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Henry Strang

The Mystery of Van der Lubbe

“Dead Men Tell No Tales”

(January 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 2, 20 January 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Few people believed there was any chance of Goering permitting Marinus Van der Lubbe to escape the guillotine for any length of time. But many were surprised by the sudden and stealthy manner in which he was done away with. The official Nazi statement that he was sane when executed, the official Nazi autopsy, add nothing to our understanding of Lubbe’s strange behavior before, during and after the trial. The sudden execution, however, begins to be quite comprehensible when one recalls that on two occasions in the courtroom, Van der Lubbe underwent sudden transformation.

He generally sat slumped in his chair, his head between his knees in a position which the New York Times correspondent described as almost impossible for a normal human being to maintain for more than a few minutes, and he generally answered questions with a mumble, if at all. On two occasions, however, he stood erect, his eyes alight and in a clear voice announced that he alone was responsible for the crime. Was there not the possibility that if he had remained alive for any length of time after the trial, he might, in another moment of clarity, have made some disclosures which Goering would rather not have heard even by a Nazi jailer?

A Suspicious Incident

This question calls to mind an incident which occurred during the Leipzig trial and which, as far as I know, has never been reported in America. On September 27, the official (”coordinated”) Wolff Telegraphic Buro reported that on the previous day one “Professor” Sodermann of Stockholm had examined Van der Lubbe in his cell. This the first visit of an outsider to the prisoner, was regarded as important because of widespread suspicions that the latter’s stupor was artificially induced. Reliable doctors, for example, had stated that his behavior seemed to resemble that of a person subjected to steady doses of scopolamin. This drug is little known except to specialists in curing morphine addicts, and to their patients, of whom only one, Goering, is a member of Hitler’s Cabinet. According to Wolff’s, the “Professor’s” examination revealed no sign of mistreatment or poison; he added that Van der Lubbe’s behavior must be simulated.

Learning from Stockholm that the “Professor” was unknown to medical or university authorities there, interested parties outside Germany reached him by telephone at Leipzig on September 28. Soedermann denied having claimed to be a Professor or even a medical doctor, affirmed he did not and could not make a medical examination, and told this story:

A Dutch journalist was allowed to visit Van der Lubbe on behalf of his family. The authorities invited Soedermann to go along. He accepted because of his life-long interest in criminal psychology. On emerging, he remarked that Van der Lubbe “looked all right.” The prison officials and Wolff – or both – translated this vague statement of a layman into a clean bill of health from a qualified medical expert and “Professor”.

There is no way of telling whether Soedermann speaks the truth when he disclaims responsibility for this bit of Nazi swindling. But in any case it is clear that the Nazis wanted to cover something up about Van der Lubbe’s condition. And a dead man tells no tales.

But the four men tried with Van der Lubbe are still alive. Despite their acquittal they remain in the clutches of the Nazis. The world proletariat must continue the fight to save them from the fate of Van der Lubbe.

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Last updated: 9 February 2016