Leaked correspondence between Ernst Röhm and völkisch homosexual writer Dr. Karl-Günter Heimsoth
In late 1928, shortly before he left Europe for South America in order to take up a post as a military instructor in the Bolivian army, NSDAP politician Ernst Röhm began a correspondence with völkisch physician and writer Dr. Karl-Günter Heimsoth. Heimsoth, who had initiated contact after reading Röhm’s recently-published memoirs, did not just share Röhm’s politics; he was also, like Röhm, a homosexual, and an open and ideological one. The letters the two men wrote one another were later to cause considerable difficulty for the NSDAP after Röhm returned to Germany in 1931 to assume the role of SA Chief of Staff. Röhm’s return brought with it a proliferation of rumors and innuendo about his sexuality, with the Social-Democratic (SPD) press in particular proving especially dogged in their attempts to whip up a political scandal out of Röhm’s private liaisons. In 1931 the Berlin police, looking for material with which to charge Röhm, raided Heimsoth’s lawyer’s office and confiscated three letters Röhm had written to his friend. These were promptly leaked to the SPD, who in March 1932 – only days before the Presidential election – began disseminating the letters in pamphlet form to influential public figures. The man responsible for this act was Helmut Klotz, an ex-National Socialist (and a fairly high-ranking one; Klotz had even taken part in Hitler’s 1923 putsch) who had converted to reformist-Marxism and become a committed antifascist sometime in the late 1920s. Röhm did what he could legally to try and go after Klotz by pursuing the man through the courts, but his efforts proved fruitless. Unlike some of the previous “exposés” the SPD had published about him, the letters Klotz was printing were demonstrably real – Röhm never denied that they were (and even openly admitted their veracity to others in the NSDAP), a fact repeatedly noted by the courts, who after several failed appeals by Röhm ultimately decreed that it was within the public interest for Klotz to inform Germany about Röhm’s personal habits. By September 1932 Klotz was thus publishing and selling the ‘Röhm letters’ under the title Der Fall Röhm, and the damage had been done – Hitler had publicly defended Röhm in the scandal which the affair had whipped up, but Röhm now had many passionate, bitter enemies within the NSDAP who were dedicated to his downfall. A translation of the three letters from Klotz’s pamphlet is provided below; they offer a remarkable (perhaps even humanizing) insight into the private life of a very unique and still very controversial public figure.
Röhm’s First Letter
Munich, Herzogstraße 4/3.
Dear Dr. Heimsoth!1
My heartiest greetings! You understand me completely! Naturally, with the paragraph on morality, I am above all attacking §175.2 But do you mean that it is not expressed clearly enough? I had a more detailed explanation of the subject in the first draft; but I changed it to the current version on the advice of friends, who assure me that this kind of writing is more effective.
You are doing me an injustice, I believe, with the accusation that I shy away from “compulsory beliefs”3 regarding marriage.
I am engaged in the fiercest conflict with Herr Alfred Rosenberg, that clownish moral athlete. His articles are also above all directed at my corner; because I make no secret of my disposition. From this you may gather that even National Socialist circles have had to get used to this criminal peculiarity of mine. Incidentally, I also work with Herr Radszuweit,4 and am of course a member of his association.
I would very much like to meet Blüher.5
I am of course extremely interested in your book, for which I would like to express my warmest thanks, as well as for your dear words. Thus far I have only been able to read a little of it; but frankly: it is a bit too difficult for me. Can’t you blasted doctors write in German, why must you always use academic foreign words which a mere mortal cannot understand!
Tomorrow I travel to Berlin and will be staying at the “Stuttgarter Hof.” If we could see each other (I’ll be in B. until Friday), please let me know at the hotel. I would be very pleased to meet and to be able to chat with you for a few hours.
I thank you once more for your words, and am quite devoted to you.
* * *
Röhm’s Second Letter
Lieutenant Colonel in the General Staff
Estado Mayor General, Casilla 70.
La Paz, Bolivia.
Dear Dr. Heimsoth!
