A Willing Audience: The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror and the Enduring Power of Conspiracy Theory

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Cassie Epes, Eastern Connecticut State University
Cassie Epes

Eastern Connecticut State University

October 22, 2018

A Willing Audience:

The Brown Book and the Enduring Power of Conspiracy Theory

On February 27, 1933, the German parliamentary building known as the Reichstag, went up in flames in Berlin. The fire, which was almost immediately determined to be arson, is widely considered to be one of the pivotal moments of the Nazi party’s rise to power. In August of the same year, a book was published in Paris by a group of communist writers that had fled from Germany fearing political persecution. The book, The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror, weaved an intricate web of political conspirators, sex, drugs, and treason. Based almost entirely on forged documents and conjectures, the Brown Book, as it became known, was more than just a book. It was a skillfully orchestrated and persuasively written counterconspiracy that incriminated the Nazis as the party responsible for the arson. The focus of this poster is not on the Nazi rise to power or the fire that preceded it, rather it demonstrates the innate power of conspiracy theory and its ability to influence public opinion and historical memory, despite a palpable absence of logic and truth.

This poster addresses the effects that the Brown Book had on the concept of Nazism and Hitler’s rise to power throughout the pre-and post-war period. It also examines the dangers of widely circulated unsourced information and propaganda, as well as the effects of foreign involvement in sensitive political affairs. This project draws upon newspaper articles and trial transcripts printed in the United States as well as Great Britain to demonstrate how the Reichstag fire was presented to people around the world. The book was exceptionally compelling to international populations, but no country appreciated the value of the fiction turned truth more than the Germans themselves. While the Brown Book conceptualized the Germans as victims of political terror, the reality was that popular support had put the Nazi’s into a position of power, not the Reichstag fire. Translated into over twenty languages and published in more than fifty editions, the erroneous information presented in the Brown Book became dangerously influential both inside and outside of Germany, shaping the way that the world viewed Nazism for over thirty years.

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