4

My question is about why Ernst Röhm (along with several other heads of the SA) was murdered by Hitler on 1st July 1934?

Two days before he alledgedly agreed to a go to a health resort for one month (during which time the SA was freed from duty), proposed by Hitler during an internal SA event in Berlin in summer 1934 (where Hitler actually appeared - as the only invited NSDAP head - with an entire posse of the SS).

Apparently there were rumours about an imminent putsch by Röhm, but there are no proofs for this as far as I'm aware. So what was it that Hitler so much could not tolerate in view of the fact that he actually came along with him quite well before (not to call him a friend).

  • 6
    He wasn't the only one being murdered on the long knives night. And why does the mainstream answer (i.e. to stabilize the regime and shut down the revolutionary wing of the NSDAP) does not satisfactory you ? – Bregalad Jan 8 at 21:00
  • Why? Because it does not appear to me at first sight that Röhm was such a threat. In parcticular many sources view the relationship of Röhm and Hitler friendlike! So there must be something more to it than just to stabilize...If Röhm was a prospering Nazi he would have cheered for Hitler other than "putsching" him... It just seems too simple. Also I heard that apparently Röhm should never ever be even mentioned in the future after this incident towards Hitler, because he never really got over it. – Diger Jan 9 at 0:19
  • You may ask why kill someone, but for someone like Hitler the question was why not kill someone if there was even the tiniest gain from it? – MAGolding Jan 9 at 21:51
  • 1
    What a bunch of polemic simplification of the circumstances you are taught at kindergarten probably... – Diger Jan 9 at 22:50
  • @MAGolding You should be confusing Hitler with Stalin. – Bregalad Jan 10 at 7:46
7

Röhm was becoming a threat

Ernst Röhm was the leader of Sturmabteilung ("Storm Detachment") or "SA" - a paramilitary group that originated as early as 1919 with the main purpose of protecting the NSDAP meetings. With NSDAP rise to power, SA became more and more popular, especially with the poor workers, that were hoping in bringing more radical, socialist-like changes to Germany (remember that the "NSDAP" stands for "National - Socialist German Workers Party"). By 1932 the SA counted 400,000 members, by 1933 that number had risen to over 3 million and Röhm started planning to merge the army (Reichswehr), which counted only 100,000 soldiers with the SA # to create a true "people's army", which was starting to look dangerously similar to what was happening in the Soviet Union (apparently 70% of SA members were former communists).

This ambitions started to become a threat: while Hitler was the official leader of the Party and therefore the SA, Röhm was the real leader of the SA and he appointed his close friends as senior leaders. His revolutionary, socialist-like ideas were sitting badly with army generals (like General Walther von Reichenau), rich industrialists supporting Hitler, and even with the president Hindenburg, who was threatening to declare martial law if the rule of the "band of thugs" was not restrained.

Since Hitler wanted to take the power after Hindenburg's death and wanted to keep the support of the Reichswehr, he agreed* to take action against Röhm, even while he was personally liking the SA leader, who was one of his oldest supporters and gave the go-ahead to the purge (which was officially based on falsified documents, stating that Röhm had been paid by France to overthrow Hitler), later known as the "Night of the Long Knives".

Arguably, Röhm indeed wanted to replace Hitler. In 1933 he wrote:

"Adolf is rotten. He’s betraying all of us. He only goes round with reactionaries. His old comrades aren’t good enough for him. So he brings in these East Prussian generals. They’re the ones he pals around with now. Adolf knows perfectly well what I want. Are we a revolution or aren’t we? Something new has to be brought in, understand? The generals are old fogies. They’ll never have a new idea." source**

Aftermath

After Röhm's death, Victor Lutze took over the leadership over SA, but the organisation lost all its political power. Within a year, its membership has dropped by 40%, with young men sent to active duty in the regular army while older ones were sent either to reserve or to the local militias. On 21 May 1935, Reischwehr was renamed as the Wehrmacht ("defense force") and, while officially it remained at the required by the Versailles treaty 100,000 soldiers, Hitler introduced conscription which allowed him to (initially) train another 100,000 ready soldiers each year. By 1938 Wehrmacht had 600,000 trained soldiers in 36 divisions, by 1939 this number has risen to 98 divisions.

