1934-07-02

ERNST RÖHM, Nazi official died (b. 1887); German military officer and later the commander and co-founder of the Nazi Sturmabteilung, also known as the SA. In 1930 Hitler personally assumed command of the SA as its new Oberste SA-Führer and sent a personal request to Röhm, asking that he return to Germany to serve as the SA’s chief of staff. Röhm accepted this offer in 1931, bringing radical new ideas to the SA and staffing its senior leadership with several of his close friends.

The open homosexuality of Röhm and other SA leaders (such as Edmund Heines) along with the storm-troopers’ penchant for drinking and street violence added to the SA’s notorious reputation in Germany. The SA was a political army, protecting the party leadership and terrorizing (primarily communist) opponents such as the Red Front. The SA’s street-wise use of intimidation contributed to the rise of the Nazis, first in Munich and later throughout Germany.

Many writers have suggested Röhm and his deputy Edmund Heines allowed or encouraged the promotion of many individuals into SA leadership as a result of liaisons with both themselves and other powerful SA figures (for example, Karl Ernst had been a bouncer at a gay nightclub in Berlin) in spite of virulently anti-Gay Nazi policies which included the strengthening of Paragraph 175 (criminalizing homosexual acts) of the German Criminal Code of 1871.

By this time, Röhm and Hitler were so close that Hitler addressed Röhm as du, the German familiar form of “you.” In turn, Röhm was the only member of the party who addressed Hitler as “Adolf,” rather than “my Führer.”

It is not the first or last time a political party was duplicitous or hypocritical in the pursuit of power. Although determined to curb the power of the SA, Hitler put off doing away with his long-time comrade Ernst Röhm to the very end. Himmler, Heydrich and Göring used Röhm’s published anti-Hitler rhetoric to assert the SA was plotting to overthrow Hitler. The SA was purged during the “Night of the Long Knives” in June 1934. Hitler arranged to arrest Röhm personally at a resort in Bad Wiessee on June 30.

Röhm was briefly held without trial at Stadelheim Prison in Munich in cell 70. Hitler was uneasy authorizing his execution and as a last act of compassion, ensured he had an opportunity to commit suicide first. On July 2 he was visited by SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Eicke (then Kommandant of Dachau) and SS-Sturmbannführer Michael Lippert, who offered Röhm a pistol. When Röhm refused to commit suicide, Lippert shot Röhm at point-blank range.

The purge of the SA was legalized the next day by a decree in the Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defense. John Toland noted that Hitler, while disapproving, had long been privately aware Röhm was homosexual. Nevertheless, Nazi propaganda accounts of the purge made use of Röhm’s sexual orientation as a justification of his execution.