Protecting the Führer, from the Stabswache to the Leibstandarte

In SS organisation on April 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm

SS organisation

This essay intends to outline historical development of various bodyguard formations protecting the NSDAP party leader and later Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, ending up with the establishment of the SS-Leibstandarte in 1933.

The essay is dedicated to a certain important person in my life. Without her support and incentive this might not have been written. Thank you Tytti – or should I say ”Norrwyn” for being there.

Bugler of the early "Adolf Hitler Standarte"

Early banner of the "Adolf Hitler Standarte"

Introduction – Enter the Black Hussars

In 1740, the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm I died in Berlin at the age of 51. To honour the memory of the late regent, the recently formed Prussian elite cavalry units were dressed in black and donned the Totenkopf, the symbolic Death’s Head in their headgear for the first time in German military history. Ever since the black uniforms and death-defying imagery of these Leibhusaren were closely associated to soldierly virtues of unquestionable loyalty and willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the empire. Although the tactical importance of cavalry slowly faded away in favour of modern infantry and armored units, this spiritual concept of fearless military elite contemptuous of death resurfaced during the First World War with the appearance of trench-storming troops on the Western Front known as Sturmabteilungen. Contemporary nationalist authors such as Walter Flex and Ernst Jünger became renowned of sharing their experiences of continuous austerity and rare comradeship of trench warfare. In a sense, these storm troops of the First World War became spiritual predecessors of the later Waffen-SS and to a certain extent, both the SA and the SS. After the German defeat, period of internal unrest and territorial disputes brought the Freikorps, combat groupings of ex-servicemen led by their old unit commanders, to the limelight. Many of the numerous Freikorps emerging all over Germany adopted Imperial insignia as their emblems of identity, especially favouring such striking symbols as the Totenkopf. This added the associations of anti-communism and counter-revolution to already existing traits behind the grim symbol.

1923: from the Munich Stabswache to the Stosstrupp Hitler

Spring 1923 is the first date when it can be considered that a distinct bodyguard formation was set up to provide security for the party leader of the NSDAP, Adolf Hitler. Prior to that time, there was no specific organization within the party or its associated groupings solely assigned to that task, although ever since the famous Hofbräuhaus beer stain battle of 1921 certain individuals like Emil Maurice, Ulrich Graf, Christian Weber and Rudolf Hess had more or less assumed the role of a bodyguard.

After appointment of the former captain and fighter ace Hermann Göring as the commander of the SA, the paramilitary arm of the Nazi party, in March 1923 a separate bodyguard unit was set up to protect the ever-endangered person of the controversial party leader. Julius Schreck, aged 24 and a veteran of distinguished Freikorps von Epp, was given command over this ca. 20-men strong unit, titled in military fashion as the Stabswache, Staff Guard.

This first Stabswache was soon incorporated into another recent formation, the Stosstrupp Hitler (Hitler Shock Troop) which was formed in May 1923 as part of the Munich SA regiment. Stosstrupp Hitler was commanded by Schreck and Josef Berchtold, a reserve lieutenant and one-time cashier of the party. Initially the Stosstrupp had only some 20 members but grew to an almost company-sized unit of roughly 100 men by late Fall 1923. Members of the Stosstrupp assumed the Torbräu public house near Isartor in central Munich as their unofficial quarters.

The first and the only actual ”battle engagement” of the Stosstrupp took place during the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, November 1923. Wearing a mixture of old uniforms and grey windcheater jackets along with steel helmets, Stosstrupp troopers appeared as the spearhead of the coup attempt. Events of this ill-famed episode are thoroughly covered in literature and are thus passed to stay in the focus of the essay, however it must be said that the Stosstrupp suceeded in its assigned mission of safeguarding the life of their high leader, although this was more due to chance than anything else. When the Bavarian state police, grouped in battle formation in front of the Feldherrnhalle opened fire against the marching columns of the Nazi revolutionaries, Ulrich Graf saved Hitler’s life by throwing himself in front of him. Graf took six bullets and miraculously survived.

1925: the ”Protective Squadrons”, founding of the Schutzstaffel

As the aftermath of the Putsch, the already dispersed NSDAP was banned and the responsible leaders sentenced to prison terms. Upon his release from the Landsberg prison in December 1924, Hitler proceeded to recreate the party. The security issues were again topical and now it was decided that a permanent body within the SA should be tasked with that. Julius Schreck re-emerged as the commander and in November 1925 this new formation was named Schutzstaffel (initially in a plural form, Schutzstaffeln), a ”Protective Squadron” with its name taken from air warfare terminology, referring to fighters escorting bombers. To emphasize the standing nature of this new grouping, it was gradually given a specific identity by adopting black ski caps, the traditional Totenkopf emblem and black trousers with the traditional Nazi brownshirt in order to be distinguished from the rest of the SA. Initially local SS units were composed of a leader and 10 men each and were responsible of the security of the higher party leaders during their visits and campaigning. A single most remarkable turning point in the history of the SS was the appointment of Heinrich Himmler as the supreme commander, Reichsführer-SS in 1929. After that the SS began a rapid expansion and increasingly took shape as a conscious paramilitary elite with its own ideology and far more generic role than that of a pure bodyguard unit. This combined with the overall simultaneous growth of the Nazi movement called for a division of labor within the SS as well.

