“To all commandants of airfields throughout Germany ……….order the apprehension and transportation to Belin, alive or dead ….. of chief of staff Ernst Rohm, ………………..”
The elite Polish codebreaking team, Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki were stunned into shocked silence as they realised implications of the message they had decoded using the Polish Enigma machine which had been constructed under Marian’s direction.
The intercepted message was of the highest security classification. It was made under the direction of Adolf Hitler, the leader of Germany’s sole political party, the Nazi’s. The message authorised the apprehension alive or dead of many of Germany’s leading political figures. In itself shocking, as this was effectively a death warrant for those named on the list, the instruction swept away hundreds of years of established German jurisprudence- accused persons were entitled to a trial. Removing this fundamental right to a trial was dispensing with, as if of no significance, one of the fundamental rights in a civilised society.
Ernst Rohm was the leader of the Sturmbteiling (SA), the paramilitary branch of the Nazi party. He was known to be a staunch Nazi supporter and one of its earliest members. He had demonstrated himself to be one of Hitler’s supporters.
The appearance of Ernst Rohm’s name on the list indicated both Hitler’s ruthlessness and strength as a political figure. Ernst Rohm as commander of the SA was powerful. The SA enjoyed a degree of independence and could potentially pose a threat to Hitler’s autonomy if there was a divergence in their political views in the future. That Hitler was prepared to order the death of such a high level ally demonstrated both Hitler’s confidence in his own authority and his ruthlessness in that he was prepared to remove even those who posed a potential threat to his power.
Between the 30thJune and 2ndJuly 1934, under Hitler’s direction hundreds of people were apprehended. The death toll estimates are between eighty-five and one thousand.
Many of those apprehended were immediately executed, others were afforded ‘one minute trials’ before being shot by firing squads.
The Nazi party in the aftermath of ‘Operation Hummingbird’ ordered destruction of all documentary evidence of the orders. Attempts were made to prevent true figures of the death toll from being published.
Days afterwards the German legislature introduced a new law legitimising self-defence by the state in the face of treason –effectively retrospective legislation authorising the murders.
Hitler gave a speech stating “Let it be known for all time to come, that if anyone raises his hand to strike the State, he will die.” His actions effectively established himself as “the supreme administrator of justice for the German people.”
He had in the ‘ Night of the Long Knives’ killed of existing opposition and sent a chilling message of intimidation to those who might consider opposition to his vision for Germany in the future.
The Polish codebreakers watched anxiously over the next few days as the Nazi propaganda machine rolled into action and the justifications for the deaths rolled across newsreels. They had accessed the top secret messages. They knew that Hitler had ordered the murder of his fellow Germans, his supporters and those who might pose a threat to his government. These actions told them more clearly than any encoded message that Poland would be dealt with ruthlessly if Germany chose to invade and seek return of her ‘lost territories’. With heavy hearts they intensified their vital codebreaking work.
Author The Cypher Bureau