Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

Bent Straight: The Destruction of Self in Martin Sherman's Bent

Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

Bent Straight: The Destruction of Self in Martin Sherman's Bent

Article excerpt

Despite the homophobia of Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Hixnmler, homosexuals in Nazi Germany lived in relative safety until the Night of Long Knives, which began on 28 June 1934 and continued until 3 July. During this purge, Hitler rid himself of Ernst Roehm, the controversial and confrontational SA (Sturmabteilung -- storm troopers) leader who had helped catapult him to power by establishing and training this organization. Roehm had vehemently insisted that the SA encompass the Germany army and serve as the Fiehrer's primary fighting force, a demand that Hitler frowned upon, having learned during the Beer Putsch of 1923 the importance of a national army. Although Roehm's outbursts later rendered him expendable to the Fiehrer, initially the SA leader, an unabashed homosexual, served as an invaluable cog in the Nazi political machine.

Because of Roehm's military prowess, Hitler overlooked the man's hot temper and homosexual lifestyle. As long as Roehm continued to support Hitler and distinguish himself as a talented and loyal soldier, the Fiihrer considered the man's private life irrelevant -- or at least refused to make an issue of it. William Shirer notes that 'Hitler had known all along, from the earliest days of the party, that a large number of his closest and most important followers were sexual perverts and convicted murderers. It was common talk, for instance, that [SA Cbergruppenfiihrer of Silesia Edmund] Heines used to send SA men scouring ali over Germany to find him suitable male lovers'.' Hitler, in fact, defended the SA leader on several occasions. Addressing people who criticized the SA leaders, complaining of criminal activities within the organization, Hitler declared that the SA was a 'gathering of men for a political purpose, not an institute for the moral education of young ladies but a band of rough fighters'. The cruc ial question was 'whether or not the SA leader or man did his duty in the SA. A man's private life can be an object of consideration only if it runs counter to essential principles of the National Socialist Weltanschauung [Ideology]. (2) Roehm might have appreciated Hitler's support, but he took it for granted.

The SA leader abused the confidence and patience that the Fuhrer had placed in him. During a power struggle for Hitler's favour and for political power that ensued between Nazis such as Roehm, Himmier, Goebbels, Goering and Heydrich, each man strove to convince the Fuhrer that he deserved more authority and that some of the others endangered the Nazi cause. Roehm, for instance, wanted more control over the military and became outraged and frustrated by his inability to persuade Hitler to allow the SA to supersede the power of the Wehrmacht generals and thus become the national army. A talented and intelligent military leader who proved foolish in regard to politics, Roehm became enraged and desperate after Hitler's refusal to side with him, so he imprudently spoke disparagingly about the Fuhrer in public. Roehm exclaimed to Hermann Rauschning:

Adolf is a swine ... He will give us all away. He only associates with the reactionaries now. His old friends aren't good enough for him ... Adolf has learned from me. Everything he knows about military matters, I've taught him ... But Adolf is and remains a civilian, an 'artist,' an idler ... What he wants is to sit on the hilltop and pretend he's God. And the rest of us, who are itching to do something, have got to sit around doing nothing. (3)

Roehm's competitors often brought his insulting words and news of his misconduct to the Fuhrer's attention, employing these misdeeds as a weapon against their adversary.

Taking the advice of Roehm's enemies and realizing that the tempestuous SA leader craved more authority for his organization, Hitler agreed to the purge. It would be incorrect to accept as true the charge that Roehm had planned to usurp Hitler's authority, a charge made publicly by the government as their impetus for the arrests and killings; this excuse legitimized the purge, allowing the murders to masquerade as a means of self-protection rather than as an act of aggression. …

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