The Night of the Long Knives, 30th June 1934
The 30th June 1934 saw the Nazis carry out a purge of their own party, when Hitler ordered the SS to murder leading figures of the SA or Brownshirts along with critics of the Nazi regime such as former chancellor von Schleicher. The purges actually went on throughout the weekend of the 30th June – 2nd July, even though the popular name suggests they only lasted for one night.
By the middle of 1934 Hitler was consolidating his rule over Germany but the relative autonomy of the SA within the Nazi Party was a concern. As Germany became a one-party state, the SA’s usual political targets for street violence were removed meaning that in a number of cases these representatives of the ruling party would instead intimidate civilians.
Such actions undermined the sense of order that Hitler was trying to project, and threatened to destabilise the party itself. The SA’s leader, Ernst Röhm, was a particular concern as he sought a so-called “second-revolution” to redistribute wealth within Germany in order to fulfil the socialist part of the Nationalist Socialist party’s name. Furthermore, the Reichswehr – Germany’s official army – were unhappy at Röhm’s desire to place the Reichswehr under the command of the SA.
On the morning of the 30th June, the homes of Röhm and other people who threatened Hitler’s power were broken into. While some were executed on the spot, others such as Röhm himself were held in prison for a few hours first. Hitler justified the purge in a public speech, claiming that he acted as “the supreme judge of the German people.”