Why was the Night of the Long Knives significant for Hitler?

Weimar democracy was destroyed in March 1934 via the Enabling Act, just 14 months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Hitler was now the most powerful man in the country. Yet there were still a number of obstacles to Hitler’s dictatorship. How did Hitler remove these obstacles, and why were they significant?

You can download the worksheet for this lesson here. If you cannot download the worksheet, please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes.

Trade Union = An organised group of workers that come together to protect their rights and pay from their employers.
Länder = A local government parliament in Germany. Each region of Germany had its own Länder parliament.

Look at the source below. It is a cartoon from the Daily Express (a British newspaper) from July 1933. It shows President Hindenburg in the middle of a boxing ring holding up Hitler’s hand in triumph. The defeated opponent in the corner represents ‘German Liberties’. Try and answer the questions below after looking at the source:
– How might Hitler have defeated German liberties after the Enabling Act?
– What German liberties might Hitler have removed?
– Why might Hitler have done this?
HINT – try to use today’s key words to help you.

TASK ONE: What opposition did Hitler remove?

Read the information below on the opposition that Hitler removed between May 1933 and August 1934. As you are reading, complete the table below to help you describe what the threat was, explain how Hitler removed the threat and analyse why it was useful for Hitler to remove this opposition.

How did Hitler remove key opposition to his dictatorship?

Trade unions, political parties and the Länder parliaments

The Enabling Act was crucial in Hitler’s efforts to gain full control of Germany. Now that he did not have to rely on the Reichstag to pass laws, Hitler could set about dismantling other forms of opposition from outside parliament.

Although the KPD (the Communist Party) had been banned from taking up their seats in the Reichstag after the March 1933 election by Hitler, the Party still remained a fierce opponent to Nazi rule and remained popular with the working class. Therefore trade unions were of particular concern to Hitler: they were well organised, and provided the KPD with a platform where they could gain influence in to organise strikes and bring key parts of industry to a halt.

In May 1933, Hitler decided to ban all trade unions in Germany and declared that strikes by workers were illegal. To ensure this happened, Hitler ordered trade union headquarters to be looted and for heads of trade officials to be arrested. All workers were told to sign up to the German Labour Front (DAF), an institution run directly by the Nazi Party. Within two years 2 million workers signed up (mostly through fear), helping the Nazi Party control the working population.

A propaganda poster encouraging workers to sign up to the DAP. Notice how there is a worker and a professor in arms – it was expected that all workers sign up to this institution, allowing the Nazis to control the workforce of Germany.

Hitler then moved on to ban all political opposition to his rule.

The banning of trade unions had severely damaged the ability of the KPD to influence opposition to the Nazis, but Hitler went one step further in late May 1933. Nazi stormtroopers entered the offices of the Social Democrats and the KPD. They were ordered to confiscate all party funds and destroy the newspapers that were owned by these political parties.

Two months later, Hitler issued a decree that banned all political parties in Germany except the NSDAP. It was ordered that any individual that attempted to start a new political party would be punished with up to three years of imprisonment.

Hitler now had total control of the Reichstag. Opposing parties, such as the Social Democrats, ceased to exist, ending formal opposition in the German parliament. However, Germany had 18 Länder parliaments across Germany that made decisions on local issues. Although many Länder parliaments had a number of Nazi politicians in them, Hitler did not have total control of these parliaments: they still had the power to make laws that Hitler did not approve of.

The Länder parliaments were therefore abolished in January 1934. In their place, Hitler appointed governors to run every region in Germany. This allowed Hitler to replace governors if they did not listen to Hitler, giving him tight control of local government as well as national government.

The States (Länders) of the Weimar Republic. Hitler removed this system of local government in January 1934 to strengthen his control of Germany as a whole.

What was the Night of the Long Knives, and why was it significant?

By the time the Länder parliaments were abolished, Hitler had effectively turned Germany into a one-party state. He was the unrivaled leader of the party and therefore of Germany. There was one final hurdle that proved to be a barrier to Hitler’s ambitions of leading Germany unopposed, and it came from within the Nazi Party itself.

Ernst Röhm had been a long-term ally of Hitler, assisting in the Munich Putsch in 1923. From 1930, Röhm was the leader of the SA. Yet Röhm was becoming a problem for Hitler and a number of others within the Nazi Party.

He was brutish and arrogant, something that other members of the Nazi Party detested. Leaders of the SS such as Heinrich Himmler resented the thuggish SA compared to their slick, professional SS unit. Himmler felt as though the Nazi Party should focus on expanding a professional until like the SS instead of relying on bullies in the SA. The army also feared the SA: they only boasted 100,000 men compared to the 3 million strong force of the SA. It was clear who would win if Germany slipped in to a civil war.

Additionally, Röhm was unafraid to voice his opposing opinions to Hitler about the direction he wanted the party to go in. He criticised Hitlers reliance on wealthy industrialists and army generals, and instead argued for more socialist policies such as taxing the rich and helping the working class. For this reason his politics were more aligned to groups like the KPD.

Ernst Röhm was the leader of the SA from 1930. Many in the Nazi Party felt as though he posed a growing threat to Hitler as time went on.

It made sense for Röhm to voice this political opinion. He was in charge of three million SA men, most of whom were from working class backgrounds. Around 60% of these men were permanently unemployed in 1933, and many of them felt as though they risked their lives for the Nazi Party without much reward. Many were fiercely loyal to Röhm, placing him in an ideal position to challenge Hitler. It seemed as though Hitler had no other choice but to remove the threat of Röhm and the SA.

On the night of 30 June 1934, Röhm and 100 other SA leaders were rounded up by the SS. They were subsequently arrested, imprisoned and shot. This was known as the Night of the Long Knives. Over the next four days about 400 political opponents, including 150 senior members of the SA, were shot without trial. Other notable victims of the event involved von Schliecher, the ex-German Chancellor who had led Germany before Hitler. The SA continued after the events of 1934, but its power was limited and no longer rivaled the army. Hitler forced the army to swear an oath of loyalty to him from every soldier. It was now firmly under Hitler’s control.

A political cartoon by David Lowe, a British political cartoonist, in 1934. Hitler and the German State are shown with smoking guns next to the dead leaders of the SA. SA members proceed to give the Nazi salute to Hitler.

The German people knew little about the events of the Night of the Long Knives: by this point, the Nazi Party had control of the media. Many were actually grateful that the SA were restrained as they were seen as thugs running the streets of Germany.

The death of President Hindenburg

President Hindenburg had become a tired, confused old man. Hitler was able to make use of this during his rise to power, tricking Hindenburg into signing decrees that helped the Nazi Party.

On 2 August 1934, Hindenburg died aged 87. Upon the news of Hindenburg’s death, Hitler declared himself Germany’s Führer (total leader), taking all the power of the President and adding it to the power he already had as Chancellor.

On 19 August, a vote was held amongst the German people to confirm Hitler as their Führer. Bombarded with Nazi propaganda and persuaded by fear, 90% of the population voted in favour. The Third Reich had begun in Germany.

TASK TWO: Explain why…

Over the last two lessons, we have looked at the reasons for Hitler being able to consolidate his power to become Führer of Germany. These have involved:
– The Reichstag Fire
– The Enabling Act
– Removal of political opposition
– The Night of the Long Knives
– The death of President Hindenburg.

With these points in mind, attempt the following question (remember you only need to discuss three in three separate paragraphs. Use 3x bits of SPEND evidence in each one). Use your Nazi Germany packs to help you answer the question.

Explain why Hitler was able to consolidate his power as German Chancellor to become Führer by August 1934 [12 marks].

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