To be honest, I did not want to write to you until I had your manuscript, which you sent to Munich, in my hands. Count du Moulin,6 who has probably notified you in the meantime, had until now only sent me your friendly words. But now I have finished reading your enthralling book, which you originally sent to me, and I would like to pay you my thanks at once for this by means of giving you a review from here. Your book is absolutely fabulous, and has opened up completely new insights for me. I do not believe that there is any publication which handles the subject with such intelligence and force. Your style, once you get into it, is also quite superb. I wish you every success, from the bottom of my heart; admittedly, I would like to wish even more that your arguments might be heard “in the enemy camp.”
But you also only have yourself to blame if your book has inspired me to make a request. Evidently you have incredible experience in the fixing of “constellations.”7 Couldn’t you attempt mine too, sometime? I was born in Munich on 28th November 1887, at 1 o’clock in the morning. This way, perhaps, I might someday work out where I actually stand on this. Quite frankly, I don’t really know for sure. I imagine that I am homosexual, but I only really “discovered” this in 1924. I can also remember a number of same-sex feelings and acts back to my childhood, but I also had intercourse with many women. Admittedly, never with particular pleasure; I also acquired three doses of the clap, which I later regarded as nature’s punishment for unnatural intercourse. Today all women are an abomination to me, particularly those who pursue me with their love; and of those, unfortunately, there are quite a number. On the other hand, I cling to my mother and my sister with all my heart. My sister is 7 years older than me, my brother 8. I cannot muster up any particularly deep feelings for my father, nor for my brother. My father died in March 1926. I think that’s all you really need to know. And you are aware of my destiny up until now anyway, to some extent. So I’m dying for an assessment from you. Does this make you very angry? I hope not.
I don’t have too much to report from here. I am very happy that I was pulled out of the Munich atmosphere for a while. Here I am forced to learn and create new things, and can thus test whether or not my mind is still receptive. When it comes to work, I am contented; in due course I believe I will be able to benefit from it. I don’t want to consider getting close to other colleagues until a later date, when I have integrated myself. I can handle the mountain climate – La Paz is situated 3,600[m] above sea level – quite well. I am living and eating good and German. So, everything would be fine if I wasn’t lacking in love objects. I did bring a companion with me, a 19-year-old Munich painter. I am very devoted to him, just as he is with me; when he is away on a study trip, as he is now, I miss him terribly. I miss him always! But he is out of the question when it comes to any sexual acts; not only because he has no inclination for it – he believes he has to satisfy girls – but also because, strangely enough, I have no desire for it, even though he is certainly a very handsome little rascal. (I wouldn’t have brought him with me, otherwise).
After all the careful investigations I have conducted so far, it seems that the type of activity which I prefer is quite unknown here. When you lock on to somebody, he cannot even imagine what you want. There is such a total lack of understanding prevailing here that I have no idea what I should even do. Yet when you walk down the street you would think that everyone must be gay. According to local custom, the – by the way, often very handsome – boys all go about clinging tightly together and embrace each other by way of greeting, which of course I found doubly irritating. I also cautiously sounded out my Spanish teacher; he too stated that this does not exist in La Paz. In Buenos Aires certainly, but the trip there and back takes at least 10 days and costs over 1,000 Marks; now here I stand, poor fool that I am, and don’t know what I should do at all.8 I think sadly back to beautiful Berlin, where one can be so happy. Advise me, dear Doctor, how I can help myself. There are still at least 2 years until my first vacation; I will keep up my attempts to spread some culture here; though whether or not it will be successful, I am beginning to have my doubts.
Naturally there are brothels here in abundance, and everyone rushes to them. But I get nothing out of that. 400 Germans are also based here; but don’t ask me what kind; until now I have been living very reclusively; in the evenings I always make my so far unfortunately unsuccessful forays through all the districts of La Paz. It truly makes one weep. I had to convey this cry of pain to you so that you would not believe that I am living here in the purest paradise. Probably there is no other option left than to allow a “friend” from Germany to come join me. Hopefully you will afford me the pity due me in my dismal situation. But I’ve talked about myself long enough.
How are you doing? How is your book going? Has it achieved the success it deserves? And what news of the “Movement”?9 What of Berlin?
