On this day in 1945, Chancellor of Germany Adolf Hitler issued his ‘Demolitions on Reich Territory Decree’. This action came towards the end of World War Two as the Allied forces led by the Soviet Union, United States and United Kingdom, made further advances into Germany. One of the last actions of his dictatorship, this decree called for the destruction of German infrastructure in order to impede the Allied advance; Hitler intended for the enemy to find only ‘scorched earth’. Due to Hitler’s readiness to sacrifice Germany in order to put up obstacles for the Allies, this action was compared to the infamous Roman Emperor Nero who supposedly orchestrated the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.
Some have suggested Hitler intended for the German population to be destroyed as punishment for losing the war, and to ensure there would be no Germany after National Socialism. The decree was, luckily for Germany, not implemented by his disillusioned subordinates. Hitler was unable to enforce it, as he was soon confined to his bunker and killed himself just 42 days after issuing the Nero Decree. It was the last act of a desperate man, and shows his willingness to destroy the Germany he supposedly loved. The comparison to a Roman emperor is interesting. Rome has typically been invoked as a hallmark of civilisation, and empires throughout history have liked to compare themselves to the ancients. The British Empire, modern America, and dictatorial regimes like Nazi Germany have all made comparisons to Rome. However, it is unlikely Hitler would have been pleased with being likened to one of the most infamous and megalomaniacal emperors.