World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

The Night Of The Long Knives
From Wikipedia
The Night of the Long Knives (German:  Nacht der langen Messer), sometimes called Operation Hummingbird or, in Germany, the Röhm-Putsch, was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany between June 30 and July 2 1934, when the Nazi regime carried out a series of political murders. Leading figures of the left-wing Strasserist faction of the Nazi Party, along with its figurehead, Gregor Strasser, were murdered, as were prominent conservative anti-Nazis (such as former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Gustav Ritter von Kahr, who had suppressed Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch in 1923). Many of those killed were leaders of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the paramilitary brownshirts.

Adolf Hitler moved against the SA and its leader, Ernst Röhm, because he saw the independence of the SA and the penchant of its members for street violence as a direct threat to his newly gained political power. Hitler also wanted to conciliate leaders of the Reichswehr, the official German military who feared and despised the SA—in particular Röhm's ambition to absorb the Reichswehr into the SA under Röhm's leadership. Additionally, Hitler was uncomfortable with Röhm's outspoken support for a "second revolution" to redistribute wealth. (In Röhm's view Hitler's election had accomplished the "nationalistic" revolution but had left unfulfilled the "socialistic" motive in National Socialism.) Finally, Hitler used the purge to attack or eliminate critics of his new regime, especially those loyal to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, as well as to settle scores with old enemies.

At least 85 people died during the purge, although the final death toll may have been in the hundreds, and more than a thousand perceived opponents were arrested Most of the killings were carried out by the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), the regime's secret police. The purge strengthened and consolidated the support of the Reichswehr for Hitler. It also provided a legal grounding for the Nazi regime, as the German courts and cabinet quickly swept aside centuries of legal prohibition against extra-judicial killings to demonstrate their loyalty to the regime.

Before its execution, its planners sometimes referred to it as "Hummingbird" (German: Kolibri), the codeword used to send the execution squads into action on the day of the purge. The codename for the operation appears to have been chosen arbitrarily. The phrase "Night of the Long Knives" in the German language predates the massacre itself and refers generally to acts of vengeance. Germans still use the term "Röhm-Putsch" to describe the murders, the term given to it by the Nazi regime, despite its unproven implication that the murders were necessary to prevent a coup. German authors often use quotation marks or write about the so-called Röhm-Putsch to emphasize this.

Architects of the purge: Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, and Hess
Röhm's fate
Röhm was held briefly at Stadelheim Prison[i] in Munich, while Hitler considered his fate. In the end, Hitler decided that Röhm had to die. On July 2, at Hitler's behest, Theodor Eicke, later Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp, and SS Officer Michel Lippert visited Röhm. Once inside Röhm's cell, they handed him a loaded Browning pistol and told him he had ten minutes to kill himself or they would do it for him. Röhm demurred, telling them, "If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself." Having heard nothing in the allotted time, they returned to Röhm's cell to find him standing, with his bare chest puffed out in a gesture of defiance. Lippert shot him dead at point-blank range. In 1957, the German authorities tried Lippert in Munich for Röhm's murder. Until then, Lippert had been one of the few executioners of the purge to evade trial. Lippert was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Reaction
Almost unanimously, the army applauded the Night of the Long Knives, even though the generals Kurt von Schleicher and Ferdinand von Bredow were among the victims. The ailing President Hindenburg, Germany's highly revered military hero, sent a telegram expressing his "profoundly felt gratitude" and he congratulated Hitler for "nipping treason in the bud". General von Reichenau went so far as to publicly give credence to the lie that Schleicher had been plotting to overthrow the government. In his speech to the Reichstag on July 13 justifying his actions, Hitler denounced Schleicher for conspiring with Ernst Röhm to overthrow the government, who Hitler alleged were both traitors working in the pay of France.

Since Schleicher was a good friend of the French Ambassador André François-Poncet, and because of his reputation for intrigue, the claim that Schleicher was working for France had enough certain surface plausibility for most Germans to accept it, though it was not in fact true. The falsity of Hitler's claims could be seen in that François-Poncet was not declared persona non grata as normally would happened if an Ambassador were caught being involved in a coup plot against his host government. The army's support for the purge, however, would have far-reaching consequences for the institution. The humbling of the SA ended the threat it had posed to the army but, by standing by Hitler during the purge, the army bound itself more tightly to the Nazi regime.

One retired captain, Erwin Planck, seemed to realise this: "if you look on without lifting a finger," he said to his friend, General Werner von Fritsch, "you will meet the same fate sooner or later." Another rare exception was Field Marshal August von Mackensen, who spoke about the murders of Schleicher and Bredow at the annual General Staff Society meeting in February 1935 after they had been rehabilitated by Hitler in early January 1935.
Hitler triumphant: The Führer reviewing the SA in 1935. In the car with Hitler: the Blutfahne, behind the car SS-man Jakob Grimminger.
Rumours about the Night of the Long Knives rapidly spread. Although many Germans approached the official news of the events as described by Joseph Goebbels with a great deal of skepticism, many others took the regime at its word, and believed that Hitler had saved Germany from a descent into chaos. Luise Solmitz, a Hamburg schoolteacher, echoed the sentiments of many Germans when she cited Hitler's "personal courage, decisiveness and effectiveness" in her private diary. She even compared him to Frederick the Great, the 18th-century King of Prussia. Others were appalled at the scale of the executions and at the relative complacency of many of their fellow Germans. "A very calm and easy going mailman," the diarist Victor Klemperer wrote, "who is not at all National Socialist, said, 'Well, he simply sentenced them.'" It did not escape Klemperer's notice that many of the victims had played a role in bringing Hitler to power. "A chancellor", he wrote, "sentences and shoots members of his own private army!"

