UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133P Homepage > 133P Student Research Papers Index page > Student paper

Hitler and Roehm in Nuremberg

The Night of Long Knives:
U.S. Reactions

Research paper by:
Eric Schnaubelt
June 9, 2009

for Prof. Marcuse's UCSB Hist 133P course
Proseminar on Modern German History
UC Santa Barbara, Spring 2009

About the Author
Research Paper
Plagiarism Warning
& Links

About Eric Schnaubelt

I am a third year History major. I became interested in learning about Germany when I discovered my family history could be traced to the region between Austria and Germany. I have always enjoyed the culture of Germany and taken courses around that subject and World War II.

Research Paper (back to top)

In the last days of June, 1934, Hitler was faced with making a monumental decision that would shake the foundation of his regime. Hitler had to choose between the SA and the SS. His brown shirted Storm Troopers (SA) were a key component in his ascension to power, and many were present and some arrested with Hitler during his Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler was under pressure from Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, Goring, commander of the Luftwaffe, and Himmler, the head of the SS, to cut back the SA’s power and put them under the authority of the SS. In the end, Himmler won out, and the SA was purged. Among this purge’s victims was the SA’s chief of staff, and Hitler’s close friend, Ernst Röhm.

Ernst Röhm was a widely known Nazi in the early years of the party. He controlled the thuggish brown shirts who walked the streets and ensured Nazi victories in elections. On June 30, 1934 the purge of his organization was covered in the international press. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times all covered the story, as did Time magazine. These newspapers covered the first days of the purge and changes throughout July, providing different insights and ideas about the death of Ernst Röhm and the SA. The U.S. news reports’ tone and perception of the German reaction changed over the weeks after the purge. Hitler’s statement and his speeches were covered in the press. The U.S. media’s perception of Hitler’s action changed over time. The early reports expressed shock while also giving Hitler praise, but after the killings stopped, the press took a more critical stance and looked beyond the information the Nazi government was giving. The media took some time to understand the significance of the event but through their reporting they discovered Hitler’s motivations while disregarding his justifications.  Hitler’s speech on July 13 is when the U.S. cemented the idea in their minds that the purge was for securing Nazi power, not for stomping out a revolt by the SA. When following the events of the Blood Purge, it is important to understand the Purge’s main target, the SA’s Chief of Staff, Ernst Röhm.

The Blood Purge of 1934 was cemented in U.S.-American minds when Hitler referred to the event as “the Night of Long Knives.”[1] The purge marks the assassination of Ernst Röhm and the end of the revolutionary phase of Nazism. Röhm had built up the Storm Trooper organization, which by 1934 had over 2.5 million members.[2] The size of the organization created problems for Hitler’s government because it “alarmed foreign powers,” and focused unwanted attention on Germany while rearmament was still in its secret stages. The Treaty of Versailles forbid Germany from rearming and the foreign powers saw the SA as a possible threat to that clause. The Nazi government feared an attack by a foreign power when their army was still unprepared to fight. This prompted Hitler to publicly make offers to these foreign governments to reduce the size of the SA.[3] The German army and the SA argued over training methods, and the rift was made wider because many of the older Army officials considered the SA to be “disreputable thugs who disrupted public order.”[4] To compound the problem for the SA, the SS had grown very strong and wished to be dominant over its rival. On June 30, 1934, Hitler ordered the purge and the SS killed Röhm and other people they thought might cause problems. The event consolidated power for Himmler and subordinated the ranks of the SA to the extremely powerful SS.  The bloody purge was used to rid the country of dissenters and rivals of Nazi power, like Gregor Strasser who was the leader of the Nazi party from 1925 until the 1930s and personal rival of Hitler. The event centralized power and normalized coercion at the expense of some of its most loyal servants. As Eleanor Hancock writes, “the revolution devoured its own children.”[5] The Blood Purge of 1934 occurred in the heart of Germany, and many justifications were given by the Nazi government, but the truth emerged over time through the international press that was monitoring the rise of a new dictator.

Literature Review

Ernst Röhm was head of the SA, an organization that was central to the Nazi party's growth in Germany during the Weimar Republic and also in Bavaria after World War I. A couple of books, like Otis C. Mitchell’s Hitler’s Storm Troopers and the Attack on the German Republic: 1919-1933, cover the role of the SA in building the Nazi party. Mitchell’s book covers the SA generally and focuses on the contribution of the young brown shirt members but covers Röhm only briefly. The main work that covers the life of Röhm is Eleanor Hancock’s Ernst Röhm: Hitler’s SA Chief of Staff. Hancock’s biography was published in 2008 and focuses on Röhm’s life from when he was a young officer in 1887 to his death in 1934. This book is the first academic biography of Röhm, the only other biography, Rohm l’homme qui inventa Hitler, by Jean Mabire, does not list any of its sources.[6] Hancock used personal papers written by Röhm that had not been destroyed, personal accounts, and memoirs by Röhm’s close friends to accurately portray Röhm’s life. Hancock also used archival sources and international government reports to cover the perception that foreign countries had of Röhm. Röhm was also a well known homosexual and is mentioned in almost every major work concerning homosexuality and the Nazi government. Hancock writes that, “academic audiences seem to be more interested in this aspect of his life[“the Nazi homosexual”] than in his role as a Germanor Nazi political figure.”[7] Röhm is mentioned in works like Sex and Society in Nazi Germany, and the History of Homosexuality in Europe: 1919-1939.

