Operation Hummingbird

The Night of the Long Knives, also known as the "Röhm Purge" or "Operation Hummingbird," was a series of political murders that took place in Nazi Germany from 30th June to 2nd July 1934. The killings were carried out by the Schutzstaffel (SS) and other paramilitary groups on the orders of Adolf Hitler, who was the leader of Nazi Germany at the time.

The Night of the Long Knives was an attempt by Hitler to consolidate his power and eliminate any perceived threats to his leadership. The main target of the purge was Ernst Röhm, the head of the Nazi Party's paramilitary organization, the Sturmabteilung (SA). Röhm and many other SA leaders were arrested and later killed. The purge also targeted other political enemies of the Nazi Party, including a number of prominent conservative politicians.

The Night of the Long Knives marked a significant turning point in the history of Nazi Germany. It demonstrated Hitler's willingness to use violence to maintain his hold on power, and it helped to cement the dominance of the SS within the Nazi Party, as many of the SS leaders who carried out the killings were rewarded with promotions and other rewards.

Ernst Röhm with Adolf Hitler, August 1933. Former allies, growing tension between the pair would lead to the brutal violence of the 'Night of the Long Knives' on 30th June to 2nd July 1934.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1982-159-21A / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Night of the Long Knives marked the end of the SA as a political force and helped to cement the dominance of the German military within the Nazi Party.

Sturmabteilung (SA)

The Sturmabteilung (SA) was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party in Germany that was active from the 1920s to the end of World War II.

The SA was known for its street fighting tactics and was often used to break up political meetings and rallies of the Nazi Party's opponents.

The SA was also used to intimidate and attack Jews, homosexuals, and other groups that the Nazi Party considered undesirable.

Ernst Röhm, a close ally of Adolf Hitler, was the head of the SA during the early years of the Nazi Party's rise to power. The SA was initially a powerful force within the Nazi Party and played a key role in the Party's rise to power in 1933.

However, after Hitler became chancellor, he began to view the SA as a potential threat to his own power.

Hitler inspecting members of the SA.


The SA contributed to the Nazis' growing popularity by:

  • Intimidating the Nazis' political opponents, particularly communists, by showing up at their meetings and attacking them.
  • Providing opportunities for young, unemployed men to become involved in the party.
  • Protecting Hitler and other key Nazis when they organised meetings and gave speeches.

By 1932, there were 400,000 SA members.

Ernst Röhm

Ernst Röhm was a German military officer and politician who was a key figure in the early years of the Nazi Party.

Röhm was one of Adolf Hitler's closest allies and was a co-founder of the Nazi Party's paramilitary organization, the Sturmabteilung (SA). He served as the head of the SA from 1921 until 1934.

Röhm was a controversial figure within the Nazi Party and was known for his outspoken personality and his demands for a "second revolution" in Germany.

He believed that the SA should play a more central role in the Nazi Party and the government of Germany, and he advocated for a more radical and socialist approach to Nazi policy.

These views put him at odds with Hitler and other more conservative members of the Nazi Party.

Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA. His demands to increase the power of the SA in Nazi Germany would lead to the Night of the Long Knives.

Rivalry with the Wehrmacht

There was significant tension and conflict between the German army and the Sturmabteilung (SA) during the early years of the Nazi Party's rise to power in Germany. The SA was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party that was known for its street fighting tactics and was often used to attack or intimidate opponents of the Nazis.

The German military, or Wehrmacht, was a powerful institution in Germany and was not inclined to subordinate itself to the SA or the Nazi Party. This led to tension and conflict between the two organizations, particularly as the Nazi Party gained power in the early 1930s.

Many army officers looked down at the SA, seeing them as little more than an undisciplined rabble. In response, many in the SA felt the army lacked commitment to the National Socialist cause:

General Werner von Blomberg, Minister of Defence and other senior military personnel saw the SA as a source of raw recruits for an expanded and reinvigorated army notwithstanding the antagonism that existed between the brownshirts and the regular army.

However, Röhm planned to completely abolish the generalship of the Prussian aristocracy, utilising the SA as the foundation of a new German military. The Treaty of Versailles limited the army to 100,000 soldiers, thus its officials anxiously watched as the SA's membership topped three million men by the start of 1934.

In January 1934, Röhm delivered a document to Blomberg requesting that the SA take over as the country's ground forces from the regular army and that the Reichswehr function as the SA's training wing.

