Now I’m Strong, Stronger Than Your Law

Today is the 82nd anniversary of the “Night of the Long Knives”, the bloody purge that consolidated the power of the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler and effectively ended the rule of law in post-Weimar Germany.

The orgy of extra-judicial killing began in the wee hours of June 30, 1934, when Hitler — then still Chancellor and not yet the Führer, which had to wait for the death of President Hindenburg a month later — landed with his entourage at Munich airport to have a reckoning with the leadership of the SA (the Sturmabteilung or Storm Troopers), and especially with its commander, Ernst Röhm. The SA was the last remaining independent force that could conceivably rival Hitler and the Nazi Party. It had three million members who acted as a paramilitary force against communists, socialists, and other enemies of the Nazis. When the Nazis gained uncontested political power, rather than give up their street-fighting ways, the storm troopers continued to do drunken battle with their perceived enemies — not just communists and socialists, but Catholics, conservatives, foreign diplomats, and random passers-by. Their antics had become a severe irritation to Hitler, and Röhm’s undisguised ambition and contempt for his ostensible leader posed a threat to the Nazi hierarchy.

Thus began a 48-hour bloodletting, mostly carried out by the SS (Schutzstaffel, the main rival of the SA) in Bavaria and other parts of Germany. Upwards of a hundred, and possibly several hundred people were summarily executed under Hitler’s orders.

Homosexuality was rife in the leadership of the SA, including Röhm, and when Hitler surprised the leaders at the hotel where they were staying, at least one officer was rousted from his bed along with his much younger catamite. Both were immediately taken outside the hotel and shot.

Röhm and dozens of other officers were executed the same day, and more on the next. Most of the victims were leaders of the SA, but not all — a number of prominent politicians who thwarted Hitler or questioned his decisions were dispatched. When the bloodshed was over, Hitler had gained undisputed political power in Germany. In a speech not long afterwards, he declared himself “the supreme judge of the German people.” His cabinet dutifully passed a law retroactively legalizing the actions taken during the purge.

The law is very important to Germans. Following the rules precisely comes naturally, and is considered the highest virtue. Thus, despite the veneer of legality that was imposed after the fact, the Night of the Long Knives must not have sat well with many Germans — politicians, soldiers, businessmen, and ordinary people. Their assent to those events, whether tacit or explicit, probably contributed (along with the later Holocaust of the Jews) to the collective sense of national guilt.

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The following song is Al Stewart’s take on that bloody night in 1934. It was released in 1973 as one of the tracks on his album Past, Present and Future:

When Dymphna, the future Baron, and I went to our first (and only) Al Stewart show back in 2002, we had a chance to meet the man himself during the break between sets.

“I just want to shake your hand, after all these decades,” I said. “I’m a history buff, and when I first discovered your music, I couldn’t believe that someone had actually written a song about the Night of the Long Knives.”

“Oh, yes,” he replied. “That’s a good one. I’m glad you mentioned it. I think I’ll do it during the second set.”

And so he did. It was somewhat different from the version above, since he was doing solo acoustic that night, but the guitar prelude and postlude were exactly the same.

The song lyrics are below the jump:

The Last Day of June 1934
by Al Stewart

The morning is humming, it’s a quarter past nine
I should be working down in the vines
Yeah, but I’m lying here with a good friend of mine
Watching the sun in her hair
I pick the grapes from the hills to the sea
The fields of France are a home to me
Ah, but today lying here is such a good place to be
I can’t go anywhere
And as we slip in and out of embrace
Like some old and familiar place
Reflecting all of my dreams in her face like before
On the last day of June 1934

Just out of Cambridge in a narrow country lane
A bottle-green Bentley in the driving rain
Slips and skids round a corner, then pulls straight again
Heads up the drive to the door
The lights of the party shine over the fields
Where lovers and dancers watch catherine wheels
And argue realities digging their heels
In a world that’s finished with war
And a lost wind of summer blows into the streets
Past the tramps in the alleyways, the rich in silk sheets
Europe lies sleeping,
you feel her heartbeats through the floor
On the last day of June 19…

On the night that Ernst Roehm died voices rang out
In the rolling Bavarian hills
And swept through the cities and danced in the gutters
Grown strong like the joining of wills
Oh echoed away like a roar in the distance
In moonlight carved out of steel
Singing “All the lonely, so long and so long
You don’t know me how long, how I long
You can’t hold me, I’m strong now I’m strong
Stronger than your law”

