The NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES (German : Nacht der langen Messer
(help ·info )), also called OPERATION HUMMINGBIRD (German:
Unternehmen Kolibri) or, in Germany, the RöHM PUTSCH (German
spelling: Röhm-Putsch), was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany
from June 30 to July 2, 1934, when the Nazi regime carried out a
series of political extrajudicial executions intended to consolidate
Hitler's absolute hold on power in Germany. Many of those killed were
leaders of the SA (
Sturmabteilung ), the Nazis' own paramilitary
Brownshirts organization; the best-known victim was
Ernst Röhm , the
SA's leader and one of Hitler's longtime supporters and allies.
Leading members of the left-wing Strasserist faction of the Nazi Party
(NSDAP), along with its figurehead,
Gregor Strasser , were also
killed, as were establishment conservatives and anti-Nazis (such as
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher and Bavarian politician Gustav
Ritter von Kahr , who had suppressed
Adolf Hitler 's
Munich Beer Hall
Putsch in 1923). The murders of Brownshirt leaders were also intended
to improve the image of the Hitler government with a German public
that was increasingly critical of thuggish Brownshirt tactics.
Hitler moved against the SA and its leader, Ernst Röhm, because he
saw the independence of the SA and the penchant of its members for
street violence as a direct threat to his newly gained political
power. Hitler also wanted to conciliate leaders of the
the official German military who feared and despised the SA—in
particular Röhm's ambition to absorb the
Reichswehr into the SA under
his own leadership. Additionally, Hitler was uncomfortable with
Röhm's outspoken support for a "second revolution" to redistribute
wealth (in Röhm's view, President Hindenburg\'s appointing of Hitler
as German Chancellor on January 30, 1933 had accomplished the
"nationalistic" revolution but had left unfulfilled the "socialistic"
motive in National Socialism). Finally, Hitler used the purge to
attack or eliminate critics of his new regime, especially those loyal
Franz von Papen
Franz von Papen , as well as to settle scores with
At least 85 people died during the purge, although the final death
toll may have been in the hundreds and more than a thousand
perceived opponents were arrested. Most of the killings were carried
out by the
Schutzstaffel (SS) and the
Staatspolizei), the regime's secret police . The purge strengthened
and consolidated the support of the
Reichswehr for Hitler. It also
provided a legal grounding for the Nazi regime, as the German courts
and cabinet quickly swept aside centuries of legal prohibition against
extrajudicial killings to demonstrate their loyalty to the regime. The
Night of the Long Knives
Night of the Long Knives was a turning point for the German
government. It established Hitler as "the supreme justiciar of the
German people", as he put it in his July 13, 1934 speech to the
Before its execution, its planners sometimes referred to it as
Hummingbird (German: Kolibri), the codeword used to send the execution
squads into action on the day of the purge. The codename for the
operation appears to have been chosen arbitrarily. The phrase "Night
of the Long Knives" in the
German language predates the killings and
refers generally to acts of vengeance.
Germans still use the term
Röhm-Putsch to describe the killings, the term given to it by the
Nazi regime, despite its unproven implication that they were necessary
to prevent a coup. German authors often use quotation marks or write
about the sogenannter Röhm-Putsch ("so-called Röhm Putsch") for
* 1 Hitler and the
* 2 Conflict between the army and the SA
* 3 Growing pressure against the SA
* 4 Heydrich and Himmler
* 5.1 Against conservatives and old enemies
* 5.2 Röhm\'s fate
* 6 Aftermath
* 6.1 Reaction
* 7 SA leadership
* 8 See also
* 9 Footnotes
* 10 References
* 10.1 Citations
* 10.2 Bibliography
* 10.3 Online
* 10.4 Media
* 11 Further reading
* 12 External links
HITLER AND THE STURMABTEILUNG (SA)
Hitler posing in
Nuremberg with SA members in 1928. Julius
Streicher is to the left of Hitler, and
Hermann Göring stands beneath
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor on January
30, 1933. Over the next few months , during the so-called
Gleichschaltung , Hitler dispensed with the need for the Reichstag as
a legislative body and eliminated all rival political parties in
Germany, so that by the middle of 1933 the country had become a
one-party state under his direction and control. Hitler did not
exercise absolute power, however, despite his swift consolidation of
political authority. As chancellor, Hitler did not command the army,
which remained under the formal leadership of Hindenburg, a highly
respected veteran field marshal . While many officers were impressed
by Hitler's promises of an expanded army, a return to conscription ,
and a more aggressive foreign policy , the army continued to guard its
traditions of independence during the early years of the Nazi regime.