General Werner von Blomberg, Minister of Defence. He saw the SA as a potential pool of recruits for the Reichswehr.

Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0

On 28th February 1934, in response, Hitler met with Blomberg and the SA and SS hierarchy. Röhm grudgingly agreed to sign a declaration recognising the superiority of the Reichswehr over the SA under Hitler's persuasion. Hitler told those in attendance that the SA will support the Reichswehr rather than the other way around. Röhm, in an insulting reference to Hitler, said that he would not follow orders from "the foolish corporal" when Hitler and the majority of the army officers had left.

Even though Hitler did not respond to Röhms irrational outburst right away, it nonetheless widened their divide.

Reichsheer soldiers swear the Hitler oath in August 1934, with hands raised in the traditional schwurhand gesture.

Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Germany — CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Tensions rise

Despite his earlier agreement with Hitler, Röhm clung to his vision of a new German army centred on the SA. By early 1934, Hitler's plan to consolidate power and expand the Reichswehr was in direct conflict with this vision.

Because their army plans clashed, Röhm's success could only come at Hitler's expense. Furthermore, the SA was viewed as a threat by more than just the Reichswehr. Several of Hitler's lieutenants, also feared Röhm's growing power and restlessness.

Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess was a staunch opponent of Röhm.

As a result, a political struggle within the party erupted, with those closest to Hitler, including Prussian premier Hermann Göring, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, and Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess, aligning against Röhm.

While all of these men had served in the Nazi movement, only Röhm maintained his independence from, rather than loyalty to, Adolf Hitler. Hess was enraged by Röhm's contempt for the party's bureaucracy. Göring was deeply concerned about SA violence in Prussia.

Additionally, each of these senior nazis had their own agendas and the aggressive, erratic Röhm was increasingly seen as a troublemaker who could prove problematic to their plans in the future. Certainly for his part, Röhm appeared to be either too oblivious to notice the growing animosity towards him or simply too arrogant to care.

Schleicher stirs the pot

Finally, the growing schism between Röhm and Hitler over the role of the SA in the Nazi state prompted former chancellor General Kurt von Schleicher to return to politics in early 1934.

Schleicher criticised the current Hitler cabinet, while some of Schleicher's followers, including General Ferdinand von Bredow and Werner von Alvensleben, began passing around lists of a new Hitler cabinet in which Schleicher would become vice-chancellor, Röhm would become minister of defence, Heinrich Brüning would become foreign minister, and Gregor Strasser would become minister of national economy.

With the benefit of hindsight and a knowledge of Hitler’s track record when it came to dealing with those who opposed him, this appears to be a terrifyingly reckless course of action for Scheicher to take and certainly would have done Röhm no favours in the eyes of Hitler.

General Kurt von Schleicher, who criticised the Hitler cabinet and contributed to the tensions between Hitler and Röhm.

However, it also helps to demonstrate that the Hitler of 1934, was far from being the virtually untouchable dictator he would become just a few years later. At this stage, there were still perceived vulnerabilities surrounding his status which might of in turn, probably encouraged him to retaliate in a more robust manner.

Adolf Hitler gives the Nazi salute at a parade held in Nuremberg in 1934. To his right stands Rudolf Hess.


Hundreds of Hitler pictures from his personal photographer brought to light and put for auction | Daily Mail Online

Bredow displayed a "lack of discretion" that was "terrifying" as he went around showing the list of the proposed cabinet to anyone who was interested, according to British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, who knew Schleicher and his circle well.

Although Schleicher was in fact by this point, politically unimportant, rumours that he was plotting with Röhm to re-enter the corridors of power fuelled the sense of impending doom. Hitler was being provoked into taking action.

Isolating Röhm

As a means of isolating Röhm, Göring transferred control of the Prussian political police (Gestapo) to Himmler on 20th April 1934, believing Himmler could be relied on to act against Röhm. On 22nd April 1934, Himmler appointed his deputy Reinhard Heydrich as head of the Gestapo. Himmler admired the SA's independence and power, even though by this time he and Heydrich had begun restructuring the SS from a bodyguard formation for Nazi leaders (and a subset of the SA) into its own independent elite corps loyal to both himself and Hitler.

The SS men's loyalty would be useful to both when Hitler finally decided to move against Röhm and the SA. By May, lists of those to be "liquidated" began to circulate among Göring and Himmler's entourages, who engaged in a trade, adding enemies of one for sparing friends of the other.

