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Hitler purges members of his own Nazi party in Night of the Long Knives

Hitler purges members of his own Nazi party in Night of the Long Knives

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In Germany, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler orders a bloody purge of his own political party, assassinating hundreds of Nazis whom he believed had the potential to become political enemies in the future. The leadership of the Nazi Storm Troopers (SA), whose four million members had helped bring Hitler to power in the early 1930s, was especially targeted. Hitler feared that some of his followers had taken his early “National Socialism” propaganda too seriously and thus might compromise his plan to suppress workers’ rights in exchange for German industry making the country war-ready.

In the early 1920s, the ranks of Hitler’s Nazi Party swelled with resentful Germans who sympathized with the party’s bitter hatred of Germany’s democratic government, leftist politics, and Jews. In November 1923, after the German government resumed the payment of war reparations to Britain and France, the Nazis launched the “Beer Hall Putsch”–their first attempt at seizing the German government by force. Hitler hoped that his nationalist revolution in Bavaria would spread to the dissatisfied German army, which in turn would bring down the government in Berlin. However, the uprising was immediately suppressed, and Hitler was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for high treason.

Sent to Landsberg jail, he spent his time dictating his autobiography, Mein Kampf, and working on his oratorical skills. After nine months in prison, political pressure from supporters of the Nazi Party forced his release. During the next few years, Hitler and the other leading Nazis reorganized their party as a fanatical mass movement. In 1932, President Paul von Hindenburg defeated a presidential bid by Hitler, but in January 1933 he appointed Hitler chancellor, hoping that the powerful Nazi leader could be brought to heel as a member of the president’s cabinet.

However, Hindenburg underestimated Hitler’s political audacity, and one of the new chancellor’s first acts was to use the burning of the Reichstag building as a pretext for calling general elections. The police, under Nazi Hermann Goering, suppressed much of the party’s opposition before the election. The Nazi Party joined forces with the German National People's Party (DNVP), to gain a bare working majority in the Reichstag. Shortly after, Hitler took on absolute power through the Enabling Acts. In 1934, Hindenburg died, and the last remnants of Germany’s democratic government were dismantled, leaving Hitler the sole master of a nation intent on war and genocide.

READ MORE: How the Hitler Youth Turned a Generation of Kids Into Nazis

Why is it called the Night of the Long Knives?

The "purge" against other Nazi party members who were seen as a direct threat to Hitler's power and influence (which is mentioned in the video) was known as the "Night of Long Knives" because most that were killed that night were killed by knife.

Furthermore, when was the Night of the Long Knives? June 30, 1934 – July 2, 1934

Also to know is, who died on the night of the long knives?

Adolf Hitler, Gregor Strasser, Ernst Röhm and Hermann Göring in 1932 Röhm and Strasser would be killed in the Night of the Long Knives, which in large part was provoked by evidence fabricated by Göring and Heinrich Himmler purporting to show that Röhm was planning a coup.

Long knives or big knives was a term used by the Iroquois, and later by the Mingo and other Natives of the Ohio Country to designate British colonists of Virginia, in contradistinction to those of New York and Pennsylvania.

Hitler purges members of his own Nazi party in Night of the Long Knives - HISTORY

Over the next few months , using the events of the Reichstag Fire, 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. For all the power the Enabling Act gave Hitler, he still felt threatened by some in the Nazi Party.

On July 6, 1933, at a gathering of high-ranking Nazi officials, Hitler declared the success of the Nazi Revolution and outlined his intention to consolidate his control of Germany and his sole leadership. Adolf Hitler ordered a bloody purge of his own political party, assassinating hundreds of Nazis whom he believed had the potential to become political enemies in the future. This bloody purge was called the Night of the Long Knives. The leadership of the Nazi Storm Troopers (SA), whose four million members had helped bring Hitler to power, were especially targeted. Also killed were old enemies from Hitler’s early career, former government politicians and high-ranking members in the German Army who Hitler believed posed a threat.

Hitler tasked Himmler and the SS, a branch of the SA, with carrying out the purge. As a reward for their loyalty and their role in carrying out the purge, Hitler decreed the SS to be independent of the SA. The SS consequently came to control all of Germany’s police forces and the SA declined in power.

On July 3, a law was issued legalizing the murders after the fact as an emergency action to save the nation. Hitler explained that, as the supreme ruler of Germany, he had exercised his power against individuals who threatened the existence of the German nation. Following the purge, a propaganda campaign was launched to portray the purge as an effort to root out traitors who planned to overthrow the government and plunge Germany into political chaos.

