All About History
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.