Already since the late 1920s a certain man had occupied the post of Hitler’s chief bodyguard. Josef ”Sepp” Dietrich, born in 1892 in Hawangen in Swabia, had been an artillery sergeant and a member of one of the first armored units of the Imperial Army, earning the rare tank battle badge in 1918. After the First World War he had joined the Bavarian state police and served for 7 years in an armored car platoon near Munich. A short, sturdy Bavarian of solid Freikorps background and a reliable yet rough character, he had become acquainted with Hitler in the 1920s. Due to his position as the commander of the SS in Upper Bavaria since 1929 he by and by assumed an unofficial bodyguard role. Apparently also men from his SS unit served in this capacity rather frequently, mostly due to the fact that the Nazi party was still centered in Munich. From now on, Dietrich would have a hand in all security procedures around Hitler and this special role of his began to diminish only in the mid-1930s when he and his Leibstandarte were firmly set on military footing rather than that of the security unit.

In the early 1930s, due to increased dangers presented by the heated political climate – both from the opposing parties and also within the own ranks of the Nazis – the personal security of the party leadership began to require considerably more attention than before.

1932: emerging of the SS-Begleitkommando

In the beginning of 1932 it was decided that security precautions around the NSDAP leader needed to be tightened and a full-time guard detail was formed to provide close protection wherever Hitler went during the hasty campaigning days, either by car or by plane. This unit was known as the Escort Command, SS-Begleitkommando (SSBK) and Hitler himself together with Himmler and Sepp Dietrich picked 8 men from 12 candidates in a meeting held in Hitler’s then Berlin headquarters in hotel Kaiserhof. Although Dietrich as the number one bodyguard had the overall command, Sturmführer Bodo Gelzenleuchter, was initially appointed to head the detail. Such later famous figures as Erich Kempka, Bruno Gesche, Kurt Gildisch and Franz Schädle were among these first permanent bodyguards. It should be noted that the men of the Begleitkommando – still in 1932 civilians in the eyes of the authorities – had private gun permits and always appeared armed, wearing either civilian clothes, SS uniforms or motorcycle coveralls depending of circumstances. Even though some of the Begleitkommando members were former professional policemen, they were generally regarded as amateurs by their later detective colleagues of the Reich Security Service. Nevertheless, Hitler who favoured loyalty over merit held them in high esteem and they enjoyed a priviledged position right until the end of the Third Reich. In 1933, the Begleitkommando was expanded and attached to the Leibstandarte. All private valets, drivers, orderlies and even telephone operators such as Rochus Misch serving in vicinity of the later Chancellor Hitler officially belonged to the Begleitkommando.

Early 1933: the ”Chancellory Guard” is formed

The earliest incarnation of officially recognized armed SS units were those detailed as auxiliary police in Prussia in February 1933 under the new Minister of the Interior, Göring. These units were set up subsequently in other German states as well as the Nazis assumed control of state governments. This 50 000 strong auxiliary force recruited from the SA, SS and Stahlhelm was officially intended to strengthen the regular police forces in the tumultuous atmosphere of expected revolt and civil war. However, the reality on the street level saw Hilfspolizei units mainly furthering the Nazi cause by means of intimidation and pressure in light of the upcoming parlamentary elections in March. Most of the police auxiliaries were non-paid part-timers from regional SA units and far from being in control of the local authorities as was intended but from the beginning also more specialized and disciplined full-time units were established. The very first of these was Hilfspolizei der (SA) Gruppe Berlin-Brandenburg, the nucleus of the later SA-Feldjägerkorps which came into being in early March.

Soon thereafter another specialist formation was set up in Berlin. On March 17th, Gruppenführer Sepp Dietrich was given a new assignment to assume command of a unit called Stabswache Berlin with initial reported strength of 117, all ranks. According to Rudolf Lehmann who was among the Leibstandarte recruits of 1933, most of these men were not members of units previously under Dietrich’s command nor even Bavarians as is often claimed but recruited from all SS districts during February and early March. Apparently Dietrich himself made the final choices from the prepared lists. Of these guardsmen of the first hour, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, three eventually ended up commanding Waffen-SS divisions. From the listing reproduced here, one can spot such names as Martin Kohlroser, Heinz Linge, Wilhlem Mohnke, Albin von Reitzenstein, Otto Reich, Theodor Wisch and Fritz Witt, all of later fame and some of notoriety as well.