The Night of the Long Knives eliminated all competition to Hitler’s supreme leadership within Germany and solidified Hitler’s authority as Führer (Leader) of the German Reich.

The Nazi Party overcame its last hurdle to absolute power 82 years ago today

On June 30, 1934, the Nazi Party was swelling in numbers.

Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was well on his way to absolute power, but there was just one more roadblock in his path.

His party became so huge that a splintering effect was deemed inevitable.

Believing that these elements within his own party would rise up against him, Hitler initiated a swift and deadly purge of his supposed rivals in an event called "The Night of the Long Knives."

One of these groups was the undefined "Sturmabteilung" (SA), or the "Brown Shirts." Over 4 million strong, this paramilitary group initially brought Hitler to power by means of protests and street violence.

It became apparent, though, that the group was evolving to become extremely revolutionary. The German army and those with deep pockets, two groups that Hitler was trying to curry favor with, became concerned with the SA’s overly violent rhetoric.

After defying Hitler's orders to cease and desist their activities, Hitler gave the code word " Hummingbird."

Of note is the events that surrounded the SA's leader, Ernst Röhm.

Having been arrested by Hitler himself, Röhm was eventually taken to a prison and provided with a pistol to commit suicide.

But in his last act of defiance, he demanded that Hitler kill him personally.

Night of the long knives

In June of 1934, Adolph Hitler ordered his troops to carry out a large-scale purge of suspected dissidents within the Nazi party.

The night of the long knives actually took place over the course of several days and nights. Historians say that it began on June 29 and ended on June 30. During that time, Hitler&rsquos SS troopers rounded up and killed approximately 77 men belonging to Hitler&rsquos own Nazi party. Because Hitler announced the deaths publicly, they also served as a warning to anyone considering betraying the Nazi party or its leader. In subsequent days, the SS arrested hundreds more party members, killing some of those who were taken into custody.

The night of the long knives was both a way for Hitler to strengthen his grip on power and a way for the chancellor to ensure the ongoing loyalty of the SS. The SS, or Schutzstaffel, was a select group that initially served as Hitler&rsquos personal bodyguard (their name translates to &ldquoProtective Echelon.&rdquo) In 1929, Heinrich Himmler assumed command of the force and began transforming it into an elite force, growing it both in size and in scope. Himmler wanted his SS to become more powerful than the Sturmabteilung, or &ldquoAssault Division&rdquo troops (they were commonly known as the SA).

The SS troops swore unconditional loyalty to Hitler, making them attractive allies for Hitler. Historians say that the night of the long knives came about partly as the result of a secret pact between Hitler and Himmler in return for the continued loyalty of the SS, Hitler agreed to let the force stamp out the most powerful elements of the SA, including the SA&rsquos own leader, Ernst Rohm.

In 1934 Hitler, who had been serving as chancellor for a year already, was in the process of further consolidating his power. That meant, for him, making sure that all of his followers were completely behind him and eliminating anybody who could potentially become his rival in the future. He was especially concerned about the high-ranking members of the Storm Troopers, who held a natural power within the country and could be perceived as a threat, eventually.

Hitler was also seeking to bring together his followers around a single ideology. During his initial rise to power, he had stressed a &ldquonational socialist&rdquo agenda, focused on the economic rights of workers. By 1934, he wanted to move away from that agenda. After the Night of the Long Knives, the Nazi party was solidified in its racist and anti-Semitic focus.

In the event, the arrest and subsequent murder of Ernst Rohm was presented as a triumph of Nazi strength over dissent. Hitler alleged that Rohm had been plotting a sort of coup, or putsch this served as a further reason to purge the highest ranks of Rohm&rsquos SA forces. It also served as a smokescreen for the murders of other political enemies. Over the course of the night of the long knives, members of the SS arrested and shot not only SA members, but also the last chancellor of the Weimar Republic, Kurt von Schleicher, as well as a number of public critics of Nazi activities, including Gustav von Kahr, Edgar Jung, and Erich Klausener.

Background to the Purge

The SA was led by Ernst Röhm, the SA Chief of Staff and a longtime friend of Hitler’s. By June 1934, the SA had expanded to a force of nearly three million men. It significantly outnumbered the German army. The Treaty of Versailles—signed at the end of World War I in 1918—had limited the German army to 100,000 men. The SA had provided an intimidating and often violent presence as the Nazi Party rose to power during the 1920s and 1930s. After Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933, many political leaders, including President Paul von Hindenburg and Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, feared that the SA had become too powerful.

