The true nature of Hitler and his associates was demonstrated on the Night of the Long Knives (a phrase from a popular Nazi song). The Reichwehr in 1934 was the only German institution capable of resiting Hitler and the NAZIs. The Reichwehr, faced with the threat of the NAZI Sturm Abteilung (SA), agreed to a deal with Hitler. Hitler agreed to disarm the SA and to deal with the SA leadership. He had Rohem and his associates arrested and killed (June 29-30, 1934). Rohem was in fact one of Htler's longest and closest associates. Hitler hestitated but Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler with his assistant Reynard Heydrich played key roles in convincing him. There was no concern within the military of the extra-judicial executions of the SA leadership. The NAZIs used the occassions to settle some old scores with anti-NAZIs as well. In exchange the Reichwehr, waiting until President Hindenburg died, swore a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler (August 2). The oath was not to the German nation, but was a personal oath to Hitler himself. Although the German military had earlier swore a similar oath to the Republic, the oath to Hitler took place with no difficulty. Major elements of the military had never been committed to the Republic. There was strong monarchist sentiment within the military. Some NAZI policies, especially the ultra-nationlism and criticism of the Versailles Treaty were shared by much of the military. Offers of rearmament and expabded military spending appealed to many in the military. When President Hindenburg died (August 2), Hitler was the absolute dictator of Germany. Hitler had visited Hindenburg on his deathbed. Hindenburg had become senile. The dieing president thought he was meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II, and referred to Hitler as "Your Majesty". Hitler declared the office of President to be permanently vacant and essentially merging it with the office of Chancellor, tking the title of Leader and Chancellor (Führer und Reichskanzler). Hitler ordered a plebiscite which took plce on August 11, 1934. The NAZI's announced a 90 percent favorable vote. No one knows the actual vote tally.
The SA was created by Hitler from existing groups to protect him and to maintain order at NAZI Party rallies which Communists and other opponents often attempted to disrupt. He used the SA in his Beer Hall Putsch. After release from prison he usedthe SA as it grewcin strength to attack enemies and to create disturbances. The SA played an important role in Hitler's rise to power. The goal was to make Germany ungovernable and this was just what it achieved in doing. A frustrated President Hindenberg finally turned tonHitler with the misguided notion that once in in Government the viloence would cease. The SA had about 4 million Stormtroopers at the time Hitler was made Chancellor. This dwarfed thesize of the Reichswehr, limited by the Versailles Treaty to o.1 million men. The Stormtroopers had fought to bring Hitler to power and they wanted the rewards of victory. Many despite joining the NAZIs were working-class men with Socialist leanings. (Te NAZI Party has "Socialist" in its name to appeal to the working class.)
The Reichwehr had not forgotten Röhm's often announced idea of turning the SA into a people's army, At times he spoke about merging with the Reichwehr. And other times he wanted to replace the Reichwehr. Early 1934 Röhm once again began to make plans to merge the SA with the Reichswehr to form a "people's army" and he also continued talking about a second revolution. The party leadership clearly did not approve of these ideas, not least due to the fact that Hitler needed the support of the Reichswehr. He once said, "You won't make a revolutionary army out of the old Prussian NCOs ... You only get the opportunity once to make something new and big and that'll help us lift the world off its hinges." Röhn was by mid-1934 making incendiary statements. In one speech he stated, "The SA and SS will not tolerate the German revolution going to sleep or betrayed at the halfway stage by non-combatants." This kind of talk was well received by the SA membership, anxious to see personal gains from seizure of power. The Reichwehr General Staff was, however, horrified at this kind of talk. The Army High Command saw the SA as a mortal threat to Prussian military tradition that still dominated the Reichwehr. Hitler had acquired some support within the Reichswehr by promising to renounce the Versailles Treaty and rearm Germany. The Reichswehr was never fully committed to the Weimar Republic. Hitler had a chance to win them over. Creating apeople's army was not what the Reichswehr had in mind. Thus Röhm's bombastic speeches came at a most inconvient time, just when he was gaining a firm grip on Germany. In fact, alienating the Reichswehr threatened the very political survival of Hitler and the NAZI Party.
The future of the SA was unclear. While a violent, threatening, force had been useful in brining him to power, this was not what Hitler needed once in power. He need to show the German people andc his conservativebackers that hecwas restoring stability and order. The Stormtroopers provided just the oposote impression of the NAZIs. The Stormtroopers arrogantly paraded through German streets as if they now oened them. They would terrorize citizens and demand theybe sakuted. Widespread reports indicating that they were shaking down store keepers like Chicago gangsters.
There were also reports of druken, rowdy behavior. And not only were there street brawls, but sometimes people were murdered.
