Political Agitators to Ideological Enforcers: Representations of the Brownshirts in Germany 1921-1938




Olson, Samantha

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The role of the Sturmabteilung (SA) or Brownshirts – a paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) – in Nazi Germany has been hotly debated by historians. While the SA played a key role in facilitating Hitler’s seizure of power, the Brownshirts ultimately had a turbulent relationship with the NSDAP. In 1934, tensions between the SA and the Nazi Party resulted in the state-sanctioned purge of SA leadership known as the Night of the Long Knives, which destabilized the Brownshirts to the point of crisis. Understandably, historians have identified 1934 as marking a decline of the SA’s influence in Nazi Germany. However, this could not be further from the case. The surge of antisemitic violence in the summer of 1935 and the horrific November Pogrom (1938) indicate that the organization was still formidable. By examining visual records of the Brownshirts, this project argues that the transformation of the SA was not one of relevance to irrelevance, but was instead an organizational transformation in their role as political agitators in Weimar Germany to ideological enforcers within the nascent ‘Third Reich.’ Furthermore, this shift in the SA’s role did not result from the Night of the Long Knives purge, as historians have previously suggested, but instead began in the first months of Hitler’s chancellorship in 1933.



brownshirts, sturmabteilung, SA, Nazi Germany, Hitler, Night of the Long Knives, political violence, political agitation, ideology, paramilitary, representations