To a lesser extent, the
Sturmabteilung (SA), a Nazi paramilitary
organisation, remained somewhat autonomous within the party. The SA
evolved out of the remnants of the
Freikorps movement of the
World War I
World War I years. The
Freikorps were nationalistic organisations
primarily composed of disaffected, disenchanted, and angry German
combat veterans founded by the government in January 1919 to deal with
the threat of a Communist revolution when it appeared that there was a
lack of loyal troops. A very large number of the
that the November Revolution had betrayed them when Germany was
alleged to be on the verge of victory in 1918. Hence, the Freikorps
were in opposition to the new
Weimar Republic , which was born as a
result of the November Revolution, and whose founders were
contemptuously called "November criminals". Captain
Ernst Röhm of the
Reichswehr served as the liaison with the Bavarian Freikorps. Röhm
was given the nickname "The Machine Gun King of Bavaria" in the early
1920s, since he was responsible for storing and issuing illegal
machine guns to the Bavarian
Freikorps units. Röhm left the
Reichswehr in 1923 and later became commander of the SA. During the
1920s and 1930s, the SA functioned as a private militia used by Hitler
to intimidate rivals and disrupt the meetings of competing political
parties, especially those of the Social Democrats and the Communists .
Also known as the "brownshirts" or "stormtroopers", the SA became
notorious for their street battles with the Communists. The violent
confrontations between the two contributed to the destabilisation of
Germany's inter-war experiment with democracy , the Weimar Republic.
In June 1932, one of the worst months of political violence, there
were more than 400 street battles, resulting in 82 deaths.
Hitler's appointment as chancellor, followed by the suppression of
all political parties except the Nazis, did not end the violence of
the stormtroopers. Deprived of Communist party meetings to disrupt,
the stormtroopers would sometimes run riot in the streets after a
night of drinking. They would attack passers-by, and then attack the
police who were called to stop them. Complaints of "overbearing and
loutish" behaviour by stormtroopers became common by the middle of
1933. The Foreign Office even complained of instances where
brownshirts manhandled foreign diplomats.
Hitler's move would be to strengthen his position with the army by
moving against its nemesis, the SA. On July 6, 1933, at a gathering
of high-ranking Nazi officials, Hitler declared the success of the
National Socialist , or Nazi, brown revolution . Now that the NSDAP
had seized the reins of power in Germany, he said, it was time to
consolidate its control. Hitler told the gathered officials, "The
stream of revolution has been undammed, but it must be channelled into
the secure bed of evolution."
Hitler's speech signalled his intention to rein in the SA, whose
ranks had grown rapidly in the early 1930s. This would not prove to be
simple, however, as the SA made up a large part of Nazism's most
devoted followers. The SA traced its dramatic rise in numbers in part
to the onset of the Great Depression , when many German citizens lost
both their jobs and their faith in traditional institutions. While
Nazism was not exclusively – or even primarily – a working class
phenomenon, the SA fulfilled the yearning of many unemployed workers
for class solidarity and nationalist fervour. Many stormtroopers
believed in the socialist promise of National
Socialism and expected
the Nazi regime to take more radical economic action, such as breaking
up the vast landed estates of the aristocracy. When the Nazi regime
did not take such steps, those who had expected an economic as well as
a political revolution were disillusioned.
CONFLICT BETWEEN THE ARMY AND THE SA
Ernst Röhm in
Bavaria in 1934
No one in the SA spoke more loudly for "a continuation of the German
revolution", as one prominent stormtrooper put it, than Röhm. Röhm,
as one of the earliest members of the Nazi Party, had participated in
Beer Hall Putsch
Beer Hall Putsch , an attempt by Hitler to seize power by
force in 1923. A combat veteran of
World War I
World War I , Röhm had recently
boasted that he would execute 12 men in retaliation for the killing of
any stormtrooper. Röhm saw violence as a means to political ends. He
took seriously the socialist promise of National Socialism, and
demanded that Hitler and the other party leaders initiate wide-ranging
socialist reform in Germany.
Not content solely with the leadership of the SA, Röhm lobbied
Hitler to appoint him Minister of Defence , a position held by the
Werner von Blomberg
Werner von Blomberg . Although nicknamed the
"Rubber Lion" by some of his critics in the army for his devotion to
Hitler, Blomberg was not a Nazi, and therefore represented a bridge
between the army and the party. Blomberg and many of his fellow
officers were recruited from the Prussian nobility , and regarded the
SA as a plebeian rabble that threatened the army's traditional high
status in German society.
If the regular army showed contempt for the masses belonging to the
SA, many stormtroopers returned the feeling, seeing the army as
insufficiently committed to the National Socialist revolution. Max
Heydebreck, an SA leader in
Rummelsburg , denounced the army to his
fellow brownshirts, telling them, "Some of the officers of the army
are swine. Most officers are too old and have to be replaced by young
ones. We want to wait till Papa Hindenburg is dead, and then the SA
will march against the army."
Despite such hostility between the brownshirts and the regular army,
Blomberg and others in the military saw the SA as a source of raw
recruits for an enlarged and revitalised army. Röhm, however, wanted
to eliminate the generalship of the Prussian aristocracy altogether,
using the SA to become the core of a new German military. Limited by
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles to one hundred thousand soldiers, army
leaders watched anxiously as membership in the SA surpassed three
million men by the beginning of 1934. In January 1934, Röhm
presented Blomberg with a memorandum demanding that the SA replace the
regular army as the nation's ground forces, and that the Reichswehr
become a training adjunct to the SA.
In response, Hitler met Blomberg and the leadership of the SA and SS
on February 28, 1934. Under pressure from Hitler, Röhm reluctantly
signed a pledge stating that he recognised the supremacy of the
Reichswehr over the SA. Hitler announced to those present that the SA
would act as an auxiliary to the Reichswehr, not the other way around.
