Night of the Long Knives
The Night of the Long Knives (also known as Operation Hummingbird, but also as the Blood or Röhm Purge) occurred in National Socialist Germany between 30 June and 2 July 1934.
At least eighty-five individuals were executed, among them Ernst Röhm (he was shot through the heart in a cell after refusing to take his own life), Gregor Strasser as well as Gustav Ritter von Kahr, and more than a thousand arrested. The Schutzstaffel (), an elite German corps, and secret police under the command of Heinrich Himmler are said to have carried out most of the killings. Regular German soldiers of Heer and Luftwaffe were led personally by Hermann Göring against the Berlin SA headquarters on 30 June 1934. Karl Ernst (de), Berlin SA commander, was pulled off a cruise ship on which he was about to set out on a honeymoon. Journalist Fritz Gerlicht, who had betrayed the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and with whom Göring also had a personal score to settle, was also arrested. The cleansing purge strengthened and consolidated the support of the army, or Reichswehr, for Hitler.
The politically correct view is that this was a National Socialist purge of the paramilitary Sturmabteilung organization, that was seen as a possible threat, of internal NSDAP dissidents such as of the "left-wing" Strasserist faction, of alleged homosexuals such as the SA leader Ernst Röhm, of external critics such as some conservatives, and to settle scores with old enemies. The purge strengthened and consolidated the support of the army leaders for Hitler.
- After hashing out a tentative plan with his top cronies at Hermann Goering's villa Carinhall on 20 June, Hitler flew to Munich on 29 June. He was there ostensibly to accept an invitation by Röhm to an SA conference at Bad Wiessee, but there was a heightened sense of fear that the invitation was a trap. There, Hitler was supported by both local troops and the elite SS Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler" honor guard. Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders were known to be staying at the nearby Bad Wiessee, a resort spa south of Munich. Local Party leaders told Hitler that Röhm's men had been taking over the city, which was Hitler's original base. Himmler owned his own villa near Bad Wiessee and, dining with Ribbentrop that night, mentioned off-handedly that Röhm "was as good as dead." The final order, though, had not yet been given. [...] Strangely enough, the entire affair was completely legal under German law of the time. The Enabling Act of 1933 had empowered Hitler to take whatever actions he deemed necessary for the good of the state.
A less politically correct view is, that the evidence supports that Röhm and others were in fact (and as stated by Hitler) planning a coup, the Röhm Putsch, with the German word "putsch" meaning "coup", in order to create another Government with General der Infanterie Kurt von Schleicher (de), rumored to be plotting against Hitler with French authorities, at it's head. Franz von Papen was arrested and held for some time, he finally was spared on Göring's direct order (some accounts say due to intercession by President Paul von Hindenburg).
Before its execution, its planners sometimes referred to it as "Hummingbird" (German: Kolibri), as that was the codeword used to set the execution squads in motion on the day of the purge. The codeword appears to have been chosen arbitrarily.
The phrase "Night of the Long Knives" in the German language predates the massacre itself. It is a reference to the massacre of Vortigern's men by Angle, Jute, and Saxon mercenaries in Arthurian myth. Until it became synonymous with the events of 1934, the phrase referred generally to acts of vengeance. Hitler argued that in 1934 it was actually Röhm who first used the phrase, as a name or codeword for his planned coup.
Adolf Hitler said in his speech from 13 July 1934 about the term:
- [...] Das heißt, während die Mitglieder der inneren Sekte die eigentliche Aktion planmäßig vorbereiteten, wurden dem weit größeren Kreis der SA-Führer nur allgemeine Mitteilungen gemacht des Inhalts, daß eine zweite Revolution vor der Tür stünde, daß diese zweite Revolution kein anderes Ziel besitze als mir selbst die Handlungsfreiheit zurückzugeben. Daß daher die neue und diesmal blutige Erhebung, die „Nacht der langen Messer“, wie man sie grauenvoll bezeichnete, meinem eigenen Sinn entspräche. Die Notwendigkeit des eigenen Vorgehens der SA wurde begründet mit dem Hinweis weiter auf meine Entschlußunfähigkeit, die erst dann behoben sein würde, wenn Tatsachen geschaffen wären. [...]
- [...] in other words, while the members of the inner sect made systematic preparations for the action itself, the second large circle of SA leaders were given only general information to the effect that a second revolution was knocking at the door, that this revolution had the single aim of restoring to me my freedom of action; that hence the new and, this time, bloody uprising, the "Night of the Long Knives", as it was gruesomely called-corresponded to my own aim. The necessity for action on the part of the SA was explained by drawing attention to my inability to make a decision; this situation could be remedied only by a fait accompli.