It can be safely assumed that this private palace guard was founded on orders of the new Reich Chancellor who could not and would not trust his personal security in the hands of the existing organs, the Prussian police and the ”army of 100 000”, the Reichswehr, which he regarded as remnants of the Republic. The appearance of such a unit – an officially sanctioned and recognized Pretorian Guard staffed by a political paramilitary organization marked a clear watershed in the Prussian tradition of guarding the head of state which up to that moment had been a duty exclusively reserved to the state bodies alone.

In the beginning the Stabswache Berlin was technically part of the Polizeiabteilung Wecke, a barracked police battalion set up by Göring in February, as one of the preparing moves against the anticipated communist uprising. It was named after its commander, then police major Walter Wecke who had directed the purge of Prussian police of politically unreliable elements. All members of this unit, mainly recruited from the politically active in ranks of the Berlin police were considered exceptionally loyal to the new regime. Both Abteilung Wecke and the SS-Stabswache were initially quartered in the so called ”Friesenkaserne” on Friesenstrasse in Kreuzberg district of Berlin, opposite the Tempelhof airport. This barracks area still exists and is even today in use of the Berlin police.

In terms of authority, SS men of the Stabswache had auxiliary police status and the unit was seen as a full-time police formation being trained and later assigned to guard and security duties of the new Chancellor but especially during Spring 1933 it also participated in regular police operations such as raids and searches in and around Berlin, mainly directed against the communist activity. This association with the police rather than the army was deliberate and can also be seen in the fact that the first military instructors of the unit came from the Schutzpolizei.

Leibstandarte taking shape

The Prussian cadet institute, Hauptkadettenanstalt, in southwestern Lichterfelde suburb of Berlin was opened in 1878 and provided military education to select group of youths aged 14 to 17. After the First World War in accordance with the Versailles Treaty, the militarized education programme had to be turned down and the old cadet academy was converted to a civilian boarding school. In the late 1920s, some of the buildings stood empty since the number of pupils had steadily dropped. During Spring 1933, Hermann Göring – who himself had once attended this same Kadettenanstalt – arranged that military traditions would again enter the silent parade grounds of Lichterfelde. In April, both the Wecke police unit and the SS-Stabswache, in the meantime renamed Sonderkommando Berlin, moved in. Abteilung Wecke occupied the western part of the barracks compound while the SS took the eastern part along Theklastrasse. With the new quarters available and financing secured, Sepp Dietrich now proceeded to expand his unit at considerable pace. The Wecke police unit was enlarged as well, renamed Landespolizeigruppe General Göring and acquired a character of an army regiment rather than a police unit. It ended up becoming part of the new Luftwaffe in 1935.

Soon new recruit training units titled Sonderkommandos, Special Commands, were set up in army training depots at Zossen and Jüterbog near Berlin to strengthen the embryonic guard unit. By late Summer 1933, the once company-sized auxiliary police unit had turned to an independent fully armed infantry battalion with its own band and motor troops. It stood guard in front of the Reich Chancellery and Hitler’s Alpine resort, Berghof. Later also aiports of the capital and certain ministries and government buildings were added to the list of its guard posts.

In August 1933, the troublesome auxiliary police units were disbanded on Göring’s orders. SS Sonderkommandos in and outside Berlin were nevertheless allowed to remain with their funding soon turned over to the Reich Government, enabling their continuous growth. With these decisions, the seeds of the upcoming Waffen-SS were firmly sown. Against Hitler’s declarations to conservatives and representatives of foreign powers, armed SA and SS had become a third entity besides the army and the police as bearer of arms in Germany.

In the annual Nazi party rally in September 1933 the three Berlin-based Sonderkommandos had their first public parade display which was immortalized by Leni Riefenstahl on her lesser known documentary film ”Sieg des Glaubens”. This diligently drilled performance with the marching band and endless goose-stepping rows of remarkably tall ”asphalt soldiers” wearing black from boots to helmets became a regular and much-awaited highlight of the event. During the party rally the Berlin Sonderkommandos grouped together were renamed Adolf-Hitler-Standarte and received the first unit banner, which bore Hitler’s name. The unit’s first year ended with yet another renaming, this time receiving its final designation, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH), during the rememberance ceremony of the failed Munich putsch. At midnight on November 9th 1933, 835 men of the Sepp Dietrich’s Leibstandarte stood in formation on the Odeonsplatz and swore their oath of loyalty to Hitler in the light of burning torches – only 21 had used the given opportunity to refuse and were discharged on honourable terms. This promise of ”obedience unto death” was to bind some of them right until the end of the 12-year realm.


The riddle of the “Devil”

In Persons, SS organisation on April 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Persons SS organisation

July 1st, 1934. An elusive fellow has received instructions to meet with a contact person on Bülowstrasse. Most probably he has no real suspicions, although it cannot have escaped him that something alarming is going on. Perhaps he assumes that this assignment has something to do with that. The next day his dead body is found from Grunewald forest, some 10 kilometers from the centre of Berlin – a favourite recreation spot for Berliners and the largest green area in the German capital.