After Hitler and most of the army officers had left, however, Röhm
declared that he would not take instructions from "the ridiculous
corporal" – a demeaning reference to Hitler. While Hitler did not
take immediate action against Röhm for his intemperate outburst, it
nonetheless deepened the rift between them.
GROWING PRESSURE AGAINST THE SA
Franz von Papen
Franz von Papen , the conservative vice-chancellor who ran afoul
of Hitler after denouncing the regime's failure to rein in the SA in
Marburg speech . (Picture taken 1946 at the
Despite his earlier agreement with Hitler, Röhm still clung to his
vision of a new German army with the SA at its core. By early 1934,
this vision directly conflicted with Hitler's plan to consolidate
power and expand the Reichswehr. Because their plans for the army
conflicted, Röhm's success could only come at Hitler's expense.
Moreover, it was not just the
Reichswehr that viewed the SA as a
threat. Several of Hitler's lieutenants feared Röhm's growing power
and restlessness, as did Hitler. As a result, a political struggle
within the party grew, with those closest to Hitler, including
Hermann Göring , Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels
Heinrich Himmler , and Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess
, positioning themselves against Röhm. While all of these men were
veterans of the Nazi movement, only Röhm continued to demonstrate his
independence from, rather than his loyalty to, Adolf Hitler. Röhm's
contempt for the party's bureaucracy angered Hess. SA violence in
Prussia gravely concerned Göring, Minister-President of Prussia.
Finally in the spring of 1934, the growing rift between Röhm and
Hitler over the role of the SA in the Nazi state led the former
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher , to start playing politics
again. Schleicher criticised the current Hitler cabinet while some of
Schleicher's followers such as
Ferdinand von Bredow and Werner
von Alvensleben started passing along lists of a new Hitler Cabinet in
which Schleicher would become Vice-Chancellor, Röhm Minister of
Heinrich Brüning Foreign Minister and Gregor Strasser
Minister of National Economy. The British historian Sir John
Wheeler-Bennett , who knew Schleicher and his circle well, wrote that
Bredow displayed a "lack of discretion" that was "terrifying" as he
went about showing the list of the proposed cabinet to anyone who was
interested. Although Schleicher was in fact unimportant by 1934,
increasingly wild rumours that he was scheming with Röhm to reenter
the corridors of power helped stoke the sense of crisis.
As a means of isolating Röhm, on April 20, 1934, Göring transferred
control of the Prussian political police (Gestapo) to Himmler, who,
Göring believed, could be counted on to move against Röhm. Himmler
envied the independence and power of the SA, although by this time he
and his deputy
Reinhard Heydrich had already begun restructuring the
SS from a bodyguard formation for Nazi leaders (and a subset of the
SA) into its own independent elite corps, one loyal to both himself
and Hitler. The loyalty of the SS men would prove useful to both when
Hitler finally chose to move against Röhm and the SA. By May, lists
of those to be "liquidated" started to circulate amongst Göring and
Himmler's people, who engaged in a trade, adding enemies of one in
exchange for sparing friends of the other. At the end of May two
Heinrich Brüning and Kurt von Schleicher,
received warnings from friends in the
Reichswehr that their lives were
in danger and they should leave Germany at once. Brüning fled to the
Netherlands while Schleicher dismissed the tip-off as a bad practical
joke. By the beginning of June everything was set and all that was
needed was permission from Hitler.
Demands for Hitler to constrain the SA strengthened. Conservatives in
the army, industry, and politics placed Hitler under increasing
pressure to reduce the influence of the SA and to move against Röhm.
While Röhm's homosexuality did not endear him to conservatives, they
were more concerned about his political ambitions. Hitler for his part
remained indecisive and uncertain about just what precisely he wanted
to do when he left for Venice to meet
Benito Mussolini on June 15.
Before Hitler left, and at the request of Presidential State Secretary
Otto Meißner , Foreign Minister Baron
Konstantin von Neurath ordered
the German Ambassador to Italy
Ulrich von Hassell — without Hitler's
knowledge — to ask Mussolini to tell Hitler that the SA was
blackening Germany's good name. Neurath's manoeuvre to put pressure
on Hitler paid off, with Mussolini agreeing to the request (Neurath
was a former ambassador to Italy, and knew Mussolini well). During
the summit in Venice, Mussolini upbraided Hitler for tolerating the
violence, hooliganism, and homosexuality of the SA, which Mussolini
stated were ruining Hitler's good reputation all over the world.
Mussolini used the affair occasioned by the murder of Giacomo
Matteotti as an example of the kind of trouble unruly followers could
cause a dictator. While Mussolini's criticism did not win Hitler over
to acting against the SA, it helped push him in that direction.
On June 17, 1934, conservative demands for Hitler to act came to a
head when Vice-Chancellor
Franz von Papen
Franz von Papen , confidant of the ailing
Hindenburg, gave a speech at Marburg University warning of the threat
of a "second revolution". Privately according to his memoirs, von
Papen, a Catholic aristocrat with ties to army and industry,
threatened to resign if Hitler did not act. While von Papen's
resignation as vice-chancellor would not have threatened Hitler's
position, it would have nonetheless been an embarrassing display of
independence from a leading conservative.