At the same time, SS numbers were also on the rise, starting from few thousands in 1935 to over 250,000 in 1939

The SA remained as an internal security force, that wasn't taking part in the war, except as the emergency service during allied air raids. After the war, the SA was not named as a criminal organization.




# Röhm idea was to turn the regular army into a form of a "basic camp" for future SA soldiers, which obviously was sitting very badly with old-fashioned Prussian Generals. After Röhm death, Hitler reversed the situation, turning SA (that at this stage had no real political power) into a sort of entry camp for the army and SS

*The idea to remove Röhm from power originally came from Minister of defence General Von Blomberg, Chief of Reichswehr General von Reichenau, who conspired with Himmler, Göring and Reinard Heydrich. Heydrich fabricated evidence saying that Röhm had been paid by France to depose Hitler. When presented, Hitler laughed at it.

**This quote can be found for example in "The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany" By Thomas Childers or "The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals" By Richard Plant (yes, Röhm was gay)

  • Not exactly sure about the source. Where exactly to whom did write Röhm this? Where is the original? Also: he agreed to take the action against Röhm sounds like it wasn't Hitlers idea but of someone elses first? – Diger Jan 9 at 0:30
  • @Diger You can find this quote in quite a few books: i.e. here goo.gl/1frgTG – Yasskier Jan 9 at 0:41
  • 1
    And yes, it wasn't originally Hitler's idea to get rid of Ernst - Hitler personally liked him and he laughed, when Himmler, Heydrich and von Rechehanu gave him the "evidence" that Röhm is a French agent. – Yasskier Jan 9 at 0:52
  • From the link: Rőhm effectively signed his own death warrant. He had given Hitler what he had always wanted – the opportunity to make a deal with the Reichswehr. The German Army would swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler if he got rid of the threat posed by Rőhm and his other senior SA followers. So Hitler did not get rid of the SA which the Reichswehr despised, so what changed to the SA afterwards that it became accepted to the Reichswehr? – Diger Jan 9 at 1:26
  • 1
    So after Röhm was disposed of, with 3 million SA 'disciples' and about 100'000 in the Reichswehr, how did the picture change? Did the SA decrease in size and the Reichswehr increase in size? Do you have numbers? I'm also confused about this Reichswehr should be an entry point to the real army (SA): As far as I'm aware the Reichswehr considered the SA as a "band of thug" with no real education and training, but just a bunch of savages, so how can they be viewed as the "real" army? You mean as the picture they had of themselves? – Diger Jan 9 at 14:19
6

Ernst Röhm

As Yasskier stated, Ernst Röhm and his Sturmabteilung, SA, or Brownshirts began to be perceived as a threat to Hitler's leadership. They had been the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party. Their membership was made up of working class blue collar men, who were interested in the socialist component within the National Socialist Party. This sometimes put them at odds with Hitler. This also made them an independent power base inside the Nazi Party. A power base which was not always in locked step with Hitler.

Ernst Röhm controlled the Brownshirts; as the SA's popularity and prestige in the Nazi party grew, he came to be seen as a rival to Hitler. Hitler's inner circle, including Heinrich Himmler (who led the SS) and Hermann Göring (who had founded the Gestapo) sought to purge the SA from the Nazi Party so they could take over their portfolio and build their own power bases in the vacuum. At first Hitler resisted them. Then it became politically expedient for Hitler, in order to form a political alliance with the German Army, to utilize Himmler and Goring to purge the SA from the Party. This political alliance with the Army would not only bring Hitler to power in the German government but through purging of the SA, would allow Hitler to re-organize and consolidate the Nazi Party underneath him. After this, Hitler would become the undisputed leader of both (the Nazi's and the Government), and any opposition to his policies had a powerful demonstration of how the Nazis took care of those who opposed them.

Ernst Röhm's undoing was his ambition. He had dreams of his Brownshirts becoming the new German military. The "people's army", replacing the Reichswehr, the Weimar Republic's army. By the time Röhm was murdered in 1934 the SA had over 3 million men, dwarfing Germany's professional army which was limited by the Treaty of Versailles to 100,000 men. The army, which could trace their service back to Fredrick the Great, resented this. They believed the SA little more than thugs, and had no desire to serve under their leadership.