I sit here now by the banks of the Rhine
Dipping my feet in the cold stream of time
And I know I’m a dreamer, I know I’m out of line
With the people I see everywhere
The couples pass by me, they’re looking so good
Their arms round each other, they head for the woods
They don’t care who Ernst Roehm was, no reason they should
Just a shadow that hangs in the air
But I thought I saw him cross over the hill
With a whole ghostly army of men at his heel
And struck in the moment it seemed to be real like before
On the last day of June 1934

27 thoughts on “Now I’m Strong, Stronger Than Your Law

    • Yes. There is a depth to this man’s work that keeps it from ever ageing…for at least as long as we’re permitted to study history by those in charge…

      …it’s not difficult, unfortunately, to imagine a time when his wondrous work becomes verboten…

      Funny how he seems to have ended up living in the U.S. now. I suspect his personal current-day political leanings are not ones I’d find congenial. I have nothing to base that on except for the fact he’s living out in Lotus Land somewhere. That, and the fact that money + fame can insulate one from gritty reality.

      I hope his historical songs stick to the 20th century and earlier. He excels at those.

      • He has a vineyard/winery he says he connects to the story/history of his wines

  1. Here is a recording of Al Stewart singing this song:

    “The lights of the party shine over the fields
    Where lovers and dancers watch catherine wheels
    And argue realities digging their heels
    In a world that’s finished with war”

    is hard to figure out.
    Who/what are digging their heels? Lovers and dancers, or realities? What does this even mean? And which sense of
    is meant? The lovers and dancers are watching people turning cartwheels? And arguing *about* realities? What realities? Does “digging their heels” mean “digging *in* their heels” (to resist being pushed along against their will)?
    Sorry, but I can’t figure out what this passage is trying to say.

    Has this song been translated into German? Sometimes that produces a more understandable version, like Shakespeare being translated into Afrikaans.

    • A Catherine wheel is a firework. It’s basically a pinwheel, as far as I know. Entertainment at a summer party between the wars in England, probably.

    • The world is just NOT ‘finished with war’–and that is how to “figure it out”.
      This is a warning to those ‘digging in’ their heels’ and watching fireworks (anti-fa, et al?) whilst arguing “realities” (Religion of Peace) in a world where those “realities” simply don’t exist–and never did.

      I’m bringing it up do date a bit.

      WW II was our Grandfathers’ war–this song is thus about events over and done.
      WW III was the ‘Cold War’ of Regan’s time–now over (we hope!)
      We are now IN a WW IV–and like those lovers and dancers of 1934 we seem hellbent on ignoring it.
      ” You can always ignore reality–you CANNOT, however, ignore the RESULTS of ignoring reality.”

  2. Given the islam alliance with adolf, during the war, the current high popularity of mein kampf in muslim lands, and the perspective of a thousand years of butchery of Hindu, Sheikh, and Buddhist for a thousand years, and more continuing, 80 million plus murdered by butchery, possibly a short 20 minute video history of this Indian campaign may be useful, to understand the severe needs for self defense and strength, even unimaginably more than the horrors inflicted by adolf and his muslim troops in the devastating nazi campaigns.

    Alliance with and perhaps leadership with anyone willing to fight to destroy islam, or as Vlad Tepes did, hold them at bay, by answering their actions with equal opposing actions, or even worse. From friends historical accounts, it had seemed like easily in the hundreds if not thousands, of the SA were executed, by the SS. Echoes of this era, are still felt, by so many.

    Yet we don’t generally consider the tragedy of India, and the Orient, which is brought out in this video. Truthfully, we all have the same enemy, and he is the gang of islam. Islam must be destroyed, or we will ultimately all be destroyed, and they literally don’t care which it is, so it may as well be all of islam, the giant gang of hatred and eternal crime, against man and G-d.

    Here can be seen some Indian history of their tragedy, and depredations by the human vermin attacking them, called by various names through the centuries, with their one eternal intent-to hate, conquer, steal and destroy,-as pure predators-hence the term vermin.

