Ernst Julius Gunther Rohm, a German Military Officer

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Ernst Rohm

Ernst Rohm, the head of Hitler’s Sturm Abteilung (SA) was born November 28, 1887 in Munich. Raised in a non military family, Rohm joined the German Army in 1906 and served during WWI, and was wounded three times awhile and became a major. Unlike Hitler, who was committed to absolute power, Rohm was committed to a complete socialist ruling party. In January 1931, Rohm became the leadership of the SA. He was one of Hitler’s closes and first supporters. In fact, their relationship was such that Rohm was the only person in Hitler’s inner circle who called him Adolf while his closest aids’ referred to Hitler as “mein Fuhrer.” Hitler and Rohm were so close that he referred to Rohm as “du” (the German familiar form of “you”). Without Rohm’s early support, and his access to the army, and political fund, Hitler would have had a much harder time consolidating his power base. Rohm was probably Hitler’s most important early supporter. In April 1924, Rohm became a Reichstag Deputy for the volkisch National Socialist Freedom Party. While Hitler was in prison for his involvement in the Beer Hall Putsch, Rohm helped to create the Frontbann as a legal alternative to the then-outlawed SA. It was at the Landsberg prison in April 1924, that Hitler gave Rohm full powers to rebuild the SA in any way he saw fit. A staunch socialist, Rohm was preparing for and supportive of a second socialist revolution. Many of his “storm troopers” were of working-class origins and had expected a socialist state to be established. Hitler, on the other hand was more concerned about gaining absolute power, having done so by giving positions of power to enemies of Rohm. Rohm and his men, known to be like “beefsteak—“brown on the outside and red on the inside,” were disappointed by the new regime’s lack of socialist direction and also failure to provide them the lavish patronage they felt they had earned and expected. Rohm publicly criticized Hitler for his failure to carry through the National Socialist revolution, at one time referring to Hitler an ignorant corporal. Rohm and his leadership were men with a cause. Among his followers were Joseph Goebbels, Bottfried Feder, and Walther Darre. They were known as prominent members of the party’s socialist faction. This group took words like “Sozialistische” and “Arbeiter” (worker) in the party’s name literally. They largely rejected capitalism (which they associated with Jews) and pushed for nationalism of major industrial firms, expanded worker control, confiscation and redistribution of the estates of the old aristocracy and social equality. Rohm often spoke of the “second revolution” against reactionaries (the National Socialist label for old-line conservatives).

At the same time, Hitler was attempting to build a broader base of support which would include prominent members of the business community who had supported Hitler’s rise to power and were threatened by Rohm and his socialist views. Hitler reassured businessmen that there would be no second revolution. Rohm thought of his SA (almost 3 million men strong) as the future army of Germany, not the Reichswehr. Although Rohm had been a major he viewed the officer corps, as old fogies who lacked the revolutionary spirit. In February 1924, Rohm demanded that the Reichswehr (which under the Treaty of Versailles was limited to 100,000 men) be absorbed into the SA under his leadership as Minister of Defense. The army was horrified by Rohm’s plans of incorporating the army into the brown-shirts, most army officers viewed the SA as a brawling mob of undisciplined street fighters and were also concerned by the pervasiveness of homosexuality and corrupt morals within the ranks of the SA. The officers had heard reports of a large cache of weapons in the hands of SA members. Then entire officer corps opposed Rohm’s proposal, insisting honor and discipline would vanish if the SA gained control. It appeared that Rohm and the SA would...
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