Ernst Röhm, the son of a railway official, was born in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, on 28th November, 1887. He later complained that his father was domineering and harsh. In his memoirs he recalled that "from my childhood I had only one thought and wish - to be a soldier". He joined the German Army in 1906 and two years later had reached the rank of lieutenant. Louis L. Snyder described him as "a fanatical, simple-minded swashbuckler" soldier.
Röhm was a company commander during the First World War. The journalist, Konrad Heiden, later reported: "Three times wounded in the war, he returned each time to the front. Half his nose was shot away, he had a bullet hole in his cheek; short, stocky, shot to tatters, and patched, he was the outward image of a freebooter captain. He was more a soldier than an officer. In his memoirs he condemns the cowardice, sensuality, and other vices of many comrades; his revelations were almost treason against his own class."
At the end of the war left-wing socialists were in control in Bavaria, where Kurt Eisner, the leader of the the Independent Socialist Party, had formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party. Eisner was assassinated by Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley on 21st February, 1919. It is claimed that before he killed Eisner he said: "Eisner is a Bolshevist, a Jew; he isn't German, he doesn't feel German, he subverts all patriotic thoughts and feelings. He is a traitor to this land."
One armed worker walked into the assembled parliament and shot dead one of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party. Many of the deputies fled in terror from the city. Max Levien, a member of the German Communist Party (KPD), became the new leader of the revolution. Rose Levine argued: "Levien.... was a man of great intelligence and erudition and an excellent speaker. He exercised an enormous appeal of the masses and could, with no great exaggeration, be defined as the revolutionary idol of Munich. But he owed his popularity rather to his brilliance and wit than to clear-mindedness and revolutionary expediency."
Captain Ernst Röhm became convinced that army officers should be political activists. On 7th March, 1919, he met Adolf Hitler. Hitler later recalled that they spent the evening "in a cellar where we racked our brains for ways of combating the revolutionary movement". Röhm had recently been appointed as Colonel Epp's chief of staff and it is believed that night Hitler was recruited as a spy and informer on left-wing organisations. Hans Mend, who spent time with Hitler in Munich that year later claimed: "Hitler... made persistent attempts to obtain a senior position with the Communists, but he couldn't get into the Munich directorate of the Communist Party although he posed as an ultra-radical. Since he promptly requested a senior Party post that would have exempted him from the need to work - his perpetual aim - the Communists distrusted him despite his mortal hatred of all property owners."
Friedrich Ebert, the president of Germany, eventually arranged for 30,000 Freikorps, under the command of General Burghard von Oven, to take Munich. Ernst Röhm, served under Colonel Franz Epp, during the operation. They entered the city on 1st May 1919 and over the next two days the Freikorps easily defeated the Red Guards. Allan Mitchell, the author of Revolution in Bavaria (1965), pointed out: "Resistance was quickly and ruthlessly broken. Men found carrying guns were shot without trial and often without question. The irresponsible brutality of the Freikorps continued sporadically over the next few days as political prisoners were taken, beaten and sometimes executed." An estimated 700 men and women were captured and executed."
On 30th May 1919 Major Karl Mayr was appointed as head of the Education and Propaganda Department. He was given considerable funds to build up a team of agents or informants and to organize a series of educational courses to train selected officers and men in "correct" political and ideological thinking. Mayr was also given the power to finance "patriotic" parties, publications and organizations. Captain Röhm was one of those who joined this unit.
Adolf Hitler was arrested with other soldiers in Munich and accused of being a socialist. Hundreds of socialists were executed without trial but Hitler was able to convince them that he had been an opponent of the regime. It seems almost certain that Ernst Röhm helped to protect him during this period. Hitler volunteered to help to identify soldiers who had supported the Socialist Republic.