If you can find the time amidst all your hard work to write a few lines, I would be most grateful to you. Apart from the constellation, of course, which I most definitely do expect. Should you still require further material for this, Count du Moulin will certainly be able to assist you.
I hope you have not frozen to death in the meantime; the news is really very alarming.10 It is currently the rainy season here; but when it is not raining, it is pleasantly warm. Basically, the temperature here is probably like ours is in early summer. It is only supposed to be cold in the winter evenings, i.e. June to August.
You will have likely received the various greetings which I arranged for you from friends in Berlin. I would be interested to know whether personal acquaintanceships are the result. I would be curious to hear your opinion on the chamber singer Hanns Beer,11 whom I referred to you. In my opinion, this man is truly a little overly nervous because of what the world calls his unfortunate predisposition. For my part, I still have to make up for the fact that I am not absolutely unhappy about my preference and am perhaps even a little proud of it inside, even if it has caused me considerable difficulties at times. At least, I believe so. I hope to see more clearly on this, too, once I’ve heard your verdict. I have to add that one of my quirks is – as you would have probably found out for yourself, incidentally – that I let doctors influence me like a child when I have some trust in them. You will certainly feel that I have this confidence in you. But now we come to the end.
I hope that du Moulin has set the matter of Police Commissioner Bauer12 into motion.
I greet you from the bottom of my heart.
Please let me hear from you as soon as possible.
I urgently await your response.
With comradely handshake,
* * *
Röhm’s Third Letter
My dear Doctor Heimsoth!
Well, well, so you were in Paris and checked that everything was going well there. And apparently had quite a good conversation there, too, albeit in Russian. My belated congratulations. Be glad that you are not here in Bolivia; because here all their artistry would probably be ruined. As a matter of fact, after great efforts I have managed to shift things around here to some extent, and with modest concessions one is able to live. But outside – caramba, there really is nothing to be desired in any of their art. Naturally this unfortunate condition extends right across Bolivia, ironically enough; in Peru and Chile (around the coast) I hear that things are supposed to be fairly decent.13 And that’s how I’ve been living since mid-June, with only a 3-day break in La Paz – all by myself. I was in Sucre for 5 weeks, together there with my young friend – who is unfortunately off limits (he has now gone to Santa Cruz for study purposes, invited by a Catholic priest, who unfortunately will also suffer a disappointment in that particular department; because he probably only invited him for that specific reason) – and now I’ll be stuck here, in this cold and windy pig’s sty on the border, until the end of August. In Sucre, as with here, I inspect the local infantry regiments, manage all the exercises and arrange all the drills, and conclude by always following up with an extensive critique. You’d surely like all the very young, fresh lieutenants, too… out of the question, of course.
Or would you prefer young Negros in uniform? There are a few of those, too. As I said, now I just have to remain patient until I am back in La Paz, where I am temporarily provided for. That’s if I don’t make a sortie from here to the Chilean coast at the end of the month. So, now you know almost everything about my personal life, although I still have to mention that my sexual drive has not only not diminished, but has perhaps more likely increased. My most heartfelt thanks for your drafting of the horoscope. I was extraordinarily interested in everything, even if I don’t see things quite so clearly in regards to you know what as previously. But, in the end, it’s the substance which I enjoy. I was somewhat surprised by your assessment concerning my attitude towards my job. Honestly, I’ve never felt that I don’t give a shit, quite the opposite. But every horoscope will arguably be subject to fluctuations in certain points. And, after all, it’s presumably only a general indication.