Who was this unfortunate fellow named Othmar Toifl – his surname phonetically translates to “Teufel”, “Devil” – and what was the motive behind his killing? Not much is known of his private life, let alone childhood and youth – the main source being his short autobiography, Lebenslauf, being part of his NSDAP and SS personnel files.

Toifl was born as Othmar Berthold (alternatively Berchtold) in 1898 in a tiny Lower Austrian town of Herzogenburg. He went to school until the age of 17 when he began working as an apprentice to a Viennese baker. In 1917 he was drafted to the Austrian army but due to abdominal problems, Toifl managed to avoid front postings. After the war, he moved to Germany and somehow found a job as an informer to the police and military authorities of the new republic. In 1920, he married a young Berlin woman, Ida Helene Ranke. They had two children, a girl was born the same year and a boy only a year later.

The year 1930 was tumultous for the national socialists in Berlin. The leader of the Berlin SA, Walter Stennes, led his men to a short-lived mutiny against Hitler and the Munich-based headquarters of the NSDAP. The eastern SA had accumulated bitterness and frustration towards Hitler who had preferred – at least nominally – more law-abiding line which was interpreted diminishing the importance of functionally independent SA. Although the situation was grave, Hitler managed to persuade Stennes and his men to lay down their revolt and the matter was settled for a while. Othmar Toifl, who had joined Berlin branch of the NSDAP in September of the same year and received the membership number 312 782, leaned with Stennes to some extent. Albeit he later revised his standing, the stigma stayed and in July 1934, his index card in the Berlin warrants register included the pencil-written remark “Stennesanhänger!” which was probably added after his killing.

In Spring 1931, the SS coined its renowned motto, “Meine Ehre heisst Treue“. It was result of another crisis, known as the second Stennes revolt. On Wednesday, first of April, a group of SA men again led by Stennes violently occupied the NSDAP Berlin headquarters on Hedemannstrasse. Now it was more about Röhm, whom Hitler had appointed the Chief of Staff for the entire SA but also the lack of interest the party leadership allegedly had for resourcing the SA adequately. The enraged Gauleiter Joseph Goebbels was compelled to call the much-loathed Berlin “Schupo”, the Blue Police of the Republic, for assistance. This time Hitler could not forgive Stennes anymore. He was swiftly dismissed from the party and the SA, forced to exile Germany by Fall 1933 and ended up as the head of the bodyguards for Chiang Kai-shek in China! Although the SA mutineers were finally overpowered by the police, the SS had carried out their specific duty: they had remained loyal to their Führer and tried to resist the coup. In a letter of gratitude, sent by Hitler to the head of the Berlin SS, Kurt Daluege, the phrase later reproduced in the SS belt buckles was expressed for the first time.

By now the role played by Toifl was now completely different. As an SS member of the private “intelligence bureau” of Gruppenführer Daluege since October 1931, he had also appeared as a witness in the murder trial of a Hitlerjugend member Herbert Norkus – whose untimely death would later become another martyr myth of the Kampfzeit. Toifl was apparently efficient and devoted in his duty, becoming one of the closest associates of Daluege. His name was beginning to distinguish and his loyalty and standing as a special trustee was to be rewarded later. Simultaneously tragedy struck Toifl family in 1932, when their 10-year old son drowned in Mecklenburg where they resided for most of the time. According to Heinz Höhne, Toifl was possibly involved in raids on cattle dealers in Mecklenburg due to which a search warrant was issued. Höhne doesn’t explain the matter further – nevertheless it appears that it didn’t block Toifl’s later short-lived police career. Perhaps during 1933 Daluege made sure that any undergoing investigations were turned down.

The Prussian political police, Geheimes Staatspolizei[amt] was a new institution without direct predecessors and one of the first institutional creations of the new overlord of Prussia, Prime Minister Hermann Göring. Headed by Rudolf Diels – an opportunistic remnant of Prussian civil service – it was stationed in the former art school on Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse. In April 1933, Diels had received a letter of commendation from Daluege, who had been appointed de-facto chief of Prussian police in the Ministry of Interior. Daluege was asking for a posting to his associate whose financial situation was poor and Diels finally reluctantly accepted in May. Othmar Toifl now entered the ranks of Prussian Gestapo, first as a Kriminal-Angestellte, a low-level position indicating temporary employment. Possibly he was regarded part of the auxiliary police, a 50 000 strong and duly authorized force set up by Göring to supplement the regular police during the turbulent months in anticipation of a communist uprising. Since the author of this essay had not been able to review Toifl’s SSO file at Bundesarchiv, his exact employment details are difficult to trace. It is nonetheless well known that sometime in June he was made the actual commandant of the Columbia-Haus police prison.