Ernst Röhm is most commonly associated with the Night of Long Knives. In many textbooks and historical works, Röhm and the purging of the SA are given at most a page or two. The purge killed Röhm and consolidated power for Hitler and Himmler’s SS. It also gave Hitler an opportunity to kill many dissenters and people that knew his past. The Knight of Long Knives is chronicled in a book by Paul R. Maracin, but it only draws on secondary sources. The main text on the purge is Max Gallo’s The Night of Long Knives that was originally published in the U.S. in 1972. Gallo’s work is a historical narrative of the event that deals generally with the causes while also focusing on the players, attitudes, and political mechanisms involved. The main sources for the book are archival documents and the memoirs of high ranking Nazis. None of the literature dealing with the Night of Long Knives looked at how the U.S. reacted to the Blood Purge of 1934.

Ernst Röhm: Perceptions Before the Purge

hitler and Roehm at Nuremberg Hitler and Röhm in August 1933 in Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag (German Federal Archive)

Ernst Röhm was widely known in the United States before his name was ever associated with the Night of Long Knives. Most of the major newspapers had run stories that had mentioned Röhm and associated him with Hitler as a close ally and friend.  Although it was reported that Röhm was in charge of the SA, reports in the United States did not portray Röhm in a positive light. Many media reports referred to Röhm as “queer,” but Hitler remained loyal to his sub-commander and took the stance that Röhm’s “notorious and self-admitted unnatural conduct had no bearing upon politics.”[8] In a letter made public by the press in December 1933, Hitler expressed his gratitude to Röhm:

It is above all thanks to you and your help that this political instrument [SA] became, within a few years, the force which allowed me to wage the final battle for power….I must thank you, Ernst Roehm, for the inestimable services you have rendered to nationalism and the German people. You must know that I am grateful to destiny, which has allowed me to call such a man as you my friend and brother-in-arms.
With all my friendship and gratitude,
Adolf Hitler [9]

Röhm was the only one allowed to address Hitler with the affectione “thou” and it was partly because of these public expressions of loyalty and faith that the press reacted with shock when the purge occurred. Röhm was able to maintain loyal friends in Germany even with his openly gay sexuality and negative portrayal in other countries.[10]

Röhm’s open sexuality made him an interesting character to report on in the United States media and information was readily found on the SA Chief of Staff. Letters to the July 16, 1934 issue of Time magazine make clear that many people were able to get information on the people and events occurring in Germany. One US citizen commented on the fact that the situation in Germany had been reported on for up to two years prior to the purge.[11] Outside of Germany, Röhm was seen as perverted and unattractive but still loyal to the politics of Hitler’s Nazism. Röhm was not a bleak character cast into the spotlight through his death, but was an important Nazi at the top of Foreign Embassy’s Nazi leadership lists.[12]

Röhm was seen in many countries as having a corrupt moral sense. The United States assaulted his appearance, greed and sexuality but never questioned Röhm’s unflinching loyalty to Hitler. The New York Times reported, Röhm “was one of the original Hitler men and one of the Nazi leader’s most faithful disciples.”[13] The reports on Röhm after the Night of Long Knives changed little of this perception. Röhm’s open sexuality and reputation as a perverted character might have helped Hitler make the decision to consolidate the power of the SS and SA in Himmler’s hands, but even with Röhm’s character flaws the U.S. was shocked to hear reports that he was killed.

The Situation in Germany Escalates: June 30—July 2, 1934

During the evening of June 29 and the early hours of June 30, 1934 Hitler met with Nazi Propaganda leader Goebbels. At the Hotel Dreesen, Goebbels spoke with Hitler and presented to him “evidence” of a coup planned by top officials and lead by the SA’s head, Ernst Röhm.[14] The conversation between the men continued and Hitler then met with Goring, who provided him with more evidence. Soon after the meeting, Hitler had to choose whether or not to act. On June 30, Hitler ordered “this plague ruthlessly stomped out.”[15] The night ended with the execution of many dissenters and political opponents along with the arrest of many SA members. Hitler consolidated Himmler’s power, and sentenced one of his closest friends, Ernst Röhm, to his death. On July 1, news of the purge reached the U.S. and the perception of Hitler changed greatly. Time reported, “Compared to the refined abruptness of Benito Mussolini or the violence of Josef Stalin in disposing of defective political tools, Adolf Hitler was, until last week, the Gentle Dictator.”[16] Up until that point, the media had seen Hitler use patience and then capitalize on opportunities, like the Reichstag Fire and passing the Enabling Act.