Röhm told Major Mayr about the abilities of Hitler. On 5th June 1919, Hitler began a course on political education at Munich University that had been organized by Mayr. Hitler attended courses entitled "German History Since the Reformation", "The Political History of the War", "Socialism in Theory and Practice", "our Economic Situation and Peace Conditions" and "The Connection between Domestic and Foreign Policy". The main aim was to promote his political philosophy favoured by the army and help to combat the influence of the Russian Revolution on the German soldiers. Speakers included Gottfried Feder and Karl Alexander von Müller. During one of Müller's lectures, Hitler was involved in a passionate debate with another student about Jews. Müller was impressed with Hitler's contribution and told Mayr that he had "rhetorical talent".
William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964) has argued: "He (Röhm) was a stocky, bull-necked, piggish-eyed, scar-faced professional soldier... with a flair for politics and a natural ability as an organizer. Like Hitler he was possessed of a burning hatred for the democratic Republic and the 'November criminals' he held responsible for it. His aim was to re-create a strong nationalist Germany and he believed with Hitler that this could be done only by a party based on the lower classes, from which he himself, unlike most Regular Army officers, had come. A tough, ruthless, driving man - albeit, like so many of the early Nazis, a homosexual."
In September 1919, Captain Karl Mayr instructed Hitler to attend a meeting of the German Worker's Party (GWP). Formed by Anton Drexler, Hermann Esser, Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart, the German Army was worried that it was a left-wing revolutionary group. Hitler recorded in Mein Kampf (1925): "When I arrived that evening in the guest room of the former Sternecker Brau (Star Corner)... I found approximately 20–25 persons present, most of them belonging to the lower classes. The theme of Feder’s lecture was already familiar to me; for I had heard it in the lecture course... Therefore, I could concentrate my attention on studying the society itself. The impression it made upon me was neither good nor bad. I felt that here was just another one of these many new societies which were being formed at that time. In those days everybody felt called upon to found a new Party whenever he felt displeased with the course of events and had lost confidence in all the parties already existing. Thus it was that new associations sprouted up all round, to disappear just as quickly, without exercising any effect or making any noise whatsoever."
Hitler discovered that the party's political ideas were similar to his own. He approved of Drexler's German nationalism and anti-Semitism but was unimpressed with what he saw at the meeting. Hitler was just about to leave when a man in the audience began to question the logic of Feder's speech on Bavaria. Hitler joined in the discussion and made a passionate attack on the man who he described as the "professor". Drexler was impressed with Hitler and gave him a booklet encouraging him to join the GWP. Entitled, My Political Awakening, it described his objective of building a political party which would be based on the needs of the working-class but which, unlike the Social Democratic Party (SDP) or the German Communist Party (KPD) would be strongly nationalist.
"In his (Feder's) little book he described how his mind had thrown off the shackles of the Marxist and trades-union phraseology, and that he had come back to the nationalist ideals. The pamphlet secured my attention the moment I began to read, and I read it with interest to the end. The process here described was similar to that which I had experienced in my own case ten years previously. Unconsciously my own experiences began to stir again in my mind. During that day my thoughts returned several times to what I had read; but I finally decided to give the matter no further attention."
Drexler was impressed with Hitler's abilities as an orator and invited him to join the party. Hitler commented: "I didn't know whether to be angry or to laugh. I had no intention of joining a ready-made party, but wanted to found one of my own. What they asked of me was presumptuous and out of the question." However, Hitler was urged on by his commanding officer, Captain Karl Mayr, to join. Röhm also became a member of the GWP. Röhm, like Mayr, had access to the army political fund and was able to transfer some of the money into the GWP.
Later that month on 24th February, 1921 the NSDAP (later nicknamed the Nazi Party) held a mass rally where it announced its new programme. The rally was attended by over 2,000 people, a great improvement on the 25 people who were at Hitler's first party meeting. Hitler knew that the growth in the party was mainly due to his skills as an orator and in the autumn of 1921 he challenged Anton Drexler for the leadership of the party. After brief resistance Drexler accepted the inevitable, and Hitler became the new leader of the Nazi Party. In September 1921, Hitler was sent to prison for three months for being part of a mob who beat up a rival politician.