The SA continued to provide key support to the Nazi regime as it consolidated its power into a dictatorship in 1933. However, the SA leadership had demands to “finish” the Nazi revolution. This behavior became a source of embarrassment and discomfort for Hitler in his dealings with the traditional German nationalist elites. The SA leadership sought to remove the elites from power and replace them with fanatical Nazis. However, Hitler, Nazi Party leadership, and the leadership of the SS (a formation of the SA), understood that the Nazi regime needed to work with the traditional elites. They would need their support to consolidate power and prepare the nation for a war of expansion.

The SA was not satisfied with what its leaders perceived to be a slowing pace of the Nazi revolution. By the late winter and spring of 1934, their outlook threatened to split the Nazi-Nationalist coalition. SA leaders held ambitions to replace the officer corps of the Reichswehr and the professional army with a “People’s Army.” Such a goal became a threat to the Nazi regime itself. Army leaders responded by demanding the elimination of the SA as a condition for permitting the Nazi government to remain in power. Further, Röhm and his top commandants had lost the confidence of other key Nazi leaders, including Prussian Prime Minister Hermann Göring, Deputy Nazi Party Chief Rudolf Hess, Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, and the SS leadership, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich.

As early as April 1934, Himmler and Heydrich began to conspire with Göring to persuade Hitler to eliminate Röhm. In mid-1934, they planted rumors and evidence that Röhm was planning to overthrow the regime. Meanwhile, President von Hindenburg, the leadership of the Reichswehr, and Hitler’s conservative coalition partners, including Vice-Chancellor von Papen, issued warnings about the increasingly radical Nazi regime. If the “revolutionary elements” of the Nazi regime were not brought until control, the army leaders threatened to overthrow the Hitler government and place the country under martial law.

Despite radical rhetoric, neither Röhm nor his top commanders ever planned to seize power in Germany. Hitler was well aware of this and he considered Röhm one of his few friends. He procrastinated over the decision. Tension, meanwhile, increased towards the end of spring 1934. The plot against Röhm took on a more defined shape. Playing for time, Hitler persuaded Röhm to order the top SA leadership to take an extended leave on June 8, 1934.

On June 17, Vice-Chancellor von Papen gave a speech at the University Marburg. He was highly critical of the Nazi failure to maintain the rule of law. He seemed to focus Nationalist opposition to the regime. Hitler decided during the last week of June to eliminate the top SA leadership. He did so partly to forestall the formation of nationalist opposition. Primarily, however, he sought to maintain the professional army. He had incorporated the army into his plan for rearmament and military expansion.

Hitler Purges Storm Troopers, Executes Opponents

On June 30, 1934, Hitler ordered a violent purge of the top leadership of the Nazi Party paramilitary formation, the SA (Sturmabteilungen) or Storm Troopers. This event later became known as “the Röhm Affair” or the “the Night of the Long Knives.”

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On June 30, 1934 , Hitler ordered a violent purge of the top leadership of the Nazi Party paramilitary formation, the SA (Sturmabteilungen) or Storm Troopers . This event later became known as &ldquothe Röhm Affair&rdquo or the &ldquothe Night of the Long Knives.&rdquo

By June 1934, the SA, led by longtime Hitler friend and SA Chief of Staff Ernst Röhm , had expanded to a force of nearly three million men, significantly outnumbering the German Army. The SA leadership sought to remove political elites from power and replace them with fanatical Nazis. This became a source of embarrassment and discomfort for Hitler in his dealings with conservative nationalist politicians, including President Paul von Hindenburg and Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen , who feared that the SA had become too powerful. The ambition of SA leaders to replace the German army officer corps and the professional army with a &ldquoPeople's Army&rdquo became a threat to the Nazi regime itself, as Army leaders responded by demanding the elimination of the SA as a condition for permitting the Nazi government to remain in power.

Knowing he would need support from German army commanders to become President, Hitler tasked Heinrich Himmler and the SS with carrying out a violent purge of the SA. On June 28, Hitler ordered Röhm to assemble the top SA leaders at a Bavarian spa in Bad Wiessee . SS units, commanded by Dachau concentration camp commandant Theodor Eicke, surprised the SA leaders on the morning of June 30 and transported them to Munich's Stadelheim prison. There SS men shot most of the prisoners. Hitler remained indecisive about Röhm's fate until July 1. On that day, at the Nazi dictator's expressed order, Eicke and an adjutant shot Röhm in his cell in Stadelheim.