The New York Times and the L.A. Times were quick to cover the developments in Germany. The New York Times reported on the first of July that “Roehm commit[ed] suicide” after being arrested for a plot to kidnap Hitler and force him to give power to the SA for three days. Röhm and seven other SA leaders were killed in Munich.[17] The reporters were shocked at the abruptness and violence, but also because Röhm was such a loyal servant to Hitler. The article in the Times expresses the shock and confusion. The headline claims a suicide but reports a murder. The press was only receiving and passing on information at this point, but given time they began to analyze the purge and draw conclusions. The next day the Times reported a much more somber story. Overnight, photographs and books by Röhm and other party leaders disappeared from streets and shop windows. The United States media, at these early days of the purge, saw the event as tragic and heavy hitting. It was clear to them that Hitler had suddenly become a ruthless dictator looking to secure his power. The Nazi censoring machine was in full gear with many people in Germany not even knowing of the events of the previous night or refusing to talk about it unless they were sure no government agents were around. Hitler’s rise to Chancellor lost its previous claims of no bloodshed and misery, as the “absence of the singing, colorful columns was one of the most striking signs of what had taken place.”[18] The tone of the New York Times in the early stages of the Blood Purge demonstrates how shocked the U.S. was at the open violence in Germany. Many had seen Hitler rise in popularity and power using less violent tactics and the blood that flowed from the SA purging made them reassess their views of Hitler and Ernst Röhm.

The Los Angeles Times also reported that after being forced from his position, Ernst Röhm committed suicide. The Nazi Storm Troopers were forced to take a one month vacation. The LA Times suggested that Hitler’s actions were forced by the action of Röhm. There were reports that Röhm had planned a mutiny, but the driving force behind Hitler having to act were the “orgies participated in by Roehm.”[19] The United States saw the moral issue of Röhm’s character coming into play during the purge, but they also saw the purge as an indicator that marked the end of the revolutionary phase of Nazism, reporting that, “Power in [the] Nazi Regime has been shifted to the right by crushing revolt.”[20] The reports talked about the closeness of Hitler and Röhm, but also said that Hitler’s decisive actions and “ruthlessness” helped him to gain popularity in Germany. The bloody action of Hitler secured his power and weakened leftist Nazis and extremist Storm Troopers.[21] The Los Angeles Times concluded that Hitler’s purge was successful in securing his Nazi vision of Germany.

The United States was confronted immediately with news of the arrests and deaths of many Nazis and high-ranking Nazi officials. The early newspaper reports were only able to report the information that was given to them by the Nazi government and to reflect on the mood of the German people. As the events unfolded and hours passed, the US press was able analyze the news coming out of Germany and develop a better understanding of the actions of Hitler. After the initial events of the purge, other newspapers, like the Wall Street Journal, were also able to gather information and report on the purge and its justifications by top Nazi officials.

More Reports Flood In: July 3—July 12

The early news reports concerning the Night of Long Knives mostly described the event itself—Hitler’s decision to purge the SA, and force the death of a friend, Ernst Röhm, who he once described as the only man he could “trust absolutely.”[22] The U.S. media was still trying to gather and sift through all the information that was coming from Germany. The purge did not officially end until it was called off by the Nazi government on July 2, 1934. When the purge was finally ended, US newspaper reports began to take a very different and critical tone, questioning the justifications of Hitler and other top Nazi officials gave. Headlines shifted from “Roehm Commits Suicide” and “Warning Leads Hitler to Act,” to “Resentment at Executions Spreads Alarm in Germany” and “Executions Set Higher: More than Sixty Shot Dead.”[23]

