Ernst Röhm

hitler and rohm 209

Ernst Röhm standing to the left of Adolf Hitler (Chris Webb Private Archive)

Ernst Röhm was born in Munich on November 28, 1887, the son of an old Bavarian family of civil servants. Ernst Röhm was part of the last generation that sought to capture the values of the trenches, the camaraderie of the front-line soldiers in the First World War, with their restlessness, adventurism and latent criminality masquerading as nationalism.

Ernst Röhm was a fat, stocky, red-faced little man who had been wounded three times in the First World War, including having half his nose shot away, and when the Great War ended in 1918, Röhm became a professional freebooter and swashbuckler, with boundless contempt for the civilian way of life. His association with Adolf Hitler began in 1919, and they became close comrades - Röhm was one of the few people whom Hitler addressed as du in conversation. They marched together on the Feldherrnhalle on November 9, 1923, but the Beer Hall Putsch resulted in failure. The gun battle between the Nazis and the Bavarian State Police four policemen and fourteen marchers and two more members of the Nazi Party were killed. Hitler was arrested and sentenced to a term in Landsberg Prison.

Ernst Röhm was at this time a captain in the Reichswehr, and was active organiser of the NSDAP in Bavaria, and he was responsible for attracting many new recruits, and he became the keeper of a secret cache of weapons in Bavaria, which he hoped to use in a direct assault on the State. But the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch led to his dismissal from the Reichswehr and his temporary withdrawal from political life. Ernst Röhm was disorientated and he held a number of temporary jobs, which frustrated and bored him. He then set off for Bolivia, where he spent two years as an instructor in the military.

Ernst Röhm was recalled by Hitler after the spectacular electoral success of the Nazi Party of September 14, 1930, to take command of the SA, the Nazi para-military style force. Röhm rapidly expanded the SA into a popular army of street fighters, gangsters and toughs. From 70,000 in 1930, the SA increased to 170,000 in 1931, swelled by the growing number of unemployed and those in society who had fallen in status. Röhm regarded this plebeian army of desperado's as the core of the Nazi movement, the embodiment and guarantee of 'permanent revolution,' of the barracks socialism and blind dynamism he had absorbed during the First World War.

The SA fulfilled a crucial role in forging Hitler's rise to power between 1930, and 1933, by winning the battle of the streets against the Communists and by intimidating political opponents. By the end of 1933, however, the SA, which now numbered approximately four-and a half million men and was seemingly more powerful than the Reichswehr itself, had become disillusioned by the results of the Nazi 'revolution.' It felt cheated of the spoils of office.