The murderous Nazi rampage known as the Night of the Long Knives lasted three days from June 30 until July 2, 1933. Adolf Hitler orchestrated the murders of his oldest friend, chief Nazi thug Ernst Röhm, along with numerous other rivals and perceived enemies. Röhm was homosexual. With him out of the way, the Nazis then launched what would become the deadliest persecution of queer people in history.
Also on July 1: Willem Arondeus shot dead by Nazis in Holland – “Tell the world that homosexuals are no less courageous than anyone else.”
And in happier news, Hollywood’s male madam to the stars, Scotty Bowers was born on this day in 1923.
Military officer Ernst Röhm was a thug, anti-Semite and staunch anti-democrat. No wonder he and Adolf Hitler hit it off when they met in 1919. They became close friends and political allies with Röhm the future Führer’s chief enabler. However, after Hitler’s failed 1923 revolution (the Beer Hall Putsch), the Nazi leader realised he needed the support of the police and military to take government. So, he rethought his plans and plotted a legal path to victory. Röhm preferred head-kicking over electioneering, so he left for the bloodier pastures of Paraguay.
Despite his friendship with Ernst Röhm, Hitler advocated for the elimination of homosexuality. Not out of moral concern but because he wanted every able-bodied member of his mythic Master Race breeding. His attitude, and by extension Nazi policy, contrasted with the tolerant German attitude that allowed a thriving gay scene to develop in Berlin.
Ambitious young men
Röhm became a regular on the scene after realising he was gay in 1924. Attracted to the young blond men who exemplified the Nazi Aryan ideal, he patronised male sex workers and recruited lovers among ambitious young men from the Nazi paramilitaries he headed.
It didn’t take long for the Nazi hierarchy to become aware. In 1925, Röhm became entangled in a lawsuit against Hermann Siegesmund, a gay sex worker who’d tried to blackmail him. Then, during his time in Paraguay, he wrote letters home to gay doctor and fellow Nazi, Karl-Günther Heimsoth, complaining about the lack of trade in his new home.
But in early 1931, Ernest Röhm headed home when Hitler asked him to take over the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi Party’s million-man paramilitary. The SA backed up the party’s political wing with violent attacks on political opponents, Jews, and other perceived enemies.
An opposition newspaper began attacking the SA over its homosexual leadership within months of Röhm’s return. Then, in 1932, it published his letters to Heimsoth, confiscated in a police raid.
Hitler initially ignored the kerfuffle. Until he no longer needed his old friend and began to perceive him as a rival for Nazi Party leadership. As German Chancellor, Hitler now controlled the military and the police. The SA was now surplus to requirement and a potential threat.
The Night of the Long Knives
The Night of the Long Knives began early on the morning of June 30. Hitler took command of a mob of SS troops who stormed the hotel where Röhm and other top leaders of the SA were sleeping. Röhm was apparently alone in his bed but not so his deputy Edmund Heines. Hermann Goering gloated in a press release that “In the next room [to Röhm], the Führer found Heines in the company of a ‘joy boy’.”
The ‘joy boy’ was an 18-year-old SA member employed as chauffeur to Heines. Hitler ordered both taken outside and shot.
At least 85 people died in extra-judicial killings during the Night of the Long Knives. Although the exact number remains unknown, it could be in the hundreds. Hitler and other top Nazis took advantage of the purge to rid themselves of potential rivals and basically anyone who pissed them off.
On July 1, Hitler ordered that Ernst Röhm be allowed the opportunity to commit suicide. Given a pistol loaded with a single cartridge and told he had 10 minutes, Röhm responded, “If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself.”
When his executioners heard no shot, they returned and shot him dead.
By the time the Night of the Long Knives ended on July 2, the SA leadership, a former Chancellor and his wife, Munich’s chief of police, and numerous other prominent Germans were dead. Also among the bodies, Röhm’s friend, Karl-Günther Heimsoth.
With no further need to placate Hitler’s gay ally, he and his Nazi cronies unleashed a reign of terror on queer Germans.
The deadliest persecution of queers in history
Gestapo founder Rudolf Diels detailed Hitler’s personal thoughts on homosexuality.
“He lectured me on the role of homosexuality in history and politics. It had destroyed ancient Greece, he said. Once rife, it extended its contagious effects like an ineluctable law of nature to the best and most manly of characters, eliminating from the reproductive process precisely those men on whose offspring a nation depended. The immediate result of the vice was, however, that unnatural passion swiftly became dominant in public affairs if it were allowed to spread unchecked.”
Strange but true, bigots continue to mount the same arguments in 2022. The old — very old — ‘homosexuality dragged down great civilisations’ still gets a run. ‘Homosexuality is contagious’ remains a popular trope, now sometimes replaced by transgenderism.
The Nazis believed 2 million of Germany’s 20 million fighting-age men were homosexual. That meant 10% would fail their obligation as Aryan breeders, unlikely to produce children and contribute to the German birthrate and anticipated world domination.
First, the Nazis ordered gay bars closed and instructed police to no longer turn a blind eye to homosexual ‘crimes’.
Then, members of the Nazi-allied German Student Union violently attacked Magnus Hirschfeld’s Berlin Institute of Sex Research and burned 20,000 books including unique works on intersexuality, homosexuality, and transgender topics.
In 1933, the first concentration camps opened with homosexuals and trans people among the earliest inmates.
In 1935, the Nazis strengthened the paragraph of the German Criminal Code that criminalised homosexuality. Previously, in Germany (and elsewhere), laws against homosexuality required evidence of proscribed sexual acts. The Nazis changed the laws to make just being homosexual an offence.
A Nazi spokesman had telegraphed the change in a 1928 speech.
“Anyone who is considering a homosexual or Lesbian love is our enemy!”
Kissing or embracing another man or even fantasising about gay sex became crimes. Police caught one man perving on a couple having sex in a park. He confessed that he only looked at the man so they charged him with homosexuality.
In the years 1937 until 1939, German police arrested over 90,000 men and boys for homosexuality. During the war, some homosexuals were sent to the front as cannon fodder. Others ended up in concentration camps.
Thousands died terrible deaths.
When allied forces finally liberated the camps, they released surviving inmates, though not homosexuals. Because homosexuality remained a crime, many remained imprisoned, condemned to serve out their original sentences.
Lest we forget.
As the probably gay or bisexual George Santayana famously wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
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