Röhm was Hitler's oldest associate. He chose him to lead the SA because he trusted him. But he alsoi neeced the Reichswehr. So Hitler tried to mediate the situation. He oversaw a meetinh with Röhm and and Reichswehr commanders, including Defense Minister General Werner von Blomberg. Hitler informed Röhm before the generals that the A would not be turned into a military force, He told Röhm that the SA would be given police functions. Röhm perhaps intimidated by Hitler's direct orders and the presence of the Reichswehr generals acceeded to the limited future role if the SA. He and Blomberg signed a formal agreement. This could have ended the contriversy.
Röhm after the meeting begin to have second thoughts. Heading a million-man force must have affected his thinking. He and his subordinates wanted much more than to be a glorified policemen. Nor would the rank and file be satisfied. Röhm soon made it clear that he was not going to abide by the agreement. And he made no secret of it. He even called a press conference to make his position clear. He told journalists, "The SA is the National Socialist Revolution!" (April) This created considerable concern in the Reichswehr.
Hitler and Röhm met privately for 5 hours (June 4). The session went on past midnight. The next week, Röhm announced he was taking a 'personal illness' vacation (June 10). He also announced that the whole SA would go on leave during July. He also planned a conference of top SA leaders for June 30. It was to be held at a resort town near Munich--Bad Wiesee. Hitler assured Röhm that he would attend to finally sort out their differences. Röhm must have thought that he could bring Hitler along in a meeting with his officers rather than Reichswehr generals.
Franz von Papen was one of several failed Chancellors. He had helped convince President Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor and assured him that Hitler once in givernment could be controlled. Von Papen was vicepchancellor in Hitler's givernmebt. He injected himself into the growing controversy (June 17). He gave a speech in which he sgarply criticised the SA. He used terms like "rowdy" and "anti-intellectual behavior". And he did not stop there. He criticized NAZI policies such as press censorship. Papen specufically mentioned a possible "second revolution" threatened by Röhm and the SA. He urged Hitler to act decisiveky to stop it. Papen asked "Have we experienced an anti-Marxist revolution in order to put through a Marxist program?" Hitler was concerned that Röhm might precipitate a Reichswehr intervention. And Papen's speech had the effect of escalatingb the already growing tension between the Reichswehr generals and the SA leaders. Hitler still hesitated, however, to move against Röhm.
Hitler met with President Hindenburg (June 21). He traveled out to Hindenberg's country estate. Hindenburg was the great German hero and the most respected man in Germany. He was, however, elderly and in failing health, confined to a wheelchair. Defense Minister Blomberg also attended the meeting. The two informed Hitler that he must resolve the SA problem. Hindenbery threatened to declare martial law and and order the Reichswehr tobrun the country. This would effectively end Hitler's chancelorship and the NAZI regime..
Röhm had his enemies within the Party. These rivalries wre ampliphied because the SA gave Röhm his own independent power base, independent of both Hitler and the Party. This was not the case of his rivals who dependended primarily on their association with Hitker for power. They just like the Reichswehr were concerned about a possible SA revolt. Röhm's enemies included Goebbels, Göring, Hess, Himmler, and Heydrich. And Himmler commaded a small force within the SA--the highly disciplined Shutzstaffel (SS). This was nomially part of the SA, but as Hitler's personal body guard not under Röhm's control. Himmler and Heydrich along with Göring, began plotting how to prod Hitler to act against his oldest comrade in arms. They had to be careful because Röhm was Hitler's earliest associate. Hitler could not bring himself to believe that Röhm would betray him. They were constantly on the look for evidence they could bring to Hiler to prove a Röhm-SA conspiracy. It is believed that Heydrish fabricated evident and brought it to Hitler. Finally they convinced Hitler to act.
Blomberg ordered the Reichswhr on full alert (June 25). This meant that all leaves were cancelled and tge men confined to their barracks ready for action. Himmler had secretly reached an agreement with theReuichswehr. If necessary the Reichswehr was prepared to assist in the supression of the SA. The Reichswehr offered to provide weapons and other support. The plan was, however, that the Reichswehr would remain in the barracks. It would be the SS that would act against the SA. Given the size if the SA, however, it was not cleat they had the capability of acting decisiveky.
Himmler and Heydrich spread rumors that Röhm who preparing to use the SA to seize power. Heydrish had documents forged to convince Hitler who by this time realised that the Reichswehr left him little choice. Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels traveled to Essen to attended Gauleiter Josef Terboven's wedding (June 28). While at the wedding, Himmler called Hitler on the telephone and told him that not only was Röhm was preparing a putsch, but that political enemies in Berlin were trying to convince President Hindenberg to declare martial law. Hitler ordered Göring to return to Berlin and prepare to act. He put the SS on full alert.
