Peeling Back Nazi Propaganda to find a Man

A scholarly biography of Ernst RÖhm, who was killed in the Nazis' 'Night of the Long Knives', reveals a person who was not nearly as radical as historians would believe.

On July 1, 1934 two SS officers walked into the Stadelheim Prison cell of the recently arrested Ernst RÖhm, once the SA's (storm troopers) Chief Of Staff, and shot him dead on Hitler's orders. Four years earlier Hitler had personally requested that RÖhm accept the position as head of the SA, but the paramilitary organisation that had assisted Hitler in his rise to power was now seen as a threat by the Führer.

Almost eighty years later Associate Professor Eleanor Hancock from UNSW Canberra began the world's first ever scholarly biography of RÖhm, which would prove to be a serious challenge considering the amount of propaganda both for and against the polarising character. In the course of her research which included access to RÖhm family papers, Hancock began to develop a different image of a much-maligned character.

"Did he represent anything radical, as Hitler's people had indicated? No, he didn't," Hancock says. "I discovered that yes, RÖhm was a Nazi, but perhaps he was guilty of not being radical enough rather than being too radical."

This research resulted in a book Ernst RÖhm: Hitler's SA Chief Of Staff(Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Hancock's work took her to Germany, the UK, the USA and also saw her employing researchers in Bolivia, where Röhm had spent two years as an adult.