GHDI logo

Erich Kempka’s Eyewitness Description of "Operation Hummingbird" on June 30, 1934 (Retrospective Account, 1954)

Ernst Röhm (1887-1934) founded the SA (the paramilitary wing of the new NSDAP) in 1921. By 1934, the organization had grown to more than 4 million members. With its penchant for street violence and intimidation, the SA had provided the NSDAP with crucial support right up to Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor. Initially, SA brutality was also helpful in building up Hitler’s dictatorship. At the same time, however, the SA also alienated various traditional powers in the state, military, and economy, whose support Hitler needed. For example, the SA was a thorn in the side of Reichswehr generals, who regarded Röhm’s vulgar, bloodthirsty Brownshirts as unworthy rivals in the struggle for German military leadership. As a result, Reichswehr leaders and high-ranking Nazi functionaries, such as Göring, Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), decided to convince Hitler that the SA was planning a coup to spark a “second revolution.” On June 21, 1934, Hindenburg ordered Hitler to take control of the unpredictable SA once and for all, so that peace and order could be ensured throughout the country. Afterwards, Hitler decided it was time to finally rid himself of the politically untenable organization. On the morning of June 30, 1934, he ordered "Operation Hummingbird," a purge that obliterated the SA leadership. The operation is described in the following postwar account by Hitler’s chauffeur, Erich Kempka (1910-1975). From June 30-July 2, 1934, at least 85 leading SA functionaries and other inconvenient opponents of the regime were killed. (Current estimates on victim numbers run as high as 150 to 200.) Hitler subsequently arranged for the passage of a law that retroactively legalized these murders as measures in defense of the state.

print version     return to document list previous document      first document in next chapter

page 1 of 3

[ . . . ] It is already dawn when we land at the Munich airport, Oberwiesenfeld. During the flight, there had been a light shower and the grass at the airport is sparkling in the morning light. When Hitler jumps out of the machine, two officers of the Reichswehr report to him. He takes them aside and gives them their orders.

Outside the reception building three cars are waiting which have been ordered by wireless from the garage of the Reich Party headquarters in Munich. Some old friends of Hitler's from the early days of the Party are standing by them. Hitler goes up to the cars and orders the hoods to be raised. I am struck by the harshness of his voice. His face is even more serious than during the flight. I am already at the wheel when he sits down beside me: 'Kempka, we're going to the Ministry of the Interior first.'

[ . . . ]

Hitler sits down beside me and gives the order: 'To Wiessee, as fast as possible!'

It must have been about 4.30 a.m., the sky has cleared up, it is nearly bright daylight. We meet watering carts and people on their way to work. [ . . . ] Hitler sits beside me in silence. From time to time, I hear Goebbels and Lutze talking in the back.

Just before Wiessee, Hitler suddenly breaks his silence: 'Kempka,' he says, 'drive carefully when we come to the Hotel Hanselbauer. You must drive up without making any noise. If you see an SA guard in front of the hotel [ . . . ], don't wait for them to report to me; drive on and stop at the hotel entrance.' Then, after a moment of deathly silence: 'Röhm wants to carry out a coup.'

An icy shiver runs down my back. I could have believed anything, but not a coup by Röhm!

I drive up carefully to the hotel entrance as Hitler had ordered. Hitler jumps out of the car, and after him Goebbels, Lutze and the adjutants. Right behind us another car stops with a squad of detectives which had been raised in Munich.

first page < previous   |   next > last page