Today the only visible reminder of Columbia-Haus is a memorial stone at the corner of Gollsener Strasse and Columbiadamm, right at the eastern end of Tempelhof airport grounds. The prison, being part of a large barracks complex, was built in 1896 as a military gaol for the Imperial German army. By late Spring 1933, the holding facilities at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse had become cramped due to increasing amount of political detainees. At the same time police authorities had observed that opponents of the new regime received too “mild” treatment in regular prisons of Greater Berlin which were still under the traditional Prussian code. To counteract these factors, it was decided to find use for the former military prison which was conveniently located only couple of kilometers away.

Whereas the head of the Berlin SS (SS-Abschnitt III, part of the SS-Gruppe Ost), Oberführer Max Henze, was nominally responsible, it was Toifl who actually ran the new Gestapo prison, titled simply “Columbia-Haus”. First killings of prisoners most probably took place during Fall 1933, followed by more cases on the next Spring. Although on paper under Gestapo jurisdiction, Columbia-Haus had become an independent domain of the Berlin SS, an extra-legal prison where brutal maltreatment of inmates was more a routine than an exception. But tides were now turning for men like Toifl, whose adopted surname Rudolf Diels once underlined as “descriptive of his character”. According to Diels, “…wie zum Symbol war ein Mann namens Toifl der Leiter. Er hatte sich durch nichts anderes als durch Eifer und Sadismus seine dominierende Stellung verschafft”. This personality description should however be taken with some reservation. When his memoirs were published in 1950, the first chief of Gestapo was doing his best to distinguish himself from the likes of Toifl. It was very same Rudolf Diels who had the final word in giving Toifl command over Columbia-Haus and who due to his position must have been aware, at least to a certain degree of events taking place there. As a representative of the bygone regime and not a national socialist, Diels had to play his cards carefully. This included making select concessions and aligning oneself with the various power factors – perhaps this explains his acceptance of an honourary SS membership in Fall 1933. In spite of all, by March 1934 Diels had lost the game. He had to hand over his Gestapo to Himmler and Heydrich, being posted to Cologne as an administrative president. His name was later struck off from the death list by Göring, who still seemed to have momentary loyalty left for his one-time protégé.

The events of the Blood Purge and political developments leading to it had been widely described. It is however still ambiguous, why and how SS-Truppführer and Kriminalkommissar-Anwärter Othmar Toifl, aged 35 years, ended up on the execution list. There are two main theories to follow. The first includes a prerequisite that the burning of the Reichstag in February 1933 was engineered by the national socialists themselves, namely the Berlin SA under Gruppenführer Karl Ernst. Some historians like Fritz Tobias connect Toifl to this episode, suggesting that he did provide some technical assistance or knowledge for the preparations. Another one – and far more likely – is that Toifl simply became more a liability than he was useful.

If this hypothesis is accepted, there is a comparable case to follow to some extent: the fate of three SS men from Stettin who had operated a “private” concentration camp in an abandoned part of the Vulkan shipyard, abusing and blackmailing prisoners. This case with all of its dimensions is worth an essay on its own but to put things short, Sturmführer Dr. Joachim Hoffmann and his cronies had received strict sentences from a Stettin court and consequently had been dismissed from the SS. But that was not enough for Himmler and Göring who, after a year of almost daily uncontrolled violence – were prepared to set a warning example. On June 30th, Hoffmann together with former SS men Fritz Pleines and Gustav Fink were shot on the courtyard of Gollnow prison in Stettin (some sources assert that they were executed in Berlin, though).

By Spring 1934, Toifl had gotten deeper in trouble. He was now under investigation by the Prussian state attorney for attacking a foreign diplomat. That must have been the last straw. It is noteworthy that a co-suspect in this case was a certain SA-Standartenführer Karl Belding, a one-time member of Breslau Gestapo office who also ended up in front of a firing squad.

According to Hans Bernd Gisevius, in the evening of June 30th a telephone rang in the apartment of Toifl family on Körnerstrasse in Steglitz borough of Berlin. Othmar Toifl was asked to report immediately at Gestapo headquarters for an important undercover mission. There he had received further orders to meet with a Gestapo official named Berger on Bülowstrasse during the small hours. Another version relates that he instead received a folded letter through the door with instructions to the meeting point. The only known witness – and associate – for nightly killing of Othmar Toifl, “SS-Scharführer Berger” was living in West-Berlin under another name still in 1967. Most probably he has been never questioned about it.

The next day Toifl’s widow Helene, was asked to identify a body laying in the morgue on Hannoversche Strasse which had been recovered from Grunewald around 3 o’clock on the night of July 1st. Othmar Toifl had been shot dead, his body apparently thrown from a running car. To this day exact circumstances of his death are yet to be uncovered. Besides the above presented theories, his widow had suggested to author Fritz Tobias that Toifl might have had acquired incriminating material against Reinhard Heydrich who was his ultimate superior as the new chief of Gestapo. The “evidence”, it was claimed, dealt with Heydrich’s rumoured Jewish ancestry. This suggestion is contradicted by the fact that his ancenstry was carefully investigated by the NSDAP genealogy office under Dr. Gerke already in 1932 when the suspicion surfaced for the first time. It is nevertheless possible that Toifl had reawakened the matter and even though he probably hasn’t been able to endanger Heydrich’s position by any means, he might have at least attracted his anger.

