World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

The Reichstag
From Wikipedia
The Reichstag at the time of its completion in 1894.
The Reichstag building (German: Reichstagsgebäude; officially: Plenarbereich Reichstagsgebäude) is a historical edifice in Berlin, Germany, constructed to house the Reichstag, parliament of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Reichstag until 1933, when it was severely damaged in a fire. After World War II, the building fell into disuse; the parliament (Volkskammer) of the German Democratic Republic met in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament (Bundestag) of the Federal Republic of Germany met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn.
The ruined building was made safe against the elements and partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification on October 3 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by internationally renowned architect Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.


The term Reichstag, when used to connote a parliament, dates back to the Holy Roman Empire. The building was built for the Reichstag of the German Empire, which was succeeded by the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. The latter devolved into the Reichstag of Nazi Germany, which left the building (and ceased to act as a parliament) after the 1933 fire and never returned; the term Reichstag has not been used by German parliaments since World War II. In today's usage, the German word Reichstag (Imperial Congress Building) refers mainly to the building, while Bundestag (Federal Congress) refers to the institution.

History of the building
The Reichstag building with the Victory Column on the Königsplatz (c. 1900)
Construction of the building began well after the unification of Germany in 1871. Previously, the parliament had assembled in several other buildings in Leipziger Straße in Berlin but these were generally considered too small, so in 1872 an architectural contest with 103 participating architects was carried out to erect a new building. After a short survey of possible sites, a parliamentary committee recommended the east side of the Königsplatz (today, Platz der Republik), which however was occupied by the derelict palace of a Polish-Prussian aristsocrat, Athanasius Raczyński.
Work did not start until ten years later though, owing to various problems with purchasing the property and arguments between Wilhelm I, Otto von Bismarck, and the members of the Reichstag about how the construction should be performed. After lengthy negotiations, the Raczyński Palace was purchased and demolished, making way for the new building.

In 1882, another architectural contest was held, with 200 architects participating. This time the winner, the Frankfurt architect Paul Wallot, would actually see his Neo-Baroque project executed. Decorative sculptures, reliefs, and inscriptions were by sculptor Otto Lessing. On 29 June 1884, the foundation stone was finally laid by Wilhelm I, at the east side of the Königsplatz. Before construction was completed in 1894, Wilhelm I died (in 1888, the Year of Three Emperors). His eventual successor, Wilhelm II, took a more jaundiced view of parliamentary democracy than his grandfather. The original building was acclaimed for the construction of an original cupola of steel and glass, considered an engineering feat at the time. But its mixture of architectural styles drew widespread criticism.

In 1916 the iconic words Dem Deutschen Volke ("[To] the German people") were carved above the main façade of the building, much to the displeasure of Wilhelm II who had tried to block the adding of the inscription for its democratic significance. After World War I had ended and Wilhelm had abdicated, during the revolutionary days of 1918, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the institution of a republic from one of the balconies of the Reichstag building on 9 November. The building continued to be the seat of the parliament of the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), which was still called the Reichstag.
The building caught fire on 27 February 1933, under circumstances still not entirely known (see Reichstag fire). This gave a pretext for the Nazis to suspend most rights provided for by the 1919 Weimar Constitution in the Reichstag Fire Decree in an effort to weed out communists and increase state security throughout Germany.

During the 12 years of National Socialist rule, the Reichstag building was not used for parliamentary sessions. Instead, the few times where the Reichstag convened at all, it did so in the Krolloper building, a former opera house opposite the Reichstag building. This applies as well to the session of 23 March 1933, in which the Reichstag disposed of its powers in favour of the Nazi government in the Enabling Act, another step in the so-called Gleichschaltung ("coordination"). The building (which was unusable after the fire) was instead used for propaganda presentations and, during World War II, for military purposes. It was also considered for conversion to a flak tower but was found to be structurally unsuitable.

The building, having never been fully repaired since the fire, was further damaged by air raids. During the Battle of Berlin in 1945, it became one of the central targets for the Red Army to capture due to its perceived symbolic significance. Today, visitors to the building can still see Soviet graffiti on smoky walls inside as well as on part of the roof, which was preserved during the reconstructions after reunification.

The Reichstag Fire of 1933

The Reichstag caught fire  on February 27th 1933. The building was where Germany’s parliament sat and the fire that destroyed was  seen as a defining moments in the early days of the Nazi Party
 
Hitler had stated just prior to January 30th 1933 that he would not  work with the Reichstag that had been elected in the November 1932 election. The Nazi Party was the largest single party but, this did not give Hitler a working majority as the other two major parties  were  on the left – the Social Democrat Party and the Communists. New elections for the Reichstag had been called for March 5th 1933, but  Hitler feared that he might not get as much support in  that election as in the previous one.
 
On  February 27th Hitler was having dinner at Goebbel’s Berlin home. At around 21.00, Goebbels received a phone call from Dr. Hansfstaengl stating that the Reichstag building was on fire. Goebbels  did not inform Hitler immediately even though he was in the same house.  When he received another phone call, Goebbels informed Hitler. They then left for the Reichstag where they met Goering. All three decided or agreed  that the fire was the work of the Communists and Socialists so the SA was engaged to maintain order if and when the communist insurrection started.
 
Rudolf Diels, head of the Prussian Political Police, arrived afterwards and Diels  claimed that Goering had told him that the fire was the start of a communist revolt. Diels said that Hitler completely lost his temper and shouted that he would show no mercy to those responsible. Diels claimed that Hitler demanded that every communist official should be “shot where he is found” and that “communist deputies must be hanged this very night”.
 
The SA  rounded up as many communists as they could find – nearly 4000 people.  The Nazis tried to put a legal gloss over what was being done. The public was told that the communists had burned down  government building in Germany and that the SA were doing all that they could to save the nation from upheavel.  
 
The Nazis also captured the alleged perpetrator of the crime – a Dutch communist called Marius van der Lubbe. Along with four other communists, he was charged with arson. The four others were later acquitted but van der Lubbe had to stand trial.
 
Following the fire, van der Lubbe offered a complete confession that Rudolf Diels found so fanciful that he wouldn't accept it.  When Diels  reported his views to Hitler, he was told that they were “childish” and wrong. This was Hitler’s way of telling Diels that van der Lubbe’s confession had to stand. Van der Lubbe claimed that he was annoyed with how the communists were being treated in Germany.
 
“I had to do something myself. I considered arson a suitable method. I did not wish to harm private people but something belonging to the system itself. I decided on the Reichstag. As to the question of whether I acted alone, I declare emphatically that this was the case.”
 
He was accused of starting several fires in the Reichstag and was put on trial in late November.
 
At his trial, van der Lubbe said:
 
“I can only repeat that I set fire to the Reichstag all by myself. There is nothing complicated about this fire. It has quite a simple explanation. What was made of it may be complicated, but the fire itself was very simple.”
 
Van der Lubbe was found guilty and executed in January 1934.
 
After the fire, the Reichstag  could not be used as a base for the seat of government in Germany. The nearest alternative  building that was suitable was the Kroll Opera House.  
 
The March 5th election went ahead  but now in the shadow of the ‘attempted communist takeover’, but notwithstanding, the Nazis only won 288 seats and in the  event that all the other parties voted as against the Nazis, they would have lost the vote. It was a circumstance that Hitler was not prepared to tolerate or risk. He had already decided that the Reichstag as a properly working entity should cease to exist and be replaced by himself – all ‘legally’ done via the Enabling Act of March 1933.