Crushing the Opposition to the Nazis

SABy itself, elimination of political opposition by the leaders of the country committed to making a Quantensprung of the magnitude that the Third Reich had to make, is not a crime.

It is actually a necessity as country leaders are facing problems and challenges of such an enormous magnitude that they simply can not afford any opposition. Hence it is no surprise that no quantum leap of a comparable scale (comparable to Nazi Germany that is) was achieved in a democracy.

It has been achieved by either a ruthless dictatorship (Soviet Union – twice, Nazi Germany, China, South Korea, Taiwan, etc.) or under occupation administration (post-WW2 Germany and Japan).

Democracy works (sometimes well, sometimes not so much) during periods of stability; in the times of a severe crisis (especially existential crisis) it can be outright deadly. During those times only the ruthless dictatorship can save the nation in question. In other words, to prevent the country from being destroyed, one must destroy the opposition.

Using the optimal tools and methods. Including deportation and even internment (under house arrest, in jail or even in a concentration camp) of leaders of opposition and other individuals deemed by the security agencies to be a threat to the Quantensprung. And unlike in the democratic environment, during the times of crisis it is far better to “over-detain” than to “under-detain”.

Consequently, annihilation of the opposition by the Nazis was criminal (although nowhere as criminal as the one committed by Stalin and his henchmen at exactly the same time) not because of their objective (which was absolutely necessary for the very survival of Germany), but because of the tools and methods that were used. Tools and methods that were far more brutal, murderous and criminal than necessary.

I will cover in sufficient detail the whole Nazi project of eliminating the opposition (including the infamous Night of the Long Knives) in the chapter devoted to Hitler’s crimes. In this section I will only briefly cover the four key tools used by the Nazis – the Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitaries, secret political police (Gestapo), detention centers (concentration camps) and special political courts (Sondergerichte).

Contrary to a popular misconception, in just about all their peacetime endeavors (with the exception of those related to their “racial” and “Jewish” questions) were highly pragmatic.

Consequently, they understood that (a) positive motivation was far more powerful than the negative one; and (b) an ounce of prevention (of anti-Nazi activities) is far more valuable than a ton of punishment.

Hence in their management of their German subject they put emphasis on positive stimuli (i.e. on propaganda and actually caring for the German people by identifying their needs) rather than on a negative one (fear of being punished by the Nazis).

And the fundamental objective of their political repression system was to prevent anti-Nazi activities from happening in the first place rather than to punish the “wrongdoers”.

Consequently, the primary function of the SA (until they were relegated to political oblivion in July 1934), Gestapo, concentration camps and special courts was intimidation, not punishment of actual or potential political opponents.

Historians generally agree that these instruments of intimidation (especially the much-feared Sondergerichte) performed their functions very well and had a strong deterrent effect against active opposition to the Nazis. The latter appears to be was sufficiently intimidated through psychological terror to refrain from active (or even passive) resistance to the Nazis.

The Sturmabteilung (SA) was the only “terror and intimidation” tool (and a very efficient one at that) used by the Nazis prior to their acquisition of absolute power in the end March of 1933.

Nazi stormtroopers beat up their political opponents; prevented, disrupted and dispersed meetings and rallies; attacked and destroyed the premises (headquarters and branches) of political parties; kidnapped and detained opposition activists (by the time Nazis came to power, the SA operated a vast network of illegal detention centers).

After the Nazis had obtained the absolute (plenary) powers in Germany after the Reichstag Fire Decree and especially the Enabling Act became laws, they no longer needed the SA to suppress the opposition. Now they had the whole law enforcement system of Germany (police, prosecutors, the courts and the penitentiary system) to do this job for them.

Actually, this was the primary reason for the spectacular fall of the SA in 1934 – they simply had nothing to do any more. Their last valuable contribution to Nazi cause was made weeks before the Enabling Act – just before the March 1933 elections (the last multi-party elections in a unified Germany until 1990).

The SA unleashed a nationwide campaign of violence against the Communists, Social Democrats, other left-wingers, trade unionists and even the centrists. Which, however, did not achieve the desired outcome – Nazis still got only 44% of the votes (still short of an absolute majority).

After the Night of the Long Knives when just about all SA leaders were either murdered or incarcerated, SA functions were reduced to just one – attacks on the Jews.

