Branch: Kaiserliche Heer / SA
Born: 28 November 1887 in Munich, Germany.
Died: 2 July 1934 in Stadelheim Prison, Munich, Germany.
Ernst Julius Günther Röhm, was born on 28 November 1887 and became a German officer in the Bavarian Army and later an early Nazi leader. He was a co-founder of the Sturmabteilung (Storm Battalion SA), the National Socialist Party militia, and later was its commander. In 1934, as part of the Night of the Long Knives, he was executed on Adolf Hitler's orders as a potential rival.
Ernst Röhm was born in Munich, the youngest of three children older sister and brother. His father, a railway official, was described as a harsh man. Although the family had no military tradition, Ernst Röhm entered the Royal Bavarian 10th Infantry Regiment Prinz Ludwig at Ingolstadt as a cadet on 23 July 1906. He obtained his commission on 12 March 1908. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, he was adjutant of the 1st Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment König. The following month, he was seriously wounded in the face at Chanot Wood in Lorraine, and carried the scars for the rest of his life. He was promoted to senior lieutenant (Oberleutnant) in April 1915. During an attack on the fortification at Thiaumont, Verdun, on 23 June 1916, he sustained a serious chest wound. As a result, he spent the remainder of the war in both France and Romania as a staff officer. He was awarded the Iron Cross First Class on 20 June 1916, just before he was wounded at Verdun, and was promoted to captain (Hauptmann) in April 1917. In October 1918, while serving on the Staff of the Gardekorps, he contracted the deadly Spanish influenza and was not expected to live however, he survived and recovered after a long period of convalescence.
Following the armistice on 11 November 1918 that ended the war, Ernst Röhm continued his military career as an adjutant in the Reichswehr. He was one of the senior members in Colonel Franz von Epp's Bayerisches Freikorps für den Grenzschutz Ost, formed at Ohrdruf in April 1919, which finally overturned the Red Republic in Munich by force of arms on 3 May 1919. In 1919, he joined the German Workers' Party, which soon became the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Ernst Röhm met Adolf Hitler and they became political allies and close friends.
Ernst Röhm's resignation from the Reichswehr was accepted in November 1923 during his time as a prisoner at Stadelheim prison. Following the failed Beer Hall Putsch on 9 November 1923, Ernst Röhm, Adolf Hitler, General Erich von Ludendorff, Lt-Colonel Kriebel and six others were tried in February 1924 on charges of treason. Ernst Röhm was found guilty and received one year and three months in prison. However, the sentence was suspended and he was granted a conditional discharge. Adolf Hitler was also found guilty and was sentenced to five years imprisonment, although he would only serve nine months.
In April 1924, Ernst Röhm became a Reichstag Deputy for the völkisch National Socialist Freedom Party. He made only one speech, urging the release from Landsberg of Lt-Colonel Kriebel. At the 1925 elections the seats won by his party were much reduced, and his name was too far down the list for him to be returned to the Reichstag. While Adolf Hitler was in prison, Ernst Röhm helped to create the Frontbann as a legal alternative to the then-outlawed SA. At Landsberg prison in April 1924, Ernst Röhm had also been given full powers by Adolf Hitler to rebuild the SA in any way he saw fit. When in April 1925 Adolf Hitler and Erich von Ludendorff disapproved of the proposals under which Ernst Röhm was prepared to integrate the 30,000-strong Frontbann into the SA, on 1 May 1925 Ernst Röhm resigned from all political movements and military brigades and sought seclusion from public life. In 1928 he accepted a post in Bolivia as adviser to the Bolivian Army where he was given the rank of Lt-Colonel and took up his duties after six months' acclimatisation and language tutoring. Following the 1930 revolt in Bolivia Ernst Röhm was forced to seek sanctuary in the German Embassy. After the election results in Germany that September, Ernst Röhm received a telephone call from Adolf Hitler in which the latter said, I need you, thus provoking Ernst Röhm's return to Germany.
In September 1930, as a consequence of the Stennes Revolt in Berlin, Adolf Hitler assumed supreme command of the SA as its new Oberster SA-Führer. He sent a personal request to Ernst Röhm, asking that he return to serve as the SA's chief of staff. Ernst Röhm accepted this offer and commenced his new assignment in early January 1931. Ernst Röhm brought radical new ideas to the SA and appointed several of his close friends to its senior leadership.
The SA now numbered over a million. Its traditional function of party leader escort had been given to the SS, but it continued its street battles with Reds and attacks on Jews. The SA also attacked or intimidated anyone deemed hostile to the Nazi programme: editors, professors, politicians, uncooperative local officials or businessmen.
