You've got to give someone like Hitler
credit. I mean, the guy never went halfway. Every action that he made solidified
his power. Every man who made an enemy of Hitler had to live in fear
. Every betrayal was utter and complete.
June 30th, 1934, the Night of the Long Knives, is a nice historical example of just how far the man was willing to go (if you couldn't figure it out from the Holocaust, that is).
Up until Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, he had used his volunteer army, the SA (or, the Sturmabteilung) to control the streets and the people. The SA, at its height, numbered four million; the German army, by contrast and by treaty, was limited to 100,000 soldiers without superior equipment. I understand that the SA did do some good, in the grand tradition of fascism; they began to make the trains run on time. And they did have some support from the greater German populace. At least, the parts of the German populace that wasn't under some extortion racket run by SA officers, or maybe the parts that had never suffered from drunk-on-power-and-spiced-wine goons who would physically attack those who vocally disagreed with them.
One other thing about the SA, and an interesting fact about Hitler's rise to power - these were the guys most loyal to Hitler and his cause, but there was disagreement on what exactly the cause was; a large number of SA men took the 'Socialist' part of 'National Socialist' literally. They were Marxists. They did not like the direction that Hitler was now tilting, now that he had gained power. So, after they had helped install a fascist dictator, various factions in the SA began to threaten to overthrow him for a politically-opposed Marxist government.
So, in the first half of 1934, Hitler had the German President von Hindenburg breathing down his neck, threatening to declare martial law (and thus suspend all of Hitler's power); Hitler had German Army generals who feared the out-of-control SA, and who sought to gain their own power; and Hitler's former best friends in the SA were now becoming enemies. And that's leaving out the enemies that Hitler had before (all those who disgreed with Nazi propoganda, etc.) and the guy was in a slight bind.
So he circled the wagons and said : I will make good on my promise to strengthen the German Army, and get the Generals (and, by extension, von Hinderburg) on my side. And the best way to do this is to fold the SA into the army. So, everyone who opposes me in the SA has got to go. Everyone who is in control of the SA has got to go. They are now mine. And, while I'm at it, as you guys are bumping off all of these former friends, here's a list of guys who were never my friends. Whack all of 'em.
Like I said, in an evil, Machiavellian sort of way, you had to admire the criminal audaciousness of they guy. All the right moves, done in the most revolting, malicious, look-out-for-number-one-or-die manner available.
Hitler grabbed the SA elite, known as the SS (or Schutzstaffel), and promoted their leader, Heinrich Himmler, to right-hand man status. He gave them a list of SA leaders and political opponents, containing (among many others) the Reich List of Unwanted Persons. And he let them run wild for a night.
The leader of the SA, former Hitler confidant and supporter from the very beginning, Ernst Rohm, was first. After the hotel that he and other SA leaders were staying in was seized by the SS, Hitler personally arrested them, and sent them off to be shot under the pretext of homosexuality. This charge is supposedly correct, actually; apparently, Hitler had known about Rohm's sexuality since the early days and had saved the information, waiting for the right chance to use it. One SA captain was supposedly found sleeping with a young man. He was executed in the hotel.
Those Marxist officers in the SA, clamoring so loudly for a 'second revolution', were next. They probably wished that they hadn't clamored so loudly.
Political enemies were next; they included opponents of Hitler from the original Beer Hall Putsch, high-ranking officials in the Nazi Party (such as Karl Ernst, who had organized the burning of the Reichstag, and Gregor Strasser, another former right-hand man of Hitler; that position was, apparently, the best way to insure a swift death), and government officials who had helped Hitler gain power from the inside, including the anti-democratic former Chancellor of Germany, Kurt von Schleicher (who, sometimes, seems to me like he helped Hitler out just to piss off von Hindenburg).
At the end of the night, there were between 250 and 1,200 murders committed. All documents about actions taken that night were destroyed by the Gestapo, so the actual number is not known.
About two weeks later, Hitler gave a speech explaining what had happened; here's the only parts I could find.
If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this: In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people.
It was no secret that this time the revolution would have to be bloody; when we spoke of it we called it 'The Night of the Long Knives.' Everyone must know for all future time that if he raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.
Hitler declared himself the supreme judge of the German people, in effect proclaiming himself above the law. A wise move for a criminal. And now he had the support of the German Army, who more or less condoned the actions taken. They were looking forward to flaunting the Treaty of Versailles, and couldn't wait for the first conscripts from the SA to enter the Army.
Every action that he made solidified his power. Every man who made an enemy of him had to live in fear. Every betrayal, every single one, was utter and complete.