Gestapo headquarters at 8 Prinz Albrecht Street in Berlin, 1933.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R97512 / Unknown author / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Brüning and Schleicher, two former chancellors, received warnings from Reichswehr friends at the end of May that their lives were in danger and that they should leave Germany immediately. Brüning shrewdly fled to the Netherlands, keen to avoid Hitler’s wrath. Schleicher on the other hand, dismissed the tip as a prank. By the beginning of June, everything was in place, and all that remained was Hitler's approval.

Meanwhile, demands for Hitler to rein in the SA grew stronger. Conservatives in the army, industry, and politics put increasing pressure on Hitler to reduce the SA's influence and oppose Röhm. While Röhm's homosexuality did not endear him to conservatives, his political ambitions were more concerning.

Ernst Röhm, (right) with Heinrich Himmler (center), August 1933.

Night Of The Long Knives: Hitler's Purge Of The Nazi Party (allthatsinteresting.com)

On 15th June, Hitler left for Venice to meet Benito Mussolini, still undecided and uncertain about what he wanted to do. Röhm, his friend and ally, had been with him from the start but now things were different. Hitler was no longer a little-known political firebrand who could turn a blind eye to his brownshirts brawling with local communists.

He was now Chancellor of Germany with global plans and it was increasingly apparent that Röhms antics were becoming an embarrassing and potentially damaging, problem.

Mussolini’s influence

Prior to Hitler's departure for Italy, and at the request of Presidential State Secretary Otto Meißner, Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath directed the German Ambassador to Italy, Ulrich von Hassell, to ask Mussolini to inform Hitler that the SA was tarnishing Germany's good name.

Neurath's manoeuvre to put pressure on Hitler was successful, as Mussolini agreed to the request (Neurath was a former ambassador to Italy, and knew Mussolini well).

During the summit in Venice, Mussolini chastised Hitler for tolerating the SA's violence, hooliganism, and homosexuality, which he claimed were destroying Hitler's good reputation around the world.  

While Mussolini's criticism did not convince Hitler to fight the SA, it did help push him in that direction.

Mussolini and Hitler. The Italian dictator was critical of Hitler's perceived tolerance to the behaviour of the SA in Germany.

Mussolini and Hitler by phscyrillo on DeviantArt

Von Papen chips in

Conservative demands for Hitler to act reached a climax on 17th June 17, when Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, a confidant of the ailing Hindenburg and clearly feeling not enough people had stuck their oar in, delivered a speech at Marburg University warning of the threat of a "second revolution."

Von Papen, a Catholic aristocrat with military and industrial ties, privately threatened to resign if Hitler did not act, according to his memoirs.

While von Papen's resignation as vice-chancellor would not have jeopardised Hitler's position, it would have been an embarrassment from a leading conservative.

Heydrich and Himmler

As if enough people hadn’t already lined up against Röhm now more nazi heavyweights were to turn on him. Hitler left for Neudeck to meet with Hindenburg in response to conservative pressure to restrain Röhm. Blomberg, who had been meeting with the president, chastised Hitler for not taking action against Röhm sooner. He then informed Hitler that Hindenburg was on the verge of declaring martial law and handing over the government to the Reichswehr unless Hitler took immediate action against Röhm and his brownshirts.

Hitler had waited months before taking action against Röhm, in part because Röhm was the volatile leader of a national militia with millions of members. However, the threat of martial law from Hindenburg, Germany's only person with the authority to potentially depose the Nazi regime, put Hitler under pressure to act.

SS-Brigadeführer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Bavarian police and SD, in Munich, 1934. Heydrich, along with Himmler, compiled a dossier of false evidence to incriminate Röhm.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 152-50-10 / Friedrich Franz Bauer / CC-BY-SA 3.0

He left Neudeck intending to both destroy Röhm and settle old scores with old enemies. Both Himmler and Göring welcomed Hitler's decision, as both stood to benefit greatly from Röhm's demise: Himmler gained SS independence, and Göring gained the removal of a rival for future army command.

In preparation for the purge, Himmler and Heydrich compiled a dossier of fabricated evidence claiming that France had paid Röhm 12 million RM (EUR 29.1 million in 2023) to overthrow Hitler. On 24th June, leading SS officers were shown falsified evidence that Röhm planned to use the SA to launch a coup against the government (Röhm-Putsch).

Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, speaks to an inmate of the Dachau concentration camp during an official inspection. Dachau, Germany, 8th May 1936.

