The Röhm Scandal

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
December, 1928

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 German, why must you always use academic foreign words which a mere mortal cannot understand! Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: Röhm’s Rise and Fall

Röhm triumphant, and Röhm in ruins – nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s experience of the rise and fall of the SA Chief-of-Staff

 Two of the most interesting sections of Ernst von Salomon’s novel Der Fragebogen recount the author’s experiences with SA Chief-of-Staff Ernst Röhm. von Salomon met Röhm at least a couple of times in his life, and associated with a number of people who were close to the Brownshirt leader; von Salomon’s Freikorps membership and his role in the Fememord of Walter Rathenau seems to have created a mutual sense of soldierly respect between the two men, even if they were not close. In the first section of Der Fragebogen reproduced below, von Salomon recounts his chance encounter with Röhm on a train shortly after the National Socialist Machtergreifung (the ‘seizure of power’). Röhm’s depiction there, triumphant and celebratory, is in stark contrast to von Salomon’s more distant depiction of him in the second excerpt. That section of the novel consists of von Salomon’s account of Röhm’s fall, his murder during the Blood Purge of ’34. In this second, longer extract, von Salomon first recounts the shock and horror he experienced at Röhm’s demise, particularly while listening to Hitler’s infamous radio address on the subject. The author then transitions into a description of a meeting with Dr. Walter Luetgebrune, with the Herr Doktor providing his own insights into Röhm’s fall and the reality behind the ‘Night of the Long Knives.’ Luetgebrune, a völkisch-nationalist lawyer who legally defended numerous members of the National Socialist, Landvolk, and national-revolutionary movements, was an intimate of Röhm’s and the chief legal adviser to the SA and SS; he was himself arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of involvement in the ‘Röhm Putsch.’

Röhm’s Rise (‘Der Fragebogen’, Section B):

…I went back to Berlin, not in order to watch the glory of the National-Socialist seizure of power, but because I wanted to talk to Rowohlt about my book, The Cadets. I’d been working at it all the time I was in Vienna. I had to, I had to give myself the counter-weight of Prussia. I’ve no idea how I ever managed to get it done. I’d sit over my manuscript in the evening, and outside the musicians would sing their sad songs… about how there’d be a Vienna and we’d be dead, there’d be girls and we’d be dead… and when I stopped writing towards dawn I could be sure that outside somebody would be singing about how one day it’ll all be over and about tombs and coffins… I had to have The Cadets as an antidote to the whole macabre atmosphere down there.

I went to Berlin by way of Munich, where I had to change trains. On Munich station I acquired a powerful escort of brown-shirts, headed by Ernst Röhm. He was going to Berlin, so I went with him. Röhm recognised me, though we had not met since August, 1922, shortly before I went to gaol.

“Where have you come from?” he asked, while his clanking escort gazed at me respectfully.

“France, Spain and Austria,” I replied smartly. He took me into his compartment and I admired the handsome overcoat he was wearing, and his brown silk shirt, and his perfectly tailored breeches.

“Yes,’ he said with satisfaction, “the days are over when we had to run about dressed like scarecrows.”

Röhm and his people were drunk with the assurance of victory. Later they became drunk on something else. Bottle after bottle was respectfully passed into the compartment with the remark: “For the chief of staff.” We knocked the necks off them and drank.

“You’ll be joining us, of course!” Röhm said. Continue reading