As the German President Paul Von Hindenburg's health declined, Hitler required the support of Germany's armed forces in his quest for political power. The Army's price for supporting Hitler's quest for power was the suppression of the SA, which they saw as a threat to German's military tradition and their leadership of Germany's armed forces. This ultimately resulted in the Night of the Long Knives, also known as the "Röhm Purge", where the SA leadership was brutally and violently purged from the Nazi Party. This also lead to the execution of Röhm himself; and Hitler coming to political power within Germany.

Ernst Röhm
On 11 April 1934, Hitler met with German military leaders on the ship Deutschland. By that time, he knew President Paul von Hindenburg would likely die before the end of the year. Hitler informed the army hierarchy of Hindenburg's declining health and proposed that the Reichswehr support him as Hindenburg's successor. In exchange, he offered to reduce the SA, suppress Röhm's ambitions, and guarantee the Reichswehr would be Germany's only military force. According to war correspondent William L. Shirer, Hitler also promised to expand the army and navy.

Defence minister Werner von Blomberg issued an ultimatum to Hitler from Hindenburg: unless Hitler took immediate steps to end the growing tension in Germany, Hindenburg would declare martial law and turn over control of the country to the army. Knowing such a step could forever deprive him of power, Hitler decided to carry out his pact with the Reichswehr to suppress the SA.

Sources:


Comments

Diger asked
So Hitler did not get rid of the SA which the Reichswehr despised, so what changed to the SA afterwards that it became accepted to the Reichswehr? –

I don't think the Reichswehr ever "accepted" the SA. The SA ceased to be discussed as an army and was utilized for duties the Reichswehr saw as beneath them. The SA were enlisted for vandalism, arson, and general extrajudicial violent suppression of domestic Germany, primarily Jews.

Initially Hitler decapitated the SA. Using the Schutzstaffel (SS) under Himmler and the newly formed Gestapo under Göring to hunt down and murder the leadership of the SA. Estimates on how many people were killed range from a low of 85 to over 1000. Additionally, more than 1000 others were arrested. The purge wasn't entirely SA members, as any group which expressed independence from Hitler within the Nazi party was a target. Mostly though it was directed at the SA leadership.

The Night of the Long Knives was an important event in Hitlers expressing complete control of the Nazi Party and control of the German government. It was the event which made Hitler the undisputed leader and sole voice for both.

After the Purge, Hitler proclaimed the murders and arrests had taken place because Röhm and the SA had conspired to seize power. Hitler appointed new leadership (Viktor Lutze) to the now out of favor SA, and it's membership plummeted. Within a year of the purge their membership was down to 40% of it's pre-purge size. The new smaller organization was used in the coming years as the primary organization to attack Germany's Jewish population. They played a key role in Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) where thousands of Jewish stores, homes and cemeteries were vandalized, most of Germany's synagogues were burned, and 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and taken to concentration camps.


Diger Asked How big was the SS at that point? You wrote that the SA was under the command of Viktor Lutze after the purge, but when was it under Himmler's command? I thought Himmler was the head of SS + SA?

Himmler never commanded the SA. He commanded the SS and even the Gestopo after Goring. The SA continued on as a lesser organization. They lost most of their membership to service in the army. Late in the war their was an attempt create a military branch similar to the Waffen-SS; the Feldherrnhalle SA-Panzergrenadier Division, 1944-1945. They eventually surrendered to the US Army, who turned them over to the Soviet Red Army. – J

@Zebrafish and Diger.. January 30, 1933, SS membership had increased to over 50,000; up from 300 when Himmler took command of them in Jan 6, 1929. How were they so effective against the much larger SA? Organization, surprise, familiarity with the SA, superior discipline and ruthlessness; all allowed the SS to pick out the key personnel in the SA to make a difference. Himmler didn't attack 3 million SA members, He attacked just a few thousand higher ups( up to 1000 murdered, thousands more arrested). That and Hitler's denouncement paralyzed the SA, which wasn't really known for their own organizational skills but their thuggish street brawling behavior. Ultimately Hitler used the SA's own command structure against them. He appointed new leaders for the ones he dispatched and just assumed control of the entire organization. Then they managed them into obscurity.