The tone of articles in the US media shifted from informative to dark during the days that followed the Blood Purge. Just days before, the U.S. press was applauding Hitler’s decisive action. On July 2, Webb Miller wrote, “Adolf Hitler emerged today from his first internal crisis with his… prestige heightened and his political position strengthened.” The New York Times article even called Hitler’s purge “swift” and praised his “decisiveness.”[24] Just a day later, on July 2, words like “doom” and phrases like “firing squad justice” were being used to describe the same action.[25] The reports also state that Röhm did not actually commit suicide but was shot and killed by a firing squad. Numbers about how many people were dead begin to be reported with no official word from the Nazi government and numbers today still range from just a hundred to over a thousand.[26] U.S. - Americans and Germans alike were shocked by the ruthless style of the killings. Eyewitnesses in the slaying of former Chancellor Schleicher described the death as a gangster like drive-by where even his wife was mortally wounded.[27] United States citizens were used to certain rights that allowed them to have a trial where proof of a crime had to be presented and analyzed by a jury. The Los Angeles Times reported that in Berlin, at least sixty SA men were given a three minute trial by two SS officials and one Army official, then sentenced to death and shot immediately. An eyewitness recalled that these people were “executed with unbandaged eyes” after being “condemned in three minutes.”[28] The newspapers in the United States expressed fear at such a strong dictatorship. The ruthlessness of the executions and unfair trials were reportted in the U.S. press with a tone of fright and awe. The United States had a strong justice system and held deep principles regarding fair treatment and proper execution of laws. The disregard for fair treatment was one of the main reasons the press began to reassess the purge and Hitler’s “decisive” action. When one reporter cabled his report about the death toll he wrote that the high estimates are “symbolical of the terror that makes fear a prompter of the imagination.”[29]

Hitler was able to pass an emergency law legalizing all of his actions in order to suppress the rebellious traitors of the state. It was reported that many were shot while resisting arrest or simply shot by a firing squad with or without a trial. No proofs were offered to the German people or the foreign media and the legality of the courts’ sentencing men to death became an issue. Frederickt T. Birchall, the NYT Berlin correspondent, summarized the problem in an article, writing:

There is without a doubt a deep growing resentment over these pitiless executions of their leaders, not so much because of the executions as of the refusal of any hearing or opportunity to defend themselves or prove their innocence, which some of them asserted to the last.[30]

Hitler personally ordered executions and many “were executed after condemnation without trial by a drumhead court-martial without legal status.”[31] Although U.S.-Americans and some Germans saw the negatives in the “bloody housecleaning,” (Wall Street Journal, July 3) some leading Nazis expressed their relief and gratitude for Hitler’s actions. President Hindenburg’s wires to Hitler and Goebbels were published in domestic and foreign newspapers praising the Chancellor for “saving the German people.”[32] The United States’ perception of how the German people would react was far different from how Nazi officials believed the German people would react.

In The Wall Street Journal, Doctor Edward J. Ping wrote on July 3, “the shots that put an end to the life of Hitler’s rivals also killed ‘der Fuehrer’s’ chances of further support by the masses….”[33] The purge targeted many lower to middle class people and destroyed the party’s most loyal socialists. Hitler secured his position and power within the government, but sacrificed his socialist party ideals and slogans. This paper is published on a UCSB website. Ping believed that a strong majority in Germany considered him to be loyal to business ideas and a “reactionary to landowners.” In order to secure his power and the masses, Ping speculated that Hitler might become more ruthless. The United States now saw the danger and threat of fascism in Germany.

  On July 7 the German government released a semi-official statement that gave a list of the men killed in the purge. The statement attacked the foreign press for “spreading ‘atrocity stories’ about Germany in connection with the coup….”[34] After the statement was given, Germany focused its attention on publicizing Hitler’s upcoming address about the coup and his justifications for ordering the mass arrests and deaths. The last article to cover the purge in depth from the U.S. perspective was published by Time magazine on July 9. The article covered the death of Röhm and the happenings of the purge. Time reported that the German reaction to applaud Hitler’s strength for ordering his purge was a result of the public only hearing Hitler’s side of the story. The rest of the world was reported to be shocked by the violence and “gangster methods.”[35] Time was able to summarize the event and put its final touches on the United States coverage of the actual purge and then switched its focus to the upcoming Hitler address. All three major U.S. newspapers reported stories that the German people and foreign press were strongly urged to listen to Hitler’s address. U.S.-American headlines stated, “All Germany Urged to Hear Hitler’s Speech,” and “Germans Admonished to Tune in on Hitler.”[36] Elaborate setups in public areas were created to ensure the German Public would hear the Fuhrer’s words and the Ministry of Propaganda for Public Enlightenment (MPPE) was quoted saying, “Every German must hear this speech!”[37]   

Hitler’s Address to the Reichstag and Reactions: July 13—July 30

Reichtstag session on July 13, 1934The Reichstag meeting at the Kroll Opera House moments after Hitler gave his July 13, 1934 speech.  (Süddeutscher Verlag)[38]

The German government made sure their citizens and citizens of the world heard or read Hitler’s Reichstag address on July 13, 1934. The address was Hitler’s attempt to defend his execution of the Storm Troop leaders. Most of the major world newspapers and magazines covered the address and gave their analysis of the speech and Hitler’s justifications. Hitler claimed that the “burden of care is severely felt by him,” and that he battled against falling into the decay and chaos of the Weimar era.[39] Hitler linked the political cleansing of the nation to its economic cleansing and cited the accomplishments of the Nazi government as “pioneers” in making Germany prosper for the people.[40] Hitler also cited the attitudes of the German people as proof of Nazi political and economic correctness, but also addressed the opposition in Germany. Hitler used a diary as proof of a plot against the government and claimed there were countless other documents that supported the idea that there was going to be a coup attempt.