The SS murdered the top SA leaders both in Munich and around the country. It also took the opportunity to eliminate several other political opponents, mostly right-wing nationalists, as well as former supporters whom they believed to have betrayed the Nazi movement. These included Reichswehr General Kurt von Schleicher , Hitler's predecessor as Reich Chancellor, and his wife and Gregor Strasser , a former Nazi leader. In all, it is estimated that between 150 and 200 people were killed in the purge. The police took more than 1,100 persons into protective custody, including many SA officers.

On July 3 , the Reich Cabinet issued a law, legalizing the murders after the fact as an emergency action to save the nation. Hitler addressed the Reichstag on July 13 , where he similarly justified the action and falsely accused Röhm and his commanders of planning to overthrow the government. The purge demonstrated the Nazi regime's willingness to go outside the law to commit murder as an act of state for the perceived survival of the nation.

With support from the German Army secured, and the death of President Paul von Hindenberg imminent, Hitler made his bid for absolute power, proclaiming himself Führer and Reich Chancellor of National Socialist Germany on August 1, 1934 .

Dates to Check

Typically, daily newspapers reported news the morning after it occurred. However, some papers were printed in multiple editions, including evening news. If you are using an evening paper, begin your search on the same day as the event being researched.

June 30, 1934 - July 12, 1934 News articles about the arrest and murder of leadership within the SA, as well as political opponents of the Nazis ("Night of the Long Knives")

July 1-13, 1934 Editorials, opinion pieces, letters-to-the-editor, and political cartoons regarding the "Night of the Long Knives"

July 14-20, 1934 News articles, editorials, opinion pieces, letters-to-the-editor, and political cartoons about Hitler's address to the Reichstag justifying his purge of the SA. In some cases, Hitler's speech was even reprinted in US newspapers.

August 1-15, 1934 News articles regarding Hitler proclaiming himself absolute dictator of Germany.

July 27-29, 1934 News articles, editorials, opinion pieces, letters-to-the-editor, and political cartoons about rising tensions between storm troopers (SA) and the German military which contributed to Hitler's decision to purge the SA.

Learn More


Hancock, Eleanor. Ernst Röhm: Hitler's SA Chief of Staff . New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Höhne, Heinz. Mordsache Röhm: Hitlers Durchbruch zur Alleinherrschaft, 1933-1934. Rowohlt: Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1984.

The Nazi Party: The Night of the Long Knives

By 1934, Adolf Hitler appeared to have complete control over Germany but, like most dictators, he constantly feared that he might be ousted by others who wanted his power. To protect himself from a possible coup, Hitler used the tactic of "divide and rule" and encouraged other leaders, including Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Ernst Röhm, to compete with each other for senior positions.

One of the consequences of this policy was that these men developed a dislike for each other. Röhm was particularly hated because as leader of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) he had tremendous power and had the potential to remove any one of his competitors. Goering and Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Röhm. Heydrich, who also feared him, manufactured evidence that suggested that Röhm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler.

Hitler liked Ernst Röhm and initially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Röhm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Roehm's leadership had also played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933.

However, Hitler had his own reasons for wanting Röhm removed. Powerful supporters of Hitler had been complaining about Röhm for some time while his generals were afraid that the SA, a force of over 3 million men, could absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks thus making Röhm would become their overall leader.

Industrialists such as Albert Voegler, Gustav Krupp, Alfried Krupp, Fritz Thyssen, and Emile Kirdorf, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Roehm's socialistic views on the economy and his claims that the real revolution had still to take place. Many people in the party also disapproved of the fact that Röhm and many other leaders of the SA were homosexuals.

Adolf Hitler was also aware that Röhm and the SA had the power to remove him. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler played on this fear by constantly feeding him with new information on Roehm's proposed coup. Their masterstroke was to claim that Gregor Strasser, whom Hitler hated, was part of the planned conspiracy against him. With this news Hitler ordered all the SA leaders to attend a meeting in the Hanselbauer Hotel in Wiesse.

Meanwhile Goering and Himmler were drawing up a list of people outside the SA that they wanted killed. The list included Strasser, Kurt von Schleicher, Hitler's predecessor as chancellor, and Gustav von Kahr, who crushed the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923.

