However, despite long evenings at the Brown House or the Obersalzberg, holding forth on how the Jews are perverting the culture of Lapland, he has plenty to do. The SA is increasingly an embarrassment to the Fuhrer with their violence. The Berlin SA, angry at going unpaid, smash up the Berlin Party headquarters. Goebbels calls for help and Hitler flies up from Munich (he isn’t getting airsick any more) to promise the rank-and-file more pay.
Then he takes another key measure to restore SA obedience. He writes to Ernst Röhm in La Paz, who is bored with advising the Bolivian government and the lack of boyfriends, inviting him to take over the SA again.
Röhm returns to Germany and Hitler gives him (one of two men allowed to call Hitler by the informal “du” term) the post of Stabschef, command of the 60,000 Brownshirts, and a free hand to run them. Röhm keeps the SA busy by having them create chaos in every movie theater that shows the new Hollywood Oscar-winner, All Quiet On the Western Front. Ultimately Berlin is forced to ban further showing of the anti-militarist film, because of the deliberate SA hooliganism.
Röhm also sets up the NSKK – the Nazi Motor Corps whose Wannsee branch Speer heads briefly – from the SA, to provide the Party with its own transportation arm. Young Germans learn how to drive and maintain a variety of trucks and later wheeled and tracked army transport. It is a nucleus for training the tank and halftrack crews who will inflict the Blitzkrieg on Europe.
The Generalstab is not impressed by the ex-corporal. One of their great fears is that the Army will come under control of Röhm’s SA now that the tubby little Brownshirt leader has returned from Bolivian exile. There are more stormtroopers in the SA than soldaten in the Reichswehr. Röhm is declaring that the generals are out of date and that a new style of war is needed. Röhm doesn’t say what that should be, but he should be in charge of it. “I am the new army’s Scharnhorst,” he tells his staff.
That connection defies belief. Röhm is a noisy, self-indulgent homosexual in an age when such behavior is still condemned as a mental illness. Even worse, Röhm flaunts his behavior, appointing his bedmates to key positions, and pays his SA Intelligence Unit to supply him with new boyfriends from Munich’s Gisela High School. Hitler is annoyed, but reluctant to alienate his goons and their leader.
The Party is now a well-organized machine, led by Hitler, Röhm, Gregor Strasser, Goering, Goebbels, and Frick. Its agricultural organization is led by theorist Walther Darré, its Economic Policy Department by Otto Wagener, the Hitler Youth by a young man who is three-quarters American (replete with American wife) named Baldur von Schirach. This big, pampered boy from the middle-class is a descendant of signers of the Declaration of Independence and suspected of being a pedophile. But he does an effective job of running the Hitler Jugend and the girls’ group, the Bund Deutscher Mädchen.
The party Hilfskasse (Pension Fund) is given to stocky, bullish, ambitious bureaucrat Martin Bormann, freed from prison after serving his term for complicity in the Kladow murder. His loyalty to the Party attracts the Fuhrer’s attention. When Bormann marries Gerda Buch in 1927, Hitler is the official witness and godfather of the first of their 10 children.
Bormann’s official job is to aid families of those killed or disabled in the Party’s fight. His real job is to use the Party’s funds to enrich Hitler. Der Fuhrer cops a percentage of ticket sales from his appearances and a portion of contributions to the party. He earns royalties on his articles. To fool the taxmen, Bormann tells supporters to make donations directly to Hitler’s checking account. To make sure this is easy, Hitler’s personal stationery carries his checking account number.
Hitler tells the revenuers that his speaking fees are not taxable income, but non-taxable reimbursements for expenses. Like most income tax auditors throughout history, the Reich Treasury finds that idea hard to swallow. By January 1933, Hitler owes $125,000 in back taxes.
Hitler’s top men gain increasing importance in the Reich as well as the Party. In 1931, Goering is Hitler’s chief contact in Berlin, armed with powers to negotiate with other parties and groups.
To offset the hard-drinking SA, whose leadership is laced with Rohm’s lovers, the SS jumps from 2,000 members in 1931 to 30,000 the next year, under their office clerk boss, Himmler. The meticulous file clerk and office manager, Himmler is utterly loyal to Hitler’s every word and personally incorruptible. While other top Nazis are making lucrative personal deals, Himmler lives off his SS salary. Himmler’s only visible weakness is, after marriage in 1928, to acquire a mistress, Hedwig Potthast, who bears him a son and a daughter. He turns his black-clad men into the Nazi version of a Jesuit order, fanatically loyal, absolutely meticulous, and utterly ruthless.