For over four years, the Brownshirts were the main perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence which culminated on the infamous Kristallnacht in November of 1938.

After the murder of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath on November 7th by Herschel Grynszpan (a Polish Jew), the SA were used for “spontaneous demonstrations” against this very much terrorist act (which, however, does not justify the subsequent pogrom at all).

In very violent riots, the stormtroopers shattered the glass storefronts of about 7,500 Jewish stores and businesses (hence the name Kristallnacht – “Crystal Night”) given to the events. Jewish homes were ransacked throughout Germany.

Members of the SA and SS (and a lot of “ordinary Germans” who participated in the event en masse) damaged and in many cases destroyed, about 200 synagogues (nearly all Germany had), dozens of Jewish cemeteries, more than 7,000 Jewish shops, and 29 department stores. Dozens of Jews were beaten to death and more than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to now very much legal concentration camps (just about all of them were soon released).

Thereafter, the SA predictably became overshadowed by the SS, and by 1939 had little (if any) remaining significance in the Nazi Party and in the Third Reich in general.

The Sturmabteilung (2)

SA MarchingHitler called his paramilitaries Sturmabteilung (SA) after the elite (and highly successful) specialized assault troops (“stormtroops”) of Imperial Germany in World War I who used so-called “Hutier infiltration tactics”.

Named after General der Infanterie (three-star general) Oskar von Hutier (who did not invent but extensively and very successfully used this tactics), it used small squads of a few soldiers each to stealthily infiltrate enemy trenches and cleanse them using superior firepower – hand grenades, light machine guns (later in the war MP-18 submachine guns) and flamethrowers. And – when necessary – handguns and combat knives.

Men trained in these methods were known in Germany as Sturmmann (“storm man”, usually translated as “stormtrooper”), formed into companies of Sturmtruppen (“assault troops”, more often and less exactly “storm troops”).

Hitler first used security guards (precursor of SA) in October 1919 – a month after he joined the party and began speaking at DAP meetings on a regular basis. The permanent security unit (then called Ordnertruppen) was established four months later – in February 1920.

It was also when the future SA received their now (in)famous brown uniforms. Brown shirts and trousers were chosen as the SA uniform for purely financial reasons. In 1920 when the first SA units were formed, a large number of these uniforms were cheaply available, having originally been ordered during the war for colonial troops posted to Germany’s former African colonies, but never used.

The unit developed by organizing and formalizing the groups of ex-soldiers and beer hall brawlers who were to protect gatherings of the Nazi Party from disruptions from Social Democrats (SPD) and Communists (KPD) and to disrupt meetings of political opponents.

Ordnertruppen was led by Emil Maurice – a half-Jewish (believe it or not) Hitler’s first personal chauffeur. Subsequently he participated in the Beer Hall Putsch, was incarcerated in Landsberg prison with Adolf Hitler (he even helped the latter with writing Mein Kampf) and then was one of the co-founders of the (in)famous SS – he was SS #2 (SS #1 was Adolf Hitler himself).

Due to his Jewish heritage, and his 1927 brief relationship with Hitler’s half-niece Geli Raubal, he fell out of favor with Hitler and rose in the SS only to the rank of Oberführer (“senior colonel”).

When SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler learned that Maurice “according to his ancestral table, is not of Aryan descent”, he recommended that Maurice be expelled from the organization.

To Himmler’s annoyance, Hitler stood by his old friend (as he always did). In a secret letter written on 31 August 1935, Hitler ordered Himmler to make an exception for Maurice and his brothers, who were informally declared “Honorary Aryans” and allowed to stay in the SS.

In 1936, Maurice became a Reichstag deputy for Leipzig and from 1937 was the chairman of the Munich Chamber of Commerce. From 1940 to 1942, he served in the Luftwaffe as an officer.

After the war he was arrested by the allies, and in 1948, sentenced to four years in a labor camp in a typical “victor’s justice” as he committed no crimes whatsoever. Released in 1951, he acquired a watch shop in Munich and run it after his died in 1972.

Hitler informally gave SA its permanent name in September 1921, although officially it was called “Gymnastic and Sports Division” of the party (Turn- und Sportabteilung), perhaps to avoid trouble with the central government that just about at that time banned all right-wing paramilitary organizations. By that time, it had roughly 300 members.

