Remains of Reichstag arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe examined for traces of drugs

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Elisabeth van der Lubbe, Marinus’ niece, looks at a plaque with a photo of her uncle in Leiden in 2008
NOS News

In Leipzig, coroners are investigating the remains of Marinus van der Lubbe, who was sentenced to death for the Reichstag fire at the end of 1933. His body was exhumed from his grave last month.

Chief physician Carsten Babian tells Der Spiegel that the remains are being examined for traces of drugs. During the trial Van der Lubbe made an apathetic impression.

At the time, Van der Lubbe was believed to have been administered scopolamine, also known as “truth serum” or “devil’s breath”. At high doses, this causes delirium, followed by fatigue, drowsiness and memory loss.

Fall axe

Van der Lubbe was excavated at the initiative of the Paul Benndorf-Gesellschaft, a foundation involved in the maintenance of historic graves. The foundation wanted to know exactly where Van der Lubbe was buried, in order to place a monument there.

Van der Lubbe was decapitated in the early morning of January 10, 1934 with a fall axe. The head was then sewn back to the body. The researchers say they knew the body they unearthed belonged to Van der Lubbe because it had a notch near the cervical vertebrae.

The results of the toxicological examination are expected within a few weeks.


Van der Lubbe was a 24-year-old non-party communist from Leiden when he set fire to the Reichstag building in Berlin on the evening of January 27, 1933. The building of the German parliament was ablaze within minutes and completely burned down within two hours.

Van der Lubbe claimed when he was arrested that he set the fire alone, to awaken the German workers to the danger of National Socialism. Research in the 1960s confirmed that this was at least technically possible.

He had taken off his outer clothes and used them as torches, running through the building. The long, bone-dry curtains in the conference room immediately caught fire. The glass dome cracked from the heat.

Show process

The Nazi leaders quickly arrived. They claimed that the fire was to be the signal for a communist uprising and declared a state of emergency. In the days that followed, tens of thousands of political opponents were arrested. The Reichstag passed a law giving Hitler unlimited powers.

In a show trial, Van der Lubbe made a confused impression. He lowered his head, his mouth was spittle, and he was silent, or so the Nazis portrayed it. According to researcher Igor Cornelissen, he stood up during one of the hearings, stated that the process was exhausting and that he alone had started the fire.


In addition to Van der Lubbe, four prominent communists stood trial because the Nazis wanted to prove that the Communist International, led by the Soviet Union, was behind the fire. They succeeded in exonerating themselves.

The communists in turn claimed that Van der Lubbe had allowed himself to be used by the Nazis. They presented Van der Lubbe as a mentally retarded homosexual who had been persuaded by his Nazi friends to take the blame for the fire. According to communist propaganda, the Nazis had started the fire themselves.

This communist theory is almost certainly a forgery, and the theory that Van der Lubbe had help from other communists has also never been proven.

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