The Night of the Long Knives (June 1934)


Ernst Rohm

  • A controversial figure within the Nazi party as the leader of the SA (Stormtroopers)
  • Served in the first world war and earned the rank of captain, joining the party soon after the war ended in 1919
  • Fundamental in the creation of the SA and was their leader during the Munich Putsch (1923) after which he was jailed
  • Returned to Germany to stand as SA leader once again (1930)
  • Despite being a key player in the Nazi party, he was a homosexual and heavy drinker, qualities which contradicted the values of an ideal Nazi member
  • One of Hitler's friends
  • Rohm was committed to pursuing the 'second revolution' for the 'radical Nazis' and wanted to merge the army with the SA, these personal ambitions are what evidently caused his murder in the Night of the Long Knives (1934)
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The power struggle between the SA and the army

  • Rohm's plan was seen as a threat to the traditional role and status of the army
  • Hitler was caught between the two rival forces 
  • On the one hand the SA was a much larger force compared to the army and was made up of loyal Nazis
  • On the other the army was the one organisation that could unseat Hitler
  • Hitler called a meeting between the leaders of the army, the SA and the ** to come to an agreement about their role in the Nazi state
  • But tension didn't cease
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Before the Night of the Long Knives

  • January 1933 - SA are the Nazis main instrument of terror and violence. Their membership had grown to three million by 1934.
  • The regular police were forbidden from interfering in Nazi SA activities.
  • Hitler was careful to ensure the SA did not attack the state or alienate conservatives who had supported his campaign for power. 
  • In July 1933, Hitler declared the Nazi revolution to be over - Rohm disagreed and believed that his SA should replace the army in a second revolution.
  • Since the Nazis were the only political party the SA were no longer needed to defeat opponents.
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The Events of the Night of the Long Knives

  • The ambitions of the SA and Rohm were seen as a serious threat by the army who had had their supplies and weapons confiscated by the SA
  • Hitler was also pressured by Papen's speech which criticised SA terror and  was published in the press
  • On the 30/06/1934, a ruthless purge on the SA was launched, carried out by the **, which eliminated the remaining political opponents to the Nazis
  • At least 84 SA were executed and another 1000 or more were arrested
  • Among the victims was General Schleicher, Gregor Strasser and Gustav Von Kahr
  • Franz Von Papen was placed under house arrest 
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The impact of the Night of the Long Knives

  • By dealing with the SA in a decisive manner, Hitler won the support of the army as well as the public
  • The SA declined sharply after the purge with its membership declining to 1.6 million by October 1935
  • After the purge, the ** took over the Nazi terror machine and violence would from then be used in a more systematic and controlled manner
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