Night of the Long Knives (June 30, 1934)

Night of the Long Knives (June 30, 1934)

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The " Night of the Long Knives Was the part of a bloody cleansing carried out within the Nazi Party by Chancellor Adolf Hitler. On June 30, 1934 in Munich, the SA recovered from a night of excess that saw them challenge the leadership of the Nazi Party. Their awakening is brutal, Hitler himself has come from Berlin with his personal guard to put them in line. The brown shirts that will have shaken the whole of Germany will experience a brutal repression.

Röhm's Brown Army

Since their creation in 1921, the SA (Sturmabteilungen: Sections d´assault) have played an ambivalent role within the constellation of organizations revolving around the National Socialist Party. Its early members, often ex-combatants, were originally given the task of ensuring the security of party gatherings. With the rise of the latter and under the impetus of their ambitious leader: Ernst Röhm, the SA is gradually becoming a force of several hundred thousand men. Its militiamen, dressed in their brown shirts, soon set off a reign of terror among opponents of Hitler, regularly confronting other paramilitary formations known to the Weimar Republic.

Claiming to be part of the socializing spirit of the comradeship of the old front line workers, the SA were able to develop thanks to an influx of idle unemployed and disillusioned with traditional socialist movements. When Hitler took the chancellery in January 1933, there was no doubt that they formed a kind of left wing of Nazism. Moreover, Ernst Röhm, publicly displays his plebeian preferences. He thus criticizes the concessions that the Führer made to conservatives and industrialists, demanding a purely socialist component to the Nazi revolution. On the other hand, he, the former Bavarian captain, dreams of being the chief of a popular army of which the SA would form the backbone and which would see the then Prussian-inspired army disappear.

Army ultimatum and Hitler's coup

Hitler usually hesitated for a long time before taking action against this man, who was so useful to him in his seizure of power. On the other hand, he rightly fears the SA's capacity for nuisance. It is the conservative circles and the military that will push him to action. In the spring of 1934, Vice Chancellor Von Papen denounced in a speech in Marburg the threat of the “second revolution” desired by Röhm. Hitler is then in a bad position after the failure of his visit to Mussolini (June 15) and fears that a new provocation by the SA could convince the conservatives that he is no longer the man for his situation. This fear became a certainty on June 21, 1934.

That day Hitler meets the army chief Von Blomberg, who assures him that the army is ready to seize power in agreement with President Hindenburg in order to end the SA peril. Hitler no longer has a choice and, confirmed in his choice by Goering, takes it upon himself to eliminate Röhm and stave off a hypothetical "second revolution". With the help of Himmler's SS intelligence services (who saw this as an opportunity to get rid of a rival, even if Röhm was his mentor), he had a dossier of evidence put together demonstrating the preparation of 'a coup d'état by the head of the SA and his entourage. The constitution of this dossier is also an opportunity to draw up lists of opponents to be shot down, some totally foreign to the hypothetical schemes of Röhm.

The night of the long knives

The action is set for the night of June 29 to 30 and will be carried out by the SS (initially the Führer's guard and until then statutorily dependent on the SA) with the logistical support of the army. A meeting of SA officials scheduled for Bad Wiessee (50 km from Munich) will provide an opportunity to behead the militia. There is also an emergency, because the "brown shirts" suspect the coup that is brewing and violently express their discontent on the 29th in the middle of Munich.

When Hitler arrives in the Bavarian capital the next day, he shows unwavering determination. Breaking into the suites of the SA chiefs still stupefied by the alcoholic excesses of the day before, he had them arrested by the SS. Röhm himself is no exception to this rude awakening. Like his men, he knows the fate reserved for him. Refusing the proposed suicide, he was executed the next day. With him, nearly a hundred people will disappear. SAs of course, but also opponents of various political persuasions, from the former Chancellor and General Von Schleicher to Gregor Strasser, a supporter of left-wing Nazism. Hitler’s minions struck as much in Bavaria as in the rest of the country, notably in Berlin, where Goering showed unfailing zeal.

One more step towards totalitarianism

With the Night of the Long Knives, the Nazi Chancellor succeeded in beheading the SA, which would soon be no more than a docile instrument in his hands. Reassuring many worried Germans about the perpetual turmoil fueled by the Brown Shirts, it also allowed Hitler to regain the confidence of the business community and the military. The latter would soon fall into line with the regime slavishly, on the occasion of Hindenburg's death a month later.

The military did not object when Hitler proposed to combine the functions of Chancellor and Führer, which was confirmed by the plebiscite of August 19. But the victory of the professional army over the party militia is misleading, because Himmler's SS, now stripped of the SA, become an even greater threat to German institutions than the SA could have been. disorder of Röhm.


- The Night of the Long Knives: June 29-30, 1934 by Max Gallo. Text, 2007.

- The night of the long knives by Jean Philippon. Armand Colin, 1995.

Video: The Nazi Revolution, 1919-1934: The Night of the Long Knives