The story goes that Daluege had later tried to query Himmler for grounds of the murder of his friend and protégé, also asking about the two sealed letters which Toifl was allegedly about to send him but as a response is said to have only received his mugshot from the Berlin police register of wanted persons. For the twelve years of the Third Reich, the Toifl case was now closed with his widow receiving a monthly pension of 150 RM after a long dispute. It will never be known what these letters contained. It is easy to categorize Toifl as a typical mediocre thug figure of the early years of national socialist rule but he clearly had appeared as a real threat to someone and the Blood Purge provided convenient means to get rid of him.

30th June, 1934, part II: The day of the Hummingbird

In SA organisation, SS organisation on June 30, 2009 at 7:45 pm

SA organisation SS organisation

Morgenrot, Morgenrot,
Leuchtest uns zu frühem Tod.

Gestern noch auf stolzem Rossen,
Heute durch die Brust geschossen…

4AM on the night of June 30th, the three-motor Junkers 52 aircraft arriving from Bonn landed at Oberwiesenfeld airport of Munich, the place where today stands the Olympic stadium. The Bavarian capital was quiet and sleeping, although only some hours ago a crowd of 200 to 300 SA men had assembled at Königsplatz and marched around the streets shouting “The Führer is against us! Off to the streets!”. It had been a provoked event, possibly engineered by the SD. The local SA commanders, Obergruppenführer Schneidhuber – who was also the Police president of Munich – and Gruppenführer Schmid managed to calm down the turmoil and tried to find out the origins of the mysterious marching orders.

Unaware of all this, the SA Chief of Staff Ernst Röhm in company of some of his lifelong friends and closest associates had been playing cards (according to the testimony of Robert Bergmann, they played Tarock – a traditional Bavarian game played using Tarot cards) and enjoying the peaceful beauty of Bavarian lakeside at Bad Wiessee of Tegernsee, some 45 kilometers southwest from Munich. He was taking furlough in civilian clothes and local SA was ordered not to take notice of his presence.

By June 1934, Ernst Röhm was a rather tragic figure, who had involuntarily isolated himself almost completely from the circles of power. He had been wounded several times in the First World War, shrapnel having smashed half of his nose and permanently disfigured his face. He was remarkably overweight and suffered of rheumathism, neuralgy and worsening heart problems. Because of that he was directed to take a leave and had retired to Wiessee to recover his health since June 8th. At Pension Hanselbauer, he was under medical care by his personal physician, SA-Gruppenführer Dr. Emil Ketterer, an old confident since the Reichskriegsflagge days.

When the events started to roll in Munich, Röhm was sleeping and was completely off guard. The conference of senior SA leaders with Hitler at Wiessee – providing him with the means to get all important SA personalities to same place – was scheduled for the next day and most were to arrive to Munich by train early in the morning. SA-Obergruppenführer and Police president of Breslau, Edmund Heines, a close friend and rumouredly a former homosexual associate of Röhm, arrived half-past-midnight and spent the night at Wiessee.

Unlike Röhm, Heines was well aware – and seriously concerned – of ongoing developments. At Silesia, the Reichswehr was clearly preparing for action against the SA. Heines had tried to assure the local Wehrkreis commander, lieutenant general von Kleist that the SA was not going to initiate a coup and had given his word of honour. During their talks, both had agreed that a “third party” was clearly trying to push the SA and the Reichswehr against each other. Kleist flew to Berlin to discuss the issue with his superiors, von Fritsch and von Reichenau. Reichenau is often quoted stating “That may well be, but it is too late now” as a cynical reply to the suspicions of Kleist regarding the deliberate escalation of events. Heines never managed to raise his concerns with Röhm since Dr. Ketterer prevented him to see the Chief of Staff who was already sleeping under heavy medication. By 1 AM, everything was quiet at Bad Wiessee.

Back at Munich airport, Hitler descended from the plane, greeted the small group of Reichswehr officers and Party representatives, announcing his intention to drive to Bad Wiessee and arrest the supposed traitors, “to pass severe judgement.” Time was running out for him: to believably present the suppression of a revolt, it was important to act before the announced month-long furlough for the whole of the SA was to begin in July. He then set off to the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior at Odeonsplatz.

