Dimitrov vs. Göbbels


From the Verbatim Report of the Court October 23, 1933

From the interrogation of expert Josse1)


Prof. Josse: The hall for plenary sessions, the volume of which is over 10,000 cu m, cannot possibly be set on fire merely by means of a torch. Liquid fuel must have been used for this purpose2). It is out of the question that van der Lubbe should have caused the fire all by himself. The preparation for setting the fire must have required quite some time and has been made by several persons. The main purpose of the smaller centres of the fire in the restaurant hall and in the corridors arround the hall for plenary sessions (which must be attributed to van der Lubbe) was to attract the attention of those people who might enter to extinguish the fire, and to detain them from entering the plenary hall. Van der Lubbe may have set fire to the plenary hall alone, but he definitely has not made the preparations all by himself. This must have been done by at least one other incendiary. At least 20 kg of liquid fuel (probably gasoline or benzol), and maybe even 40 kg, are necessary for the purpose. Rags, film rolls or combustible wicks have probably been used to connect the separate centres of the fire.

President: Van der Lubbe told us about a piece of burning window curtain with which he ran through the hall. Was this of no significance?

Prof. Josse: None whatever.

Chief Prosecutor Werner: An attempt to attract attention by setting the restaurant on fire would hardly be expedient.

Prof. Josse: For me, too, the intentions of the incendiary are a mystery, for if I really wanted to cause a fire, I would not show myself with a burning torch in hand on the terrace, nor would I run with a burning torch past the window, and in general, I would not behave so suspiciously.

Teichert: How much time was needed to prepare the setting on fire of the hall for plenary sessions?

Prof. Josse: This depends upon the number of participants. Ten to fifteen minutes would do, if the combustible materials were all ready.

Chief Prosecutor Werner: Torgler went out at 8:45 p. m. (Torgler protests: I left the Reichstag as early as 8:20). At about 8:20 I saw in the hall the lighting electrician Scholz. Could the preparations have been made in this time interval?

Prof. Josse: Yes.

Dimitrov: I am glad that the experts too are of the opinion that van der Lubbe could not have acted all by himself. This is the only point in the indictment with which I am in complete accord. But I go farther. According to me, at this trial van der Lubbe is, as it were, the Faustus of the Reichstag fire. This miserable Faustus has been brought before the Court, but the Mephistopheles of the fire is not here...

President: Now is not the time for pleading...

Dimitrov: Was it at all possible for van der Lubbe to cover the distance from the place of the fire and set fire to the hall?

Prof. Josse: At his arrest van der Lubbe was panting for breath and was all in sweat. Taking into consideration his agility, which was known to those who had known him before, in the course of this time he could all by himself have kindled the fire prepared beforehand.

Dimitrov: If I have correctly understood his words, the expert presumes the presence of at least two incendiaries?

Prof. Josse: Yes. (Van der Lubbe comes forward, and the interpreter translates for him in brief the depositions of Prof. Josse).

President: Raise your head, van der Lubbe! Do You understand what has been said? The expert who is a learned professor says that you could not have set fire to the Reichstag all by Yourself. Who prepared the fire? Answer! (Van der Lubbe persists in his silence).

Dimitrov (Addressing van der Lubbe as the latter is being led past him to take his seat): This miserable Faustus must tell us the name of his Mephistopheles! Mr. President ...

President: Dimitrov, you cannot go on talking all the time. I can allow you to put just one question.

Dimitrov: I wish once more and for the last time to ask van der Lubbe. As was already said, he was not alone. His conduct, his silence makes it possible for innocent people to be accused along with him. I would not ask van der Lubbe about his accomplices, had his act been revolutionary, but it is counter-revolutionary.

President: That is enough. Ask just one question.

Dimitrov: Is it true that while setting the fire van der Lubbe passed along the course as indicated or not?

President: He has said that a hundred times already.

Dimitrov: Has van der Lubbe set fire to the hall all by himself?

President: He has already answered this question. This is the last question which I authorize.

Dimitrov: He said here that he ran through the hall with a piece of burning material in his hand - was that so? (The President asks the interpreter to translate the question to van der Lubbe).

Van der Lubbe: I cannot say this, exactly.


1) Heat technician at the Higher Technical School in Berlin

2) Josse here recalls the depositions of Senior Fire Director Gempp on the traces of liquid fuel in the Bismarck Hall.