Ernst Röhm was a German military officer and an early member of the Nazi Party.
As one of the members of its predecessor, the German Workers’ Party, he was a close friend and early ally of Adolf Hitler and a co-founder of the Sturmabteilung – the Nazi Party’s militia.
By 1934, the German Army feared the SA’s influence and Hitler had come to see Röhm as a potential rival, so he was executed during the Night of the Long Knives.
Röhm was born in 1887 in Munich.
In 1908, Röhm entered the Royal Bavarian Infantry as a cadet.
Röhm saw active service during WWI and was injured in battle.
In 1919, Röhm joined the German Workers’ Party, which the following year became the National Socialist German Workers Party.
Not long afterward he met Adolf Hitler, and they became political allies and close friends.
When the Nazi Party held its German Day celebration at Nuremberg in 1923, it was Röhm who helped bring together some 100,000 participants drawn from right-wing militant groups, veteran’s associations, and other paramilitary formations.
In 1930, Hitler appointed Röhm as the Chief of Staff of the the Sturmabteilung (the SA) – the militia of the Nazi party.
By this time, the SA numbered over a million members. The SA was used for street battles against the communists and the forces of rival political parties, as well as violent actions against Jewish people and others deemed hostile to the Nazi agenda.
SA intimidation contributed to the rise of the Nazis and the violent suppression of rival parties during electoral campaigns, but its reputation for street violence and heavy drinking was a hindrance, as was the open homosexuality of Röhm and other SA leaders such as his deputy Edmund Heines.
In June 1931, the Münchener Post, a Social Democratic newspaper, began attacking Röhm and the SA regarding homosexuality in its ranks and then in March 1932, the paper obtained and published some private letters of his that left no doubt about his homosexuality.
Hitler was aware of Röhm’s homosexuality.
Röhm was a strong advocate for radical reform of the German economy – he was effectively anti-capitalist – as well as the German military. This increasingly created division within the factions of the Nazi Party. Hitler came under increasing pressure to isolate Röhm and reduce the power of the SA.
The purge known as the Night of the Long Knives began on 20 June 1934. Röhm was among the leaders of the SA that were arrested. Execution squads were used to assassinate any rivals that were seen as potential threats to the cabal that now surrounded Hitler.
Around 200 people were killed during the Night of the Long Knives.
The homosexuality of Röhm and other SA leaders was made public to add “shock value” – it was a way of justifying the purge in the context of morality – even though the sexuality of Röhm and other named SA leaders had been known by Hitler and other Nazi leaders for years.