Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Night of the Long Knives 1934: Hitler

The Night of the Long Knives, sometimes called Operation Hummingbird or, mistakenly, sometimes in Germany, the Röhm-Putsch, was a purge that took place in Nazi Germanybetween June 30 and July 2, 1934, when the Nazi regime carried out a series of political murders. Leading figures of the left-wing Strasserist faction of the Nazi Party, along with its figurehead, Gregor Strasser, were murdered, as were prominent conservative anti-Nazis (such as former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Gustav Ritter von Kahr, who had suppressed Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch in 1923). Many of those killed were leaders of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the paramilitary brownshirts.

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 newly gained political power. Hitler also wanted to conciliate leaders of the Reichswehr, the official German military who feared and despised the SA — in particular Röhm's ambition to absorb the Reichswehr into the SA under Röhm's leadership. Additionally, Hitler was uncomfortable with Röhm's outspoken support for a "second revolution" to redistribute wealth. (In Röhm's view Hitler's election had accomplished the "nationalistic" revolution but had left unfulfilled the "socialistic" motive in National Socialism.) Finally, Hitler used the purge to attack or eliminate critics of his new regime, especially those loyal to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, as well as 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 theGestapo (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 Night of the Long Knives was a turning point for the German government. It established Hitler as "the supreme judge of the German people", as he put it in his July 13, 1934 speech to the Reichstag.

Before its execution, its planners sometimes referred to it as "Hummingbird" (German: Kolibri), the codeword used to send the execution squads into action on the day of the purge. The codename for the operation appears to have been chosen arbitrarily. The phrase "Night of the Long Knives" in the German language predates the massacre itself and refers generally to acts of vengeance. Germans still use the term "Röhm-Putsch" to describe the murders, the term given to it by the Nazi regime, despite its unproven implication that the murders were necessary to prevent a coup. German authors often use quotation marks or write about the so-called Röhm-Putsch to emphasize this

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