Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Night of the Long Knives

My apologies for the length of this post, like Topsy it "just growed" . . .

Night of the Long Prawns:

Last week I referred to the Night of the Long Prawns when in 1974, PM Gough Whitlam offered DLP Senator Vince Gair the position of ambassador to Ireland, thereby obliging him to resign his parliamentary seat. This would have created an additional vacancy for Queensland and, with a half Senate election due, Whitlam hoped Labor would win 3 of the 6 Qld seats. However, the story broke before the resignation was tendered. Coalition Senators kept up a steady supply of prawns and whiskey to Gair whilst other Coalition politicians arranged for the Qld Premier, Joh Bjelke-Peterson, to urgently issue writs for the election before Gair formally resigned, thereby blocking the creation of the additional Senate vacancy. It was dubbed “The Night of the Long Prawns” by a newspaper and has been known by that name ever since, a monument to political double dealing and bastardry.

The Gair Affair was overtaken by events when the Coalition under Malcolm Fraser blocked supply (ie the money Bills to give the Government money to run the country), ultimately resulting in the Queen’s representative in Australia, the Governor General Sir John Kerr, dismissing the Whitlam government.

Gough Whitlam (right) and Sir John Kerr, on the way to Kerr's swearing in as Governor General. Kerr, who would later sack Whitlam and his government, was a Whitlam appointment.

Malcolm Fraser

The term “Night of the Long Prawns” is a play on the words “Night of the Long Knives”, an event that took place in Nazi Germany. 

It set me to wondering as to how that term originated. More of that later.

Background - Hitler and Rohm:

The Night of the Long Knives, also called Operation Hummingbird or, in Germany, the Röhm Putsch, was a 1934 purge by Hitler of his own political party.

In 1933, President Hindenburg, had named Adolf Hitler, leader (“Fuhrer”) of the National Socialist German Workers Party (or Nazi Party), as Chancellor of Germany. Thereafter Hitler put in place laws and structures designed to increase his control of the country and to cement Nazi power.

One source of concern was the Nazis' own paramilitary organisation, the SA (Sturmabteilung), led by Ernst Röhm. Also known as the Brownshirts, the Nazi Stormtroopers were 4 million in number. Rohm was a Hitler friend and supporter, a founding member of Nazi Party.

Ernst Rohm in uniform, 1933

Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Ernst Röhm in 1933

Rohm made known that he wanted to absorb the Reichswehr, the official German military, into the SA under his own leadership, with the result that he was hated by the military leaders. Rohm and a large group within the SA were also committed to the “socialism” aspect of National Socialism, Rohm supporting a "second revolution" to redistribute Germany’s wealth. Hitler came to see Rohm as a dangerous and troublesome rival, a situation not helped by speculation at the time that Rohm intended his own putsch for the leadership.

Hitler called a meeting of SA leaders and officers for 30 June 1934. Many stayed at a hotel at the venue of the proposed meeting. Early on the morning of the scheduled meeting, the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), the regime's secret police, arrested the SA leadership while most were still in bed. Others arriving by train were arrested at the station. Hitler personally arrested Rohm.

(Founded in 1925, the “Schutzstaffel,” German for “Protective Echelon,” initially served as Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguards but became one of the most powerful and feared organisations in all of Nazi Germany. Led by Heinrich Himmler, by the start of World War II in 1939, the SS had more than 250,000 members, with multiple subdivisions engaged in activities ranging from intelligence operations to running Nazi concentration camps.)

Offered a pistol to commit suicide, Rohm refused, stating "If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself." Hitler didn’t but the SS did, he was shot and killed, as were the leaders of the SA. The official death toll was 85 but it is believed that it was actually in the hundreds.