When Hitler was released, he formed his own private army called Sturm Abteilung (Storm Section). The SA (also known as stormtroopers or brownshirts) were instructed to disrupt the meetings of political opponents and to protect Hitler from revenge attacks. Röhm played an important role in recruiting these men, and Hermann Goering, a former air-force pilot, became their leader. Hitler's stormtroopers were often former members of the Freikorps (right-wing private armies who flourished during the period that followed the First World War) and had considerable experience in using violence against their rivals.
Röhm's biographer, Paul R. Maracin, has pointed out that he played a vital role in arming the SA: "After the war a large arsenal was left by the German Army, and Röhm was one of several officers who conspired to divert and cache the arms. The German government had promised the Allies that the guns, ammunition, and vehicles would be dutifully destroyed, and according to the peace treaty, this should have been done. However, in some instances (with the connivance of some Allied officers attached to control commissions), these arms were stored for future use and would later he issued to members of the Freikorps and the SA. As an officer, Röhm had the reputation of a man who resolutely stood by his subordinates, while acting as a buffer between them and his superior officers. For all his dedication as a soldier, he was, paradoxically, a person who casually arranged for the murder of informants who tried to reveal the whereabouts of his hidden arsenals."
In February 1923, with the help of Röhm, Adolf Hitler entered into negotiations with the Patriotic Leagues in Bavaria. This included the Lower Bavarian Fighting League, Reich Banner, Patriotic League of Munich and Oberland Defence League. A joint committee was set up under the chairmanship of Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Kriebel, the military leader of the Working Union of the Patriots Fighting Associations. Over the next few months Hitler and Roehm worked hard to bring in as many of the other right-wing groups as they could.
Gustav Stresemann, of the German National People's Party (DNVP), with the support of the Social Democratic Party, became chancellor of Germany in August 1923. On 26th September, he announced the decision of the government to call off the campaign of passive resistance in the Ruhr unconditionally, and two days later the ban on reparation deliveries to France and Belgium was lifted. He also tackled the problem of inflation by establishing the Rentenbank. Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) has pointed out: "This was a courageous and wise decision, intended as the preliminary to negotiations for a peaceful settlement. But it was also the signal the Nationalists had been waiting for to stir up a renewed agitation against the Government."
Röhm, Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering and Hermann Kriebel had a meeting together on 25th September where they discussed what they were to do. Hitler told the men that it was time to take action. Röhm agreed and resigned his commission to give his full support to the cause. Hitler's first step was to put his own 15,000 Sturm Abteilung men in a state of readiness. The following day, the Bavarian Cabinet proclaimed a state of emergency and appointed Gustav von Kahr, one of the best-known politicians, with strong right-wing leanings, as State Commissioner with dictatorial powers. Kahr's first act was to ban Hitler from holding meetings.
General Hans von Seeckt made it clear that he would take action if Hitler attempted to take power. As William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964), has pointed out: "He issued a plain warning to... Hitler and the armed leagues that any rebellion on their part would be opposed by force. But for the Nazi leader it was too late to draw back. His rabid followers were demanding action." Wilhelm Brückner, one of his SA commanders, urged him to strike at once: "The day is coming, when I won't be able to hold the men back. If nothing happens now, they'll run away from us."
A plan of action was suggested by Alfred Rosenberg and Max Scheubner-Richter. The two men proposed to Hitler and Röhm that they should strike on 4th November during a military parade in the heart of Munich. The idea was that a few hundred storm troopers should converge on the street before the parading troops arrived and seal it off with machine-guns. However, when the SA arrived they discovered the street was fully protected by a large body of well-armed police and the plan had to be abandoned. It was then decided that the putsch should take place three days later.
