Germany may be inching closer to solving the decades-old mystery of the fire at the Reichstag building in Berlin in 1933, after a new witness account was found in the archives of a court in Hanover.
The account by a member of the Nazis' paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA), a copy of which was seen by DPA on Friday, states that he drove the Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, who was later executed by the Nazis, to the Reichstag on the night of the fire.
When the witness, identified as Hans-Martin Lennings, and his colleagues arrived with van der Lubbe at the Reichstag, he writes that he noticed "a strange smell of burning and there were clouds of smoke billowing through the rooms."
The fire at the Reichstag on February 27, 1933, was attributed to van der Lubbe, who was executed for arson. However, since the end of the Nazi regime, van der Lubbe's guilt has been called into question.
The Nazis accused the communists of starting the fire and exploited the incident to introduce emergency powers that effectively suspended the constitution, paving the way for Hitler's dictatorship. Officially, it remains a mystery who actually started the fire.
Lennings further states in his account that he and his colleagues later protested against the arrest of van der Lubbe.
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"Because we were convinced that van der Lubbe could not possibly have been the arsonist, because according to our observation, the Reichstag had already been burning when we dropped him off there."
Lennings, who died in 1962, asked that his account be certified in 1955, in case the Reichstag fire case ever went back to trial - a notion that has been discussed in the past in order to posthumously clear van der Lubbe's name.
The court in Hanover confirmed the authenticity of the document to DPA on Friday.