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Ernst Julius Röhm, (November 28, 1887 – July 2, 1934) was an Imperial Germanmarker army officer and later a Nazi leader. He was a co-founder of the Sturmabteilungmarker ("Storm Battalion"; SA), the Nazi Party militia and later was the SA commander. In 1934, he was executed on Hitler's orders as a potential rival.

Early career

Ernst Röhm was born in Munichmarker. He was serving as an Oberleutnant (1st lieutenant) in the 13th Infantry Regiment of the Bavarian Armymarker when World War I began in August 1914. The following month he was seriously wounded in the face in Lorraine, Francemarker and carried the scars the rest of his life. An efficient officer, he received the Iron Cross and was promoted to Hauptmann (Captain) before the war's end.

After the armistice on 11 November 1918, Röhm joined the Freikorps, one of many private militia organisations formed in Munichmarker, to put down a Communist insurrection. He joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 1920 and helped organise the Sturmabteilungmarker (SA). The SA was a political army that protected the party leadership, battled opponents such as the Communist Red Front and terrorised Jews. Röhm had met Adolf Hitler the previous year and they became political allies and close friends.

Following the failed Munich Beer Hall Putschmarker in early November 1923, Röhm, Hitler, General Erich von Ludendorff and five others were brought to trial in February 1924 on charges of treason. Röhm was found guilty and dishonourably discharged from the Reichswehr. He was sentenced to one year and three months in prison, but was released immediately after sentencing, on a promise of good behavior. Hitler also was found guilty and was sentenced to five years imprisonment, though he only served eight months.

In April 1924, while Hitler was in prison, Röhm helped to create the Frontbann as a legal alternative to the then-outlawed SA. He then served in the Reichstag as a member of the renamed National Socialist Freedom Party. But then differences arose between them. Röhm resigned from the Reichstag in 1925 and emigrated to Boliviamarker. There he served as a military advisor to the Bolivian army.

SA leader

In September 1930, as a consequence of the Stennes Revolt in Berlinmarker, Hitler assumed supreme command of the SA as its new Oberster SA-Führer. He sent a personal request to Röhm, asking that he return to serve as the SA's chief of staff. Röhm accepted this offer and commenced his new assignment in early January 1931. 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 SSmarker, 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 Röhm, the SA also often took the side of workers in strikes and other labour disputes, attacking strikebreakers 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, heavy drinking and quasi-socialist radicalism was a hindrance.

Another hindrance was the more or less open homosexuality of Röhm and other SA leaders such as his deputy Edmund Heines. In 1931, the Munich Post, a Socialist newspaper, obtained and published Röhm's letters to a friend in which Röhm discussed his sexual affairs with men. This resulted in a national scandal.

By this time, Röhm and Hitler were so close that they addressed each other as du (the German familiar form of "you"). Besides Röhm, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels were the only Nazis who used du with Hitler and only Röhm addressed Hitler as "Adolf," rather than "mein Führer."

As Hitler secured national power in 1933, SA men became auxiliary police and it was the SA that marched into local government offices to force officials to hand over authority to Nazis.

Second revolution

Röhm and the SA regarded themselves as the vanguard of the "National Socialist revolution". After Hitler's takeover, they expected radical changes in Germany, with power and rewards for them. However, Hitler's use of the SA as storm troopers was a political weapon he no longer needed.

Röhm had been one of the most prominent members 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. Röhm spoke of a "second revolution" against "reactionaries" (the National Socialist label for conservatives), as the National Socialists had previously dealt with the Communists and Socialists.

All this was threatening to the business community, which had supported Hitler's rise to power. So 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" because many of them were former Communists). They were now disappointed by the new regime's lack of socialist direction and also failure to provide the lavish patronage expected. Röhm even publicly criticized Hitler for his failure to carry through the National Socialist revolution.

Furthermore, 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, whom they viewed as "old fogies" who lacked "revolutionary spirit". Röhm wanted to be made Minister of Defense. In February 1934 he demanded that the Reichswehr (which under the Treaty of Versailles was limited to 100,000 men) be merged into the SA to form a true "people's army".

This was horrifying to the army, with its traditions going back to Frederick the Great. The army viewed the SA as a brawling mob of undisciplined street fighters and had heard all the rumours of homosexuality and "corrupt morals" within the SA. The entire officer corps opposed Röhm's proposal, insisting honour and discipline would vanish if the SA gained control. And it appeared that the SA would settle for nothing less.

Hitler privately shared much of Röhm's animus toward the traditionalist in the army. But 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, Hitler had already begun preparing for the struggle. In February he told Britishmarker 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.

