The Night of the Long Knives, Hitler’s Political Purge. 84 years later

The Night of the Long Knives that occurred from from June 30,1934 to July 2,1934, is one of the most famous purges in the History of Nazi Germany. It was the systematic killings of SA men, political opponents, and people from Adolf Hitler’s past. The SA (Sturmabteiling) was founded in 1920 and it’s first leader was Emil Maurice, a supporter and close associate of Adolf Hitler. The SA was the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party (NSDAP). It’s job was to protect meetings, eject hecklers from beer halls, and disrupt meetings of their opponents, the German Communists. Then in 1922, Hermann Göring, a decorated German World War I hero and winner of the Blue Max, joined the Nazi Party. He was impressed after hearing Adolf Hitler speak. Hitler was also impressed with Göring, due to his status as a war hero. Hitler put Göring in charge of the SA. Göring whipped the SA into a strong fighting force for the early Nazi Party. Hitler would later say about Göring’s effectiveness, “I liked him. I made him the head of my SA. He is the only one of its heads that ran the SA properly. I gave him a dishevelled rabble. In a very short time he had organised a division of 11,000 men.” Göring, became Hitler’s 2nd in command. Together they would organize a putsch against the government of Bavaria and hopefully against Weimar Germany. They saw their inspiration from Italian fascist Benito Mussolini who led his Blackshirts on Rome in October 1922, which was successful and made Mussolini, the Prime Minister of Italy. Hitler hoped it would work for him as well. The Beer Hall Putsch, began on November 8,1923, when Adolf Hitler and many of his SA men marched into the Bürgerbräukeller, where the Prime Minister of Bavaria, Gustav von Kahr was addressing the crowd. Hitler marched in, fired a shot into the ceiling and jumped on a chair yelling: “The national revolution has broken out! The hall is filled with six hundred men. Nobody is allowed to leave.” The three men who were running Bavaria at the time, Gustav von Kahr (Prime Minister), Otto von Lossow (Head of the Bavarian Army), and Hans von Seisser (Head of the Bavarian State Police), were taken at gunpoint to the adjoining room by Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Gustav Adolf Lenk, and Ulrich Graf. Hitler used his gun as a negotiating tool against the triumvirate to support the coup. However, they would not budge and did not take him seriously. Then, Erich Ludendorff, a decorated World War I Field Marshal and supporter of the Putsch arrived. He manage to negotiate with the triumvirate to support the coup. Hitler left the hall believing it would work. After Ludendorff allowed the triumvirate to leave. Kahr went back on his word and told Berlin about the news. Berlin declared Hitler and his supporters, “Guilty of High Treason”. The next day, on November 9,1923, Adolf Hitler with Göring and Ludendorff at his side, along with Rudolf Hess and many other began their March on Munich, just like Mussolini did his March on Rome, the year before. When they got to the Odeonsplatz in front of the Feldherrnhalle, they were met by 130 soldiers under the command of the command of State Police Senior Lieutenant Baron Michael von Godin. Von Godin gave the order to fire on the putschists. 16 Nazis and 4 state policemen were killed in the crossfire. Göring was wounded and managed to escape. Hitler fled in a nearby car. Ludendorff, unharmed, marched to the police line and surrendered. On November 11, Hitler was arrested. The Nazi Party along with the SA and its party newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter were all banned by the government. Göring fled to nearby Austria. It seem it would be the end of Hitler and his cronies. However, this would not be the case. When Adolf Hitler, when on trial in February 1924, he portrayed himself as a patriot trying to save Germany from the humiliation of the 1918 surrender and the 1919 Versailles Treaty. Hitler, a noted orator was so convincing that the judges at his trial who were politically conservative gave him a lenient sentence: 5 years and if good he would be released in December 1924. Ernst Röhm, Hitler’s friend and supporter waited for Hitler’s release from prison and hoping to start another revolution. However, to Röhm’s dismay, Hitler was not interested in an armed revolution to gain power. Hitler decided to take the way of a constitutional process to gain