The Night of Long Knives – Hitler Purges the Nazi Party
One year after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, through government mismanagement, back office dealings and other unscrupulous events, he recognized the need to “purge” his own group of people who helped him get to his goal. The “Sturmabteilung”(SA) or Storm Troopers, were led by Ernst Rohm, who Hitler befriended at one point in his rise, but now viewed as a serious threat to his long range plans.
The SA threatened Hitler’s future as supreme dictator. He feared a 2nd revolution of the Nationalist Socialist Party, to which he had once been sympathetic to. He now needed to distance himself from his early days and to strengthen his support from the regular Army Generals and big Industry leaders in order to re-arm the military and accomplish his goals for seizing more lands.
On June 4, 1934, Hitler had a five hour private meeting with Rohm. Two days later, Rohm took a personal vacation blamed on illness and it was announced the entire SA organization would be on leave for the month of July.
Franz von Papen, Vice Chancellor gave a speech to the German people on June 17th, criticizing the SA publicly and mentioned a possible 2nd revolution by the SA and urged Hitler to put a stop to it. Tensions increased in Germany.
June 21, 1934 Hitler met with President von Hindenburg and defense minister Blomberg with the topic of the “SA problems must be solved.” President Hindenburg threatened to declare martial law and let the Army run Germany if needed, thus ending the Nazi regime. More tensions among the Nazis arose. Himmler and Heydrich started spreading false rumors that Rohm and the SA were planning a violent takeover or Putsch.
The German Army went on alert June 25th. They were told to cooperate fully with the Shutzstaffel (SS) and the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), who would handle the operation that was planned. Hitler promised his generals that he would restore former military glory and break the shackles of the Treaty of Versailles with its military restrictions.
On June 28th, Hitler was warned by phone of the Putsch and the SS was on full alert. The next day Hitler was informed the SA had taken to the streets in Munich in retaliation for the rumors. Hitler flew to Munich on June 30th and the bloody purge of Operation Hummingbird began.
Hitler arrested Rohm and other SA members personally and they were sent to Stadelheim prison where they were later shot by the SS. Homosexuality had been tolerated and overlooked previously among the SA members, but now they were shot on sight and used partially as an excuse for the purge.
On Saturday, June 30th, 1934 a prearranged code word of “Kalibri,” meaning Hummingbird, spoken through the phone lines unleashed the murderous violence that would last three days in Berlin and 20 other cities of Germany. SS execution squads and Goring’s Gestapo police hunted down SA leaders and others who were listed on “The Reich List of Unwanted Persons,” that Hitler had created.
Other noted Germans who were murdered along with Rohm during that purge included:
- Left wing Strasserist faction members including Gregor Strassor
- Conservative anti-Nazis
- Kurt von Schleicher, former Chancellor
- Gustav Ritter von Kahr (found hacked to death)
- Father Bernhard Stempfle
- Karl Ernst
- Catholic leader Dr. Erich Kausener
On Sunday evening, July 1, Hitler hosted a tea party in the garden of the Chancellery for cabinet members and their families to show a restoration of normalcy. By the next day, the bloody siege was over; with probably more than 200 murdered, although in a speech soon afterward, Hitler announced only 74 necessary extractions for the good of Germany. He declared himself supreme judge; above the law, making the law and capable of instilling fear and terror in the hearts of all who opposed him.