Marinus van der Lubbe

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Marinus van der Lubbe
Van der Lubbe in 1933
Born (1909-01-13)13 January 1909
Leiden, South Holland, Netherlands
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Leipzig, Germany
Cause of death Decapitation
Burial place Südfriedhof
Nationality Dutch
Occupation Political activist and trade unionist
Political party Communist

Marinus van der Lubbe (13 January 1909 – 10 January 1934) was a Dutch communist who was tried, convicted, and executed by the Nazis for setting fire to the German Reichstag building on 27 February 1933. Nearly 75 years after the event, the German government granted Van der Lubbe a posthumous pardon.[1]

Early life

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, at age 16, he joined the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) and its youth wing, the Communist Youth Bund (CJB).

In 1926, he was injured at work, getting lime in his eyes, which hospitalized him for a few months and almost left him blind. Since the injury forced him to quit his job, 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 if 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.[citation needed] In 1933, Van der Lubbe fled to Germany to take action in the local communist underground. He had a criminal record for several attempted arsons.[citation needed][2]

Reichstag fire

Van der Lubbe claimed to have set the Reichstag building on fire in an attempt to rally German workers against 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 four other defendants (Ernst Torgler, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov, and Vasil Tanev) were acquitted. Van der Lubbe 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 his brother, Jan van der Lubbe, in an attempt to overturn the original verdict. 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 that was criticised by the state prosecutor. The case was re-examined by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany for three years. In 1983, the court made a final decision on the matter and overturned the result of the 1980 trial on grounds that there was no basis for it and so it was 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 court's determination was based on the premise that the National Socialist regime was, by definition, unjust, and since the case's death sentence had been politically motivated, it was likely to have contained an extension of that injustice. The conclusion was independent of the factual question of whether or not Van der Lubbe had actually set the fire.[3][4][5]

Claimed responsibility

The window through which Van der Lubbe allegedly entered the building
Memorial at the Südfriedhof in Leipzig – the stones placed are a Jewish symbol called matzevot, to show respect

Historians disagree as to whether Van der Lubbe acted alone, as he said, to protest the condition of the German working class, or was involved in a larger conspiracy. The Nazis blamed a communist conspiracy. Responsibility for the Reichstag fire remains an ongoing topic of debate and research in modern historical scholarship.[6][7][8] William Shirer, writing in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, surmised that Van der Lubbe was goaded into setting a fire at the Reichstag but that the Nazis had set their own more elaborate fire at the same time. According to Ian Kershaw, writing in 1998, the consensus of nearly all historians is that Van der Lubbe had in fact set the Reichstag on fire.[9]

Lex Van der Lubbe

The "Lex van der Lubbe" is the colloquial term for the Nazi law on the imposition and execution of the death penalty of March 29, 1933. The name comes from the fact that the law formed the legal basis for the imposition of the death penalty against Van der Lubbe.

The Reichstag Fire Decree of February 28, 1933 contained a list of crimes for which the death penalty was to be imposed instead of a life sentence, as was previously the case. The law on the imposition and execution of the death penalty passed by the Hitler government on March 29 (on the basis of the Enabling Act) extended the law retrospectively to January 31, 1933, thereby breaking Article 116 of the Weimar Constitution, which prohibited retroactive penalties.[10] It could thus be applied to Van der Lubbe, who had admitted in court that he had set fire to the Reichstag on February 27.

The law was ultimately repealed by the Allied Control Council on January 30, 1946 through Control Council Act No. 11.


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  3. Announcement of the Attorney General of Germany (in German)
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  8. Anson Rabinbach, "Staging Antifascism: The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror," in New German Critique, vol. 35, no. 1, (Spring 2008), pp. 97–126
  9. Kershaw, Ian Hitler Hubris pp. 456–458, 731–732
  10. Uwe Wesel: Geschichte des Rechts. Von den Frühformen bis zur Gegenwart. 3. überarbeitete und erweiterte Auflage. Beck, München 2006, ISBN 3-406-47543-4. S. 496 f.


  • Biography Marinus van der Lubbe on history.
  • Martin Schouten: Rinus van der Lubbe 1909–1934 – een biografie. De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 1986.(in Dutch)
  • Alexander Bahar and Wilfried Kugel: Der Reichstagbrand, edition q (2001) German language only.
  • Hersch Fischler: Zum Zeitablauf der Reichstagsbrandstiftung. Korrekturen der Untersuchung Alfred Berndts, in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 55 (2005), S. 617–632.(with English summary)
  • Anson Rabinbach, "Staging Antifascism: The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror," in New German Critique, vol. 35, no. 1, (Spring 2008), pp. 97–126

External links