power. Hitler and Röhm had a disagreement over this which resulted with Röhm leaving for Bolivia. In 1929, The Nazis wish came true when the Stock Market in New York City crashed. This was ample enough for the Nazis to seize power. In the 1930 and 1932 Reichstag elections, the Nazis won an overwhelming majority and Hermann Göring became President of the Reichstag in 1932. By the time, Röhm had returned from Bolivia and put his grip on the SA. On January 30,1933, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg. On February 27,1933, the Reichstag was set on fire in a Communist plot and the arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested on site. Hermann Göring, who by this time was Minister of the Interior for Prussia and had control of the Prussian Police Force ordered an immediate crackdown on the left in Berlin. The German police along with the SS and SA arrested 4,000 German Communists and their supporters. The Communist Party was outlawed by the German government. On March 23,1933, Hitler put forth an Enabling Act which gave him full powers for 4 years, in a vote of 444 to 94, the Reichstag granted him full powers. The only party that voted against the Act was the Social Democratic Party. It seemed Hitler could rule without being challenged. However, this would not be the case. Röhm was making trouble for many in the Nazi Party and the Reichswehr, Germany’s army. Röhm was calling a revolution to replace the Reichswehr and have the SA be the new army. This worried many Generals who appealed to Hitler. Hitler was reluctant. Also, Ernst Röhm was known to be a rabid homosexual and many of his gay friends were given high positions in the SA and the German press had a field day with frequent sex scandals. At the time, Paragraph 175 was German law that made homosexual acts a crime. The law would remain in effect until 1994. Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS was disgusted with homosexuality in the SA and considered it degenerate. Himmler was Röhm’s subordinate and Himmler felt he should not be bossed by Röhm. Also, Hermann Göring had his battle with Röhm. The SA in Berlin was getting out of control and he had his protege Gestapo head Rudolf Diels to stamp out the violence caused by the SAAlso, Göring and Himmler were in a power struggle with each other at the same time. Göring had control of the Gestapo and the Prussian Police, while Himmler controlled the SS and was grabbing all the police departments throughout Germany. The two decided to make peace and they decided to work together to dispose of Ernst Röhm. On March 17,1934. Röhm was drunk and basically called for Hitler to deposed. One of the SA members present was Viktor Lutze who rushed to tell Hitler. Also, Göring, Himmler, and Himmler’s 2nd in command, Reinhard Heydrich began to plot to depose Röhm and his cronies. After presenting the evidence to Hitler that Röhm was traitor and also the German generals asked Hitler to curb the SA. Hitler decided to implement the Night of the Long Knives. On June 30,1934,  Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister), Julius Schreck, Emil Maurice (Hitler’s closest defenders), Erich Kempka (Hitler’s chauffeur), and Viktor Lutze made their way to Bad Wiessee by car and arrived their at 6:30 am. Hitler along with SS men made it to the first floor and Hitler opened the door to Röhm’s room at  the Hanselbauer Hotel. Hitler’s holding a pistol told Röhm to get up and that he was under arrest. Hitler then barged into the next room and found Röhm’s assistant Edmund Heines in bed with his driver, Erich Schiewek. Hitler was enraged when he saw this. Röhm, Heines, and Schiewek were taken away and taken to Stadelheim prison while Hitler made his way back to Berlin. Joseph Goebbels made a telephone call to Hermann Göring and uttered the word “Kolibri” (Hummingbird). This was the word to start the Night of the Long Knives. From June 30 to July 1,1934, about 200 people were murdered including: Kurt von Schleicher (the last Chancellor of Weimar Germany), Erich Klausener (Head of German Catholic Action), Edgar Julius Jung (Conservative critic of the Nazis), Herbert von Bose (Conservative politician and critic of Hitler), Ferdinand von Bredow (friend of Kurt von Schleicher), among others. On July 1,1934, after Röhm refused to commit suicide, two SS men walked into his cell and shot him 3 times killing him. The death of Röhm marked the end of the Night of the Long Knives.

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