On 8th November, 1923, the Bavarian government held a meeting of about 3,000 officials. While Gustav von Kahr, the prime minister of Bavaria was making a speech, Adolf Hitler and 600 armed SA men entered the building. According to Ernst Hanfstaengel: "Hitler began to plough his way towards the platform and the rest of us surged forward behind him. Tables overturned with their jugs of beer. On the way we passed a major named Mucksel, one of the heads of the intelligence section at Army headquarters, who started to draw his pistol as soon as he saw Hitler approach, but the bodyguard had covered him with theirs and there was no shooting. Hitler clambered on a chair and fired a round at the ceiling." Hitler then told the audience: "The national revolution has broken out! The hall is filled with 600 armed men. No one is allowed to leave. The Bavarian government and the government at Berlin are hereby deposed. A new government will be formed at once. The barracks of the Reichswehr and the police barracks are occupied. Both have rallied to the swastika!"
Leaving Hermann Goering and the SA to guard the 3,000 officials, Hitler took Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow, the commander of the Bavarian Army and Hans von Seisser, the commandant of the Bavarian State Police into an adjoining room. Hitler told the men that he was to be the new leader of Germany and offered them posts in his new government. Aware that this would be an act of high treason, the three men were initially reluctant to agree to this offer. Adolf Hitler was furious and threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide: "I have three bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!" After this the three men agreed.
Hitler dispatched Max Scheubner-Richter to Ludwigshöhe to collect General Eric Ludendorff. He had been leader of the German Army at the end of the First World War. Ludendorff had therefore found Hitler's claim that the war had not been lost by the army but by Jews, Socialists, Communists and the German government, attractive, and was a strong supporter of the Nazi Party. However, according to Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962): "He (Ludendorff) was thoroughly angry with Hitler for springing a surprise on him, and furious at the distribution of offices which made Hitler, not Ludendorff, the dictator of Germany, and left him with the command of an army which did not exist. But he kept himself under control: this was a national event, he said, and he could only advise the others to collaborate."
While Adolf Hitler had been appointing government ministers, Ernst Röhm, leading a group of stormtroopers, had seized the War Ministry and Rudolf Hess was arranging the arrest of Jews and left-wing political leaders in Bavaria. Hitler now planned to march on Berlin and remove the national government. Surprisingly, Hitler had not arranged for the Sturm Abteilung (SA) to take control of the radio stations and the telegraph offices. This meant that the national government in Berlin soon heard about Hitler's putsch and gave orders to General Hans von Seeckt for it to be crushed.
Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow and Hans von Seisser, managed to escape and Von Kahr issued a proclamation: "The deception and perfidy of ambitious comrades have converted a demonstration in the interests of national reawakening into a scene of disgusting violence. The declarations extorted from myself, General von Lossow and Colonel Seisser at the point of the revolver are null and void. The National Socialist German Workers' Party, as well as the fighting leagues Oberland and Reichskriegsflagge, are dissolved."
The next day Adolf Hitler, Hermann Kriebel, Eric Ludendorff, Julius Steicher, Hermann Goering, Max Scheubner-Richter, Walter Hewell, Wilhelm Brückner and 3,000 armed supporters of the Nazi Party marched through Munich in an attempt to join up with Röhm's forces at the War Ministry. At Odensplatz they found the road blocked by the Munich police. What happened next is in dispute. One observer said that Hitler fired the first shot with his revolver. Another witness said it was Steicher while others claimed the police fired into the ground in front of the marchers.
William L. Shirer has argued: "At any rate a shot was fired and in the next instant a volley of shots rang out from both sides, spelling in that instant the doom of Hitler's hopes. Scheubner-Richter fell, mortally wounded. Goering went down with a serious wound in his thigh. Within sixty seconds the firing stopped, but the street was already littered with fallen bodies - sixteen Nazis and three police dead or dying, many more wounded and the rest, including Hitler, clutching the pavement to save their lives."
Louis L. Snyder later commented: "In seconds 16 Nazis and 3 policeman lay dead on the pavement, and others were wounded. Goering, who was shot through the thigh, fell to the ground. Hitler, reacting spontaneously because of his training as a dispatch bearer during World War I, automatically hit the pavement when he heard the crack of guns. Surrounded by comrades, he escaped in a car standing close by. Ludendorff, staring straight ahead, moved through the ranks of the police, who in a gesture of respect for the old war hero, turned their guns aside." Hitler, who had dislocated his shoulder, lost his nerve and ran to a nearby car. Although the police were outnumbered, the Nazis followed their leader's example and ran away. Only Eric Ludendorff and his adjutant continued walking towards the police. Later Nazi historians were to claim that the reason Hitler left the scene so quickly was because he had to rush an injured young boy to the local hospital.
