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Ernst Torgler (April 25, 1893-January 19, 1963) was a controversial member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) prior to World War II and a defendant in the Reichstag Fire Trial.

Torgler was born the son of an urbanite in Berlin, where he attended school from 1904 to 1907. In 1907, he joined the Association of Apprentices and Juvenile Workers of Berlin. From 1909 to 1925, Torgler held a variety of different jobs, working most notably as a salesman and accountant. Torgler got his start in politics in 1910 when he joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany. After serving in the military during World War I, Torgler became a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. In 1920, Torgler joined the Communist Party of Germany when the USPD merged with the KPD. A year later, Torgler became a town councilor in Berlin-Lichtenberg (a position he held until 1930) and got elected to the Reichstag in 1924 as a member of the KPD.

Torgler subsequently became deputy chairman of the KPD Reichstag faction in 1927 and chairman in 1929, a position which made him one of the most powerful members of the party. From 1932 to 1933, Torgler published the KPD Reichstag newssheet “the Red Voter” with Wilhelm Pieck. Torgler’s political career ended in February 1933, however, when the Reichstag was set on fire. Against the wishes of the KPD leadership, Torgler voluntarily handed himself over to the police on February 28 (the day after the fire) when Hermann Göring issued a warrant for his arrest. Torgler was kept in custody without being charged until July 1933, at which time he was charged with arson and treason. Torgler and his fellow defendants were tried from September 21 to December 23, after which time Torgler was acquitted due to a lack of evidence against him.

Following the Reichstag Fire Trial, Torgler was put into “protective custody” by the police until 1935. After being released, he assumed a pseudonym and moved away from Berlin. The KPD leadership (now in Brussels as a result of being persecuted by the Nazis) subsequently stripped Torgler of his party membership and leadership positions as a result of his surrender to the police. In 1938, Torgler worked for a company called Elektrolux, during which time he was watched carefully by the SD. In June 1940, Torgler surprisingly began working for the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, although he may have been forced to do so in order to keep his son Kurt (who was being held in custody by the government) safe from harm. In 1941, after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Torgler ironically worked on anti-Bolshevik propaganda at the behest of Joseph Goebbels. Later that year, Torgler worked in Czechoslovakia on the staff of Reinhard Heydrich. After the July 20 Plot against on Adolf Hitler in 1944, an arrest warrant was issued for Torgler, who at the time was still working for the propaganda ministry. Torgler, by his own account, was only spared from being arrested due to his boss vouching for his loyalty. Following this incident, Torgler worked in Poland for a time until being transferred by the Nazis to the town of Bückeburg where he worked in the town’s administration.

Following World War II, Torgler angrily dismissed charges against him that stated that he had willingly cooperated with the Nazis. In 1949, he once again became a member of the SPD and in 1950 moved to Bückeburg, where he drifted into obscurity. He died in Hanover in 1963.

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