    This seems a pretty decently organized video history. Islamic conquest of India. Bloodiest in the history of World-

  3. Nice one Baron, I first saw Al perform this at a folk club in Havant, Hampshire during the summer of 1973 just before the album was released. He finished the set with Nostradamus, which I’d never heard before.

  4. I had to rush over and listen to that song. I enjoyed it, but I agree that you have to really think about it to understand even a little of it. But having read the above (thank you), I have learned another deadly little thing about Germany, Hitler, and that period. I know the big picture, but some of the smaller things are quite interesting, in their own unsavory way.

  5. I have a nice picture book (or a book with many interesting photos) about the SS, much interesting history, too.

    One of the more striking photos is of Roehm at a barricade in Freikorps days, with Himmler cowering in the background. Roehm cuts a striking figure.

    Baron, I agree with much that you say and others say here, but there is a very different interpretation of the Night of the Long Knives.

    ‘last remaining independent force’: sorry, Baron, they were a wing of the party, and an important one.

    Others, later to be elimimated, were still around at the time.

    The simple and opportunistic reason for destroying the SA was that their leaders, including Roehm, wanted a people’s army separate from the Wehrmacht.

    The Wehrmacht brass and Hindenburg would never have accepted that.

    • Hitler saw Roehm as a threat to his position as leader. Roehm held Hitler in contempt, and had his own following; in that sense he was “independent”. He was in the party, but not really under Hitler’s control.

      You’re right about the Wehrmacht. Roehm wanted the SA to replace the Wehrmacht as Germany’s military force, which would at a single stroke abrogate the limits imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. He was a rude plebeian upstart and a known homosexual to boot, viewed with distaste by the old-school aristocratic Prussians who comprised much of the officer corps in the Wehrmacht.

      Hitler was in the process of co-opting the Wehrmacht in pursuit of his own goals. Much of the military leadership now supported him, but Roehm and the SA stood in the way of his final consolidation of control. The Wehrmacht was firmly behind Hitler’s purge of Roehm and the SA, and after it was accomplished, Hitler had the support he required from the military to make the transition to Fuehrer. Hindenburg’s death a month after the purge removed the last formal obstacle — the offices of President and Chancellor were merged, and the Fuehrer was finally born.

      • Roehm was also in the know about certain peccadilloes in Adolf’s background, a potential source of blackmail. Roehm’s pedophilia was also getting far too blatant, and was not acceptable to German society as a whole. The Nazis were not Homophobic per see, but expected it to be kept private, only blatant gays ended up in the gas. There was just too much to hide to allow the German public any cause to suspect the truth.

      • Loose ends were tied up. The SA was also responsible for the Reichstag fire and no doubt that those with knowledge were shot immediately. The SA was loyal Rohm and therefore a threat to Hitler’s hold on power and plans. Other groups were attacked as well to create the necessary power vacuum in the process begun on Febuary 27, 1933. The way was paved for the SS to take over as a racially superior, quasi-religious Germanic order devoted to the Fuehrer. A sad day in history and well memorialized in song.

      • Baron,

        Thanks for the reply.

        I disagree with ‘wanted the SA to replace the Wehrmacht as Germany’s military force’,
        he seems to have wanted to turn the SA into a parallel force, much as the Waffen SS later became.

        Your closing comments are much the same as what I said.

        However, I must question three things.

        Is there any real evidence that Roehm was homosexual?

        May have been, can you cite a source other than the post-Long-knives NSDAP?

        The only historical records on that point originate from the party .

        If he was, why does that really matter?

        Roehm was a brave flghter, from WWI, through Freikorps days, until being murdered.

        • In January of 1934 Röhm demanded of the defense minister that the regular army be replaced by the Sturmabteilung. (John Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918–1945)

          Röhm’s homosexuality is attested by multiple sources. The only reason it is significant is that it mattered to the Nazi Party. The reputation of SA leaders for sexual deviance had become too public, and was seen by Hitler and high-ranking Nazis as a danger to the party. Therefore Röhm had to go.

          So it “really matters” in the sense that it was one reason for his death. And possibly the main reason, if one subscribes to the theory that Hitler had engaged in homosexual behavior on the Western Front, with Röhm as one of the surviving witnesses.

          • Baron,

            Again, thanks for the reply.

            I, too, have read history books that testify to a certain debauchery among the SA leadership, with non-NSDAP sources.

