Pen & Sword's Night of the Long Knives
|Pen & Sword|
|$22.95 from Casemate|
128 pages, softcover
Germany in the years after WWI were fraught with disarray as factions within struggled against each other for control of the country. Eventually a pseudo-democratic government, the Weimar Republic, came to the forefront. Yet this government was quite weak and was unable to address the issues rampant throughout the nation.
This resulted in a number of rather ruthless political groups, one of which was the National Socialist party. Promising much but delivering little, they, and their leader, Adolf Hitler, started rising to power. In the wake of their rise, a very large (eventually 3 million) group of basically street thugs developed to ensure the quelling of dissent against the party. Called the Sturmateilung (storm troopers or SA), their brown military style uniforms earned them the name 'brown shirts'.
They were controlled by a man who, like most of the major Nazi leadership, was little more than a street thug himself; Ernst Rӧhm. Though quite a different person from Adolf Hitler, he and Hitler were very close friends. Rӧhm was one of the few people who could disagree and argue with Hitler. Rӧhm had full control of the SA so Hitler directed one of his other henchmen, Heinrich Himmler to head a group of personal bodyguards, the SS (a group that eventually grew to a very large size). All the men in the SS were to meet a strict standard of 'purity' and swore their allegiance to Hitler.
With Hitler's eventual rise to leadership of the nation, it was fairly obvious that his friend and his followers were a major threat. It was feared that Rӧhm and his group would eventually try to take over so on a night in mid 1934, Hitler and his SS went on a bloody purge of the leadership of the SA. Those who were not killed outright were thrown in jail and without trial, were quickly eliminated. What really surprised me is that Hitler personally led the attack on Rӧhm as I had always thought him to work from behind the scenes. I was also surprised at how blood-thirsty Gӧring was as he is frequently portrayed as a buffoon.
The author does a superb job of telling the story of the rise of both the Nazis, Hitler and the SA, in addition to the events of 30 May-2 June 1934. I nearly hesitate to use the word fascinating when describing the book, so I'll say superbly researched. In today's political climate, it is easy to see how some might make comparisons with what happened then to what is going on in several nations in the 21st century. The attempts to stifle the press, the fear mongering against 'them', the overstepping of standard political boundaries, the increase in hate violence, all seems quite familiar, though perhaps not to the same extreme. Also familiar in some respects is the complicity of most German politicians to what went on.
One of the 'jobs' of history is to tell the sequence of events of the past to ensure things like this do not happen again in the present or in the future. Books like this are not only great reads, but a warning of what could happen if we don't keep our eyes open and our brains in gear. Highly recommended.
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