Even so, Himmler’s life centers around his dossiers. His wife complains that he brings his too much of his files home. Himmler becomes obsessed with creating a “Marriage Law” for his SS, which will create the ideal blond-haired, blue-eyed, muscular Aryan who will show utmost kindness to his family, slavish obedience to orders, and commit the most appalling acts of brutality.
Such a person turns up in 1931. He is a 27-year-old former Navy lieutenant and Freikorps fighter named Reinhard Tristam Eugen Heydrich to set up the SS’s counter-intelligence bureau.
Heydrich is one of the more frightening and mysterious figures of Nazi Germany. Born March 7, 1904, his father is an opera composer and musician who founds the distinguished Halle Conservatory of Munich. His mother is actress Elizabeth Maria Anna Amalie Kranz, daughter of a Dresden professor. According to rumor, Elizabeth’s mother is a Jew. According to a reference book, Heydrich’s father is “Heydrich, Runo, real name Süss.” The latter is a common name among German Jews – but also among Christians. The results of this note are persistent rumors that Reinhard Heydrich is himself of Jewish blood. Reinhard’s brother, Thomas, will later burn much of his family’s personal papers, adding to the mystery.
In person, Heydrich is tall, handsome, and Nordic, an expert skier, fencer, and swordsman. The only weaknesses in this superficially Aryan appearance are Heydrich’s high, nasal voice and wide hips.
At age 18, Heydrich drops music in favor of a Naval officer’s career, training on the old disarmed cruiser Berlin, at Kiel. His skipper is Cdr. Wilhelm Canaris. At first the too get along famously, with Heydrich invited to play Mozart quartets at the Canaris home with Frau Canaris and her friends. Heydrich is impressed and fascinated with Canaris’s background as Great War spy and his escapes. Heydrich develops a new dream: to become a naval intelligence officer. With Canaris’s backing, Heydrich rockets up to Oberleutenant by 1926.
But Heydrich is a compulsive womanizer. In 1930, he impregnates an I.G. Farben director’s daughter and gets engaged to another girl, Lina Von Osten, who is rabidly pro-Nazi. The I.G. Farben director demands that Heydrich marry his daughter. Nein, says the cool Oberleutenant. That girl was a passing fancy…Lina is his true love – even though Lina’s parents are dead against the marriage.
This soap opera plot climaxes when Heydrich has to pop tall before the Navy’s ultimate “Old Man,” Vice Adm. Erich Raeder, boss of the whole fleet. The stony Raeder, who alone among German admirals wears a wing collar under his uniform, gives Heydrich two options: marry the pregnant girl or leave the Navy. Heydrich leaves the Navy. The officer responsible for the cashiering is Heydrich’s executive officer, Capt. Wilhelm Canaris. A bitter personal and professional feud begins between the ambitious Heydrich and the cultured Canaris.
Spurred on by his rabidly Nazi fiancée, Lina Von Osten, Heydrich joins the Nazi Party.
Himmler meets Heydrich on June 4, 1931, at the Brown House, a day after Benito Mussolini starts purging off opposition Catholic leadership. Himmler, a weak man, is uneasy in the presence of the confident and aggressive Heydrich, sensing that Heydrich is a superior person. Schoolmaster Himmler gives Heydrich a 20-question test to sketch out how to set up a counter-intelligence corps.
Heydrich is momentarily stumped. Although he served in naval intelligence, he actually doesn’t have a clue about how it works. He was actually just a communications and coding officer. And the great true and fictional spy stories of the Cold War are yet to come. Espionage is still largely defined by Mata Hari and Lord Baden-Powell’s schoolboy adventures.
Heydrich, however, is a quick thinker. He spouts out some platitudes, like “Security is just as important as espionage,” which impresses Himmler. Heydrich says that the SS should base its intelligence on the human factor – create an army of informers in every single Nazi organization, called “Information Officers.” Heydrich says such men should be “properly trained, always on the alert, always listening for what they want to hear.” The SS chief is just about as clueless as Heydrich, too. So nearly anything will impress him.
