Seventy-Five Years after the Night of the Long Knives

June 30, 2009 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of a ghastly reminder about the nature of evil in the modern world.  The Night of the Long Knives showed, for those who still needed to be convinced, that the only object of totalitarianism is power.  Adolf Hitler ordered the extermination of those who he considered a threat to his power.  Bland histories of Nazi Germany portray this as the destruction of the SA (the Nazi paramilitary force commanded by Ernst Roehm) as a way of placating the German Army or the liquidation of the Left wing of the Nazi Party, led by men like Greggor Strasser, once the second most powerful Nazi.

Hitler did murder these Nazi rivals, but he did much more than that.  Nazi persecution of Christianity began long before the Night of the Long Knives.  In Prussia, the Gestapo began arresting Protestant clergymen from almost the beginning of Nazi rule.  On June 11, 1933, Nazis savagely beat with steel and rubber truncheons priests who had addressed the Catholic Workers Union.  On January 22nd, 1934, Nazis broke into the study of Pastor Jacobi and beat him up.  Eleven days before that, Pastor Rzadki had been sent to a concentration camp.

The Night of the Long Knives was as much a radical expansion of the Nazi War on Christianity.   On that bloody night, Hitler had his henchmen murder Dr. Klausener, the head of Catholic Action in Berlin, Adalbert Probst, Director Catholic Youth Sports Association in Germany, and also Fritz Gerlich, one of the leading Christian publishers in Germany.   

The Night of the Long Knives was not an attack on the "socialism" in National Socialism, as it is so often suggested.  Two weeks after the Night of the Long Knives, Graf von der Golz, Deputy Commissar in the Ministry of Economics in July `5, 1934 speech to businessmen said: "Any organization that represents the interests of the employer will be regarded as illegal and disbanded and the guilty parties will be prosecuted."[i] 

A few months later, on October 16th, Nazis raised the highest income tax rate from 40% to 50%.  Income tax rates were raised twice again, on February 17, 1939 and September 9, 1939, but exempted incomes of 2,400 Reichmarks a year or less.[ii]  The Nazis removed the exemption on business taxes for many types of businesses and it increased the progressivity of the business taxes.  The Loan Stock Law of December 4, 1934 virtually confiscated all dividends of six percent or, in some cases, eight percent by ordering the beneficiaries of stock dividends to invest those monies in state bonds.

An act of August 27, 1936 raised the general business tax rate from 20% to 25% and to 30% for each year thereafter; then on July 25, 1938 corporate profits of more than 100,000 Reichmarks per year were subjected to an additional tax of 35% with that rising to 40% for each year thereafter; and on March 20, 1939, the Nazis imposed an excess profits tax.[iii] 

It is not just that the Nazi state raised taxes (Leftists like to argue that this was just to fund the Nazi War Machine), although in four years, Nazis had raised taxes to approximately one fourth of the national income.[iv] No wonder Fritz Thyssen, one of the industrialists who did help bring the Nazis to power, said in 1940:  "Soon Germany will not be any different from Bolshevik Russia; the heads of enterprises who do not fulfill the conditions which the ‘Plan' prescribes will be accused of treason against the German people, and shot."[v]

The Nazis specifically placed higher tax rates on the rich and not the poor.  Why did the Nazis, like all totalitarians, embrace draconian socialism?  Totalitarianism has everything to do with crushing all sources of opposition and nothing to do with any notional "ideology" (power is the only ideology of any totalitarians.)

The Night of the Long Knives is a reminder that totalitarianism is all the same, everywhere, all the time.  It is a reminder that every totalitarian leader is a jealous god.  Hitler murdered not to prevent socialism but to make sure he had power.  He murdered religious leaders, like he enslaved businessmen, to make sure he, alone, had power.

As we watch our Leader's face everywhere on television, his words as answers to every problem, and his inspectors general fired when they find malfeasance, his legislators asked to vote for bills they have not read, our media practically scripted in its treatment of him, is it not prudent to ask how little the lust for power has changed in the last seventy-five years?

Bruce Walker is the author of two books:  Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and his recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.

[i] David Schoenbaum, Hitler's Social Revolution (New York: Doubleday, 1966), p. 118.

[ii] L. Hamburger, How Nazi Germany Has Controlled Big Business (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institute, 1943), pp. 67 - 68.

[iii] How Nazi Germany Has Controlled Big Business, Hamburger, pp. 68 - 69.

[iv] Germany Puts Back the Clock, Mower, (New York: William Morrow Company, 1939), p. 260.

[v] The Dictators, Overy, (New York:  W.W. Norton, 2004), p. 392.