Heinrich Himmler during an inspection of the Dachau camp | Holocaust Encyclopedia (ushmm.org)

At Hitler's request, Göring, Himmler, Heydrich, and Victor Lutze compiled lists of people to be killed both within and outside the SA. Willi Lehmann, a Gestapo official and NKVD spy, was one of the men Göring recruited to help him. The noose was tightening on Röhm and over the next few days:

  • General Werner von Fritsch declared the Reichswehr on high alert on 25th
  • Hitler moved to secure the army's cooperation on 27th Blomberg and the army's liaison to the party, General Walther von Reichenau, gave it to him by expelling Röhm from the German Officers' League.
  • Hitler travelled to Essen on 28th June to attend Josef Terboven's wedding celebration and reception; from there, he called Röhm's adjutant at Bad Wiessee and ordered SA leaders to meet with him on June 30 at 11:00.
  • Blomberg signed an article in Völkischer Beobachter on 29th June, in which he stated vehemently that the Reichswehr supported Hitler.

The purge

Hitler and his entourage flew to Munich around 04:30 on 30 June 1934. They drove from the airport to the Bavarian Interior Ministry, where they gathered the leaders of a SA rampage that had occurred in city streets the night before. Enraged, Hitler tore the epaulettes from the shirt of Obergruppenführer August Schneidhuber, the chief of the Munich police, for failing to maintain order the night before. Hitler yelled at Schneidhuber, accusing him of betrayal.

Later that day, Schneidhuber was executed. While the stormtroopers were being escorted to prison, Hitler gathered a large group of SS and regular police and proceeded to the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiessee, where Ernst Röhm and his followers were staying.

Hitler's arrival in Bad Wiessee between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. caught the SA leadership off guard, as they were still in bed. The hotel was stormed by SS men, and Hitler personally arrested Röhm and other high-ranking SA leaders.

The former Kurhaus Hanslbauer hotel in Bad Wiessee, where Hitler arrested his former ally and friend Ernst Röhm.

The 'Hitler hotel': Building where Night of the Long Knives began to be demolished (warhistoryonline.com)

The SS discovered Edmund Heines, the SA leader of Breslau, in bed with an unidentified eighteen-year-old male SA senior troop leader. Hitler had Heines and his companion arrested and shot outside the hotel.

In subsequent propaganda justifying the purge as a crackdown on moral turpitude, Goebbels emphasised this point. Meanwhile, the SS apprehended the other SA leaders as they exited their train to meet with Röhm and Hitler.

Despite the fact that Hitler presented no evidence of Röhm's plot to overthrow the regime, he denounced the SA leadership. Hitler addressed the assembled crowd upon his return to the party headquarters in Munich.

Consumed with rage, Hitler denounced "the worst treachery in world history". Hitler warned the audience that "undisciplined and disobedient characters, as well as asocial or diseased elements," would be exterminated.

The crowd, which included party members and many SA members who had escaped arrest, applauded. Hess, who was present, even offered to shoot the "traitors" if they were caught.

SA Leader of Breslau, Edmund Heines, who was caught in bed with an eighteen-year-old SA troop leader. on the night of the purge. His presumed homosexuality sealed his fate.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 119-1231 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Germany — CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Evening Standard cartoon by LOW on 3rd July 1934. "They salute with both hands now". An absurdly dressed Goering can be seen holding a spear and Goebbels can be seen peeking between his masters legs. 

Y9: 3-7. Hitler’s rise to power (Memo Version) – Best study methods (wordpress.com)

Codeword Kolibri

The final phase of the plan was set in motion by Joseph Goebbels, who had been with Hitler at Bad Wiessee.

When Goebbels returned to Berlin, he called Göring at 10:00 a.m. with the codeword Kolibri, telling him to unleash the execution squads on the rest of their unsuspecting victims.

Hitler directed Sepp Dietrich to form a "execution squad" and travel to Stadelheim Prison, where certain SA leaders were being held. The Leibstandarte firing squad killed five SA generals and a SA colonel in the prison courtyard.

Those who were not executed immediately were returned to the Leibstandarte barracks in Lichterfelde, given one-minute "trials," and shot by a firing squad.

Sepp Dietrich, who Hitler ordered to form an 'execution squad' for the purge.

Settling old scores

The regime did not stop with a purge of the SA. Having previously imprisoned or exiled prominent Social Democrats and Communists, Hitler took advantage of the opportunity to move against conservatives he deemed untrustworthy and inflict a terrible vengeance.

