Sefton Delmer on Ernst Röhm
The more I denied I had any connection with British Intelligence, the more Röhm became convinced that I was the great XYZ himself.
We dined and wined together almost every time he came to Berlin from his Munich headquarters. And eminently useful to me this was. Through Röhm, who as a former Reichswehr officer was in charge of Hitler’s secret contact with the generals, I got on the inside news track of many of the intrigues and manoeuvres that were the essence of Hitler’s campaign for power.
Röhm was in touch with General Kurt von Schleicher, the soldier-politician who had conducted all the army’s underground political plotting, from the November 1918 pact with the Social-democratic leaders and the deal with the Red Army to the present intrigue with the Nazis. Schleicher – whose name is the German for Creeper – wanted to abolish Germany’s ineffective parliamentary democracy and substitute for it an authoritarian government based on the army, with himself as the strong man in the background. Schleicher thought he could use the nazis in two ways – Hitler and his political party as a propaganda machine to give his regime a wide popular backing, Röhm and his Stormtroops as a militia reserve from which to fill the cadres of the Reichswehr when the day arrived.
Hitler, of course, had no intention of becoming Schleicher’s puppet, and Röhm meant to command the army of the coming Nazi Reichswehr himself. But Schleicher’s first objective, the dismissal of Chancellor Brüning and the coalition government then ruling Germany, was also their first objective. So they both gladly accepted Schleicher’s political help, and his money. Schleicher paid out no less than £2,000,000 from the Reichswehr’s secret funds for the Nazi Stormtroops and the men who were ultimately to murder him, if we can accept the testimony of the Third Reich’s security chief.*
To me my meetings with Röhm were invaluable. Even more valuable than those with Hitler. For while Hitler talked propaganda all the time, Röhm and his cronies gave me the gossip and the news, and Röhm was as indiscreet in his talk as he was uninhibited in his pervert libertinism.
What was it that caused first Bell on Röhm’s behalf, then Röhm himself, to seek out the supposed secret agent Delmer? It took me quite a time to find out. For Röhm, who was absurdly outspoken when it came to talking about his preparations for a coup, was an oyster about the mysterious matter which he wanted to discuss with the Secret Service.
He would call on me in my office accompanied by his pimply boy adjutant, Count Spreti, and after a few jaunty jovialities out it would come. “By the way, have you managed to arrange a meeting for me yet with the British? Someone I could talk with from the Secret Service?” And I would answer “I am afraid I don’t know any Secret Service men . They’re secret from me!” And Röhm would laugh in disbelieving “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and clap me on the shoulder as though it was a terrific joke.
“Well, what about your diplomats?” the crosstalk would go on.
“I did ask some of my friends at the embassy. For some obscure reason of protocol, or etiquette or something, they seem to be a little scared of meeting you. I suppose it’s because they’re diplomats and don’t want to be seen talking to a leader of the opposition for fear they would be accused of intriguing against the government!”
“But that really is Saudumm! [sow stupid]” the little Stabchef would say in his forthright Bavarian way. “I have had a talk with François-Poncet, and he is the French Ambassador. He is not afraid of talking to me or of doing business either. Tell that to your friends.” And I would promise to take it up again.
Then one day Röhm turned up unaccompanied by any of his ADCs. “What do you say,” he asked me, “if you and I go out on a pub crawl by our two selves? We’ll have some dinner first and then we’ll go on a Bummel and you can show me some of the Berlin nightlife.”
“First class!” I said with hypocritical enthusiasm, “Nothing I’d like better.” Off we went leaving Ronny Panton, my new assistant, to guard the office.
Secretly, however, I did not relish the prospect of a tête-à-tête night-out with the sex-hungry little major. I was quite ready to take my chance with police machine guns in a riot or to shake hands with murderers and pimps in order to get a story. But there was one little discomfort I was not prepared to undergo for Lord Beaverbrook. So I looked forward to our evening out with some trepidation. Off we went together, the little Stabchef, short, dumpy and energetic, his merry eyes glinting with pleasure and anticipation in his round scarfaced bullet-head, and I, tall and slim, hiding my nervousness under a mask of Oxonian languor.
