Death To A Dutchman

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With blood spurting in Germany from the severed neck of this or that Communist nearly every week, normal, healthy Storm Troopers assumed that Germany's Supreme Court could not do less last week than order death for the five defendants in the Reichstag fire trial as all five were Communists of sorts. "The Reichstag fire is the most shameful crime in all history," declared Prussian Premier Hermann Wilhelm Göring two days before the Supreme Court's verdict was expected. "The prisoners who sit in the dock at Leipzig are far worse than ordinary criminals!" That clinched the death sentences in the minds of simple Storm Troopers. Few of them knew or cared that State Prosecutor Karl Werner, after hurling philippics for weeks at the five Reds, had ended by admitting that the State had no case against three of them, the Bulgarians Dimitroff, Taneff and Popoff. Against the German prisoner, Comrade Ernst Torgler, onetime Reichstag whip of the German Communist Party, Prosecutor Werner summed up thus: "When I put everything together I come to the conclusion that Torgler, in some way or other, had an active part in the Reichstag fire. The nature of such participation has not been 'shown in the proceedings before this court." On this basis Prosecutor Werner asked the Court to sentence Comrade Torgler to death. He also asked death for the fifth and last prisoner, famed Dutch Brickmason Marinus Van der Lubbe who was brought up from his cell in a stupor at every session of his trial but one. On that one day Van der Lubbe had shouted: "I have been questioned for over eight months! . . . Nothing ever happens. I don't agree to that! ... I set the fire. None of the other defendants had anything to do with it. ... I want to have my sentence—20 years in prison or death!" (TIME, Dec. 4). Just before 9 a. m. one day last week Judge Wilhelm Bünger and his five red-robed colleagues marched into the Supreme Court's dingy chamber to make known their verdict. They gave the Nazi salute. Court attendants and the audience returned it. In the prisoners' dock the Dutchman drooped, the German fidgeted, two of the Bulgars looked nervous but George Dimitroff, the fiery walking delegate of the World Communist Party who heckled Premier Göring into a jittery rage during the trial, looked confident. Judge Bünger read the Supreme Court's verdict slowly. Much of it was a denunciation of what he called "those senseless legends": the legend that Van der Lubbe was the queer tool of queer Nazis who used and helped him to set the fire; the legend that Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, now Minister of Propaganda & Public Enlightenment, conceived the idea of firing the Reichstag, blaming Communists for the deed and using it as the excuse for Chancellor Hitler's suppression of the Communist, Socialist and other German parties; the legend that Nazi firebugs escaped down the underground passage connecting the Reichstag with the official residence of General Göring, leaving Van der Lubbe to wave his burning shirt in the Reichstag and be arrested.

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