Hitler’s speech drew attention to the abuses that Röhm committed and asserted that the Nazi government did all it could to try and remedy the situation between the SA and the government leadership. Hitler continued, saying that Röhm’s plans were known since May, and that action had to be taken because Röhm’s indecency was spreading outward.[41] Hitler’s address claimed that warnings were given and the speech continually attacked the character of Röhm and his “criminal” activities and partners. Hitler wrote the speech himself, “shutting himself off from friends and advisers,” and delivered it well after the actual purging took place.[42] The timing of the speech allowed U.S. correspondents the chance to reassess the purge and to critique the justifications that were given by Hitler. Many people in the US media understood Röhm’s moral flaws, but they also believed in his unflinching loyalty to the Nazi party. In the days and weeks following the address, the United States covered the Night of Long Knives with a new vigor.

 The US media moved away from calling Hitler’s purge a necessary step in securing his government to a selfish act purely for securing his strength, and after Hitler’s speech, this idea was cemented in their minds. Time called Hitler’s evidence “flimsy” and reported that it agreed with the London Times that the speech, “carried no conviction at all…if any real proof were available, then the conspirators would not have been shot out of hand, but given a public trial in which their guilt would have been made manifest.”[43] There was no real evidence of a coup and the only evidence against Röhm  that historians can find to today is his willingness to openly criticize Hitler and call for a “second revolution” and more radical Germany.[44]The United States prided itself on its democracy and the rights its citizens held.

A majority of the U.S. papers covered the German reaction as a positive one where, “all praise [was] for the Chancellor,” and the execution of Röhm and the violent deaths of many were, “lauded to the sky.”[45]       The Los Angeles Times even reported that “special correspondents of German papers in London, Paris, Warsaw, Rome, and other world cities…were at least impressed…of the Chancellor’s words.”[46] Although the article gives some acknowledgement to the oratorical ability of Hitler and his presence as a leader, it also suggests that, “nobody knows the exact extent of the killings, there having been a number of cases of private revenge beside official executions.”[47] The U.S. recognized that Hitler acted decisively, but the unsanctioned killings of other German citizens, especially non-SA members, made U.S.-Americans question Hitler’s justifications. The  United States moved away from Hitler’s stance that, “it was better that possibly 100 mutineers and conspirators should be annihilated than 10,000 gutless in the storm troops should attack an equally guiltless 10,000 or more comrades.”[48] The purge did not foil some far-fetched plot, but secretly “removed of men whose politics and personal lives do not measure up to the rules laid down after the suppression of the ‘Roehm Revolt.’”[49]

Anne O’Hare McCormick reported for the New York Times on July 15, that “Through all the record runs the same strain of hysteria, of emotional exaggeration, of which Adolf Hitler is the final symptom and National Socialism a complex of all the symptoms.”[50] The purge’s justifications by Hitler have no real meaning or relevance because the German people were so caught up by the power of Hitler and the “strait-jacket clamped on at Versailles,” that a violent phase of the revolution was inevitable and almost necessary.[51] One German official even said in the summer prior to the purge:

The violent phase is still to come. Given the mind of the German people, plus the catch-all character of this movement, more trouble is inevitable. And when it comes, maybe after a years lull, it will be long and nasty.[52] 

The German state of mind during this time was an important factor in allowing Hitler to perform such a ruthless act. Praise came because the German people were faced with a barrage of political, economic, and moral issues brought on by the first war, and Hitler was their savior. Otto D. Tolischus echoed the idea of the German masses writing, “if the Nazi masses pressed hard all the non-Nazi elements, they …believed that they had come into their own and were now masters of the land,” but the truth of what an actual purge created was an “autocracy of the few,” and a rule of an “iron hand wielding the weapon of armed force.”[53] Tolischus completely disregarded any of Hitler’s justifications, comparing this purge to that of the French Revolution, except that unlike Louis XVI, “Roehm did not even have the benefit of a mock trial.”[54] The U.S. was now completely focused on the situation in Germany. Hitler had secured his power and won the support of his people through his speech and action, but the underlying meaning caught by the press was that there was a new ruthless leader set to expand his power and devour those who stood in his way, even close friends.

