Street Warfare and Political Violence

SA members with the captured flag of the Communist paramilitary, the Red Front Fighters Alliance (Roter Frontkämpferbund)

SA Troopers with the captured flag of the Communist paramilitary, the Red Front Fighters Alliance, or RFB. Roter Frontkämpferbund. Source: Deutsches Historisches Museum 

Street Warfare and Political Violence 

The central role of the Sturmabteilung was to take the political revolution of Nazism to the streets. As Adolf Hitler declared in 1926, “The future master of the streets is National Socialism, just as one day it will be the master of the state,” (The Third Reich: A New History). Having started as glorified security guards for Nazi party meetings and members, the SA soon became the public face and paramilitary wing of the party across the cities and streets of Germany. Torch-lit parades and public brawls with opposing political paramilitaries became the SA’s bread and butter. Weimar Germany was famous for the presence of armed militias associated with political parties which would march through the streets, harass political opponents, and launch organized raids against other political parties. Political violence of this sort became all too common in Weimar Germany, something Hitler was quick to propagate and capitalize upon, as the four largest paramilitaries (the Nazi SA, the communist Red Front, the socialist Reichsbanner, and the nationalist Stahlhelm) fought for supremacy of the streets.

In the source below, Hans Hinkel, editor of the Nazi newspaper the Völkisher Beobachter, describes the​ ​everyday violence between Nazis and Communists, and the role the SA played in protecting party members. 

“At many [Nazi] meetings, the Marxists unleash bloody terror. Our valiant SA men put up one hell of a fight!... More than once, I had to be met by [Nazi] party members at the Kassel train station to protect me from lurking Communist terror troops. It was the same or worse for all of our prominent Kassel [Nazi] party members and SA men, just as for the Stormtroopers of our movement who put their lives on the line every hour of every day in every city and every village in Germany.” (As quoted in The Third Reich Sourcebook, 25). 

In 1932 for example, 82 SA members died and over 400 were wounded fighting with Communists in Berlin alone (LePage, Hitler’s Stormtroopers, 124). Hitler used this violence as a context for his calls for a reordered society where the laws were strictly enforced. Historian Jean-Denis LePage notes this paradox, writing, “National Socialism mobilized violence and hooliganism, but did so in the defense of the social order. Nazism simultaneously used roughness and respectability…. The Nazi propaganda machine pictured the SA as defenders of decent national values and their enemies as decadent thugs,” (LePage, 129). Thus, despite partaking in the same criminal activities as their political opponents like the Communists, the SA and the Nazis were able to divorce themselves from the crudeness of it all by proclaiming that they were fighting to restore national order. No matter the reasoning, the political violence of the SA was essential to the Nazi’s rise to power.

In the source below, SA officer Ernst Schmid describes the feelings of power and energy that were directed against political enemies of the Nazi Party. 

“I drew the hate of the political enemy onto myself more and more by my open witness to the Führer and the uncompromising activity that I developed all over... From this time on, I placed my entire energy exclusively in the service of the movement. An invincible warrior spirit grew within me.” (As qouted in "Autobiographies of Violence", 233). 

SA trooper arrests Communists Party members

SA troopers arrest Communist Party members in 1933. Source: GHDI

Young SA Members Marching, 1935

Young members of the SA marching through the streets. Source: Sparticus Education 

In 1932 for example, 82 SA members died and over 400 were wounded fighting with Communists in Berlin alone (LePage, Hitler’s Stormtroopers, 124). Hitler used this violence as a context for his calls for a reordered society where the laws were strictly enforced. Historian Jean-Denis LePage notes this paradox, writing, “National Socialism mobilized violence and hooliganism, but did so in the defense of the social order. Nazism simultaneously used roughness and respectability…. The Nazi propaganda machine pictured the SA as defenders of decent national values and their enemies as decadent thugs,” (LePage, 129). Thus, despite partaking in the same criminal activities as their political opponents like the Communists, the SA and the Nazis were able to divorce themselves from the crudeness of it all by proclaiming that they were fighting to restore national order. No matter the reasoning, the political violence of the SA was essential to the Nazi’s rise to power.

In the source below, SA officer Ernst Schmid describes the feelings of power and energy that were directed against political enemies of the Nazi Party. 

“I drew the hate of the political enemy onto myself more and more by my open witness to the Führer and the uncompromising activity that I developed all over... From this time on, I placed my entire energy exclusively in the service of the movement. An invincible warrior spirit grew within me.” (As qouted in "Autobiographies of Violence", 233). 

Street Warfare and Political Violence