Archive for the ‘SA organisation’ Category

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.


30th June 1934, part I: The Prologue.

In SA organisation, SS organisation on June 20, 2009 at 4:03 pm

SA organisation SS organisation

75 years ago, the last day of June 1934 began the bloody outro for the once powerful SA. During the following 72 hours, the SA leadership of Ernst Röhm and his following as a political power factor was thoroughly decapitated and its previous standing as the support pillar for the Hitler state ultimately shattered. It was at the same time the steady but initially indistinguishable beginning of the SS state. It can be said that the Blood purge became a watershed in the development of the SS, allowing it to finally establish an identity of its own and enjoy a special standing right up to the fall of the Third Reich.

The internal policy developments between the SA, the Reichswehr and the NSDAP following the Hitler’s ascension to power, ultimately leading to the Blood purge are thoroughly covered and I do not attempt to present any views differing from the most widely accepted theories.

The noteworthy turning points in these developments were the setting up of the Hilfspolizei (auxiliary police) in February 1934, leading to reluctant acceptance of the SA as a bearer of the state power. The Hilfspolizei phase opened the doors to the police machinery for the SA, which managed to install its members as Police presidents in almost every major town, closely connected to overall Gleischaltung proceedings. This was followed by the increasing independence of local SA figureheads, establishment of “wild” concentration camps, illegally armed staff guard units and appointment of special SA commissars to major corporations and municipal institutions to look after the interests of the Brownshirts.

To all this was added the massive expansion of the SA up to almost 4 million men during summer and fall 1933 by phased incorporation of the Stahlhelm and certain other paramilitary bodies. On one hand, this maneuver weakened the coherence of the SA but on the other, it won even more influence and presence to its highest echelons. Finally the Ausbildungswesen (AW) programme, initially began in rapport with the Reichswehr and intended to provide the army with means of acquiring “good human material” from the SA, mostly served to strengthen the SA’s illusion of itself as an all-encompassing domestic militia which could one day surpass the regular army. This view was welcome to many former officers now serving in the SA who saw their organization as the People’s army built on ideological basis. The seed of mutual distrust and bitterness between the Reichswehr and the SA began to formulate by late fall 1933.

The role of the SA was still recognized by Hitler in December 1933 by appointment of Röhm as a Reich minister without a portfolio, in par with Rudolf Hess, the Deputy of the Führer. This was seen as a gesture putting the party and the SA on the same level. Röhm however used his new symbolic state authority to enhance the standing of himself and his SA, speaking provocatively and acting all the more independently.

The Hitler state needed the SA but by spring 1934, it was more and more becoming a nuisance, a continuous source of worry, even a direct threat to power. While the SA went its own way and because of its endless ambition and hunger for power, distanced itself from the proximity of Hitler, Himmler and the SS – although still organizationally subjected to the SA Stabschef – distinguished themselves even more as the loyal alternative. Robert Koehl has presented that on the grassroots level, there was not much difference between an individual SA and SS man – for the SS, the SA was still the most important source of new members. The renowned and carefully crafted later image of the SS as the disciplined, conscious elite was still in the middle of formulating process. In the provinces, the SS of 1933 often took part in locally initiated acts of violence (a good example of this is the Eislebener Blutsonntag) and some local SS commanders showed exceptional independece in their actions, such as the Stettin Police president Engel who set up an unauthorized private concentration camp.

Nevertheless, Himmler and his SS leadership corps had their goals more aligned with those of Hitler and the Party and one of their qualities was to stay in the background and wait. The ability to better keep his men in line presented Himmler in a favourable light in comparision to his superior, whose outrageous private life and autocratic clique of SA high leaders mainly aroused aversion and distrust across the Party, still powerful conservative circles and the Reichswehr. Even though almost all of the senior SS officers shared more or less the same social background as the SA leaders, including extensive WWI and Freikorps past, they had modelled their minds according to the SS esprit-de-corps of a conscious elite in which Putsch-like mentality, short-sighted ambition and tendency to questionize had no place.

Most of the scholars nowadays agree that there was never going to be a full-scale “Second Revolution”, although preached by some in SA circles. All the careless moves and strong words of the SA leadership were now deliberately taken as preparations for the coup. Hitler was not the initiating force, almost everything was catered in front of him by the unlikely alliance of Göring (then the Minister President of Prussia and Reich Minister of Aviation), Wilhelm Frick (Reich Minister of the Interior), Walther von Reichenau (Head of the Ministerial Office at the Reichswehr Ministry) and Himmler. Both the SD and the Reichswehr intelligence selectively collected and most probably also fabricated some of the necessary evidence of suspicious SA activities. Only the ultimate decisions and direction of the final act was left to Hitler.

The timing was right, all the parties had their own reasons to rid Germany of the SA. The Reich President von Hindenburg had summoned Hitler to his Neudeck estate and demanded him to break the growing tension. The threat of civil war was hanging in the air and Hindenburg was prepared to mobilize the army if Hitler would fail in restoring the conditions. Hitler had all the reasons to believe that the army would stand in line with the president. Old Hindenburg was seriously ill and sun was setting down on him, the question of his successor remained open and Hitler needed the support of the Reichswehr as well as the conservative establishment to stay in power. Putting down an SA-led “coup attempt” would offer him the domestic propaganda victory as well as a possibility to simultaneously get rid of all other threats to power under the guise of the state of emergency. He had to sacrifice the SA leadership in order to later reach his ultimate goal of completely combining his state and party positions and thus making new Germany the “Führer state”.

The next parts of this series will cover the specific role of the SS in preparing and carrying out the Blood purge as well as significant parts played by individual SS men and also address the organizational changes and developments which followed this “baptism of fire” of German St. Bartholomew’s night.

For the readers interested in the development of the SA-Party-State-Reichswehr conflict, the works of Heinz Höhne, Hermann Mau and Jean Philippon (only available in French but so-far the most detailed study I have come across) perhaps provide the best general view. Hans Bernd Gisevius, once an employee of the Prussian Gestapo and later an important figure of the resistance, observes the Purge events from the point of view of an eyewitness not directly involved in the proceedings. The account of Heinrich Bennecke (“Die Reichswehr und der “Röhm-Putsch””), an SA-Obergruppenführer himself and a Purge survivor provides a somewhat different insider’s view and is also worth studying. Regarding the sociology of the SA, a recent book by Bruce Campbell “SA Generals and the Rise of Nazism” offers good coverage about the background of SA leadership, while “The Making of a Stromtrooper” by Peter H. Merkl presents the architypal SA man, sourced by the Abel collection’s autobiographical accounts of over 500 NSDAP and SA members.

A John Heartfield montage, published in 1934.

A John Heartfield montage, published in 1934. Source: http://www.scottzagar.com/arthistory/timelines.php?page=event&e_id=2319