Two hours after Hitler's march through the streets had been halted and dispersed by police bullets, Röhm realized the futility of the operation, surrendered, and was placed under arrest. Röhm along with Adolf Hitler,, Eric Ludendorff, Wilhelm Frick, Wilhelm Brückner, Hermann Kriebel, Walter Hewell, Friedrich Weber and Ernst Pohner were tried for treason. If found guilty, they could faced the death penalty. It soon became clear that the Bavarian authorities were unwilling to punish the men too severely. Röhm was found guilty, placed on probation and released.
Hitler was sent to Landsberg Castle in Munich to serve his prison sentence. He was treated well and was allowed to walk in the castle grounds, wear his own clothes and receive gifts. Officially there were restrictions on visitors but this did not apply to Hitler, and a steady flow of friends, party members and journalists spent long spells with him. He was even allowed to have visits from his pet Alsatian dog.
Röhm, Alfred Rosenberg and Gregor Strasser, were anxious to take part in the national and State elections in the spring of 1924. Hitler, who was not a German citizen, was automatically excluded, and had from the beginning attacked all parliamentary activity as worthless and dangerous to the independence of the movement. Hitler was now concerned with the threat to his personal position as leader of the Party if others were elected to the Reichstag while he remained outside. Despite Hitler's opposition, supported by Julius Steicher and Hermann Esser, the Nazi Party did well in the elections, with Strasser, Röhm, Gottfried Feder, Wilhelm Frick and Erich Ludendorff winning seats.
Röhm's biographer, Paul R. Maracin, has pointed out that after the election he experienced a scandal that caused him serious political problems: "He now entered the most difficult period of his life.... During 1924 Röhm endured the embarrassment of having his suitcase and personal papers stolen while he was consorting with questionable acquaintances in a sordid section of Berlin; as a result of this indiscretion, his homosexual proclivities became known to police authorities."
On 14th February 1926 Röhm attended the Bamberg Party Congress where Adolf Hitler attempted to settle to Nazi Party program. There had been a clash of opinion between northern and southern leaders about future policy. Röhm, Gregor Strasser and Joseph Goebbels represented the urban, socialist, revolutionary trend, whereas Gottfried Feder reflected rural, racialist and populist ideas. At the conference Hitler made a two-hour speech where he opposed the socialism of Röhm, Goebbels and Strasser. He argued that the NSDAP must not help Communist-inspired movements.
Goebbels and Strasser accepted these arguments and in return they received promotion. Strasser was appointed as Propaganda Leader of the NSDAP and Goebbels became Gauleiter of Berlin. However, Röhm made it clear that he still retained his faith in socialism. As a result Hitler removed him as leader of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) and replaced him with Franz Pfeffer von Salomon. According to Michael Burleigh, the author of The Third Reich: A New History (2001): "Franz Felix Pfeffer von Salomon... brief was to check its aspirations to quasi-military status by firmly subordinating it to the Party's political and propaganda goals. The SA was to perform two functions: to rough up opponents during elections, a practice Hitler seems to have admired across the Atlantic, and to assert the Nazi presence on the streets." Hitler wrote to Pfeffer: "We have to teach Marxism that the future master of the streets is National Socialism, just as one day it will be master of the state."
Paul R. Maracin claims that Röhm took this dismissal very badly. "Röhm... withdrew from political life, and failed miserably in his efforts to support himself. He drifted about, worked for a short period at a machine factory, became a book salesman, and imposed on his homosexual friends for sustenance. As a civilian, he was totally out of his element... Virtually destitute, he moved about in the lowest of circles and associated with the dregs of the social stratum.... In 1928 he briefly reconciled with Hitler and traveled throughout Germany renewing contacts with active duty Reichswehr officers as the party chief's envoy. After yet another dispute with Hitler, he abruptly left Germany for South America, accepting the post of military adviser to the Bolivian Army as a lieutenant-colonel. From Bolivia he imprudently sent letters to friends in Germany in which he decried the lack of understanding for homosexuals in that faraway land. Some of the letters addressed to Dr. Karl-Gunther Heimsoth fell into the hands of newspaper journalists and were given wide-spread publicity."