HEYDRICH AND HIMMLER
Reinhard Heydrich , head of the Bavarian
police and SD , in Munich, 1934
In response to conservative pressure to constrain Röhm, Hitler left
for Neudeck to meet with Hindenburg . Blomberg, who had been meeting
with the President, uncharacteristically reproached Hitler for not
having moved against Röhm earlier. He then told Hitler that
Hindenburg was close to declaring martial law and turning the
government over to the
Reichswehr if Hitler did not take immediate
steps against Röhm and his brownshirts. Hitler had hesitated for
months in moving against Röhm, in part due to Röhm's visibility as
the leader of a national militia with millions of members. However,
the threat of a declaration of martial law from Hindenburg, the only
person in Germany with the authority to potentially depose the Nazi
regime, put Hitler under pressure to act. He left Neudeck with the
intention of both destroying Röhm and settling scores with old
enemies. Both Himmler and Göring welcomed Hitler's decision, since
both had much to gain by Röhm's downfall – the independence of the
SS for Himmler, and the removal of a rival for the future command of
the army for Göring.
In preparation for the purge both Himmler and
Reinhard Heydrich ,
chief of the SS Security Service, assembled a dossier of manufactured
evidence to suggest that Röhm had been paid 12 million Reichsmark
(EUR 48.2 million in 2017) by France to overthrow Hitler. Leading
officers in the SS were shown falsified evidence on June 24 that Röhm
planned to use the SA to launch a plot against the government
(Röhm-Putsch). Göring, Himmler, Heydrich, and
Victor Lutze (at
Hitler's direction) drew up lists of people in and outside the SA to
be killed. One of the men Göring recruited to assist him was Willi
Lehmann , a
Gestapo official and
NKVD spy. On June 25,
von Fritsch placed the
Reichswehr on the highest level of alert. On
June 27, Hitler moved to secure the army's cooperation. Blomberg and
Walther von Reichenau
Walther von Reichenau , the army's liaison to the party, gave
it to him by expelling Röhm from the German Officers' League. On
June 28 Hitler went to
Essen to attend a wedding celebration and
reception; from there he called Röhm's adjutant at
Bad Wiessee and
ordered SA leaders to meet with him on June 30 at 11h. On June 29, a
signed article in
Völkischer Beobachter by Blomberg appeared in which
Blomberg stated with great fervour that the
Reichswehr stood behind
August Schneidhuber, the chief of the
Munich police Further
Victims of the Night of the Long Knives
Victims of the Night of the Long Knives
At about 04:30 on June 30, 1934, Hitler and his entourage flew into
Munich . From the airport they drove to the Bavarian Interior
Ministry, where they assembled the leaders of an SA rampage that had
taken place in city streets the night before. Enraged, Hitler tore the
epaulets off the shirt of Obergruppenführer August Schneidhuber, the
chief of the
Munich police, for failing to keep order in the city on
the previous night. Hitler shouted at Schneidhuber and accused him of
treachery. Schneidhuber was executed later that day. As the
stormtroopers were hustled off to prison, Hitler assembled a large
group of SS and regular police, and departed for the Hanselbauer Hotel
in Bad Wiessee, where
Ernst Röhm and his followers were staying.
Hotel Lederer am See (former Kurheim Hanselbauer) in Bad Wiessee
before its planned demolition in 2017.
With Hitler's arrival in
Bad Wiessee between 06:00 and 07:00, the SA
leadership, still in bed, were taken by surprise. SS men stormed the
hotel and Hitler personally placed Röhm and other high-ranking SA
leaders under arrest. According to
Erich Kempka , Hitler turned Röhm
over to "two detectives holding pistols with the safety catch
removed", and the SS found
Breslau SA leader
Edmund Heines in bed with
an unidentified eighteen-year-old male SA senior troop leader.
Goebbels emphasised this aspect in subsequent propaganda justifying
the purge as a crackdown on moral turpitude . Hitler ordered both
Heines and his partner taken outside of the hotel and shot.
Meanwhile, the SS arrested the other SA leaders as they left their
train for the planned meeting with Röhm and Hitler.
Although Hitler presented no evidence of a plot by Röhm to overthrow
the regime, he nevertheless denounced the leadership of the SA.
Arriving back at party headquarters in Munich, Hitler addressed the
assembled crowd. Consumed with rage, Hitler denounced "the worst
treachery in world history". Hitler told the crowd that "undisciplined
and disobedient characters and asocial or diseased elements" would be
annihilated. The crowd, which included party members and many SA
members fortunate enough to escape arrest, shouted its approval. Hess,
present among the assembled, even volunteered to shoot the "traitors".
Joseph Goebbels, who had been with Hitler at Bad Wiessee, set the
final phase of the plan in motion. Upon returning to Berlin, Goebbels
telephoned Göring at 10:00 with the codeword Kolibri to let loose the
execution squads on the rest of their unsuspecting victims.
