Bluffer’s guide

Night of the Long Knives

All About History - - CONTENTS -

Find out what hap­pened dur­ing the Night of the Long Knives

What was it?

Af­ter more than a year in power, the Nazi regime closed ranks. It un­der­took a “blood purge” of the party’s para­mil­i­tary wing, the Sturmabteilung (SA), com­monly known as the Brown­shirts. The SA’S leader Ernst Röhm was per­son­ally ar­rested by Adolf Hitler in the early hours of 30 June in a ho­tel out­side Mu­nich. Mem­bers of his en­tourage — found sug­ges­tively shar­ing beds — were also rounded up and ex­e­cuted. This was im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by sim­i­lar ac­tion in Ber­lin with Her­mann Göring dis­patch­ing elite Schutzstaffel (SS) ex­e­cu­tion squads to take out “undis­ci­plined and dis­obe­di­ent char­ac­ters and aso­cial or dis­eased el­e­ments”.

At least 85 peo­ple are known to have died, with the

Nazis tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to also set­tle scores with old po­lit­i­cal ri­vals. For­mer chan­cel­lor Kurt von Sch­le­icher was gunned down in his home with his wife. Mem­bers of the key Catholic Cen­tre Party, a Bavar­ian politi­cian es­sen­tial to the fail­ure of Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and even a mu­sic critic (in a case of mis­taken iden­tity) were also killed.

Why did it hap­pen?

As the vi­o­lent van­guard of the Na­tional So­cial­ist move­ment, the Brown­shirts were es­sen­tial to the party’s as­cent to power. By 1934, the ranks of the fight­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion had swelled to around 4 mil­lion, dwarf­ing the muz­zled Re­ich­swehr, Ger­many’s mil­i­tary.

Röhm’s fre­quent talk of ab­sorb­ing the army alarmed the con­ser­va­tive gen­er­als and Pres­i­dent Hin­den­burg, and his calls for a ‘sec­ond rev­o­lu­tion’, em­pha­sis­ing the so­cial­ist as­pect of Na­tional So­cial­ism, made him few po­lit­i­cal al­lies. The un­ruly peace­time be­hav­iour of SA mem­bers per­sisted as a threat to the sta­bil­ity that the Nazis had promised to usher in with their lead­er­ship. Ru­mours of a Röhm-led coup against Hitler were stoked with ev­i­dence of French in­volve­ment that had been man­u­fac­tured by the SS. The old guard had out­lived their use­ful­ness.

Act­ing against Röhm en­abled Hitler to demon­strate his power while de­mand­ing al­le­giance, con­sol­i­dat­ing his con­trol of the party and pre­sent­ing him­self as the so­lu­tion to the chaos the Nazis had done so much to fer­ment.

Who was in­volved?

Adolf Hitler 20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945

Hitler per­son­ally led the putsch, in­tent on con­fronting the SA threat and se­cur­ing him­self as the ar­biter of Ger­many’s destiny.

Ernst Röhm 28 Novem­ber 1887 – 1 July 1934

Once Hitler’s trusted ac­com­plice, Röhm’s fall from grace took him to an ig­no­min­ious end in a cold prison cell.

Hein­rich Himm­ler 7 Oc­to­ber 1900 – 23 May 1945

Prov­ing his al­le­giance and strength­en­ing his po­si­tion within the Nazi hi­er­ar­chy, Himm­ler di­rected the SS in­ter­ven­tion against Röhm.

Hitler salutes a pa­rade of SA troop­ers in 1930

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