Under Ernst Röhm, the SA also often took the side of workers in strikes and other labour disputes, attacking strike breakers and supporting picket lines. SA intimidation contributed to the rise of the Nazis, breaking down the electoral activity of the left-wing parties. However, the SA's reputation for street violence and heavy drinking was a hindrance.
Another hindrance was the more or less open homosexuality of Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders such as his deputy Edmund Heines (both of whom would later be sentenced to death on Adolf Hitler's orders). In 1931, the Münchener Post, a Social Democratic newspaper, obtained and published Ernst Röhm's letters to a friend in which Ernst Röhm discussed his sexual affairs with men.
By this time, Ernst Röhm and Adolf Hitler were so close that they addressed each other as du (the German familiar form of you). Ernst Röhm was the only top Nazi that Adolf Hitler addressed as such. In turn, Ernst Röhm was the only Nazi who dared address Adolf Hitler as Adolf, rather than mein Führer.
As Adolf Hitler secured national power in 1933, SA men became auxiliary police, and marched into local government offices to force officials to hand over authority to Nazis.
Second revolution Ernst Röhm and the SA regarded themselves as the vanguard of the National Socialist revolution. After Adolf Hitler's takeover, they expected radical changes in Germany, with power and rewards for them. However, Adolf Hitler's use of the SA as storm troopers was a political weapon he no longer needed.
Along with Joseph Goebbels, Gottfried Feder and Walther Darré, Ernst Röhm was a prominent member of the party's socialist faction. This group took the words Sozialistische and Arbeiter (worker) in the party's name literally. They largely rejected capitalism (which they associated with Jews) and pushed for nationalisation of major industrial firms, expanded worker control, confiscation and redistribution of the estates of the old aristocracy and social equality. Ernst Röhm spoke of a second revolution against reactionaries (the National Socialist label for old-line conservatives), as the National Socialists had previously dealt with the Communists and Socialists.
All this was threatening to the business community. So Adolf Hitler swiftly reassured businessmen that there would be no second revolution. Many storm troopers were of working-class origins and had expected a socialist programme. In fact, it was often said at the time that members of the SA were like a beefsteak brown on the outside and red on the inside. They were now disappointed by the new regime's lack of socialist direction and also failure to provide the lavish patronage expected. Ernst Röhm even publicly criticised Adolf Hitler for his failure to carry through the National Socialist revolution.
Furthermore, Ernst Röhm and his SA colleagues thought of their force (now over three million strong) as the future army of Germany, replacing the Reichswehr and its professional officers. Although Ernst Röhm had been a member of the officer corps, he viewed them as old fogies who lacked revolutionary spirit. In February 1934, Ernst Röhm demanded that the Reichswehr (which under the Treaty of Versailles was limited to 100,000 men) be absorbed into the SA under his leadership as Minister of Defence.
This horrified the army, with its traditions going back to Frederick the Great. The army officer corps viewed the SA as a brawling mob of undisciplined street fighters and were also concerned by the perverseness of homosexuality and corrupt morals within the ranks of the SA. Further, reports of a huge cache of weapons in the hands of SA members gave the army commanders even more concern. The entire officer corps opposed Ernst Röhm's proposal, insisting that honour and discipline would vanish if the SA gained control. However, it appeared that Ernst Röhm and the SA would settle for nothing less.
Adolf Hitler privately shared much of Ernst Röhm's animus toward the traditionalists in the army. Nevertheless, he had gained power with the army's support, and he wanted the army's support to succeed the ailing 86-year-old Paul von Hindenburg as President.
Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler had already begun preparing for the struggle. In February he told British diplomat Anthony Eden that he planned to reduce the SA by two thirds. Also in February, he announced that the SA would be left only a few minor military functions.
Ernst Röhm responded with further complaints about Adolf Hitler and began expanding the armed elements of the SA. To many it appeared as if the SA was planning or threatening a rebellion. In March, Ernst Röhm offered a compromise in which a few thousand SA leaders would be taken into the army, but the army promptly rejected it.
On 11 April 1934, Adolf Hitler met with German military leaders on the ship Deutschland. By this time, Adolf Hitler had learned that the ailing Paul von Hindenburg would die before the year's end. Adolf Hitler informed them of Paul von Hindenburg's declining health and proposed the Reichswehr support him as Paul von Hindenburg's successor. In exchange, Adolf Hitler offered to reduce the SA, suppress Ernst Röhm's ambitions, and guarantee the Reichswehr would be Germany's only military force. William L. Shirer asserts that Adolf Hitler also promised to expand the army and navy.
