On this day June 30, 1934

The Night of the Long Knives, Adolf Hitler’s violent purge of his political rivals in Germany, takes place when the Nazi regime carried out a series of political executions, most of those killed being members of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the paramilitary Brownshirts.

Ernst Röhm

Ernst Röhm

Adolf 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 power.

Hitler also wanted to conciliate leaders of the Reichswehr, the official German military.

They both feared and despised the SA and in particular feared Röhm’s ambition to absorb the Reichswehr into the SA under his own leadership.

Finally, Hitler used the purge to attack or eliminate critics of his regime, especially those loyal to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, and to settle scores with old enemies.

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 Gestapo (Geheime 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 extra-judicial killings to demonstrate their loyalty to the regime.

The phrase “Night of the Long Knives” in the German language predates the massacre itself, and it also refers generally to acts of vengeance. To this day, Germans still use the term “Röhm-Putsch” (“Röhm coup d’état”) to describe the event, as that was the term the Nazi regime used at the time, despite its overall false implication that the murders were necessary to forestall a coup.

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