AGAINST CONSERVATIVES AND OLD ENEMIES
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher , Hitler's predecessor as
Chancellor, in uniform, 1932
Gregor Strasser in 1928
Willi Schmid , a mistaken victim of the purge, in 1930
The regime did not limit itself to a purge of the SA. Having earlier
imprisoned or exiled prominent Social Democrats and Communists, Hitler
used the occasion to move against conservatives he considered
unreliable. This included Vice-Chancellor Papen and those in his
immediate circle. In Berlin, on Göring's personal orders, an armed SS
unit stormed the Vice-Chancellery.
Gestapo officers attached to the SS
unit shot Papen's secretary
Herbert von Bose without bothering to
arrest him first. The
Gestapo arrested and later executed Papen's
close associate Edgar Jung , the author of Papen's
Marburg speech ;
they disposed of his body by dumping it in a ditch. The
Erich Klausener , the leader of Catholic Action, and a close
Papen associate. Papen was unceremoniously arrested at the
Vice-Chancellery, despite his insistent protests that he could not be
arrested in his position as Vice-Chancellor. Although Hitler ordered
him released days later, Papen no longer dared to criticise the regime
and was sent off to Vienna as German ambassador.
Hitler, Göring, and Himmler unleashed the
Gestapo against old
enemies as well. Both
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher , Hitler's predecessor as
Chancellor, and his wife were murdered at their home. Others killed
included Gregor Strasser, a former Nazi who had angered Hitler by
resigning from the party in 1932, and
Gustav Ritter von Kahr , the
former Bavarian state commissioner who crushed the
Beer Hall Putsch
Beer Hall Putsch in
1923. Kahr's fate was especially gruesome. His body was found in a
wood outside Munich; he had been hacked to death, apparently with
pickaxes. The murdered included at least one accidental victim: Willi
Schmid , the music critic of the Münchner Neuste Nachrichten, a
Munich newspaper. The
Gestapo mistook him for Ludwig Schmitt, a past
Otto Strasser , the brother of Gregor. As Himmler's
Karl Wolff later explained, friendship and personal loyalty
were not allowed to stand in the way:
Among others, a charming fellow Karl von Spreti, Röhm's personal
adjutant. He held the same position with Röhm as I held with Himmler.
died with words "Heil Hitler" on his lips. We were close personal
friends, we often dined together in Berlin. He lifted his arm in the
Nazi salute and called out "Heil Hitler, I love Germany".
Several leaders of the disbanded Catholic Centre Party were also
murdered in the purge. The Party had generally been aligned with the
Social Democrats and Catholic Church during the rise of Nazism, being
critical of Nazi ideology , but voting nonetheless for the enabling
act of 1933 .
Röhm was held briefly at
Stadelheim Prison in Munich, while Hitler
considered his future. In the end, Hitler decided that Röhm had to
die. On July 1, at Hitler's behest,
Theodor Eicke , Commandant of the
Dachau concentration camp
Dachau concentration camp , and his SS adjutant Michel Lippert visited
Röhm. Once inside Röhm's cell, they handed him a Browning pistol
loaded with a single bullet and told him he had ten minutes to kill
himself or they would do it for him. Röhm demurred, telling them, "If
I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself." Having heard nothing in
the allotted time, they returned to Röhm's cell at 14:50 to find him
standing, with his bare chest puffed out in a gesture of defiance.
Eicke and Lippert then shot Röhm, killing him. In 1957, the German
authorities tried Lippert in
Munich for Röhm's murder. Until then,
Lippert had been one of the few executioners of the purge to evade
trial. Lippert was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Hitler triumphant: The
Führer reviewing the SA in 1935. In the
car with Hitler: the
Blutfahne , behind the car SS-man Jakob
As the purge claimed the lives of so many prominent Germans, it could
hardly be kept secret. At first, its architects seemed split on how to
handle the event. Göring instructed police stations to burn "all
documents concerning the action of the past two days". Meanwhile,
Goebbels tried to prevent newspapers from publishing lists of the
dead, but at the same time used a July 2 radio address to describe how
Hitler had narrowly prevented Röhm and Schleicher from overthrowing
the government and throwing the country into turmoil. Then, on July
13, 1934, Hitler justified the purge in a nationally broadcast speech
to the Reichstag:
If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular
courts of justice, then all I can say is this. In this hour I was
responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became
the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the
ringleaders in this treason, and I further gave the order to cauterise
down to the raw flesh the ulcers of this poisoning of the wells in our
domestic life. Let the nation know that its existence—which depends
on its internal order and security—cannot be threatened with
impunity by anyone! And let it be known for all time to come that if
anyone raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his
Concerned with presenting the massacre as legally sanctioned, Hitler
had the cabinet approve a measure on July 3 that declared, "The
measures taken on June 30, July 1 and 2 to suppress treasonous
assaults are legal as acts of self-defence by the State." Reich
Franz Gürtner , a conservative who had been Bavarian
Justice Minister in the years of the Weimar Republic, demonstrated his
loyalty to the new regime by drafting the statute, which added a legal
veneer to the purge. Signed into law by Hitler, Gürtner, and
Minister of the Interior
Wilhelm Frick , the "Law Regarding Measures
of State Self-Defence" retroactively legalised the murders committed
during the purge. Germany's legal establishment further capitulated
to the regime when the country's leading legal scholar,
Carl Schmitt ,
wrote an article defending Hitler's July 13 speech. It was named "The
Führer Upholds the Law".