Blood Purge: Legacies in the Press 1935-1937

The SA was subjugated to the SS as a result of the purge and the continual monitoring of the SA was on the minds of many top Nazi officials as a result of the Blood Purge. Himmler declared in November 1935 that his SS organization was watching the Strom Troopers, “lest those creations want to become bigger than their creators,” a direct reference to one of the reasons there was a rift between the SA and the Nazi government.[55] The purge also created the question of who should control the police force. On June 17, 1936 Hitler settled this question, appointing Himmler to Chief of the German Police in the Ministry of the Interior, giving him control over all the different forces including the Gestapo and criminal police.[56] These reports demonstrate how the U.S. saw the purge as an act that secured Hitler’s power and helped further centralize his power in the years that followed.

The Blood Purge, as a legacy for the U.S. media, was not a clear indicator of Hitler’s ability to lead a struggling nation, but a “drastic reorganization of the German police force into a purely National Socialist force designed to protect the Nazi regime and propagate its philosophy.”[57] The purge was also a precursor to the SS absorbing all of the police forces that were at work in Germany. Himmler’s appointment to head the police signified to the United States that he had finally won completely, in his efforts to control all the German police forces, a victory only achieved through killing Röhm.[58]

The Blood Purge: Conclusions

The US press covered the Night of Long Knives in depth. The covering of the events led people to understand the purge and its purpose. The Blood Purge was a violent slaughtering of SA men and other “enemies” that centralized power and secured Hitler and his Nazi government’s place in the state. The event marked the end of the revolutionary phase of Nazism at the cost of some of its most devoted followers. The SA, headed by Röhm, made crucial contributions to the Nazi consolidation of power by: providing the force that backed Hitler and destroyed its opponents, coordinating non-Nazi organizations like the police, and contributed to the Nazification of German society through its size.[59] The purge dismantled and severely hindered a loyal organization and German reactions to the event were different from every level. The U.S. and international media covered the events of June 30, 1934 and the weeks that followed. Their perceptions of the event changed over time, in a way that allowed people to see the real causes and reasons for such a bloody occurrence. Hitler was a skillful orator and politician, but his justifications for the purge were closely scrutinized and critiqued by the U.S. media. Ernst Röhm was a close friend and true National Socialist who suffered at the hands of his own party. The international press questioned Röhm’s moral character, but never his belief in the Nazi cause. Over a short period of time, the U.S. media changed its perception of the purge eventually doubting Hitler’s justifications, and giving insights into his real motivations that are still accepted today. The purge brought Hitler into the mainstream of U.S. press as a ruthless dictator, and his ruthlessness made him a man to be observed by the main powers of the world.

Notes (back to top)

[1] Associated Press, New York Times, “Text of Hitler's Address to the Reichstag Defending His Execution of the Storm Troop Leaders,” July 14

[2] Bergen, War and Genocide, 70

[3] Hancock, Ernst Röhm, 142

[4] Bergen, War and Genocide, 71

[5] Hancock, Ernst Röhm, 153.

[6] Ibid., 4

[7] Ibid., 3

[8] Time,“Germany One People--Two Flags,” 1933,  3

[9] Qtd in Gallo, The Night Of Long Knive., 8

[10] Hancock, Ernst Röhm, 87

[11] various, Time,  “Letters to the Editor,” July 16

[12] Hancock, Ernst Röhm, 143

[13] New York Times, “Roehm a Fanatic; Rose with Hitler” July 1, 1934

[14] Gallo, The Night of Long Knives. Translated from the French by Lily Emmet., 20.

[15] Time, “Blood Purge,” July 9, 3

[16] Ibid., 1

[17] New York Times, “Roehm Commits Suicide,” July 1

[18] New York Times, “Berlin Strollers Show Uneasiness,” July 2

[19] Los Angeles Times, “Hitler Slays Leaders in Plot to Overthrow Nazi Regime,”  July 1, Front Page

[20] Miller, Los Angeles Times, “Hitler Acts Win Favor,” July 2

[21] Ibid., 2

[22] Los Angeles Timess, Qtd. in “Hitler Acts Win Favor.”

[23] New York Times, “Roehm Commits Suicide,” July 1,“Resentment at Executions Spreads,” July 5. Los Angeles Times, “Warnning Leads Hitler to Act,” July 1, “Executions Set Higher: More Than Sixty Shot Dead,” July 4.

[24] Ibid.

[25] New York Times, “Nazi Rebels' Doom Echoes In 2 Towns.” July 3

[26] Bergen, War and Genocide, 71

[27] Los Angeles Times, “Execution of Schleicher Described By Eyewitness.” July 3

[28] Los Angeles Times, “Executions Set Higher.” July 3.

[29] The New York Times, “Nazi Rebels' Doom Echoes In 2 Towns.”

[30] Frederickt.Birchall., New York Times., “Resentment At Executions Spreads Alarm In Germany; Papen Keeps Nominal Post,” 1

[31] The New York Times., “Nazis Shot Down Men Denying Guilt.” July 4

[32] The Wall Street Journal, “Hitler Backed By Hindenburg.” July 3

[33] Ibid.