On June 29, 1934, Hitler, accompanied by the Schutzstaffel (SS), arrived at Wiesse, where he personally arrested Ernst Röhm. During the next 24 hours, 200 other senior SA officers were arrested on the way to Wiesse. Many were shot as soon as they were captured, but Hitler decided to pardon Röhm because of his past services to the movement. However, after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed that Röhm should die. At first Hitler insisted that Röhm should be allowed to commit suicide but, when he refused, Röhm was shot by two SS men.

Röhm was replaced by Victor Lutze as head of the SA. Lutze was a weak man and the SA gradually lost its power in Hitler's Germany. The Schutzstaffel (SS) under the leadership of Himmler grew rapidly during the next few years, replacing the SA as the dominant force in Germany.

The purge of the SA was kept secret until it was announced by Adolf Hitler on July 13. It was during this speech that Hitler gave the purge its name: Night of the Long Knives (a phrase from a popular Nazi song). Hitler claimed that 61 had been executed while 13 had been shot resisting arrest and three had committed suicide. Others have argued that as many as 400 people were killed during the purge. In his speech, Hitler explained why he had not relied on the courts to deal with the conspirators: "In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I become the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason."

The Night of the Long Knives was a turning point in the history of Hitler's Germany. Hitler had made it clear that he was the supreme ruler of Germany who had the right to be judge and jury, and had the power to decide whether people lived or died.

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Themes of Nazi consolidation

The Nazis consolidation of power can be grouped into three main themes: pseudo-legality, terror and intimidation and pseudo-moderation.


Germany feared revolution. As such, the Nazis’ consolidation of power relied on maintaining the illusion of a stable democracy. This essentially meant that the Nazis used the atmosphere of panic following the Reichstag Fire to put forward the Enabling Law. Once the Enabling Law was in place, the Nazis could bypass the Reichstag and rule by decree – seemingly creating laws that stabilised Germany and got rid of its ‘internal enemies’. In reality, the laws that the Nazi’s put forward secured their future as the sole ruling party in Germany.

The support of respected individuals such as von Papen and Hindenburg’s son, Oskar von Hindenburg, gave the Nazis further legitimacy for these actions.

The Nazis immediately used the Enabling Law to remove civil rights. This meant, as well as removing other personal freedoms, that the Nazis could now imprison their political opposition for an indefinite period for any, or no, reason. The Enabling Law allowed them to do this under the guise of legality. As such the Nazi’s justified this measure as implementing necessary security measures, rather than revealing their true motive – to remove opposition.

The Nazis’ also took several more steps to reduce their political opposition ‘legally’. On the 2 May 1933 trade unions were banned. Just two months later, on 14 July 1933 the Nazis used the Enabling Act to ban all political parties except the Nazi Party.

The Nazis also took steps to ensure they couldn’t be openly opposed in the press. On the 4 October 1933, it was declared that all editors must be Aryan. Censorship was heightened, and any person publishing actively anti-Nazi material was threatened or imprisoned. By 1935, over 1,600 newspapers had been closed.

These acts removed people’s ability to oppose the Nazi Party, in any form. However, it did so under the guise of legality, and ‘protecting’ the German people and their democracy.

Terror and intimidation

Whilst the pseudo-legal measures were one factor that helped the Nazi’s to consolidate power, another was terror and intimidation.

The Nazi’s used the SA and the newly expanded SS to harass and imprison any potential opponents of the Nazi Party. Following the Enabling Law, much of this harassment and imprisonment was legal.

In 1933, up to 200,000 people were seized and imprisoned by the SA and the SS. Prisons soon became stretched for space. The Nazis improvised. They used any space they could get their hands on to create temporary ‘camps’. The first concentration camp, Dachau, opened in a broken-down munitions factory on the 20 March 1933, imprisoning primarily political prisoners.

The camps were brutal and had extremely unsanitary conditions. Many of the prisoners were tortured and abused.

Many of those that were harassed by the SA and the SS or imprisoned in camps were terrified to speak out about their ordeal – fearing that they would be further abused or re-imprisoned.

Terror and intimidation became one of the main ways that the Nazis sought to control or suppress their opposition, and German’s in general.

Pseudo moderation

One key example of an event posed as moderate was the Night of Long Knives.

The Night of Long Knives was the purge of the SA leadership and other political opponents from the 30 June 1934 to the 2 July 1934. Over 150 people were murdered and hundreds more were arrested.

Following the purge, the Nazi’s sculpted the media coverage to portray the event as a preventative measure against a revolutionary, violent, and uncontrollable force, rather than a series of political murders.

Watch the video: The Nazi Revolution, 1919-1934: The Night of the Long Knives (May 2022).