Almost unanimously, the army applauded the Night of the Long Knives,
even though the generals
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher and Ferdinand von Bredow
were among the victims. The ailing President Hindenburg , Germany's
highly revered military hero, sent a telegram expressing his
"profoundly felt gratitude" and he congratulated Hitler for "nipping
treason in the bud".
General von Reichenau went so far as to publicly
give credence to the lie that Schleicher had been plotting to
overthrow the government. In his speech to the Reichstag on July 13
justifying his actions, Hitler denounced Schleicher for conspiring
Ernst Röhm to overthrow the government; Hitler alleged both were
traitors working in the pay of France. Since Schleicher was a good
friend of the French Ambassador
André François-Poncet , and because
of his reputation for intrigue, the claim that Schleicher was working
for France had enough surface plausibility for most
Germans to accept
it. François-Poncet was not declared persona non grata as would have
been usual if an Ambassador were involved in a plot against his host
government. The army's support for the purge, however, would have
far-reaching consequences for the institution. The humbling of the SA
ended the threat it had posed to the army but, by standing by Hitler
during the purge, the army bound itself more tightly to the Nazi
regime. One retired captain,
Erwin Planck , seemed to realise this:
"if you look on without lifting a finger," he said to his friend,
Werner von Fritsch , "you will meet the same fate sooner or
later." Another rare exception was Field Marshal August von Mackensen
, who spoke about the murders of Schleicher and Bredow at the annual
General Staff Society meeting in February 1935 after they had been
rehabilitated by Hitler in early January 1935. Election poster
for Hindenburg in 1932 (translation: "With him")
Rumours about the
Night of the Long Knives
Night of the Long Knives rapidly spread. Although
Germans approached the official news of the events as described
Joseph Goebbels with a great deal of scepticism, many others took
the regime at its word, and believed that Hitler had saved Germany
from a descent into chaos. Luise Solmitz, a
echoed the sentiments of many
Germans when she cited Hitler's
"personal courage, decisiveness and effectiveness" in her private
diary. She even compared him to
Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great , the 18th-century
Prussia . Others were appalled at the scale of the executions
and at the relative complacency of many of their fellow
Germans . "A
very calm and easy going mailman," the diarist
Victor Klemperer wrote,
"who is not at all National Socialist, said, 'Well, he simply
sentenced them.'" It did not escape Klemperer's notice that many of
the victims had played a role in bringing Hitler to power. "A
chancellor", he wrote, "sentences and shoots members of his own
private army!" The extent of the massacre and the relative ubiquity
of the Gestapo, however, meant that those who disapproved of the purge
generally kept quiet about it. Among the few exceptions were General
Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord
Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord and Field Marshal
August von Mackensen
August von Mackensen ,
who started a campaign to have Schleicher rehabilitated by Hitler.
Hammerstein, who was a close friend of Schleicher, had been much
offended at Schleicher's funeral when the SS refused to allow him to
attend the service and confiscated the wreaths that the mourners had
brought. Besides working for the rehabilitation of Schleicher and
Bredow, Hammerstein and Mackensen sent a memo to Hindenburg on July 18
setting out in considerable detail the circumstances of the murders of
the two generals and noted that Papen had barely escaped. The memo
went on to demand that Hindenburg punish those responsible, and
criticised Blomberg for his outspoken support of the murders of
Schleicher and Bredow. Finally, Hammerstein and Mackensen asked that
Hindenburg reorganise the government by firing Baron Konstantin von
Robert Ley , Hermann Göring,
Werner von Blomberg
Werner von Blomberg , Joseph
Richard Walther Darré from the Cabinet. Instead, the
memo asked that Hindenburg create a directorate to rule Germany
comprising the Chancellor (who was not named),
General Werner von
Fritsch as Vice-Chancellor, Hammerstein as Minister of Defense, the
Minister for National Economy (also unnamed) and
Rudolf Nadolny as
Foreign Minister. The request that Neurath be replaced by Nadolny,
the former Ambassador to Moscow who had resigned earlier that year in
protest against Hitler's anti-Soviet foreign policy, indicated that
Hammerstein and Mackensen wanted a return to the "distant
friendliness" towards the Soviet Union that existed until 1933.
Mackensen and Hammerstein ended their memo with:
Excellency, the gravity of the moment has compelled us to appeal to
you as our Supreme Commander. The destiny of our country is at stake.
Your Excellency has thrice before saved Germany from foundering, at
Tannenberg, at the end of the War and at the moment of your election
as Reich President. Excellency, save Germany for the fourth time! The
undersigned Generals and senior officers swear to preserve to the last
breath their loyalty to you and the Fatherland.