            ‘demanded of the defense minister that the regular army be replaced by the Sturmabteilung.’

            I think the author of the source overstates the case, I don’t see it as having been ‘replacement’, but you may well have a point there insofar as Roehm would have wanted to be in overall command, under Hitler as the supreme commander, as it already was in the SA, and have other SA leaders in high positions.

            Membership numbers were more than an order of magnitude higher for the SA than the Reichswehr at the time. I concede that you are possibly correct that Roehm’s aim may not have been parallel organisations. Will read on this in more detail.

            ‘if one subscribes to the theory that Hitler had engaged in homosexual behavior on the Western Front’

            I don’t, it seems to be a long post-war concoction, particularly from the nasty propaganda book, The Pink Swastika.

            However, I am aware from reading that a large portion of men in some places (anglosphere, islamic, no doubt others) are only able to last a few months without a woman before they’ll consider doing or doing it with another man. Pathetically incontinent. Of course, anglosphere countries have a tradition of turning a blind eye to homosexual rape in prisons, too. A disgraceful policy, and you can bet that most of those raped are there on relatively minor charges.

            Hitler just doesn’t seem the type to have indulged.

            As an aside, the great Japanese author, homosexual, and neofascist (of course, under the Emperor, as the original fascists were in theory under the King from Savoia) wrote a play called ‘My Friend Hitler’. Until a few minutes ago, I thought there was no English translation, on old knowledge, and dreamed of doing the first, but it seems one was published in 2002.

            Might try to do my own, anyway, if I ever have the time.

            It is from the fictional viewpoint (mainly) of Roehm (excuse the spelling, this device doesn’t readily do umlauts).

          • I’ve read The Pink Swastika, and despite the fact that it has an obvious axe to grind, the book sources its assertions. So few of the alleged witnesses survived that there aren’t many sources, but there are some.

            I’m not yet ready to credit the theory as fact, but it makes sense. It would help fit some of the pieces of the puzzle together if Hitler had in fact kept “nancy boys” on the Western Front. Regardless of whether it was a brief wartime fling or a lifetime activity, it would have been something he would have been desperate to keep quiet. It may have meant the difference between killing Roehm and suppressing him by some other, non-lethal means.

  6. The German character remains unchanged and just as godless. Because without God all things are possible, the future will soon be echoed in the past.

  7. Baron,

    You have written most of what I would have written by way of explaining why Roehm and his SA coterie were murdered on June 30, 1934. The SA, thirty times the size of the army, once Hitler had ridden to power on its street intimidation tactics, became an embarrassment due to the stunning preponderance of homosexual pederasts in its leadership. There was a oft-repeated double entendre at the time “Inside every Hitler Youth is an SA man” which held Hitler’s regime up to widespread ridicule.

    Significantly, the purge also provided a convenient cover to eliminate a wide array of non-SA personal enemies who persisted as irritants and potential rallying points for serious opposition to the Nazi regime:

    Kurt von Schleicher (and his wife) – a former general who was the last Chancellor (and Defence Minister) of Germany before Hitler. Schleicher had been the most powerful man in Germany from 1928 onwards, a “kingmaker” orchestrating the fall and creation of Cabinets;

    Ferdinand von Bredow – a general who had been Schleicher’s right hand man and head of military intelligence;

    Erich Klausener – Berlin head of Catholic Action who organized large public rallies to oppose the Nazi regime’s anti-clerical policies, the last being held on June 24;

    Gregor Strasser – until December 1932 he had occupied the second most powerful position in the Nazi Party “National Organization Leader”. The relatively moderate left-wing nationalist Strasser had been more powerful and popular in northern Germany than Hitler and received direct funding from individual industrialists, such as the Jewish Paul Silverberg, to try to
    steer the Nazi party into a more mainstream role. Both Goebbels and Himmler had started as Strasser proteges but jumped ship.

    The murder of Generals von Schleicher and von Bredow served as a warning to Germany’s officer corps that none of them was safe and played no small part in cowing the military caste into submission.