Himmler hires Heydrich on the spot, offering him 180 Reichmarks a month ($40 a month at the time) and tells him to set up a new department, the Sicherheitsdienst, or SD, the security and intelligence service, under the SS umbrella. With the money, Heydrich also marries Lina on December 26, 1931.
Heydrich addresses his task with gusto, earning three promotions between June 1931 and his wedding day. Operating out of the Brown House, he sets up a network of spies and informers, which in turn provide Heydrich – and thus Himmler – with massive secret files on Germans of all levels of society, most importantly, the Nazi Party.
Initially, the SD is an amateurish operation. The first SD recruits include a fruit importer and tobacconist named Carl Oberg – who will later terrorize France – and Himmler’s cousin, a religious studies teacher. One SD operative is an expert on Rhineland separatism. Some SD agents spy on each other. Another operative pursues a rumored threat against Otto Strasser’s life, which turns out to have originated in a memo Strasser wrote himself, complaining about auto accidents.
Supplies are short…SD agents use sheds as offices and garden furniture inside them. Heydrich, apparently seeing himself as a 1930s version of the head of the British Secret Service, himself temporarily loses his connection to his fantasy world of spies when his home phone is disconnected for non-payment.
But Heydrich yanks the SD into shape, ultimately creating a successful organization, filled with all kinds of informers, confidential agents, ordinary agents, casual employees, and even “doubtful informants,” who report on their subjects’ every move, personal desires, love lives, bank accounts…anything that can be used for punishment or blackmail. Officially, the SD is the Party’s “Press and Information Department,” but it never issues press releases. But within a few years, it has more than 100,000 agents, detectives, and informers on the payroll.
Heydrich and Himmler make an odd pair. Heydrich regards Hitler as an upstart, while Himmler sees Heydrich as a Jew trying to cover his past. Himmler and Hitler both see Heydrich as a dangerous but very useful man – with great intelligence. The stains on Heydrich’s family history will make him obedient to orders.
Heydrich and Himmler have a cold relationship…Himmler sitting at his perfectly ordered desk, tapping his dirty nails against it, blinking through his pince-nez. Although Himmler knows his blackmail power holds Heydrich at bay, Himmler still fears his cold, calculating, subordinate. Himmler orders Heydrich and his wife to address him as “Herr Reichsfuhrer,” not “Herr Himmler.”
Heydrich reacts to the chilly treatment by heightening his anti-Semitism. Anyone who accuses Heydrich of being Jewish soon faces a libel action – which Heydrich wins, backed by his SD files. Heydrich becomes determined to set himself up as the supreme authority on who is Jewish and who is not, and ultimately, their greatest executioner.
Meanwhile, Hitler continues to battle his enemies and his own SA. Berlin Brownshirt Capt. Walter Stennes complains that the rank and file is being ignored. On February 20, 1931, while the Peruvian Navy mutinies and Americans line up to watch Bela Lugosi bite his co-starring ladies in Dracula, Hitler orders the SA to stop fighting Reds and Jews in the streets. The violence is bad for the party’s image as a law-abiding outfit. Stennes is enraged. Next month Hitler agrees to a Weimar order that rallies have police approval. The last thing SA bullies want is police approval.
Stennes summons some SA big shots and they vote to remove Hitler. Mr. Wolf orders Stennes to Munich. Stennes doesn’t go. Hitler sends his SS men to round up the rebels. In 24 hours, Stennes is convinced to drop his vote and shut his mouth. Stennes even tells his men to stay with Hitler. Hitler puts Edmund Heines, a convicted murderer and one of Röhm’s boyfriends, in charge of the Berlin Brownshirts. Then he gives the rest amnesty.
There are a number of homosexuals in the upper ranks of the SA, and not only because of Ernst Rohm’s lifestyle. Hitler himself cynically believes that the best people for an army-like organization of bullies are gay men, because they don’t have families, with their burdens and demands. “No one with family responsibilities,” he says, “is any good at street fighting.”
The SS lock up Stennes after Hitler’s takeover in 1933, and torture him. But as Stennes is a former Reichswehr officer, they intervene to free him, and Stennes winds up in China, re-organizing the police force for Shanghai’s International Settlement, and then heading Chiang Kai-Shek’s bodyguard, helping to build a miniature Gestapo for the Kuomintang’s leader.