What you write about Berlin has reawakened all my longing for that unique city. Lord, I’m already counting the days until I can be there again, and I really want to save up while I’m here, if only that is possible, so that I can enjoy life once I am back. The bath house there is still, in my view, the peak of all human happiness. At any rate, the type and manner of intercourse there pleased me exceptionally. Please convey especially warm greetings to Frenzel; also, do the same if you see my other illicit acquaintances again – my ideal type – in the baths or the steam room. And then pass on heartfelt greetings to our mutual friend Fritz Schirmer and, on my behalf (unfortunately), give him a kiss. Since you are now, or so I hope, happily married to him, I of course urgently advise against a change of residence and any associated divorce which might thereby result from this. By the way, I must emphatically complain that your husband (or wife?) did not enclose a picture of himself. One is highly receptive to such things here. (In connection with this, incidentally, I would like to sincerely ask you: you once showed me such a captivatingly beautiful picture collection of pertinent scenes. Should you have any spare little pictures in this respect, or if you could acquire them for me, then please send me some. I will be eternally grateful to you). But now to Fritzen’s14 idea to go out into the world. I can only really advise against this in the “warmest,” friendliest manner. Accommodation for a young man in Bolivia, for example, is virtually impossible to find. And when it comes to Chile, things are not much better. The whole commercial market (and anything else is probably out of the question) is so overcrowded that hundreds of people who have made reservations in their homeland cannot think of obtaining a position here. Naturally, I’ve forgone a few myself. Moreover, the pay for young people is completely inadequate. Especially from the German companies, which are influential here. So I will likely have to postpone the reunion with my new friend Fritz until I – probably at the end of 1930 – return to Germany on vacation or for good.
So, now allow me to once more send my wistful greetings to Berlin, and also let me greet you, dear Doctor Heimsoth, with special warmth. I was forwarded your letter with some considerable delay; it always takes an eternity for things to be delivered here. I hope to receive your next letter promptly at the beginning of October in La Paz, where I will be back almost permanently from September 1st onwards. By way of photos this time, unfortunately, I can only enclose my latest, modest likeness, as well as a picture of the La Paz Colegio Militar (Cadet Corps). I am just glad that you are not a physician in this – reasonably good – institution.
With heartfelt handshake,
1. Dr. Karl-Günter Heimsoth (b.1899 – d.1934) was a völkisch-nationalist physician and writer who, like Röhm, had been an enthusiastic participant both in the First World War and in the post-War Freikorps movement. Heimsoth was also, like Röhm, an open homosexual; he was associated with the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen (‘Society of Individuals’), a nationalist-tinged homosexual literary/activist circle, and conceived of his support for fascistic ideologies as being directly linked to his sexual preference. Heimsoth saw the male-male bonding inherent to the armed forces, völkisch paramilitaries, etc., as the basis for a future authoritarian Männerstaat (male-dominated state), one which would be sexually fluid and openly accepting of homoerotic male love. Heimsoth shared with Röhm an aversion for the more mainstream homosexual rights movement associated with activist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld – both men rejected Hirschfeld’s Jewishness and the “effeminacy” of the dominant homosexual subculture, preferring instead a male-male sexuality which was rooted in a nationalistic toughness and virile, athletic masculinity. Heimsoth was not a member of the NSDAP when he first made contact with Röhm in late 1928. He joined Otto Strasser’s ‘Fighting Community of Revolutionary National-Socialists’ in 1930, then left the Strasser-group for the Communist Party (KPD) in 1931, associating especially with the KPD’s nationalist-leaning Aufbruch circle. Heimsoth finally ended up in the NSDAP in 1933, but was viewed with suspicion by the Gestapo, who believed he was engaging in espionage for the Communists. He was taken into “protective custody” in March 1934 and disappeared not long after; it is believed he was murdered by the NS-controlled Berlin police.
2. This is a reference to the infamous Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, which read: “Unnatural fornication which is committed between persons of the male sex, or between persons with beasts, is to be punished with imprisonment; loss of civil rights may also result.” This provision (as with much of the rest of the Code) had been inherited from the legal system of the German Empire. Heimsoth’s first letter to Röhm, the one which Röhm is replying to here, had been prompted by a passage in Röhm’s 1928 memoirs Die Geschichte eines Hochverräters (‘The Story of a High Traitor’) which Heimsoth took to be a subtle attack on §175, something that Röhm confirms. The passage in question from Röhm’s book goes as follows: “If the state thinks it can regulate human instincts or divert them along other channels by force of law, that seems to me so amateurish and inappropriate that it does not surprise me to find that the lawmakers of this state are also the defenders of the social order… [T]he battle against hypocrisy, deceit, and the falseness of this society must begin with one’s very own natural instincts from the cradle, as it were. Only then can the battle be pursued successfully for all. If the struggle is successful in this area, then the mask can be torn away from all areas of human social and legal order. Then many outcasts of modern society will no longer sit in prison, and attention can be given to ways and means of restricting the activities of the real criminals.”
