All About History

Bluffer’s guide

Night of the Long Knives


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
Hitler salutes a parade of SA troopers in 1930
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