[34]New York Times, “Germans Told of Death Total for First Time; 'Number of Executed Traitors Still Below 50'.” July 8, 1934

[35] Time, “Blood Purge.”

[36] Los Angeles Times, “All Germany Urged to Hear Hitler's Speech,” Wall Street Journal, “Germans Admonished to Tune in on Hitler.” July 12

[37] Los Angeles Times, Ibid. July 11.  MPPE qtd. .in TIME “Blood Purge”

[38] Found in Gallo, The Night of Long Knives, 119

[39] Associated Press. New York Times, “Text of Hitler's Address to the Reichstag Defending His Execution of the Storm Troop Leaders.”

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Time, “Purge Speech,” 1

[43] Ibid., 3.

[44] Hancock, Ernst Rohm, 3

[45] Los Angeles Times, “Nazi Press Applauds.” July 14

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid. 

[48] Los Angeles Times, “Hitler Says 'Blood Purge' Foiled German Revolt,” July 14, 1

[49] Los Angeles Times, “Nazis Shake Up Storm Troops,” July 21.

[50] Anne O'Hare McCormick, New York Times, “The Troubled Mind of Germany,” July 15.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Qtd. in Ibid.

[53] Otto D. Tolischus, New York Times., “Mass Phase Ended In Nazi Revolution,” July 15, 1.

[54] Ibid

[55] The Associated Press., New York Times,  “Nazis Form Special Force to Combat Reds; S.S. Men to Watch Storm Troops and Army,” Nov 17, 1935.

[56]New York Times, “Himmler Named Head of All Reich Police, Compromise Settling Fight for Control,” June 18, 1936.

[57] Otto D.Tolischus, New York Times, “Hitler Elite Guard Takes Over Police.” Jan 17, 1937

[58] Ibid.

[59] Hancock, Ernst Rohm, 129

Bibliography (back to top)


  • LA Times/LAT: Los Angeles Times
  • MPPE: Ministry of Propaganda for Public Enlightenment
  • NY Times/NYT: New York Times
  • SA: Sturmabteilung (assault detachments)
  • SS: Schutzstaffel (protective squadron)
  • WSJ: Wall Street Journal

Primary Sources—Chronological

New York Times

  • “Roehm Commits Suicide,” New York Times, July 1, 1934.
  • “Roehm a Fanatic; Rose with Hitler,” New York Times, July 1, 1934.
  • “Berlin Strollers Show Uneasiness,” New York Times, July 2, 1934.
  • “Nazi Rebels' Doom Echoes In 2 Towns,” New York Times, Special Cable, July 3, 1934.
  • “Nazis Shot Down, Men Denying Guilt,” New York Times, Special Cable, July 4, 1934.
  • “Resentment At Executions Spreads Alarm In Germany; Papen Keeps Nominal Post,” New York Times, Frederickt T. Birchall, July 5, 1934.
  • Reports that the purge eliminated the SA as a factor in the life of the country. Shows how Germany responded with images of Roehm disappearing. Reports on the problem of how trials were conducted and speculates that purge is not over. Represents a shift from a positive to negative public reaction.
  • “4 Foes Of Putsch Slain In Munich,” New York Times, Wireless, July 5, 1934.
  • “Germans Told of Death Total for First Time; 'Number of Executed Traitors Still Below 50',” New York Times, Wireless, July 8, 1934.
  • “Hitler Is The Law, Goering Asserts,” New York Times, Wireless, July 13, 1934.
  • “Text of Hitler's Address to the Reichstag Defending His Execution of the Storm Troop Leaders,” New York Times, The Associated Press, July 14, 1934.
    Article has subheadings with Hitler’s various reasons. Can use this source to find information on German opposition plus coverage on various other countries and their reactions. It focuses on the U.S., French, and English response and coverage. It provides the two different views in Germany of pubic outcry, but also support for the purge.
  • “Doctor Describes Execution Of Nazis,” New York Times, July 14, 1934.
  • “The Troubled Mind of Germany,” New York Times, Anne O’Hare McCormick, July 15, 1934.
  • “Mass Phase Ended in Nazi Revolution,” New York Times, Otto D. Tolischus, July 15, 1934.
  • “Duesterberg Held in German Prison,” New York Times, Wireless, July 29, 1934.
  • “Hitler Repudiates Reich Neo-Pagans; Backs Christianity,” New York Times, The Associated Press, October 29, 1935.
  • “Nazis Form Special Force to Combat Reds; S.S. Men to Watch Storm Troops and Army,” New York Times,The Associated Press, November 17, 1935.
  • “Himmler Named Head of All Reich Police, Compromise Settling Fight for Control,” New York Times, Wireless, June 18, 1936.
  • “Hitler Remembers His Old Followers,” New York Times, Otto D. Tolischus, November 15, 1936.
  • “Hitler Elite Guard Takes Over Police,” New York Times, Otto D. Tolischus, January 17, 1937.
  • Gives a summary of the “day of German Police,” and reports on the consolidation of power and the new duty of the SA. It gives the U.S. perspective on struggle for power and insight on why Himmler won out.