  • This included Vice-Chancellor Papen and those close to him. On Göring's personal orders, an armed SS unit stormed the Vice-Chancellery in Berlin. Gestapo agents attached to the SS unit shot Papen's secretary Herbert von Bose without first arresting him.
  • The Gestapo arrested and later executed Papen's close associate Edgar Jung, author of Papen's Marburg speech, and dumped his body in a ditch.
  • Erich Klausener, the leader of Catholic Action and a close Papen associate, was also murdered by the Gestapo.

Herbert Von Bose

Pubic domain

Author Edgar Jung

Public domain

Despite his protests that he could not be arrested in his position as Vice-Chancellor, Papen was unceremoniously arrested at the Vice-Chancellory. Despite Hitler's order to release him a few days later, Papen no longer dared to criticise the regime and was dispatched to Vienna as Germany's ambassador, no doubt relieved to have escaped becoming another victim of the purge.

Hitler and Himmler also took the opportunity to seek revenge and use the Gestapo against old enemies:

  • Both Hitler's predecessor as Chancellor, Kurt von Schleicher, and his wife were murdered at their home.
  • Gregor Strasser, a former Nazi who had angered Hitler by resigning from the party in 1932, and Gustav Ritter von Kahr, a former Bavarian state commissioner who had helped crush the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, were among those killed.

Gregor Strasser

Gustav Ritter von Kahr

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek / Bildarchiv

Some SA members died saying "Heil Hitler" because they believed their execution was the result of an anti-Hitler SS plot.

Several leaders of the now-defunct Catholic Centre Party were also assassinated during the purge.

During the rise of Nazism, the Party was generally aligned with the Social Democrats and the Catholic Church, criticising Nazi ideology but voting for the Enabling Act of 1933, which granted Hitler dictatorial authority.

There was at least one unintentional victim of the purge: Willi Schmid, was a music critic for the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten newspaper, and whose name was mixed up with one of the Gestapo's intended targets.

Röhm's fate

Röhm was briefly imprisoned at Stadelheim Prison in Munich while Hitler deliberated on his future. On 1st July Theodor Eicke, Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp, and his SS adjutant Michael Lippert paid a visit to Röhm at Hitler's request. They handed Röhm a Browning pistol loaded with a single cartridge and told him he had ten minutes to commit suicide or they would do it for him.

He refused. "If I'm going to be killed, let Adolf do it himself," Röhm said.

They returned to Röhm's cell at 14:50, having not heard anything in the allotted time, to find him standing, his bare chest puffed out in a defiant gesture. Eicke and Lippert then shot and killed Röhm.

Lippert was tried in Munich for the murder of Röhm by German authorities in 1957. Lippert had previously been one of the few purge executioners who had escaped prosecution. Lippert was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in jail.

Theodor Eicke, Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp and executioner of Ernst Röhm.

World War II in Color: SS-Totenkopf Commander Theodor Eicke (ww2colorfarbe.blogspot.com)


Given that so many prominent Germans were killed during the purge, it could hardly be kept secret. Initially, its architects appeared divided on how to handle the event. Göring directed that "all documents concerning the action of the last two days" be burned at police stations. 

Meanwhile, Goebbels attempted to prevent newspapers from publishing lists of the dead while also using a 2 July radio address to describe how Hitler narrowly prevented Röhm and Schleicher from overthrowing the government and causing chaos in the country.

To make the massacre appear legal, Hitler had the cabinet approve a measure on 3rd July that stated, "The measures taken on 30th of June, 1st July and the 2nd of July to suppress treasonous assaults are legal as acts of self-defence by the State."

Reich Justice Minister Franz Gürtner, a conservative who had served as Bavarian Justice Minister during the Weimar Republic, demonstrated his devotion to the new regime by drafting the statute, which gave the purge a legal veneer.

The "Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defense," signed into law by Hitler, Gürtner, and Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick, retroactively legalised the purge murders. Germany's legal establishment gave in even more to the regime when Carl Schmitt, the country's leading legal scholar, wrote an article defending Hitler's 13 July speech. Der Führer schützt das Recht ("The Führer Upholds the Law") was the title.

Reich Justice Minister Franz Gürtner, helped drafted statutes which helped legalise the purge.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H13466 / Heinscher / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Carl Schmitt, a prominent German lawyer who defended Hitler's actions and helped legitimise the purge.