However, both the Reichswehr and business conservatives continued their anti-SA complaints to Paul von Hindenburg. In early June 1934, defence minister Werner von Blomberg, on Paul von Hindenburg's behalf, issued an ultimatum to Adolf Hitler unless political tension ended in Germany, Paul von Hindenburg would likely declare martial law and turn over control of the country to the army. Knowing such a step could forever deprive him of power, Adolf Hitler decided to carry out his pact with the Reichswehr to suppress the SA. This meant a showdown with Ernst Röhm. In Adolf Hitler's view, the army and the SA constituted the only real remaining power centres in Germany that were independent in his National Socialist state.
The army was willing to submit. Werner von Blomberg had the swastika added to the army's insignia in February and ended the army's practice of preference for old army descent in new officers, replacing it with a requirement of consonance with the new government.
Although determined to curb the power of the SA, Adolf Hitler put off doing away with his long-time comrade to the very end. A political struggle within the party grew, with those closest to Adolf Hitler, including Prussian premier Hermann Göring, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and SS Chief Heinrich Himmler positioning themselves against Ernst Röhm. As a means of isolating Ernst Röhm, on 20 April 1934, Hermann Göring transferred control of the Prussian political police (Gestapo) to Heinrich Himmler, who, Hermann Göring believed, could be counted on to move against Ernst Röhm. Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Hermann Göring used Ernst Röhm's published anti-Adolf Hitler rhetoric to support a claim that the SA was plotting to overthrow Adolf Hitler. Heinrich Himmler and his deputy Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the SS Security Service (the SD), assembled a dossier of manufactured evidence to suggest that Ernst Röhm had been paid twelve million marks by France to overthrow Adolf Hitler. Leading officers were shown falsified evidence on June 24 that Ernst Röhm planned to use the SA to launch a plot against the government (Ernst Röhm-Putsch).
By this time, these stories were officially recognised. Reports of the SA threat were passed to Adolf Hitler and he felt it was time to act. Meanwhile Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Victor Lutze (at Adolf Hitler's direction) drew up lists of people in and outside the SA to be killed. Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich issued marching orders to the SS, while Sepp Dietrich went around showing army officers a purported SA execution list.
Meanwhile, Ernst Röhm and several of his companions went away on holiday at a resort in Bad Wiessee. On June 28, Adolf Hitler phoned Ernst Röhm and asked him to gather all the SA leaders at Bad Wiessee on June 30 for a conference. Ernst Röhm agreed, apparently unsuspicious
The date of June 30 marked the beginning of the Night of the Long Knives. At dawn on 30 June, Adolf Hitler flew to Munich and then drove to Bad Wiessee, where he personally arrested Ernst Röhm and the other SA leaders. All were imprisoned at Stadelheim Prison in Munich. From 30 June to 2 July 1934, the entire leadership of the SA was purged, along with many other political adversaries of the Nazis.
Adolf Hitler was uneasy authorising Ernst Röhm's execution and gave Ernst Röhm an opportunity to commit suicide. On July 2, Ernst Röhm was visited by SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Eicke (then Kommandant of the Dachau concentration camp) and SS-Obersturmbannführer Michael Lippert, who laid a pistol on the table, told Ernst Röhm he had ten minutes to use it and left. Ernst Röhm refused and stated If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself.Having heard nothing in the allotted time, Eicke and Lippert returned to Ernst Röhm's cell to find him standing. Ernst Röhm had his bare chest puffed out in a gesture of defiance as Lippert shot him in the chest at point blank range. He was buried in the Westfriedhof (Western Cemetery) in Munich.
The purge of the SA was legalised the next day with a one-paragraph decree: the Law Regarding Measures of State Self-defence. At this time no public reference was made to the alleged SA rebellion instead there were generalised references to misconduct, perversion, and some sort of plot. John Toland noted that Adolf Hitler had long been privately aware that Ernst Röhm and his SA associates were homosexuals although he disapproved of their behaviour, he stated that 'the SA are a band of warriors and not a moral institution.'
A few days later, the claim of an incipient SA rebellion was publicised and became the official reason for the entire wave of arrests and executions. Indeed, the affair was labelled the Ernst Röhm-putsch by German historians, though after World War II it has usually been modified as the alleged Ernst Röhm-putsch or known as the Night of the Long Knives. In a speech on July 13, Adolf Hitler alluded to Ernst Röhm's homosexuality and explained the purge as chiefly defence against treason.
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