THE first documentary evidence has emerged to support the view that the Nazis started the 1933 Reichstag fire that Hitler used as a pretext to establish a dictatorship.
While historians have agreed that there is no substance to Nazi claims that German Communists were to blame for the blaze, there has also been a lack of evidence to back the widely held belief that Hitler's supporters burnt down the parliament building in Berlin.
After poring over 50,000 pages of hitherto unexamined documents from former East German and Soviet archives, four leading German historians have now concluded that the fire was a Nazi plot. Marinus van der Lubbe, 24, a pro-Communist Dutch labourer, was beheaded by the Nazis after admitting that he started the blaze alone to encourage a workers' uprising.
The news magazine Der Spiegel backed this version of events in the 1960s after a wide-ranging investigation. Now, however, the four historians argue that Der Spiegel's coverage was part of a cover-up by Nazi sympathisers to protect the culprits from prosecution. Their findings put them at odds with other leading academics.