Röhm responded with further complaints about Hitler, and began expanding the armed elements of the SA. To many it appeared as though the SA was planning or threatening a rebellion. In March, Röhm offered a compromise whereby a few thousand SA leaders would be taken into the army, but the army rejected it.

On 11 April 1934, Hitler met with German military leaders. Hitler informed them of Hindenburg's declining health and proposed that the Reichswehr support him as the next president. In exchange Hitler offered to reduce the SA, suppress Röhm's ambitions and guarantee the Reichswehr would be Germany's only military force. William L. Shirer asserts Hitler also promised to expand both the army and navy.

However, both the Reichswehr and business conservatives continued their anti-SA complaints to President Hindenburg. In early June 1934, defense minister Werner von Blomberg, on Hindenburg's behalf, issued an ultimatum to Hitler: unless political tension in Germany ended, Hindenburg would likely declare martial law. Hitler was shocked to hear this from Blomberg, who up to that point had displayed a near lackey-like attitude toward him. However, when Hitler went to see the President himself, Hindenburg confirmed the ultimatum and knowing such a step could forever deprive him of power, Hitler decided to carry out his pact with the Reichswehr to suppress the SA. This meant a showdown with Röhm. In Hitler's view, the army and the SA constituted the only real remaining power centres in Germany that were independent — not reduced to submission to the National Socialist state.

The army was willing to submit. 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, 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 Hitler, including Prussianmarker premier Hermann Göring, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and SS Chief Heinrich Himmler positioning themselves against Röhm. As a means of isolating Röhm, on 20 April 1934, Göring transferred control of the Prussian political police (Gestapo) to Himmler, who, Göring believed, could be counted on to move against Röhm. Himmler, Heydrich and Göring used Röhm's published anti-Hitler rhetoric to support a claim that the SA was plotting to overthrow Hitler. Himmler and his deputy Heydrich, chief of the SS Security Service (the SD), assembled a dossier of manufactured evidence to suggest that Röhm had been paid twelve million marks by France to overthrow Hitler. Leading officers were shown falsified evidence on June 24 that Röhm planned to use the SA to launch a plot against the government ( ).

By this time, these stories were officially recognised. Reports of the SA threat were passed to Hitler and he knew it was time to finally act. Meanwhile Göring, Himmler, Heydrich and Victor Lutze (at Hitler's direction) drew up lists of people in and outside the SA to be killed. Himmler and Heydrich issued marching orders to the SS, while Sepp Dietrich went around showing army officers a purported SA execution list.

Meanwhile, Röhm and several of his companions went away on holiday at a resort in Bad Wiesseemarker. On June 28, Hitler phoned Röhm and asked him to gather all the SA leaders at Bad Wiessee on June 30 for a conference. Röhm agreed, apparently unsuspicious.

The date of June 30 marked the beginning of the Night of the Long Knives. At dawn on 30 June, Hitler flew to Munichmarker and then drove to Bad Wiessee, where he personally arrested Röhm and the other SA leaders. All were imprisoned at Stadelheim Prisonmarker 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.

Hitler was uneasy authorizing Röhm's execution and gave Röhm an opportunity to commit suicide. On July 2, he was visited by SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Eicke (then Kommandant of the Dachau concentration campmarker) and SS-Obersturmbannführer Michael Lippert, who laid a pistol on the table, told Röhm he had ten minutes to use it and left. 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 Röhm's cell to find him standing. Röhm had his bare chest puffed out in a gesture of defiance as they shot him. He was buried in the Westfriedhof (Western Cemetery) in Munich.

The purge of the SA was legalized 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 Hitler had long been privately aware that Röhm and his SA associates were homosexuals; although he disapproved their behaviour he stated that 'the SA are a band of warriors and not a moral institution' . National Socialist propaganda now made use of their sexual orientation as justification of the executions.

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 labeled the "Röhm-putsch" by German historians, though after World War II it has usually been modified as the "alleged Röhm-putsch" or known as the "Night of the Long Knives". In a speech on July 13, Hitler alluded to Röhm's homosexuality and explained the purge as chiefly defence against treason.

See also



  1. Steakley, James. "Homosexuals and the Third Reich" Jewish Virtual Library
  2. Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, p. 192 (Praeger Publishers, 1973).
  3. William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p. 120 (Simon and Schuster, 1960).
  4. Shirer (1960), p. 221.
  5. Evans (2005), p. 33.


  • Evans, Richard J. (2005) The Third Reich in Power ISBN 1-59420-074-2
  • Fest, Joachim (2004) Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich, ISBN 0-374-13577-0
  • Irving, David Hitler's War. London: Focal Point Publications. ISBN 1-872197-10-8.

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