Ernest Roehm: Nazi Dissident

In an example of him desperately trying to retain even a molecule of his collegiate Marxism, the late Christopher Hitchens refused to accept that Soviet communism was equivalent to Nazi Germany. One of his broadsides against this comparison was that, unlike the Soviet Union, whose government figures accused Stalin of betraying the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany had “no dissidents…risking their lives on the proposition the Fuhrer had betrayed the true essence of National Socialism.”

But in his rush to make this point, Hitchens had not done his homework, for there were dissidents in the Nazi Party who accused Hitler of betraying the Nazi revolution. The perfect case in point was SA leader Ernst Roehm.

Like Hitler, a war veteran (although much more highly decorated), Roehm was one of many who engaged in street battles with communists and Jews in the immediate aftermath of World War I. In 1919, Roehm joined the German Worker’ Party, and occupied the War Ministry for 16 hours during Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch. Imprisoned along with Hitler for the attempted government coup, Roehm, after serving only a small portion of his sentence, became a mercenary in Bolivia. This ended when Hitler pleaded with Roehm to come back and rebuild the SA, the then-paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party in any way Roehm saw fit.

Roehm did so and exceeded his brief by making the SA independent of the Nazis. Even after the Nazi Party gained a majority of seats in the Reichstag, Roem continued his street battles with socialists and Jews.

The German Left struck back, outing Roehm as a homosexual, along with the majority of his SA. Hitler had long been aware of this, and his close friendship with the SA leader provided grist to the mill of those who regarded Hitler to be gay.

Official Nazi policy was homophobic, but as with others in the movement, Hitler gave Roehm a pass until the SA leader became a threat. What sealed Roehm’s fate wasn’t his sexual proclivities, but his claim that Hitler had betrayed the Nazi Revolution.

Roehm represented the socialist element—albeit a racial version–of the Party, rejecting capitalism (according to him, controlled by Jews), demanding the nationalization of industry, and the seizing and redistribution of aristocrats’ estates to the working class.

Hitler, however, had corporate backing and was loathe to alienate industrial leaders with sharing the wealth schemes (many business leaders stupidly asserted when Hitler came to power that they had “hired him”) who expected large profits from his military buildup. Moreover, Roehm’s demands that his”people’s army” replace the aristocratic officer corp horrified the German army.

Aware that Roehm had over 3 million SA members, and that Roehm was talking of a coup, Chancellor Paul Von Hindenburg, aware that he was dying, told Hitler that if he didn’t purge the SA, Hindenburg would deny Hitler the chance to become the leader of Germany.

Hitler struck, murdering scores of SA members, in an event known as The Night of Long Knives, and arrested Roehm who was found in bed with a male partner (Hitler lectured Roehm about the evils of homosexuality before hauling him off).

Imprisoned, Roehm refused the opportunity of suicide and was murdered in his cell.

Roehm is proof that there were indeed dissidents in the Nazi movement, and to the embarrassment of those even today who assert that it was only socialists and communists who were the true enemy of Hitler, Roehm reminds them that the addition of the term “Socialist” to Hitler’s National Socialist was not empty rhetoric.

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.


  1. Very anti-Semitic article lumping Jews in with the communist revolutionaries. There were Jews in the communist movement but separating them out as a separate threat is not justified.

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