Night of the Long Knives (6)

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At about 04:30 on June 30, 1934, Hitler and his entourage flew to Munich. The night before was marked by almost regular by this time SA rampage on the streets of the Bavarian capital. The stormtroopers got away with all the previous ones – not surprising at all given that the chief of the Munich police August Schneidhuber was SA-Obergruppenführer (three-star general).

This time things played out very differently. From the airport Hitler and his associates they drove to the Bavarian Interior Ministry, where they assembled the SA leaders responsible for the rampage.

Enraged, Hitler tore the epaulets off the Schneidhuber’s uniform for failing to keep order in the city the previous night. A very much proper punishment, if you ask me. Hitler shouted at Schneidhuber and accused him of treachery (which in a way, it was).

On Hitler’s personal orders, Schneidhuber was executed later that day (now that was way over the top). As the SA leaders were placed under arrest (IMHO, the right decision given their “accomplishments” on the streets of Munich) and hustled off to the city jail, Hitler assembled a large group of SS and regular police (as Himmler was in charge of both, by that time there was little, if any, difference between the two), and departed for the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiessee, where Ernst Röhm and his followers were staying.

With Hitler’s arrival in Bad Wiessee between 06:00 and 07:00, the SA top brass, still in bed, were taken by surprise. Which proves beyond the reasonable doubt that none of them planned any coup – and thus Hitler’s actions were totally and completely illegal.

SS men entered the hotel, encountering no resistance (another proof that no coup was planned) and Hitler personally placed Röhm and other high-ranking SA leaders under arrest (another very much illegal action).

The SS found Breslau SA leader Edmund Heines in bed with an unidentified eighteen-year-old male SA officer. Hitler ordered both Heines and his partner taken outside the hotel and shot.

Which was another criminal act on Hitler’s part. While the infamous Paragraph 175 of German penal code made a homosexual act a criminal offense, the penalty was imprisonment and/or loss of civil rights, not death.

Goebbels emphasized this aspect in subsequent propaganda justifying the purge as a crackdown on moral depravity. Meanwhile, the SS arrested the other SA leaders as they left their train for the planned meeting with Röhm and Hitler.

Shortly afterwards, Hitler delivered a furious speech to the crowd of Party members and loyal stormtroopers. Consumed with range, he made totally unfounded accusations against the SA leaders, calling their actions “the worst treachery in world history” and labeling them as the “undisciplined and disobedient characters and asocial or diseased elements” that would be ruthlessly annihilated.

The crowd predictably shouted his approval (as did the Communists in Russia on similar occasions) and Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, present among the assembled, even volunteered to personally shoot the “traitors”.

After the event was over, Joseph Goebbels, who had been with Hitler at Bad Wiessee, set the final phase of the Operation Hummingbird in motion. Upon returning to Berlin, Goebbels telephoned Göring at 10:00 with the code word Kolibri to let loose the SS death squads on the rest of their unsuspecting victims.

Göring passed the order to Sepp Dietrich (Commander of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler regiment) instructing him to form an “execution squad” and go to Stadelheim prison in Munich (one of the largest prisons in Germany) where key SA leaders were being held.

There in the prison courtyard, the Leibstandarte firing squad shot five SA generals and an SA colonel. Those not immediately executed were taken to the Leibstandarte barracks at Lichterfelde (a district in Berlin), given one-minute “trials”, and promptly shot by the SS firing squad. Some SA members died saying “Heil Hitler” because they (incorrectly) believed that the plot by rogue SS members had led to their execution.

After taking care of the “SA business”, the SS death squads went after conservatives, Catholic politicians, Hitler’s personal enemies and others perceived to be potential threats and obstacles to his radical reengineering project.

The hit list included Vice-Chancellor Papen (who was ironically one of the key driving forces behind Hitler’s decision to launch Operation Hummingbird) and those in his immediate circle.

In Berlin, on Göring’s personal orders, an armed SS unit stormed the Vice-Chancellery (entered, actually, encountering no resistance). Gestapo officers attached to the SS unit unceremoniously shot the Chief of the Press Division in Papen’s office Herbert von Bose without bothering to arrest him first.

Hitler had more than serious reasons to get rid of the latter as von Bose not only formed a pocket of resistance against the National Socialist system that was later referred to as “the vanguard of conservative resistance”, but was actively plotting to overthrow the Nazi regime. That was not something that Hitler would tolerate.

SS death squads arrested and later executed Papen’s close associate Edgar Jung, the author of Papen’s now famous “Marburg speech” (which ironically was one of the events that pushed Hitler to go after his political enemies), and disposed of his body by unceremoniously dumping it in a ditch.

Then they murdered Erich Klausener, the leader of Catholic Action, and a close Papen associate. Papen was no less unceremoniously arrested at the Vice-Chancellery, despite his insistent (and legally incorrect) protests that he could not be arrested in his position as Vice-Chancellor.

Although Hitler ordered him released days later, Papen’s political career was effectively over. He no longer dared to criticize the Nazi regime and was soon sent off to Vienna as German ambassador (with little, if any, political power).

Then Hitler and Himmler unleashed the Gestapo against Hitler’s personal enemies, Kurt von Schleicher, Hitler’s predecessor as Chancellor, was murdered in his home together with his wife who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Other prominent victims included Gregor Strasser, a former Nazi who had formed an opposition to Hitler within the Nazi party, and Gustav Ritter von Kahr, the former Bavarian state commissioner who ruthlessly crushed the Beer Hall Putsch ten years earlier. Kahr’s fate was especially gruesome. His body was found in a wood outside Munich; he had been hacked to death, apparently with pickaxes.

A separate category of victims consisted of the leaders of then already disbanded Catholic Centre Party (Zentrum). The Zentrum , though critical of Nazi ideology (not exactly compatible with Catholicism), but nonetheless voted for the infamous Enabling Act of 1933 which granted Hitler dictatorial authority. Big mistake on their part.

Ernst Röhm was held briefly at Stadelheim Prison in Munich, while Hitler decided what to do with him. Finally, he made the decision and chose Theodor Eicke (Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp), and his adjutant Michel Lippert to deliver it to the SA commander (officially, the SA Chief of Staff).

They entered Röhm’s cell, and handed him a pistol loaded with a single bullet informing him that he had ten minutes to kill himself or they would do it for him. Röhm flatly refused to commit suicide, saying that “If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself.”

Having heard nothing in the allotted time, they returned to Röhm’s cell at 14:50 to find him standing, with his bare chest puffed out in a gesture of defiance (Röhm could have been many things but he was definitely not a coward). Eicke and Lippert then shot Röhm, killing him instantly.

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