(HITLER and GERMANY: 1927-35 – continued)
In Germany, books, motion pictures, radio broadcasts and the theater were subject to state censorship, but the economy was improving and the public's support for Hitler was holding. Germany's rural and religious conservatives were pleased by what they believed was the weeding out of corruption. Many, including intellectuals, believed the National Socialist propaganda that they read in their newspapers and heard on the radio. Hitler spoke of Germans being an exceptional and superior people, and Germans were inclined to believe it – as did other people in judging themselves through the ages, including many Americans when Richard Nixon told them they were a superior people.
Of Germany's 17,000 Protestant pastors, 3000 were fervent enough in the support of Hitler to join the German Faith movement. Those supporting National Socialism talked of German science as opposed to Jewish science – Einstein, of course, belonging with the latter. There was also talk of German mathematics rising from the superiority of the German spirit. Textbooks were being rewritten. Teachers were conforming, and only a few of them were being dismissed. University professors, who had long lectured with enthusiasm about German grandeur and had supported rightwing and nationalist politicians, now found it easy to support National Socialism.
Appealing to the spirit of conformity, in January 1934, Hitler's Minister of the Interior, Hermann Goering (Göring), was in a forgiving mood, asking prisoners released from the concentration camp at Dachau to rejoin their places in their communities rather than consider themselves outlaws. Meanwhile, Germany's court system was upholding Nazi law. In February it became illegal to advocate monarchy. Later in the year it became illegal for a Jew to be a member of Germany's stock exchanges.
In May in Germany treason trials were allowed to be held in secret. Then in June came a showdown with the anti-capitalist elements in Hitler's National Socialist Party who were clamoring for Hitler to extend his revolution. Ernst Roehm (Röhm), leader of the Brown Shirts and the revolution's chief protagonist, was feeling powerful – his Brown Shirts now numbering 2.5 million. Hitler proposed at a cabinet meeting that the Brown Shirts be made the foundation of a new people's army. Army leaders protested and appealed to President Hindenburg. At cabinet meetings, Roehm and the head of the army, von Blomberg, argued. Unexpressed in these debates was the disgust that Army leaders had for the homosexuality of Roehm and the clique that surrounded him. More important to the Army was its position of leadership and its need for officers who were highly trained. Now that Hitler was in power he too wanted professional soldiers more than he did street rowdies. He sided with the Army, and, in exchange, Army leadership endorsed Hitler as successor to Hindenburg.
There were also calls from capitalists and the landed aristocracy for the law and order necessary for a well functioning economy. They asked Hitler for an end to arbitrary arrests, an end to the persecution of Jews and attacks on churches and an end to the antics of the Brown Shirts. The vice chancellor, Franz von Papen, joined the call for law and order. Addressing the University of Marburg on June 17, he called for an end of National Socialist terror, for the restoration of normal decencies and the return of a measure of freedom, including freedom of the press. Only weaklings, he said, suffer no criticism. Great men, he said are not created by propaganda. And he called for respect being extended to "all our fellow countrymen."
Hitler's propaganda minister, Dr. Josef Goebbels, moved to repress any distribution of von Papen's speech on radio or in the press. Hitler was furious with von Papen, and von Papen was furious over the suppression of his speech by Goebbels. Von Papen told Hitler that he could tolerate no such ban by a junior minister. He submitted his resignation and said he would advise Hindenburg immediately. Hitler felt his power threatened, and he met with the leader of the Army: von Blomberg. Blomberg told Hitler that Hindenburg had stated that he would declare martial law and turn the government over to the Army if Hitler did not bring a quick end to the tensions that had arisen. Hitler caved in and decided that the way out was to move against Roehm and the Brown Shirt leadership as the Army wished.
Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, an organization within the Brown Shirts, saw advantage in the demise of Roehm. And the Minister of the Interior, Hermann Goering, believed that it was time that Hitler eliminated opponents such as Roehm. Hitler used them and their faction of the Nazi Party against Roehm's faction. Roehm made it easier for Hitler by making veiled threats of a Brown Shirt rising in response to his fears that his Brown Shirts were about to be reduced in size.
Joseph Goebbels and others were warning Hitler of the danger of Roehm's "morally objectional" character, and although Hitler's decision to destroy Rohm and his network was to be described as a defense against a possible Brown Shirt putsch, it may have included Hitler's desire to obliterate his sexual past with Roehm. Roehm and Hitler had been close friends, hanging out together in the early twenties. (The Hidden Hitler, by Lothar Machtan)
Roehm, by the way, belonged to a homosexual organization called the League for Human Rights. He held that if Nazi Party members performed their official duties well, they were entitled to private lives that might include "loving homosexual relationships."
On the night of June 30, Goering and Himmler's SS led raids against Roehm and others across Germany. It was to be known as the Night of the Long Knives. It was to be known among Germans as the Roehm Putch because Hitler's justification for the killings as crushing a coup attempt by Roehm.
Roehm, his lieutenants and some other Brown Shirts were executed. And the opportunity was taken to eliminate some who had crossed the National Socialist movement, including von Kahr, the former Bavarian state commissioner who crushed Hitler's attempted coup in 1923. Kahr's body was hacked to pieces and thrown into a swamp. The former chancellor, Heinrich Brüning, escaped death by having fled the country sometime before. The leftist Nazi, Gregor Strasser, was executed, as was another former chancellor, General Kurt von Schleicher, and the leader of Catholic Action in Berlin, Erich Klausener, whose staff was hauled off to a concentration camp. About 116 died. There were incidents of mistaken identity, and the bodies of those killed by mistake were returned to their wives with apologies.
On July 1, Hindenburg publicly thanked Hitler for his "determined action and gallant personal intervention," which, he said had "nipped treason in the bud and rescued the German people from great danger." The following day, von Blomberg gave Hitler the congratulations of the cabinet. In a speech before parliament justifying his purge, Hitler accused the Brown Shirts of preparing to seize Berlin. Hitler announced that 67 had died, 61 of them shot, including nineteen Brown Shirt leaders – thirteen, he said, for resisting arrest. Three, he claimed, had committed suicide. Said Hitler:
If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this: in this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people. Everyone must know for all future time that if he raises his hand to strike the state then certain death is his lot. (William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p 226)
On August 2, Hindenburg died of old age. A plebiscite was held on August 19 that overwhelmingly endorsed Hitler as Hindenburg's successor as President. Hitler did not care for the title of President – a left over from the Republic. Nor did he care for the title of Chancellor. He preferred Führer (Leader), and that is what he would be called. His cabinet passed a law declaring the presidency dormant. Hitler no longer had someone above him to worry about. He was the supreme authority.
To appease criticism of his rule, he announced amnesty for 27,000 camp inmates. Germans believed the period of arrests was at an end, and they felt comfort in the realization that only a small fraction of the population had been arrested. Membership in Germany's National Socialist party continued to grow, as people wished to identify with Hitler's regime, to express their patriotism or to advance their position.
Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.