Maurice became the first Oberster SA-Führer (“Supreme SA Leader”) and bravely led the SA stormtroopers in fights with Communists, Social Democrats and other political opponents of the Nazi party.

However, Hitler soon decided that SA needed more professional military management and so replaced the watchmaker Maurice with 23-year old Hans Ulrich Klintzsch – ex-naval (Marine, actually) lieutenant, decorated war hero (he was awarded the Iron Cross both Second and First Class) and the ex-officer in the Erhardt Brigade – the most efficient and distinguished Freikorps.

Klintzsch was suspected of having a hand in 1922 in the murder of Walter Rathenau – the Reich Foreign Minister, of Jewish background and, as main author of the ‘fulfilment policy’ towards the Versailles Treaty, a detested figure on the extreme Right.

However, given the fact that Adolf Hitler was always firmly opposed to political assassinations (in his opinion, they never produced any valuable result), these suspicions are most likely completely unfounded.

He served in this position until February 1923 when he went back to the German Army and ceded his command of SA to Hermann Göring – another war hero and decorated military officer. Klintzsch ultimately went to serve in the Luftwaffe, where rose to the rank of Oberst (Colonel). He died in 1959 during the wedding of his son Fridthjof.

Under Klintzsch’s leadership, SA members were actively training, preparing for what they saw as practically a civil war at home (i.e. violent combat with their political enemies) evoking the spirit of aggressive camaraderie and blind commitment to the leader (i.e. Adolf Hitler).

Contrary to a very popular misconception, the (in)famous Ernst Röhm was not the first, but the fourth leader of the SA. The basis for this misconception is that the “original” SA was banned by the Bavarian government after the Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923 and thus ceased to exist.

Röhm was an active participant of the putsch and thus was arrested and subsequently tried by the Munich People’s Court in February 1924. He was found guilty of high treason but the sentence was suspended and he was granted a conditional discharge.

Which allowed him to reincarnate the SA under the name Frontbann (he had been given authority by Hitler to rebuild the SA in any way he saw fit). The reincarnation “walked like a duck”, “looked like a duck” and “quacked like a duck” (i.e. SA) as it had the same members and performed the same functions. Frontbann was disbanded in February 1925 after the ban on the SA was lifted and was reformed back into the SA.


The Sturmabteilung (1)

SA-LogoAdolf Hitler needed a paramilitary wing for his party for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he needed his own (i.e., loyal only to him personally) paramilitary force to successfully execute the coup without having to rely on Bavarian Army – Reichswehr units, Freikorps and the Civil Guard (their neutrality would be sufficient). The failed Beer Hall putsch proved it beyond the reasonable doubt.

A unique feature of the German political scene (that it owed to a whole series of bloody coups and uprisings – Spartacus uprising, Bavarian Soviet Republic, Kapp Putsch, Ruhr Uprising, etc.) was its acceptance of a high level of political violence. Which by mid-1920 most (if not just about all) Germans considered natural.

Natural and even necessary – Germans (especially Bavarians) sincerely believed that the return to “law, order and normalcy” can be achieved only by violence. Either “from the top” – by violence perpetrated by government forces (police and Reichswehr units) or “from the side” (by Freikorps and other non-government paramilitary units).

This belief, which got surprisingly deep surprisingly fast did not go away after the demise of Weimar Republic. On the contrary, it got even stronger – which explains why most (if not overwhelming majority) of Germans accepted (and even supported) violent suppression of political opponents and persecution of Jews by the Nazis (as well as their brutality on German-occupied territories).

Consequently, it is no surprise that both Left and Right parties (both no strangers to violence) established paramilitary units and used them on every suitable occasions to intimidate, assault (and sometimes even murder) their political opponents, disrupt their meetings (and, of course, protect themselves and their events from their political enemies).

Hence, to survive (let alone succeed) in this highly violent environment, NSDAP had to develop not just similar, but superior paramilitary capabilities.

However, there was another – very personal – reason why Adolf Hitler created a powerful paramilitary wing of his (now his and his alone) political party. A military environment was the only one where he was emotionally comfortable.

And although NSDAP was now his absolute dictatorship, the Führer’s party, it was still a purely civilian outfit. And he desperately (really desperately) needed a military (or at least a paramilitary) one.

And, being fiercely intolerant of any competition, he wanted his paramilitary force to ultimately replace all (very much numerous) right-wing nationalist paramilitaries (which he subsequently did).