4. “Herr Radszuweit” is Friedrich Radszuweit (b.1876 – d.1932), a German publisher and activist who was the head of the Bund für Menschenrecht (‘League for Human Rights’), one of Germany’s most active gay rights organizations at the time. Röhm was not only a member of Radszuweit’s League, but Radszuweit also defended Röhm publicly during the 1932 scandal over Röhm’s sexuality, writing in one of his publications: “This trust that Hitler has placed in Röhm actually honors Hitler in a way… and shows us that Hitler views sexual orientation as more of a private matter than one would have formerly assumed.”
5. Hans Blüher (b.1888 – d.1955) was a conservative-revolutionary writer and philosopher. Blüher had come out of the Wandervogel youth movement and so was considered part of the bündisch intellectual-political milieu; from this background he picked up elitist ideals, developing a worldview that was avowedly anti-democratic, anti-Semitic, monarchist, and supportive of a form of authoritarian aristocracy. Blüher, who was not gay himself, is most well-known for his theory that a deep-rooted, instinctive, homosexual impulse (a “male-male Eros“) was what bound together male brotherhoods like the Wandervogel, nationalist paramilitaries, etc., and that it was this homosexual impulse which caused action-oriented young men to rally around a central charismatic Leader-figure.
6. Count Karl Leon du Moulin-Eckart (b.1900 – d.1991) was a war veteran, Freikorps fighter, and longtime friend of Röhm’s. He was an early member of the NSDAP as well as a participant in the Beer Hall Putsch, and during the 1930s he became a senior figure in the SA leadership, as well as head of the “Ic Division,” the SA’s intelligence service. While Röhm was in Bolivia between 1928-30 he left du Moulin in charge of managing his affairs, including taking care of his mother and maintaining his contacts with friends, colleagues, and the Bolivian embassy in Berlin.
7. “Constellations” – i.e. horoscopes. Heimsoth believed that astrology, combined with psychological techniques, could be useful for determining the scope of one’s sexuality. Dabbling in astrology was not uncommon among German nationalists. The völkisch movement was an offshoot of the broader Lebensreformbewegung (“life-reform movement”), and the adherents of both shared a certain inclination towards ‘esoteric’ or alternative ideas: astrology, dowsing, homeopathy, herbalism, nudism, vegetarianism, fortune-telling, paganism, nature-worship, meditation, Tibetan Buddhism, Native American spirituality, etc. The similarities with the later ‘New Age’ movement which emerged in the West in the 1970s are somewhat intriguing.
10. The winter of 1928-29 was one of the coldest winters in German history. For months temperatures hovered around -25C, leaving lakes and even stretches of the Baltic and North seas frozen for many weeks. Germany already had two million unemployed at the time, and the harsh winter made things incredibly difficult for a nation already suffering economically, even before the onset of the Great Depression at the end of 1929.
11. Hanns Beer was a tenor, and was skilled enough to perform in Tristan and Isolde at the 1928 Bayreuth Festival. He was one of a number of Röhm’s artist friends. Despite his martial background and his masculine, rough-around-the-edges comportment, Röhm had artistic leanings; he enjoyed playing the piano, read classic German literature, and shared Hitler’s love for Wagner and for opera in general.
12. From what I have been able to determine, Police Commissioner (Polizeirat) Bauer was the head of the Reichswehr’s counter-intelligence division. I am not sure what matter specifically Röhm is referring to here.
13. I suspect that the previous few lines in this paragraph are innuendo, but I am not 100% sure. Röhm describing “shifting things around” in order to be “able to live,” in conjunction with his mention in the next paragraph of being “temporarily provided for” in La Paz, makes me think that he had managed to organize a live-in-lover for himself (perhaps brought over from Germany, as he mused about doing in his previous letter) to keep him company. The talk about artistry etc. could equally be veiled language – or perhaps Röhm just genuinely hated Bolivian art.