Everyone called Adolf Hitler Mein Fuhrer, everyone except one man, one man who called him by his first name, a trusted comrade from the earliest days of the Nazi Party. That man was Ernst Rohm and in 1934 Hitler conspired to have him murdered.
Rohm – World War One
Born 28 November 1887, Ernst Rohm fought with distinction throughout the First World War, winning an Iron Cross, First Class, and attaining the rank of captain. Twice he was wounded, on one occasion shot in the face, and he carried the scars for the rest of his life. In 1918, as the war drew to its close, Rohm contracted Spanish Flu which killed millions across Europe. Rohm was lucky to have survived.
Rohm’s Early Years
In 1919, Ernst Rohm joined the newly-formed German Workers’ party, forerunner to the National Socialist Workers Party, nicknamed by its opponents as the Nazi Party. Rohm was the ultimate Nazi thug, relishing in his role of street revolutionary. There he met the young Adolf Hitler. Four years later he would march alongside Hitler during the failed Munich Putsch (or revolution). Rohm, along with Hitler, was arrested and charged with high treason, a charge that carried the death penalty. But the Bavarian court, sympathetic to the Nazi cause, showed leniency and sentenced Hitler with the minimum punishment and merely handed Rohm a suspended sentence.
In 1925, following a disagreement with Hitler, Ernst Rohm resigned from the party and found employment in Bolivia. Six years later, Hitler wrote to Rohm asking him to return to Germany and to head the SA. Rohm accepted the challenge.
Rohm’s ‘Second Revolution’
However, after Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in January 1933, Rohm felt that Hitler had gone soft and had not given the SA due reward for helping the Nazis into power. The SA started talking of a ‘second revolution’ with Rohm as the leader of the ‘People’s Party’; talk that greatly alarmed the industrialists and businessmen that Hitler had managed to woo. Rohm wanted also to merge the army with the SA under his command, which, in turn, alarmed the army.
The army viewed the SA as an ill-disciplined bunch of homosexual thugs whilst the SA considered the army overly traditional and an anachronism. Hitler may have sympathized with his old revolutionary comrade but now, in 1934, he had his eye on the presidency. The current incumbent, the 86-year-old President Paul von Hindenburg, was frail and senile, and not expected to live much longer (he died that August). But to achieve his goal Hitler needed the support of the army.
The SA’s violence, which once, as a revolutionary, Hitler would have endorsed, had become an embarrassment to the chancellor. The SA’s agitation was beginning to unbalance the country’s stability, and President Hindenburg threatened to bring in martial law and turn the country over to the army unless Hitler could bring the situation under control.
The Night of the Long Knives
Pressurized by the army and Hindenburg to act, Hitler had to do something. And he did. On the night of 30 June / 1 July 1934, the SS carried out a purge of the SA and all opponents of Hitler’s regime. It became known as the ‘Night of the Long Knives‘. Men who had crossed Hitler in the past were killed. Members of the SA, who had gathered for a weekend of debauchery in the Bavarian village of Bad Wiessee, were all arrested and imprisoned, soon to be executed.
Hitler took it upon himself to arrest Ernst Rohm personally, marching into his hotel room early on 30 June and, brandishing a revolver, yelling, ‘You’re under arrest, you pig’. Rohm was taken to a Munich prison, along with other SA leaders, and there awaited his fate. But Hitler, in a fit of nostalgia, found it difficult to order his murder. Instead, he offered Rohm the chance to kill himself. On 2 July, a revolver was left on the table in his cell and he was given ten minutes. Rohm refused, saying, ‘If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself’. When the ten minutes had elapsed and no shot heard, an SS officer marched in and killed the bare-chested Rohm at point blank range.
He was 46 years old.