Ernst Rohm

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Ernst Rohm



Birth - Death

1887 - 1934




A German military officer and early leader of the Nazi political party, Ernst Rohm founded the militia Sturmabterliing (the SA). This militia unit was responsible for a significant number of attacks and killings on the German public, especially those who opposed the policies of the Nazi Party. Rohm was assassinated on orders from Adolf Hitler based on a suspicion that he was a potential rival leader of the country.

Ernst Rohm began his military training at the age of 19 as a cadet in the Royal Bavarian Infantry. In the First World War he became first lieutenant and saw active duty and injury in battle. He was awarded the Iron Cross and made major.

At the end of this war, Rohm remained in the military and joined the German Worker’s Party in 1919. This became the National Socialist German Worker’s (NAZI) Party). It was at this time he met Hitler and they became close friends.

Hitler and Rohm occupied the War Ministry in a failed coup attempt, and Rohm (along with Hitler) served a short prison term for treason. On release, he began forming the SA but disagreements on its operations with Hitler led him to resign. At this point, he went to Bolivia as an advisor to the Bolivian Army, returning to Germany after the 1930 Bolivian revolt.

When Hitler became Supreme Commander of the SA in 1930, he asked Rohm to assume the role of chief of staff. Rohm quickly grew this quasi-military organization to over one million members. The SA began a program of intimidating and attacking any individual or group which opposed the Nazi agenda. When Hitler was elected, Rohm was appointed to his first cabinet.

There were disputes between Rohm, as leader of the SA, and Hitler. Rohm saw himself as leader of the socialist worker’s movement, whereas Hitler allied himself more closely with the industrialists and professional army as the German military began an aggressive re-arming campaign. Rohm built up the SA to over four million members and an effective, efficient, and ideologically pure group. Eventually, there were disagreements between the professional army and the SA, with the former viewing the latter as a street mob. As well, the industrialists complained about the SA’s violent tactics.

Hitler attempted to reign in the violence of the SA as a means to gain political favour in his efforts to become the supreme leader, or Fuhrer, of Germany and to appear to appease growing international fears. Rohm attempted to build the SA into an armed military force and Hitler feared this could lead to a coup.

Hitler arrested Rohm and most of the senior SA staff and had them imprisoned. Rohm was given the option of suicide or execution – on refusal of suicide he was shot dead. At the same time, over 2,000 members of the SA were massacred. The event has been called ‘The Night of the Long Knives’.

Rohm’s homosexuality was well known since 1919. There were often rumours that his close attachment with Hitler implied the supreme leader himself was homosexual. There was also widespread belief that the SA itself was a homosexual organization. This is in direct contrast to the anti-homosexual policies of the Nazi Party which interned hundreds of thousands of homosexuals or suspected homosexuals. Hitler justified his power play against Rohm by pointing out Rohm’s homosexuality. Hitler gave direct orders to the new chief of staff to ensure the ‘cleanliness’ and moral stability of the SA. On the first anniversary of Rohm’s murder, the Germans legislated Paragraph 175a which declared homosexuality, in practice or thought, to be a criminal offense. The number of arrests and convictions for alleged homosexuality jumped by over ten times. The legislation was so vague that it was used as a means to imprison even heterosexual adversaries (for example, members of the Catholic clergy). The Gestapo was given authority to enforce the legislation.

Ernst Rohm was not directly responsible for the actions against his own LGBTQ community and others after his death. Nevertheless, endorsement of ruthless mob rule as a means of enforcing abject intolerance and discrimination was part of his character. That it lead to a violent policy against himself and other LGBTQ individuals is not surprising.

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