The extent of the massacre and the relative ubiquity of the Gestapo, however, meant that those who disapproved of the purge generally kept quiet about it. Among the few exceptions were General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord and Field Marshal August von Mackensen, who started a campaign to have Schleicher rehabilitated by Hitler. Hammerstein, who was a close friend of Schleicher, had been much offended at Schleicher's funeral when the SS refused to allow him to attend the service and confiscated the wreaths that the mourners had brought. Besides working for the rehabilitation of Schleicher and Bredow, Hammerstein and Mackensen sent a memo to Hindenburg on July 18 setting out in considerable detail the circumstances of the murders of the two generals and noted that Papen had barely escaped. The memo went on to demand that Hindenburg punish those responsible, and criticized Blomberg for his outspoken support of the murders of Schleicher and Bredow.

Finally, Hammerstein and Mackensen asked that Hindenburg reorganize the government by firing Baron Konstantin von Neurath, Robert Ley, Hermann Göring, Werner von Blomberg, Joseph Goebbels and Richard Walther Darré from the Cabinet. Instead, the memo asked that Hindenburg create a directorate to rule Germany comprising Hitler as Chancellor, General Werner von Fritsch as Vice-Chancellor, Hammerstein as Minister of Defense and Rudolf Nadolny as Foreign Minister. The request that Neurath be replaced by Nadolny, the former Ambassador to Moscow who had resigned earlier that year in protest against Hitler's anti-Soviet foreign policy, indicated that Hammerstein and Mackensen wanted a return to the "distant friendliness" towards the Soviet Union that existed until 1933. Mackensen and Hammerstein ended their memo with:
"Excellency, the gravity of the moment has compelled us to appeal to you as our Supreme Commander. The destiny of our country is at stake. Your Excellency has thrice before saved Germany from foundering, at Tannenberg, at the end of the War and at the moment of your election as Reich President. Excellency, save Germany for the fourth time! The undersigned Generals and senior officers swear to preserve to the last breath their loyalty to you and the Fatherland".

Hindenburg never responded to the memo, though it remains unclear whether he even saw it as Otto Meißner, who decided that his future was aligned with the Nazis, may not have passed it along.[58] It is noteworthy that even those officers who were most offended by the killings like Hammerstein and Mackensen did not blame Hitler for the purge, whom they wanted to see continue as Chancellor, and at most wanted a reorganization of the Cabinet to remove some of Hitler's more radical followers.[59]
In late 1934-early 1935, Werner von Fritsch and Werner von Blomberg, who had been shamed into joining Hammerstein and Mackensen's rehabilitation campaign, successfully pressured Hitler into rehabilitating Generals von Schleicher and von Bredow.

Fritsch and Blomberg suddenly now claimed at the end of 1934 that as army officers they could not stand the exceedingly violent press attacks on Schleicher and Bredow that had been going on since July, which portrayed them as the vilest traitors, working against the Fatherland in the pay of France. In a speech given on January 3 1935 at the Berlin State Opera, Hitler stated that Schleicher and Bredow had been shot "in error" on the basis of false information, and that their names were to be restored to the honor rolls of their regiments at once. Hitler's speech was not reported in the German press, but the army was appeased by the speech. However, despite the rehabilitation of the two murdered officers, the Nazis continued in private to accuse Schleicher of high treason. During a trip to Warsaw in January 1935, Göring told Jan Szembek that Schleicher had urged Hitler in January 1933 to reach an understanding with France and the Soviet Union, and partition Poland with the latter, and Hitler had Schleicher killed out of disgust with the alleged advice.

During a meeting with Polish Ambassador Józef Lipski on May 22 1935, Hitler told Lipski that Schleicher was "rightfully murdered, if only because he had sought to maintain the Rapallo Treaty". The statements that Schleicher had been killed because he wanted to partition Poland with the Soviet Union were later published in the Polish White Book of 1939, which was a collection of diplomatic documents detailing German-Polish relations up to the outbreak of the war.

Hitler named Victor Lutze to replace Röhm as head of the SA. Hitler ordered him, as one prominent historian described it, to put an end to "homosexuality, debauchery, drunkenness, and high living" in the SA. Hitler expressly told him to stop SA funds from being spent on limousines and banquets, which he considered evidence of SA extravagance. A weak man, Lutze did little to assert the SA's independence in the coming years, and the SA lost its power in Germany. The regime had all of the decorative SA daggers ground to remove the name of Röhm from the blade, which was replaced with the words "Alles für Deutschland" (Everything for Germany). Membership in the organisation plummeted from 2.9 million in August 1934 to 1.2 million in April 1938.

The Night of the Long Knives represented a triumph for Hitler, and a turning point for the German government. It established Hitler as "the supreme judge of the German people", as he put it in his July 13 speech to the Reichstag. Later, in April 1942, Hitler would formally adopt this title, thus placing himself de jure as well as de facto above the reach of the law. Centuries of jurisprudence proscribing extra-judicial killings were swept aside. Despite some initial efforts by local prosecutors to take legal action against those who carried out the murders, which the regime rapidly quashed, it appeared that no law would constrain Hitler in his use of power. The Night of the Long Knives also sent a clear message to the public that even the most prominent Germans were not immune from arrest or even summary execution should the Nazi regime perceive them as a threat. In this manner, the purge established a pattern of violence that would characterise the Nazi regime: the use of force to establish an empire.