The minister and Gauleiter of NSDAP for Upper Bavaria Adolf Wagner had ordered Schneidhuber and Schmid to arrive at the Ministry to report directly to visiting Hitler. Unsuccesfully they tried to explain how their troops had reacted to provocative marching orders. Schmid had been able to see the spurious orders but now he could not find them. It is often described how Hitler then tore the epaulettes of the arrested SA officers, calling them traitors – “You are arrested and about to be shot!” Both were shipped to Stadelheim prison which was to become the way-station for all SA arrestees. Wagner was then left with orders to initiate the operation in Munich.

During the night-time flight from Bonn, Hitler had made a hasty decision to carry out the raid immediately, on his own. There was no time to wait for the Leibstandarte from Berlin which had been ordered to proceed to Munich with two battalions but was still on its way. The whole evening of June 28th while visiting the wedding of Gauleiter Terboven at Essen he had been supplied new evidence of “final preparations of the impending Putsch”. Himmler, Göring and Paul Körner, Göring’s state secretary for Prussia, kept the rumour mills running. On June 29th Goebbels and Viktor Lutze had joined him at Hotel Dreesen at Godesberg in Ruhr.

In his diary entry for that date, Goebbels mentions “the proofs that Röhm was conspiring with François-Poncet (the French ambassador), Schleicher (a retired Reichswehr general and a former Reich Chancellor), and Strasser”. By this time the extent of the whole imaginary conspiracy was “exposed”. By deliberate connecting of von Schleicher and Gregor Strasser to Röhm, Hitler was able to access other circles of possible resistance and certain threats to his further power. Now there was enough of a pretext to move against the conservative opposition as well as settling old scores.

Around midnight Hitler received another phone call from Berlin, the announcement was that “The rebels are arming themselves” (Goebbels recording). Now the small party hastened towards the Hangelar airport and prepared to fly to Munich. “I have had enough, I shall make an example of them!”

A motorcade of three (according to Eleanor Hancock, five) massive Mercedes cars arranged by Wagner was lined up. Destination: Bad Wiessee. Hitler’s entourage consisted of his trusted chauffeurs (Julius Schreck, Erich Kempka – who according to his testimony actually drove Hitler’s car that day), his aides (Julius Schaub, Wilhelm Brückner, possibly also the valet Karl Wilhelm Krause), Dr. Goebbels and SS-Standartenführer Hermann Höflich, an adjutant to Wagner.

Some sources (such as Irwing) claim that Hess too was present. Also a team of Munich detectives (quite certainly from the Bavarian Führerschutzkommando, the early forerunner of Reichssicherheitsdienst) responsible of the security of the Reich Chancellor headed by inspector Schmidbauer followed. Viktor Lutze had preceded others with two SA officers and telephoned a message from Wiessee informing that the route and the hotel surroundings were safe. Telephone lines between Munich and Wiessee were then cut off so that Röhm could not be warned.

They reached Pension Hanselbauer (nowadays known as Hotel Lederer am See) around 6 AM, the SS and policemen first securing the site. Apparently there were not any kind of guard posts set up, The SA Chief of Staff was not prepared. Mrs. Hanselbauer, the hotel landlady was puzzled to see the Reich Chancellor standing at the doorway. The hotel guestbook was studied to find out who was present and in which rooms they were. The events then proceeded swiftly: everyone belonging to the Röhm’s entourage was to be arrested. There are slightly varying accounts of exact events inside the hotel, based on post-war testimonies of Kempka, Brückner and Schaub as well as to diary entries of Goebbels and Lutze.

Hitler knocked the door (according to the testimony of Schaub, he instead had the hotel’s headwaiter to do it) leading to the Röhm’s room, number 21. The SA Chief of Staff was not expecting Hitler to arrive this early – the meeting was to take place at 11 AM. Sitting on his bed in pyjamas, Röhm was confused but firmly denied all accusations of treachery. Hitler announced that he was under arrest for planning a Putsch. He then stepped aside and Röhm was led downstairs guarded by two armed detectives. Simultaneously other rooms were searched.

Edmund Heines, once the all-powerful SA leader of Silesia and Police president of Breslau was found sleeping with a male companion in the room 31. It is interesting that the identity of the young man (he is described to have been an 18 years old) was never established. My suggestion is that he may have been certain SA-Obertruppführer Erich Schieweck from Breslau, who was arrested at Wiessee, taken to Stadelheim and transferred from there to Dachau on the evening of 1st July, where he was shot in the “Bunker”. His special assignment to accompany Heines despite of his rather low rank (master sergeant) supports this assumption.

Some sources have named the unfortunate young man “Max” but I think this is a confusion with one of Röhm’s personal chaufferus, SA-Obersturmführer Max Vogel who was also present at Hanselbauer – although accommodated in a different building and reportedly sleeping with a female companion. Kempka testified that once arrested, Vogel had wished to be allowed to drive Röhm’s official car “once more”, clearly aware of his upcoming fate. Kempka had allowed him to climb behind the steering wheel of the former Stabschef’s official car and let it take few slow turns on the hotel courtyard. Vogel was executed at Dachau the following day.