Hindenburg never responded to the memo, and it remains unclear
whether he even saw it, as
Otto Meißner , who decided that his future
was aligned with the Nazis, may not have passed it along. It is
noteworthy that even those officers who were most offended by the
killings, like Hammerstein and Mackensen, did not blame the purge on
Hitler, whom they wanted to see continue as Chancellor, and at most
wanted a reorganization of the Cabinet to remove some of Hitler's more
Werner von Blomberg
Werner von Blomberg in 1934
In late 1934–early 1935,
Werner von Fritsch and Werner von Blomberg
, who had been shamed into joining Hammerstein and Mackensen's
rehabilitation campaign, successfully pressured Hitler into
rehabilitating Generals von Schleicher and von Bredow. Fritsch and
Blomberg suddenly now claimed at the end of 1934 that as army officers
they could not stand the exceedingly violent press attacks on
Schleicher and Bredow that had been going on since July, which
portrayed them as the vilest traitors, working against the Fatherland
in the pay of France. In a speech given on January 3, 1935 at the
Berlin State Opera, Hitler stated that Schleicher and Bredow had been
shot "in error" on the basis of false information, and that their
names were to be restored to the honour rolls of their regiments at
once. Hitler's speech was not reported in the German press, but the
army was appeased by the speech. However, despite the rehabilitation
of the two murdered officers, the Nazis continued in private to accuse
Schleicher of high treason. During a trip to Warsaw in January 1935,
Göring told Jan Szembek that Schleicher had urged Hitler in January
1933 to reach an understanding with France and the Soviet Union, and
partition Poland with the latter, and Hitler had Schleicher killed out
of disgust with the alleged advice. During a meeting with Polish
Józef Lipski on May 22, 1935, Hitler told Lipski that
Schleicher was "rightfully murdered, if only because he had sought to
Rapallo Treaty ". The statements that Schleicher had
been killed because he wanted to partition Poland with the Soviet
Union were later published in the Polish White Book of 1939, which was
a collection of diplomatic documents detailing German–Polish
relations up to the outbreak of the war.
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Kaiser Wilhelm II , who was in exile in
Doorn , Netherlands,
was horrified by the purge. He said, "What would people have said if I
had done such a thing?". Hearing of the murder of former Chancellor
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher and his wife, he also commented, "We have ceased
to live under the rule of law and everyone must be prepared for the
possibility that the Nazis will push their way in and put them up
against the wall!"
Victor Lutze to replace Röhm as head of the SA. Hitler
ordered him, as one prominent historian described it, to put an end to
"homosexuality, debauchery, drunkenness, and high living" in the SA.
Hitler expressly told him to stop SA funds from being spent on
limousines and banquets, which he considered evidence of SA
extravagance. Lutze did little to assert the SA's independence in the
coming years, and the SA lost its power in Germany. Membership in the
organisation plummeted from 2.9 million in August 1934 to 1.2 million
in April 1938.
According to Speer , "...the Right, represented by the President, the
Minister of Justice, and the generals, lined up behind Hitler...the
strong left wing of the party, represented chiefly by the SA, was
Night of the Long Knives
Night of the Long Knives represented a triumph for Hitler, and a
turning point for the German government. It established Hitler as "the
supreme leader of the German people", as he put it in his July 13
speech to the Reichstag. Later, in April 1942, Hitler would formally
adopt this title, thus placing himself de jure as well as de facto
above the reach of the law . Centuries of jurisprudence proscribing
extrajudicial killings were swept aside. Despite some initial efforts
by local prosecutors to take legal action against those who carried
out the murders, which the regime rapidly quashed, it appeared that no
law would constrain Hitler in his use of power. The Night of the Long
Knives also sent a clear message to the public that even the most
Germans were not immune from arrest or even summary
execution should the Nazi regime perceive them as a threat. In this
manner, the purge established a pattern of violence that would
characterise the Nazi regime.
Röhm was purged from all
Nazi propaganda , such as the film of the
Nuremberg rally , although a print copy of the motion picture by
Leni Riefenstahl survived and was found in the United
Kingdom many years later.
Der Sieg des Glaubens
* Glossary of
* List of
Nazi Party leaders and officials
* White Book of the
Victims of the Night of the Long Knives
Victims of the Night of the Long Knives
The Damned (1969 film)
* ^ Putsch is a German word meaning to overthrow a government by
force; a coup.
* ^ Papen, nonetheless, remained in his position although people
quite close to him were murdered.
* ^ "At least eighty-five people are known to have been summarily
killed without any formal legal proceedings being taken against them.
Göring alone had over a thousand people arrested." Evans 2005 , p.
* ^ "The names of eighty-five victims , only fifty of them SA men.
Some estimates, however, put the total number killed at between 150
and 200." Kershaw 1999 , p. 517.
* ^ Johnson places the total at 150 killed. Johnson 1991 , p. 298.
* ^ In the November 1932 parliamentary elections , the Nazi Party
won 196 seats in the Reichstag out of a possible 584. The Nazis were
the largest party in the legislature but were still considerably short
of a majority.
* ^ Through the
Enabling Act of 1933
Enabling Act of 1933 Hitler abrogated the nation's
legislative power and was thereafter effectively able to rule through
promulgation of decrees that avoided the legislative processes of the
* ^ "The most general theory—that National
Socialism was a
revolution of the lower middle class—is defensible but inadequate."
Schoenbaum 1997 , pp. 35–42.