On July 13, 1934 in a speech to the Reichstag, Hitler stated:
In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason, and I further gave the order to cauterise down to the raw flesh the ulcers of this poisoning of the wells in our domestic life. Let the nation know that its existence—which depends on its internal order and security—cannot be threatened with impunity by anyone! And let it be known for all time to come that if anyone raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.
Many prominent figures praised Hitler for his loyalty to Germany, decisiveness and courage in suppressing supposed treason by Rohm and his followers. Those who disagreed stayed silent for obvious reasons.

The purge represented a triumph for Hitler and a turning point for the German government. It established Hitler as "the supreme leader of the German people", as he put it in his July 13 speech. Any opposition there might have been to Hitler was swept away as opponents feared for their lives.

The Night of the Long Knives:

The purge had been codenamed Operation Hummingbird by those involved, a name chose at random. The Nazi regime referred to it as the Rohm Putsch, even though the only evidence of a proposed coup had been manufactured.

In his speech on 13 July 1934, Hitler gave the purge the name Night of the Long Knives.

Although it has been suggested that the phrase was from a popular Nazi song, no such song, song lyrics or references to the song have been identified.

What is more likely is that the phrase was already in existence, based on a much earlier reprisal that is known to history as The Treachery of the Long Knives. It also makes more sense since the SS executions of the SA leaders were by firearms, not by swords “(long knives”).

The Treachery of the Long Knives:

After the end of Roman rule in Britain, according to the tradition, Vortigern, became king of the Britons.

In the 5th century he allowed Anglo-Saxons under the leadership of Hengist to settle in a small area and offered them additional provisions in exchange for their service as mercenaries against incursions by Picts and Gaels. The settlers, however, manipulated Vortigern into allowing them to increase their numbers and granting them more land, eventually including all of the Kingdom of Kent.

The Treachery of the Long Knives is said to have taken place in the 5th century but, not surprisingly, there is no contemporary account. Instead, its description comes from the 9th century Historia Brittonum, attributed to the Welsh historian Nennius, which was a compilation in Latin of various older materials (some of which were historical and others mythic or legendary).

This is a literal translation of the Latin, with the sections in square brackets being supplied from a later edition:
It happened however after the death of Vortimer, son of King Vortigern, and after the return of Hengist with his forces, they called for a false Council, so that they might work sorrow to Vortigern with his army. For they sent legates to ask for peace, that there might be perpetual friendship between them. So Vortigern himself with the elders by birth of his people [considered the matter and carefully thought over what they might do. And the same] opinion was with them all, that they should make peace, and their legates went back and afterwards called together the conference, so that on either side the Britons and Saxons (Brittones et Saxones) should come together as one without arms, so that friendship should be sealed.

And Hengistus ordered the whole of his household that each one should hide his knife (artavum) under his foot in the middle of his shoe. 'And when I shall call out to you and say "Eu nimet saxas" (Hey, draw your swords!), then draw your knives (cultellos) from the soles of your shoes, and fall upon them, and stand strongly against them. And do not kill their king, but seize him for the sake of my daughter whom I gave to him in matrimony, because it is better for us that he should be ransomed from our hands.' And they brought together the conference, and the Saxons, speaking in a friendly way, meanwhile were thinking in a wolvish way, and sociably they sat down man beside man (i.e. Saxon beside Briton). Hengistus, as he had said, spoke out, and all the three hundred elders of King Vortigern were slaughtered, and only he was imprisoned, and was chained, and he gave to them many regions for the ransom of his soul (i.e. life), that is Est Saxum, Sut saxum [, Middelseaxan, with other districts under his control which they named.]
Does it remind anyone else of the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones? Maybe that is what inspired the Red Wedding storyline.

Although the historical reality of the event is conjectural, it has been noted that ancient bardic songs, which were purposed for the recording of history and telling of tales, all testify of the accuracy of this event.

Final comments:

In referring to the Rohm purge as the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler may well have been more correct than was thought. Hitler painted himself as the good guy, the protector of Germany against traitors, yet used a term that was associated with treachery when during a peace conference on Salisbury plain, the Saxons drew long knives (seax) from their boots and killed the British nobility.  Not nice.

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