The authors of The Third Reich (1987) have argued: "Pfeffer added orderliness and traditional army drill to SA formations to try to give parade-ground impressiveness and the glamour of a military appearance. His object was to make the SA an instrument of propaganda rather than a gang of bullies. It was Pfeffer who trained the SA in the mass parades and salutes with the raised arm, and the massed shout Heil Hitler! that became a feature of Party rallies." However, Pfeffer found Hitler difficult to work with as he was unable to discuss issues: "Hitler gets a cue to something he is interested in - but that's something different every day... then he takes over the conversation and the point of the discussion is shelved." Pfeffer gradually lost respect for Hitler and began describing him as "that flabby Austrian."
Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) has argued that Pfeffer became just as difficult as Röhm had been. "Whatever steps Hitler took, however, the S.A. continued to follow its own independent course. Pfeffer held as obstinately as Röhm to the view that the military leadership should be on equal terms with, not subordinate to, the political leadership. He refused to admit Hitler's right to give orders to his Stormtroops. So long as the S.A. was recruited from the ex-service and ex-Freikorps men who had so far provided both its officers and rank and file, Hitler had to tolerate this state of affairs."
On 2nd September 1930 Hitler relieved Franz Pfeffer von Salomon of his command. Hitler assumed temporary leadership of the Sturmabteilung but decided to forgive Röhm for past indiscretions. A telegram was dispatched from Munich to La Paz. By the end of 1930 Rohm had returned to his native Germany, and in January 1931 he was named Chief of Staff of the SA. In just over a year he expanded it from 70,000 to 170,000 members. By 1934 the SA had grown to 4,500,000 men. Röhm was told to use the SA to keep the people in a permanent state of excitement." However, Hitler and Röhm had different ideas about the main objectives of the SA.
Louis L. Snyder has argued: "From its earliest days Hitler regarded the SA as a political and not as a military force. He considered his Brownshirts shock troops for a revolution that was never to be made. His problem was to maintain the spirit of the of the SA without allowing it to move into revolutionary action. Above all, he was determined to keep it from a conflict with the Army. Röhm, on the other hand, saw the SA not only as the backbone of the Nazi movement but as the nucleus of a revolutionary army."
In 1933, General Werner von Blomberg, Hitler's minister of war, and Walther von Reichenau, chief liaison officer between the German Army and the Nazi Party, became increasingly concerned about the growing power of the SA. Röhm had been given a seat on the National Defence Council and began to demand more say over military matters. On 2nd October 1933, Röhm sent a letter to Reichenau that said: "I regard the Reichswehr now only as a training school for the German people. The conduct of war, and therefore of mobilization as well, in the future is the task of the SA." When he realised that Hitler had supported the army over the SA he wrote: "Adolf is a swine. He will give us all way. He only associates with reactionaries now. Adolf knows exactly what I want. Not a second edition of the old imperial army. Are we revolutionaries or aren't we? We've got to produce something new, don't you see? A new discipline. A new principle of organization. The generals are a lot of old fogies."
Blomberg and Reichenau began to conspire with Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler against Röhm and the SA. Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Roehm. Heydrich, who also feared him, manufactured evidence that suggested that Röhm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler. Hitler liked Röhm and initially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Roehm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Roehm's leadership had also played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933.
Hitler liked Roehm and initially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Roehm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Roehm's leadership had also played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933.
However, Adolf Hitler had his own reasons for wanting Röhm removed. Powerful supporters of Hitler had been complaining about Roehm for some time. Generals were afraid that the Sturm Abteilung (SA), a force of over 3 million men, would absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks and Roehm would become its overall leader. Industrialists, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Roehm's socialistic views on the economy and his claims that the real revolution had still to take place. Many people in the party also disapproved of the fact that Roehm and many other leaders of the SA were homosexuals.