During a radio address on 1st July, Goebbels referred to the moment he peeked into the Heines’s room: “Spare me from describing the disgusting scenes that almost made us throw up…” Anxious Heines had reportedly refused to get dressed, yelling to Lutze: “Can’t you do anything?” Lutze, apparently ashamed and willing to distance himself of the former Silesian SA commander, turned away mumbling: “I can do nothing…I can do nothing.”

Interestingly there are some unsourced accounts which claim that both Heines and his sleeping partner were shot on the spot – Emil Maurice is even mentioned by name as having carried that out! I think this is one of the many misunderstandings, resulting from the verbal threat by Hitler who had ordered Heines to get dressed within five minutes or otherwise he would be shot right away (testimony of Kempka). It is well documented that Heines was indeed executed by the firing squad at Stadelheim.

Ernst Röhm and Edmund Heines observing an SA rally. Source: Bundesarchiv.

Ernst Röhm and Edmund Heines observing an SA rally.
Source: Bundesarchiv.

In memoirs of Ernst Hanfstaegl, Dr. Ketterer is quoted as a first-hand source. He contradicts the usual account of homosexual members of Röhm circle caught flagrante delicto. It should be remembered that under the concurrent circumstances, everything was done to present the “traitors” in as unfavourable light as possible. Thus it is entirely possible that the accusations of homosexual acts were exaggerated, if not entirely fictional as all the accused were either executed or imprisoned and unable to defend themselves. All the descriptions mentioning them use either the recordings of Goebbels or the official article that appeared at Völkischer Beobachter on July 3rd as a source.

All the arrested were temporarily locked in the basement laundry while Schreck arranged two charter buses to transport them to Munich. Röhm was sitting in the lobby silent and depressed, guarded by the detectives. He was served a cup of coffee by Mrs. Hanselbauer. It is said that when Dr. Ketterer – he was the only one allowed out, Hitler had decreed that he was not to be arrested – passed through the hotel lobby and greeted Röhm with the usual “Heil Hitler!”, the Chief of Staff ironically responded “Grüss Gott!”, a traditional Bavarian greeting. According to his own account, Dr. Ketterer then rode in Lutze’s car back to Munich.

Besides Röhm, Heines, Schieweck, Vogel and Ketterer, the other occupants at Hanselbauer between June 29th and the morning of June 30th included Röhm’s aides SS-Gruppenführer Robert Bergmann, his close confident and secretary SA-Obertruppführer Martin Schätzl – who brought Röhm’s uniform from his Munich apartment on the night of June 29th -, his personal bodyguard, SA-Standartenführer Julius Uhl – also the commander of “Stabswache Röhm” – and the private valet, Hans Holtsch-Riederer. Also SA-Standartenführer Count Spreti-Weilbach – an adjutant and rumouredly the last lover of Röhm – is variously mentioned being among Hanselbauer occupants. The list of inmate entries at Stadelheim prison on 30.6.1934 mention a total of 13 arrivals from Wiessee, Röhm among them.

Around 7 AM, when the Führer entourage including two buses loaded with the twelve arrested SA members (Röhm was not transported in a bus but in one of the cars, probably in that carrying the policemen) was about to leave, a truck appeared carrying Röhm’s personal Staff Guard unit. Apparently it was not summoned but was to provide security for the upcoming conference. The situation was confused but Hitler managed to sort it out by ordering the unit to return to Munich. The truck drove off but soon stopped, the Staff Guard setting up two machine guns on both sides of the main road and taking positions. Hitler did not trust Röhm’s men – he chose the longer way to Munich and the entourage managed to avoid the ambush. This description, although colourful, is a bit dubious and apparently based only on testimony of Brückner.

On a way back to Munich, they encountered some SA leaders, on a way to Wiessee riding their official cars. All of them were ordered to follow. The arrested were now taken to Stadelheim prison, while the rest of the convoy arrived at the Brown House at around 9.30 AM and a dramatic special meeting between the remaining senior SA commanders and Hitler took place at the Senatorial room. According to SA-Gruppenführer Karl Schreyer who was present – he was later arrested and miraculously survived since the order to cease the executions arrived at the precise moment he was about to be taken to Lichterfelde on 2nd July – excited Hitler had announced that the prepared coup attempt was “…the greatest disloyalty in world history” and that “…Röhm had wanted to arrest him and had him killed to deliver Germany to its enemies.”

Meanwhile Goebbels had rushed to the phone and informed Göring in Berlin that the Operation “Kolibri” should begin with full speed. Everything was ready: the SS, police and Feldjägerkorps swung into action, supported and armed by the Reichswehr. The thorough repression of the “Röhm Putsch” began all over Germany.

Himmler lurking behind Röhm, looking suspicious. Source: Bundesarchiv.

"All revolutions devour their own children."
Source: Bundesarchiv.