Los Angles Times

  • “Hitler Slays Leaders In Plot To Overthrow Nazi Regime,” Los Angeles Times, July 1, 1934.
  • “Warning Leads Hitler to Act,” Los Angeles Times, July 1, 1934.
  • “Goebbels Gives Warning More "Heads May Roll",” Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1934.
  • “Ten More Storm Troops Chiefs Slain By Hitler,” Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1934.
  • “Hitler Acts Win Favor,” Los Angeles Times, Webb Miller, July 2, 1934.
  • “Execution of Schleicher Described By Eyewitness,” Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1934.
  • “Executions Set Higher,” Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1934.
  • “Hitler's Slain Enemies Denied Catholic Rites,” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1934.
  • “Hitler's Narrow Escape from Death Related,” Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1934.
  •  “All Germany Urged To Hear Hitler's Speech,” Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1934.
  • “Hitler Says 'Blood Purge' Foiled German Revolt,” Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1934.
  • “Nazi Press Applauds,” Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1934.
  • “Nazis Shake Up Storm Troops,” Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1934.

Wall Street Journal

  • “Hitler Backed By Hindenburg,” Wall Street Journal, July 3, 1934.
  • “Reichstag Summoned to Meet On Friday,” Wall Street Journal, July 11, 1934.
    Writes that it was summoned to give forma blessing to Hitler. Gives the governments official statement on the purge but fails to create any laws. Reports that it is the first meeting since Hitler’s seizure of power. Also gives accounts of SA refugees in France. Helps to define the justification and to gauge the U.S. take on the German reaction.
  • “Germans Admonished to Tune in on Hitler,” Wall Street Journal, July 12, 1934.
  • “Hitler Personally Ordered Shootings,” Wall Street Journal, July 14, 1934.
  • “May End Storm Troop Vacation,” Wall Street Journal, July 18, 1934.
  • “Nazi "Purging" Arrests,” Wall Street Journal, July 21, 1934.
Time Magazine
  • “Germany One People--Two Flags.” Time, March 20, 1933. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,745352,00.html
  • This article provides me with an early account of Rohm. Demonstrates the perceptions of Rohm before the purge and allows me to make comparisons from before and after the Blood Purge.
  • “Blood Purge,” Time, July 9, 1934, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171...
    Six page article that deals with the Purge. Article talks about Rohm’s open sexuality and courting of young SA men. Tells story of Goring giving evidence of a plot and cites official communications. Tone shows that some killings were mafia-like and unnecessarily brutal. Sets precedent that the SA might have to fear more persecution. Use for tone, and justifications cited and gives opinion on violence and Hitler’s use of it.
  • “Letters to the Editor,” Time, various, July 16, 1934. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,787876-1,00.html
  • “Purge Speech,” Time, July 23, 1934, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,747546,00.html

Secondary Sources

Doris Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, Second Edition, 2nd ed. (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2009).  

Eleanor Hancock, Ernst Rohm: Hitler's SA Chief of Staff (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
This is a new biography of Rohm that cover his time as a young officer until his death during the Blood Purge. Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen deal with the period right before and after the Purge and the thoughts of other key German Officials. This work quotes Foreign Service and embassy reports and gives accounts from French, English, and U.S.-American papers. Eyewitness accounts are also used, but archival research is where the majority of the information comes from.

Max: Gallo, The Night of the Long Knives. Translated from the French by Lily Emmet. (Pan, 1999).
This is a historical narrative that deals with attitudes, characters, political mechanisms, and general causes. The narrative starts on June 29 and ends on July 2. Book contains translated letters from Himmler and Rohm. The major sources used are memoirs from high ranking officials and the book also uses newspapers. This work to helps to establish a timeline for the purge and makes translated personal accounts and papers accessible.

Literature Review Works

Hans Peter Bleuel, Sex and Society in Nazi Germany. Lippincott, 1973.  

Paul R.Maracin, The Night of the Long Knives: Forty-Eight Hours That Changed the History of the World. 1st ed. (The Lyons Press, 2007).  

Otis C. Mitchell, Hitler's Stormtroopers and the Attack on the German Republic, 1919-1933. (McFarland, 2008).  

Florence Tamagne, History of Homosexuality In Europe, 1919-1939. (Algora Publishing, 2004).

Plagiarism Warning & Links (back to top)

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