We dined at Peltzer’s, an admirable restaurant in the Wilhelmstrasse much patronised by my embassy friends, of whom none however were there that evening. Then we went on to the Eldorado, a drab dance bar of stale cigarette smoke and soap and sweat, where the much powdered and painted hostesses were all boys dressed up as girls with wigs and falsies and low-cut evening dresses.
I was a trifle shocked when one of the ‘girls,’ a huge creature with a very prominent Adam’s apple and a distinctly blue chin under the layer of powder, sat down uninvited at our table and began to talk to Röhm about what appeared to have been a most enjoyable party they had been on together several nights earlier.
“Now there you have it, Herr Stabchef,” I said rashly, when ‘she’ had left us. “No female tart would approach an ex-client like that and talk to him of their night together in the presence of a stranger.” Röhm, who normally was open and unashamed about his pickups and enjoyed joking about his ‘weakness’ was suddenly huffy. “I am not his client. I am his commanding officer,” he said with complete seriousness. “He is one of my stormtroopers!”
It was when we had settled ourselves into one of the balcony boxes of the Silhouette, a night spot which catered for homosexuals of both sexes, and were sipping coffee and brandy, that Röhm at last came out with his great secret.
“What I am going to tell you now, my dear Delmer, is something you must promise me not to publish. It has nothing to do with your newspaper work.” I promised. “The scheme which I have discussed with M. François-Poncet, and which I would like also to discuss with someone from your embassy or better still from the Secret Service is this. General von Schleicher is anxious to include 250,000 men of the Stormtroops and 50,000 men of the Steelhelmets in the Reichswehr. In my view this is an excellent plan. It would mean that, in place of the present professional army of 100,000 men with all their narrow caste spirit as professional soldiers, Germany would have a people’s army of 400,000 men. This would absorb all the best cadres of the Stormtroops. The problem of the private armies which is allegedly causing so much misgiving in Paris and London would be solved once and for all time. And it would help with our unemployment problem.”
“Well, of course,” I said, “you would have to get Allied approval for this increase in Reichswehr strength.”
“I agree. That is why I want to see your people. If necessary, I am prepared to make a trip to London.”
“What would the function of this big new German army be, apart from providing a new home for your Stormtroopers and the unemployed?”
“The first thing that would be needed would be for us to have a military alliance with Britain and Italy, as the Führer says, and France too, if the French will come in. From what François-Poncet says I think they would. Then, if the Russian Bolsheviks try any more of their nonsense, we shall give short shrift to this Bolshevik pest! What I am telling you is, of course, only the broadest outline of the project. You can pass it on to the proper quarters. What do you think their reaction will be?”
“But if Schleicher is all for this plan, surely he is the fellow to negotiate it,” I said, ignoring his last question. “Our embassy chaps would, I’m sure, be most interested to hear about it from him. He’s an official. No difficulties of protocol with him.”
“But that’s just it,” said Röhm peevishly, “I am determined to negotiate this myself. Only I can speak with authority for the Stormtroops.”
The plan sounded a bit fanciful to me. But I was immensely relieved to find that this was the purpose of our tête-à-tête pub crawl, and nothing more personal. Röhm had wanted to speak to me without witnesses in the hope that, without witnesses, secret agent Delmer would come clean and reveal the British reaction to his proposals.
The following morning I passed on the information Röhm had given me to Gerry Young who was my number one ally at the British Embassy. Gerry was interested all right. But he still could not persuade the ambassador to lift his veto on all contact between the Embassy and Röhm.
In fact, I was not able to bring off a meeting between the Stabchef and our diplomats until after Hitler had come to power and Röhm had become almost respectable. And what an anticlimax that party was for the poor Röhm, when it finally took place. For he drank too many vodkas and fell asleep at my dinner table snoring loudly through his shot-up stub of a nose.
* W. Schellenberg, Memoiren, p. 45.
Sefton Delmer, Trail Sinister, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London 1961, pp. 120-124.