    Whilst Leni Riefenstahl’s late 1934 propaganda film “Triumph of the Will” is world famous, it is in fact a remake of her 1933 propaganda film of the 5th Nuremberg rally “The Victory of Faith”. The latter film shows Ernst Roehm by Hitler’s side throughout as his obvious right hand man. Accordingly, Hitler ordered every single copy of the latter destroyed and they were. Only in the 1990’s was the last surviving copy accidentally discovered in a BBC basement, having been an ignored promotional gift to the BBC by the German consulate. It is available on Youtube and is a must see. One can just see the producers in 1934 “We need a title like ‘The Victory of Faith’, any ideas anybody?”

    • Appropos the rally Erich Klausener organized on June 24 1934 there were 60,000 in attendance. Klausener was also a very senior civil servant.

      Imagine 17 months into Hitler’s dictatorship with the Communists and Socialists having long been hauled en masse into concentration camps and their parties dissolved and STILL 60,000 Catholics in one city alone publicly demonstrated against Hitler. Pretty courageous stuff.

      After Klausener was murdered the Catholic Church went quiet (apart from a lone Archbishop von Galen later denouncing the T4 euthanasia program against the intellectually disabled). This non-reaction to Klausener’s murder was described at the time as “The Silence of the Priests”.

      If people imagine that the apparently docility of the German population in the 1930’s was due to apathy or universal support for Hitler they are wrong, it was fear. The message sent out by the, retrospectively legalized, murder of Klausener sent out a very powerful signal.

  8. The Catherine Wheel was a torture device used by the Roman Catholic church on Christians who refused to bow to the Poope.

  9. There is an astounding book written by a Frenchman; Leroy titled: ‘The Gestapo’ if you want to see how the NAZIs took power this is the book to read

  10. My favorite song about history by Al Stewart is “Timeless Skies” from his “Time Passages” album. To me, that song is somehow about the 19th century, and more broadly a sense of connection to the “good old days” that seems to perdure from generation to generation. And somehow, the good old days from a 19th centuryh perspective has more poignancy than now.

  11. So how come you’ve only seen Al Stewart once? I read an earlier post by the Baron and was moved to check him out in 2007. I’ve seen him three or four times since. 🙂

    • We live a long way from any of his venues, and finances are always tight. I was glad to see him that one time.

  12. It’s hard to work up any real emotion one way or another about the murder of Rohm, It’s like getting emotional about Saddam Hussein’s torture of Islamic fanatics.

    Julius O’Malley brought out much valuable information on the concomitant murder of German generals, politicians, and aristocracy who were not themselves murderers, and which led to Hitler’s retaining power through bureaucratized terror.

    In fact, it’s very common that revolutions will eat their children, or rather their own shock troops. Think of the French Revolution ultimately sending Danton to the guillotine. Dictators don’t like to be beholden to anyone, and it is dangerous to have been too instrumental in helping a dictator come to power. At their beginning, the Irish Republic, the Republic of Iran, the Fidel Castro government, the Stalin dictatorship, all liquidated their allies within a few years of coming to power.

    Hitler was following Machiavelli’s principle: if you have to do dirty work, do it all at once and all together so the people will eventually forget, rather than drawing it out and keeping their minds focused on it.

    I guess the uplifting thought for the day is that if EUro-Islamo-fascism becomes instituted, Antifa will be the first to go.

  13. There is good reason to believe that he did have repressed homosexual tendencies, yet the dictator’s interest in women is also well-attested. He would invite actresses back to his apartment for “private performances”. One actress, Renata Müller, spread rumours about Hitler’s alleged proclivity for self-abasement, with suggestions that he knelt at her feet and asked her to kick him. When she fell to her death from a window in 1937, many questioned the verdict of suicide.

    Even more eye-catching was the secret 1943 report from America’s Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) which labelled Hitler an “impotent coprophile”. Based on claims from Otto Strasser, one of Hitler’s opponents in the Party, it alleged that the dictator forced his niece Geli to urinate and defecate on him. While it is hard to separate reality from politically inspired propaganda, Hitler’s obsession with the unfortunate Geli was probably the deepest of his life, and her suicide in his apartment brought him close to breakdown. Geli, like Eva, did not threaten him intellectually. “There is surely nothing finer than to educate a young thing for oneself,” he opined. “A lass of 18 or 20 years old is as pliable as wax.”

    Other sources claim that he murdered Geli because of her affair with Emil Maurice but that it was covered up by Bormann and ‘Gestapo’ Muller. All these characters reached high rank in the SS under Hitler…..

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