Back in Berlin, Hitler lunches with Daily Express correspondent Sefton “Tommy” Delmer at the Reich Restaurant, and says, “From now on, just you watch! My men will be quiet and disciplined and orderly. My job is to prevent the millions of German unemployed from coming under Communist influence as they easily might. I want to turn them, instead, into an orderly citizen force for the defense of Germany against the internal and external Bolshevik enemy.”
Delmer points out that Nazi “Death to Jews” rhetoric doesn’t sound disciplined. Hitler brushes the reporter off. “Oh, don’t take these slogans at their face value. That is all only half as serious as it sounds. I am removing the rowdy undisciplined from the SA.”
Hitler later tells Delmer that he has only two demands: an end to war reparations and a “free hand in the East.” Germany’s surplus millions must be allowed to expand into Russia. Delmer asks how Hitler can get into Russia without violating Polish sovereignty. Hitler says, “A way can be found for everything.”
Back at Lipetsk in the Soviet Union, as if to mirror Hitler’s dreams, things are running down. Tests on the Dornier 11 bomber are successful, even though it has two, not the desired four, engines, but the Reich, free of Versailles overseers, is now ready to violate the treaty on its own soil. On November 30, 1930, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones dies at the age of 100, and the Nazis win the Bremen municipal elections. The same day, the Weimar government decides to move its air test base back to Rechlin in Mecklenburg, north of Berlin. Lipetsk will be shut down in late 1931. The last class of fighter pilots rotates through the course in 1932.
The Soviets are annoyed, but the Germans let the Soviets keep the ultra-modern test facility intact, along with a collection of Fokker D XIII planes. The Reichswehr is now playing with the newer Arado 65. On paper, the planes are property of the Traffic Ministry, hired out to commercial firms as tow-planes to haul flying ads for Dortmunder Union beer.
In March 1931, Austria’s biggest bank, the Kreditanstalt, collapses, which hammers Germany further. By July 14, all Germany’s banks are forced to close. Bruening is running out of ways to cut the budget and raise taxes. He proposes a customs union with Austria.
Churchill, already warning against German re-armament, attacks this plan in the Hearst newspapers on March 31, 1931. He writes with considerable accuracy that the proposed Austro-German Customs Union will see the “solid German block of 70 millions producing far more than twice (France’s) number of military males each year, towering up grim and grisly.”
The French, backed by Italy and Czechoslovakia, accurately call the union a violation of Versailles. Bruening drops the plan on September 3, but Germany’s internal political weakness continues. Next day, Major James H. Doolittle sets the record for coast-to-coast travel by flying from California to Newark in 11 hours, 16 minutes and 10 seconds, in a specially built biplane. Doolittle’s time snips 68 minutes and 53 seconds off the year-old record, averaging 240 miles per hour, with three fuel stops en route.
While Doolittle conquers the air, the German government is inept. Bruening is able to stay in power mostly because Hindenburg rubber-stamps the Chancellor’s emergency decrees. Indeed, the Reichstag doesn’t even sit between February and October 1931. Power now exists in Hindenburg’s circle…and in the streets.
With the world economy increasingly a disaster, U.S. President Herbert Hoover proposes on June 22 a one-year suspension of both payments on reparations and those on war debts. On July 6, the French and Americans agree that German payments to France will go back to Germany as loans. Good efforts, but not enough to stem the tide. Meanwhile, TWA begins the first air-freight service by shipping livestock from St. Louis to Newark.
Yet as Hitler consolidates his party’s gains through 1931, personal disaster crashes in on his life. Hitler learns that his chauffeur, Emil Maurice, is having a secret affair with his beloved niece, Geli Raubal. Hitler fires Maurice and puts Julius Schreck at the wheel of his Mercedes.
Most people think Hitler is simply being an attentive uncle, and gossip is that Geli is a seductive flirt. Others say Hitler genuinely loves his niece. More lurid accounts describe Hitler as raping Geli. Nobody can say definitively if the love is reciprocal, or if they ever have sex. The truth may never be known. But Hitler is exceptionally possessive. He insists on having her escorted, even to her singing lessons. Hitler is too reserved to openly court any woman, particularly the daughter of a half-sister.
One thing is certain…everyone else in the Fuhrerbau can hear their angry fights, followed by both sides crying. In the summer of 1931, Geli’s every public move is accompanied by one of Hitler’s flunkies’ wives as a chaperone.