Adolf Hitler was also aware that Röhm and the SA had the power to remove him as leader. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler played on this fear by constantly feeding him with new information on Roehm's proposed coup. Their masterstroke was to claim that Gregor Strasser, whom Hitler hated, was part of the planned conspiracy against him. With this news Hitler ordered all the SA leaders to attend a meeting in the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiesse.
Louis L. Snyder argues: "Hitler later alleged that his trusted friend Röhm had entered a conspiracy to take over political power. The Führer was told, possibly by one of Röhm's jealous colleagues, that Röhm intended to use the SA to bring a socialist state into existence... On June, 1934... Hitler came to his final decision to eliminate the socialist element in the party. A list of hundreds of victims was prepared."
On 29th June, 1934. Hitler, accompanied by the Schutzstaffel (SS), arrived at Bad Wiesse, where he personally arrested Ernst Röhm. During the next 24 hours 200 other senior SA officers were arrested on the way to the meeting. Erich Kempka, Hitler's chauffeur, witnessed what happened: "Hitler entered Röhm's bedroom alone with a whip in his hand. Behind him were two detectives with pistols at the ready. He spat out the words; Röhm, you are under arrest. Röhm's doctor comes out of a room and to our surprise he has his wife with him. I hear Lutze putting in a good word for him with Hitler. Then Hitler walks up to him, greets him, shakes hand with his wife and asks them to leave the hotel, it isn't a pleasant place for them to stay in, that day. Now the bus arrives. Quickly, the SA leaders are collected from the laundry room and walk past Röhm under police guard. Röhm looks up from his coffee sadly and waves to them in a melancholy way. At last Röhm too is led from the hotel. He walks past Hitler with his head bowed, completely apathetic."
A large number of the SA officers were shot as soon as they were captured but Adolf Hitler decided to pardon Röhm because of his past services to the movement. However, after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed that Roehm should die. At first Hitler insisted that Roehm should be allowed to commit suicide but, when he refused, Ernst Roehm was killed by two SS men.
Hitler told Albert Speer what happened at Bad Wiesse: "Hitler was extremely excited and, as I believe to this day, inwardly convinced that he had come through a great danger. Again and again he described how he had forced his way into the Hotel Hanselmayer in Wiessee - not forgetting, in the telling, to make a show of his courage: We were unarmed, imagine, and didn't know whether or not those swine might have armed guards to use against us. The homosexual atmosphere had disgusted him: In one room we found two naked boys! Evidently he believed that his personal action had averted a disaster at the last minute: I alone was able to solve this problem. No one else! His entourage tried to deepen his distaste for the executed SA leaders by assiduously reporting as many details as possible about the intimate life of Röhm and his following."
The purge of the SA was kept secret until it was announced by Hitler on 13th July. It was during this speech that Hitler gave the purge its name: Night of the Long Knives (a phrase from a popular Nazi song). Hitler claimed that 61 had been executed while 13 had been shot resisting arrest and three had committed suicide. Others have argued that as many as 400 people were killed during the purge. In his speech Hitler explained why he had not relied on the courts to deal with the conspirators: "In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I become the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason."
Joseph Goebbels later regretted the killing of Röhm: "I point out to the Führer at length that in 1934 we unfortunately failed to reform the Wehrmacht when we had an opportunity of doing so. What Roehm wanted was, of course, right in itself but in practice it could not be carried through by a homosexual and an anarchist. Had Roehm been an upright solid personality, in all probability some hundred generals rather than some hundred SA leaders would have been shot on 30 June. The whole course of events was profoundly tragic and today we are feeling its effects. In that year the time was ripe to revolutionise the Reichswehr. As things were the Führer was unable to seize the opportunity. It is questionable whether today we can ever make good what we missed doing at that time. I am very doubtful of it. Nevertheless the attempt must be made."