The true nature of Hitler and his associates was demonstrated on the Night of the Long Knives (a phrase from a popular Nazi song). The Reichwehr in 1934 was the only German institution capable of resiting Hitler and the NAZIs. The Reichwehr, faced with the threat of the NAZI Sturm Abteilung (SA), agreed to a deal with Hitler. Hitler agreed to disarm the SA and to deal with the SA leadership. Hitler ordered the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler to arrest
Röhm and his officers at Pension Hanselbauer in Bad Wiesee, Bavaria (June 29). They were shot the next day. ohem was in fact one of Hitler's longest and closest associates. Hitler hestitated, but Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler with his assistant Reynard Heydrich played key roles in convincing him. There was no concern within the military of the extra-judicial executions of the SA leadership. The NAZIs also used the occassions to settle some old scores with anti-NAZIs as well.
Hitler because he so trusted Sepp Dietrich, assigned him to create an elite force within Himmler's SS--the SS Watch Battalion-Berlin. This was essentially Hitler's elite body guard. It formed the base for what was to be in World War II the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division. It was one of only two units that were allowed to use the name Adolf Hitler. Dietrich as head of Hitler’s personal security played a key role in the Night of the Long Knives. When Hitler arrived at Wiesse to arrest SA Commander Ernest Roehm, a SS man raised a revolver. Dietrich quickly overpowered him. Hitler propmoted Dietrich to SS Obergruppenfuehrer as a reward for his loyalty (July 1934). This was the comparable rank to a full army general. The Wehrmacht high command despised the SA and was suspicious of the SS. Dietrich was a special case. Important Wehrmacht commanders seem to have respected Dietrich. General von Fritsch, commander if the Wehrmacht, took a special interest in Dietrich. He took time to personally instruct him on military tactics. It is during this time that Dietrich decided to make the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler into an elite combat unit. This in essence was the birth of the Waffen-SS. A major function of the SS was establishing and running the NAZI-police state and infamous concentration camps. Dietrich was more interested in military matters. And the Waffen-SS was the military arm of the SS.
The SA had been a major force in Hitler's rise to power. After the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler replaced Röhm as SA Stabchef with Viktor Lutze. Lutze proceeded to purge the SA leadership of individuals seen as Röhm loyalists.
The SS was created as an elite unit within the SA. Hitler after the Knight of the Long Knives made the SS a sepate organization. The NSKK was also separated. The SA was demphasized while the SS began a meteroric expansion in persinnel and authority. It grew into a state within a state, but a state unembered by any legal constraints--only loyalty to German's new Führer--Adolf Hitler. The SS was given no real assignments until the outbreak of the War.
Hitler visited Hindenburg on his deathbed. Hindenburg had become senile. The dieing president thought he was meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II, and referred to Hitler as "Your Majesty". He died August 2, 1934,.
In exchange for Hitler dealing with the SA, the Reichwehr, waiting until President Hindenburg died, swore a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler (August 2). The oath was not to the German nation, but was a personal oath to Hitler himself. Although the German military had earlier swore a similar oath to the Republic, the oath to Hitler took place with no difficulty. Major elements of the military had never been committed to the Republic. There was strong monarchist sentiment within the military. Some NAZI policies, especially the ultra-nationlism and criticism of the Versailles Treaty were shared by much of the military. Offers of rearmament and expabded military spending appealed to many in the military.
When President Hindenburg died (August 2), Hitler was the absolute dictator of Germany. The Army had been the last independent instittion n Germany and they had now accepted Hitler. Hitler declared the office of President to be permanently vacant and essentially merging it with the office of Chancellor, taking the title of Leader and Chancellor (Führer und Reichskanzler). He used the 4-year “temporary” grant of emergency powers authorized by the Enabling Act to makechim the absolute master of Germany.
Hitler ordered the Second NAZI Referendum to ratify his extra-constitutional seizure of power following President Hindenburg's death and the Night of the Long Knives. The Reichstag enacted a law merging the office of Chancellor and President. This approved his shift from Chancellor to Führer and the formal end of the Republic. The NAZI-controlled press reported that 95 percent of the registered voters participated and that 90 percent of them (over 38 million people) voted "Ja". No one knows what the actual vote tally was. It is very likely that more than 50 percent voted "Ja", but it is not possible to prove that. It is not creditable that 90 percent did so. (In the last free election in 1933, only 44 percent of the electorate had voted NAZI.) It is not entirely clear precisely why Hitler decided on this referendum. It has been suggested that the NAZI authorities feared that they were reaching the limits of constitutional authority established by the Ermächtigungsgesetz. And thus only a popular vote could clearly legitimize the new regime. [Suksi, p. 100.]
Suksi, Markku. Brining in the People: A Comparison of Constitutional Forms and Practices (Nijhoff).
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