Carl Schmitt’s War on Liberalism | The National Interest

The relatives of the murdered were cared for at the expense of the state through a special fund administered by SS General Franz Breithaupt. The widows of murdered SA leaders received between 1,000 and 1,600 marks per month, depending on their rank. Kurt von Schleicher's stepdaughter received 250 marks per month until the age of 21, and General von Bredow's son received 150 marks per month.

Lutze takes over

Hitler appointed Viktor Lutze to succeed Röhm as head of the SA. According to one prominent historian, Hitler ordered him to put an end to "homosexuality, debauchery, drunkenness, and high living" in the SA. Hitler specifically instructed him to prevent SA funds from being spent on limousines and banquets, which he saw as evidence of SA excess.

In the years that followed, Lutze did little to assert the SA's independence, and the organisation lost power in Germany. The organization's membership fell from 2.9 million in August 1934 to 1.2 million in April 1938.

Röhm was removed from all Nazi propaganda, including The Victory of Faith, a film by Leni Riefenstahl about the 1933 Nuremberg rally that featured Röhm frequently alongside Hitler. In the 1980s, a copy of the original film, before Röhm was edited out, was discovered in the film archives of the German Democratic Republic.

Viktor Lutze who succeeded Röhm as head of the SA.



Field Marshal August von Mackensen, advocate for Schleicher and Bredow and wearer of splendid hats.

Lone Star Parson

General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord and Field Marshal August von Mackensen were among the few exceptions, launching a campaign to have Hitler rehabilitate Schleicher. Hammerstein, a close friend of Schleicher, was deeply offended at Schleicher's funeral when the SS refused to allow him to attend and confiscated the wreaths brought by mourners.

In addition to working for Schleicher and Bredow's rehabilitation, Hammerstein and Mackensen sent Hindenburg a memo on 18th July detailing the circumstances of the two generals' murders and noting that Papen had barely escaped. The memo went on to demand that Hindenburg punish those responsible and chastised Blomberg for his outspoken support for Schleicher and Bredow's murders.

Finally, Hammerstein and Mackensen petitioned Hindenburg to restructure the government.

Hindenburg never responded to the memo, and it's unclear whether he even saw it, as Otto Meißner, who had decided to align himself with the Nazis, may not have passed it along. Even those officers who were most offended by the killings, such as Hammerstein and Mackensen, did not blame the purge on Hitler, whom they wanted to keep as Chancellor; instead, they desired a reorganisation of the Cabinet to remove some of Hitler's more radical supporters.

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 in late 1934-early 1935.

Fritsch and Blomberg abruptly claimed at the end of 1934 that they couldn't stand the extremely violent press attacks on Schleicher and Bredow that had been going on since July, portraying them as the vilest traitors working against the Fatherland in France's pay.

In response, Hitler stated in a speech given on 3 January 1935 at the Berlin State Opera that Schleicher and Bredow were shot "in error" on the basis of false information, and that their names would be restored to the honour roll of their respective regiments. Hitler's speech was not reported in the German press, but it appeased the army.

However, despite the rehabilitation of the two murdered officers, the Nazis continued to accuse Schleicher of high treason in private. Previously, Schleicher allegedly advised Hitler in January 1933 to reach an agreement with France and the Soviet Union, and to partition Poland with the latter, and Hitler allegedly had Schleicher killed in disgust over the alleged advice.

Werner von Fritsch


The Night of the Long Knives was a victory for Hitler and a watershed moment for the German government. It established Hitler as "the supreme leader of the German people," as he stated in his Reichstag speech on 13th July.

Hitler formally adopted this title in April 1942, effectively putting himself above the law both de jure and de facto.

Centuries of legal precedent prohibiting extrajudicial killings were overturned. Despite some initial efforts by local prosecutors to pursue legal action against those responsible for the murders, which were quickly quashed by the regime, it appeared that no law would constrain Hitler's use of power.

Years later, in November 1945, while being interviewed in his cell during the Nuremberg trials by psychologist Gustave Gilbert, Göring angrily justified the killings to Gilbert, saying, "It's a damn good thing I wiped them out, or they would have wiped us out!"

A panoramic view of torchlight rally, complete with swastika flags, honoring Adolf Hitler and the Reich Party following a successful Reich Party Congress in 1939.

Hugo JaegerTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Color photos of Hitler among adoring crowds | Fox News

Further reading