Professor of History at Hunter College and the Graduate Centre, City University of New York who is an expert on Nazi history. Penguin recently published his latest book, The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic. So many books on Hitler’s rise are currently available in the market. The question naturally arose – Why another one……? The author replied that he has found various new pieces of information in the last two-and-half-decade. Hett also said that each and every era judges the same historical event from its own perspective and establishes different meanings. For the contemporary world, the history of Hitler’s rise is a very important issue.
Hett begins with the Reichstag fire. On February 27, 1933, the German Parliament (Reichstag) building burned down due to arson. However, the then German government falsely portrayed the fire as part of a Communist effort to overthrow the state. According to Hett, it was the beginning of the end of Hitler!
Still, no one knows who had set the Reichstag on fire. But, the Prussian Press Service reported on February 28 that “this act of incendiarism is the most monstrous act of terrorism carried out by Bolshevism in Germany“. For his part, Hermann Göring said: “This is Communist outrage! One of the Communist culprits has been arrested.” Interestingly, an Austrian journalist (present at the scene) sent a message to his colleagues, saying that Hitler’s close associates were involved in the incident and they (most probably) reached the spot through a tunnel from the Speaker’s quarters near Reichstag. And who was the speaker? It’s Reich Marshal Göring!
Journalists perform their duties which are different from the state’s. On February 27 night, the German Police arrested a number of people, including Communists, activists, priests, lawyers, artists and writers. Their only fault was that they were anti-Fascist!
Benjamin Carter Hett
On February 28, Hitler held an emergency meeting with his Cabinet members and decided to issue a decree on order to protect the state and its people. As per Hitler’s instruction, President Paul von Hindenburg signed the Reichstag Fire Decree into a law, using Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. As a result, most civil liberties in Germany, including habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, and the secrecy of the post and telephone were suspended.
Hitler, who joined politics in 1919, took 14 years to become the Führer. During that period, intellectuals and political experts asked the German people not to worry, as the great nation had ‘democracy, election and a Constitution’. They were of the opinion that Hitler would have to perform his duties in accordance with the framework as prescribed by the Constitution. In fact, Friedrich Ebert – the member of the Social Democratic Party and the provisional President of the German Reichstag (government) – signed a new Constitution (known as the Weimar Constitution) into law on August 11, 1919, thus, officially creating the first parliamentary democracy in Germany. Such a strong democratic Constitution was rare in the contemporary world, as it promised to reach the peak of human civilisation.
However, the scenario changed completely in 1933. A Berlin-based journalist said: “The Nazis burned the Reichstag first, then the books and later the Synagogue. After that, there was a fire in Germany, England, France and Russia…….!” The Germans couldn’t think of this consequence on that day.
In his The Death of Democracy, Hett writes: “Few Germans in 1933 could imagine Treblinka or Auschwitz, the mass shootings of Babi Yar or the death marches of the last months of the WWII. It is hard to blame them for not foreseeing the unthinkable. Yet their innocence failed them, and they were catastrophically wrong about their future. We, who come later, have one advantage over them: we have their example before us.”
Here, a relevant question may be: Is there any guarantee that we can enjoy the advantage and learn from history?
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