* ^ "But in origin the National Socialists had been a radical
anti-capitalist party, and this part of the National Socialist
programme was not only taken seriously by many loyal Party members but
was of increasing importance in a period of economic depression. How
seriously Hitler took the socialist character of National Socialism
was to remain one of the main causes of disagreement and division
within the Nazi party up to the summer of 1934." Bullock 1958 , p. 80.
* ^ The quote is attributed to
Breslau SA Chief Edmund Heines. Frei
1987 , p. 126.
* ^ Coincidentally, Hitler had been incarcerated at Stadelheim
Prison for about five weeks following the Nazi's disruption of an
opposing party's political rally in January 1921.
* ^ Gürtner also declared in cabinet that the measure did not in
fact create any new law, but simply confirmed the existing law. If
that was indeed true then, as a legal matter, the law was entirely
unnecessary and redundant. Kershaw 1999 , p. 518
* ^ "It was plain that there was wide acceptance of the
deliberately misleading propaganda put out by the regime." Kershaw
2001 , p. 87.
* ^ "After the 'Night of the Long Knives,' nipped in the bud the
attempts of some local state prosecutors to initiate proceedings
against the killers." Evans 2005 , p. 72.
* ^ A B Evans 2005 , p. 39.
* ^ Johnson 1991 , pp. 298–9.
* ^ Kershaw 1999 , p. 515.
* ^ Röhm-Putsch .
* ^ Reiche 2002 , pp. 120–121.
* ^ Toland 1976 , p. 266.
* ^ Shirer 1960 , p. 165.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 23.
* ^ Kershaw 1999 , p. 501.
* ^ Kershaw 1999 , p. 435.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 20.
* ^ Frei 1987 , p. 13.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 24.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 2005 , pp. 712–739.
* ^ Bessel 1984 , p. 97.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 22.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 2005 , p. 726.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 26.
* ^ Collier & Pedley 2005 , p. 33.
* ^ A B Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , pp. 315–316.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 316.
* ^ A B C D E Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 317.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 29.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , pp. 317–318.
* ^ A B C D Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 318.
* ^ Von Papen 1953 , pp. 308–312.
* ^ Von Papen 1953 , p. 309.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 2005 , pp. 319–320.
* ^ A B Evans 2005 , p. 31.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 30.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 321.
* ^ O\'Neill 1967 , pp. 72–80.
* ^ Bullock 1958 , p. 165.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 322.
* ^ A B C D Shirer 1960 , p. 221.
* ^ Bullock 1958 , p. 166.
* ^ Kempka 1971 .
* ^ A B C Kershaw 1999 , p. 514.
* ^ A B Evans 2005 , p. 32.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 34.
* ^ Evans 2005 , pp. 33–34.
* ^ Spielvogel 1996 , pp. 78–79.
* ^ A B Evans 2005 , p. 36.
* ^ The Waffen-SS 2002 .
* ^ "The German Churches and the Nazi State". United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum . Retrieved 6 June 2015.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 33.
* ^ Kershaw 2008 , p. 312.
* ^ Kershaw 1999 , p. 517.
* ^ Shirer 1960 , p. 226.
* ^ Fest 1974 , p. 469.
* ^ Fest 1974 , p. 468.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 72.
* ^ Kershaw 1999 , p. 519.
* ^ Fest 1974 , p. 470.
* ^ A B C D E Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 327.
* ^ Collier & Pedley 2005 , pp. 33–34.
* ^ Höhne 1970 , pp. 113–118.
* ^ Schwarzmüller 1995 , pp. 299–306.
* ^ Klemperer 1998 , p. 74.
* ^ A B Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 328.
* ^ A B C D E F Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 329.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 330.
* ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , pp. 329–330.
* ^ A B Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 336.
* ^ A B Wheeler-Bennett 1967 , p. 337.
* ^ Macdonogh 2001, pp. 452–52
* ^ Macdonogh 2001, pp. 452–52.
* ^ A B Kershaw 1999 , p. 520.
* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 40.
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Erich Kempka interview".
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Adolf Hitler Collection, C-89, 9376-88A-B.
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* Spielvogel, Jackson J. (1996). Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History.
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* Toland, John (1976). Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography. New
York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-42053-2 .
* Wheeler-Bennett, John (1967). The Nemesis of Power: The German
Army in Politics 1918–1945.
* Wheeler-Bennett, John (2005). The Nemesis of Power: The German
Army in Politics 1918–1945 (2nd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN
* Von Papen, Franz (1953). Memoirs. London: Dutton. ASIN B0007DRFHQ
* "Röhm-Putsch" (in German). Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM),
German Historical Museum. Retrieved 2012-05-15.
* The Waffen-SS. Gladiators of World War II. World Media Rights.
* Evans, Richard J. (2004). The Coming of the Third Reich. New York:
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* Maracin, Paul (2004). The Night of the Long Knives: 48 Hours that
Changed the History of the World. New York: The Lyons Press. ISBN
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Holborn, Hajo . Republic to Reich: The Making of the Nazi Revolution.
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* Tolstoy, Nikolai (1972). Night of the Long Knives. New York:
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* The History Place – Triumph of Hitler – Night of the Long
* German Culture – The Third Reich – Consolidation of Power
* The German Embassy in the United States – The