The German word "Reichstag" means parliament. In colloquial German it also means the parliament building. It is not an exaggeration to say that this building, the Reichstag, is a very important part of the history of the 20th century.
On the evening of February 27, 1933 Putzi Hanfstaengl, a Harvard educated German-American friend of Hitler (see ZNet Commentary of June 4, '99) was in bed from a heavy cold and high temperature. "In mid-evening he was awakened by the cries of the housekeeper: the Reichstag was on fire. He shot out of bed looked out of the window, saw the building in flames and immediately rushed to ring up Goebbels, saying, breathlessly, that he urgently had to speak to Hitler. When Goebbels asked what it was about, and whether he could pass on a message, Hanfstaengl said: 'Tell him the Reichstag is burning.' 'Is that meant to be a joke?' was Goebels reply. (Source: Kershaw, Ian, "Hitler," W.W. Norton, N.Y., 1998, p. 457)
Hitler and Goebbels set off at once for the blazing Reichstag. "When they arrived, they found Hermann Goering,...already inside the building giving orders - the first of which, characteristically, had been 'Save the tapestries!' The valuable Gobelin, which were his personal property,... Goering had been president of the Reichstag since the end of August 1932... Hitler's first comment on arriving at the blazing Reichstag had been: 'Good riddance to the old shack.' The 'old shack' was, of course, hardly ancient, being exactly forty years old - but he put its burning in excellent use." (Source: Read, Anthony & Fisher, David, "The Fall of Berlin," W.W. Norton, N.Y., 1992, p.25,26)
On Feb. 28 1993, the day after the fire, Hitler's dictatorship began with the enactment of a decree "for the Protection of the People and the State" (in our days, "For reasons of National Security"), which dispensed with all constitutional protection, of political, personal, and property rights. But "the rounding up of Communist deputies and functionaries had already been set in train during the night in raids carried out with massive brutality. Communists were the main target. But Social Democrats, trade unionists, and left wing intellectuals... were also among those dragged into improvised prisons, often in the cellars of SA or SS headquarters, and savagely beaten, tortured, and in some cases murdered." (Source: Kershaw, p.460) All these happened only one week before the national elections. Hitler got 43.9 % of the vote and the Left 30.6% (the Social Democrats 18.3 % and the Communists 12.3 %, in spite of the terror).
The man arrested as the arsonist was Marinus van der Lubbe who "came from a Dutch working-class family, and had formerly belonged to the Communist Party youth organization in Holland. He had eventually broken with the Communist Party in 1931.... He was twenty-four years old, intelligent, a solitary individual, unconnected with any political groups, but possessed of a strong sense of injustice at the misery of the working class at the hands of the capitalist system... he was determined to make a lone and spectacular act of defiant protest... in order to galvanize the working class into struggle against their repression." (Source: Kershaw, p.456-7) Others believe that the fire had been organized by Goering and Goebbels and that van der Lubbe was a simple minded young Dutch communist. Van der Lubbe, after a long imprisonment and a show trial, was eventually beheaded. The Reichstag fire is the subject of continued debate and research. "The consequences of the Reichstag fire were, of course, always more important than the identity of whoever instigated the blaze." (Kershaw, note 112, p.732)
The Greek Construction Workers
After the German government decided to move the capital of Germany from Bonn back to Berlin it was inevitable that the Reichstag would be restored. (or rather rebuilt). Also inevitably, the rebuilt Reichstag in 1999 should have a garage. The contractor of the 3-level underground garage is the German construction company ARGE ROHBAU. As usual there is one or more subcontractors. One of the subcontractors is the Greek construction company OCTOPUS. The Greek construction workers according to the contract should have been paid 48 German Marks (about US $26) per hour, instead they were paid 15 German Marks (about US $8) for the unskilled worker and 18 German Marks (about US $10) for the skilled worker.
Last November there was a report in the Greek press (ELEFTHEROTYPIA, Nov,, 20, '99, p.17) that 50 Greek workers of OCTOPUS had not been paid for months by ROHBAU, the German contractor. The Greek owner of OCTOPUS claims that the Germans owe him about half a million US dollars. The Germans accused the Greek subcontractor of poor workmanship. The 50 Greek workers had no money to buy food or pay for a ticket to return to Greece. So, the hungry Greek construction workers stood outside the gate of the Reichstag construction site, under the Berlin November snow demanding their money. One of the workers said: "We have been working for months under harsh conditions 11 hours a day 6 days a week. And now they kick us out in the street." In the same street, probably on the same spot, that Hitler stood and watched the Reichstag burning. One wonders how Hitler would react seeing the dark-eyed and dark-haired Greeks help rebuild the Reichstag, while the Aryan workers of his 'Volk" went hungry and jobless?
The story was picked up by some German papers which confirmed that the construction workers of the Greek, Italian, and Portugese subcontractors working in Berlin "are paid with 30% of what the German construction workers are paid. The result is that the German construction workers are without a job." Also, the investigative reporting of these papers revealed a confidential document of the competent German Parliamentary Committee which cynically admits: "We know that the foreign workers from other countries of the European Union are paid much smaller wages, however, we cannot put an end to this practice for reasons of cost..." (ELEFTHEROTYPIA, Dec. 4, '99, p.8)
Back in Greece the Albanian, Bulgarian, and Bangladeshi workers in the strawberry fields get US $16 per DAY. Of this, about US $2 they pay to the local "Godfather." The Bangladeshi, been dark-skined get only US $12 per DAY, yet they pay the US $2 to the local criminal. (Source: ELEFTHEROTYPIA, April 15, 1999, p. 50)
After the "victory" of the US Democracy over the Soviets, etc. a wave of Albanians, Poles, Rumanians, and citizens of the former Soviet Union with Greek roots entered Greece as economic immigrants. It is estimated that around 800,000 Albanians are in the country, the Albanians themselves claim that there are over a million Albanians. The other nationalities make another 2 or 3 hundred thousand. The total is above 10% of the 10 million Greek population. So, finally the Greeks have their very own blue-eyed and blond "niggers" to do the hard menial work for them, at the above mentioned wages. Unfortunately these "niggers" were followed by the inevitable Mafia parasites of neoliberalism, who in collaboration with their local counterparts (and in many cases with the police) little by little transform the, up to now, rather carefree Greek society into a scared rabble of the US Anglo-Saxon variety.
Of what I know, there were no more news in the Greek press about the fate of the 50 Greek construction workers in the rebuilding of the Reichstag.