  • 1
    I'm just wondering, since you say the SA had around 3 million men, how could Hitler practically wipe them out so easily? Presumably the acts were carried out mainly by the SS. With a membership of 3 million in the SA, supposedly loyal to their leaders, how could this have happened? When I say easily, I don't know this is the case, but from my reading of it it's certainly portrayed this way. – Zebrafish Jan 9 at 14:24
  • 1
    Although its in the other answer as well: AH was quite the conservative, Röhm the hot-headed revolutionary, who thought that by 1933 the weren't 'finished', with their NS-revolution, the street fighting etc. So Röhm presented very much an element of incalculable disorder, unrest and ambition. To get all the conservatives to accept the principles of National-Socialism & Third Reich, a much smoother transition was called for compared to what the radical Röhm envisioned, for the SA, the army, the party, and the country. Switching to conservatives, army & SS as allies was tactical opportunity. – LangLangC Jan 9 at 16:52
  • 1
    @LangLangC, Yes Rohm was a revolutionary with leftist socialist tendencies. It appealed to Rohm's revolutionary leanings to remake the German Army. I also agree that AH was more of a conservative. He didn't want to replace the army but control it, build it, and use it for his own purposes. But they were able to coexist and even be political allies for more than a decade, until the Reichswehr demanded the SA crack down. Then Hitler decisively betrayed Rohm for the alliance which would vault him to greater power. – JMS Jan 9 at 17:01
  • 1
    @LangLangC, yes, I hear you the language is imprecise. Using moderate terms like liberal socialism and conservative to describe Nazi leadership might be compartmentally valid but it's overall misleading. The Nazi's were reactionaries. I wonder though how much of the Socialism in National Socialism was due to SA political influence? Rohm's desire to remake the army in his image could also be attributed to settling scores. Rohm had been a professional soldier, who was forced to resign from the Army after his conviction in the failed Beer Hall Putsch. – JMS Jan 9 at 17:25
  • 3
    After 1918 "Socialism!" was the motto of the day for quite many, incl DAP, after 1922&1925 there was not much left in that party and when the Strasser group left & (Northern group around) Goebbels was converted, it was indeed the SA as the last bastion of these ideas resembling in reality the equality ideas of Socialism. The long knives excised the "S" from the party name, finally, from what was clinically dead already during the 1920s. – LangLangC Jan 9 at 17:34
1

Ernst Roehm was the head of the Sturm Abteilung, or SA, the Nazi paramilitary operation. Because the regular German army was limited to 100,000 men by the Versailles Treaty, the S.A. was larger than the regular German military.

Roehm and other S.A. members called for a "second revolution" that would put them at the head of the right wing coalition that Hitler had stitched together, that is above the "Establishment." That was something no one else could tolerate, least of all Hitler (you don't start a world war with a gang of street fighters. Nor would Hitler's wealthy, upper class supporters yield to the SA.

  • That's what I think is not how it precisely happened i.e. it over simplifies it again. It is true Hitler wanted to attain power, but as far as I'm aware Hitler for all circumstances wanted it using only politics (via democratic election). I think there are also sources to back this up (like in remark he made about it). That's why he was so conservative compared to the others. From the above citation "Adolf is rotten..." by Röhm, it appears that Röhm had another conception of what a revolution looks like. And that's where Himmler, Heydrich and von Reichenau came into play. – Diger Jan 11 at 11:45
  • They realized that Hitler will keep his democratic agenda and tried to provide "evidence" (French agent etc..) to convince Hitler to take more drastic actions. Since Hitler wanted power, he started to realize that if he does not make these actions, it might end up him losing all the power so he reluctantly approved, because he was afraid that other people might be willing to take more drastic actions, he as a politician alone would have to surrender to. – Diger Jan 11 at 11:50
  • That is also in accordance with the later difficulties Hitler had, if somebody were to talk to him about Röhm which does not appear to be the case for people like Himmler or Heydrich who intrinsically where far more radical than Hitler. – Diger Jan 11 at 11:51

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.