Monday, November 16, 2009

Would Somebody Write a Biography of Ernst Roehm?



If you were to write a nonfiction book, what would your topic be?

By Rebecca Cantrell


As a technical writer I wrote literally thousands of nonfiction pages. I mean, I thought they were nonfiction while I was writing them, or that they would one day be nonfiction. Because I wrote about products long before the products were completely finished, this wasn’t always true, but I tried very, very hard.

But they weren’t about topics I would have picked on my own. Who exactly would spend their spare time writing the Hyperion Essbase Database Administrator’s Guide? The Sun Java Studio Creator online help? The Sybase APT/GUI Installation Guide for all seven Unix platforms? No, for those I was paid real cash money and my employer got to pick the topics (Data load? Dimension build? Attributes that look like dimensions? You betcha).
If I had an infinite amount of time (that is, enough to be a happy wife and mother and write and promote all the fiction books I want to, plus extra time left over) I would write a biography of Ernst Röhm. I almost didn’t want to say it because it sounds so nerdy, but I figured if you slogged through the Essbase references, you are toughened up.
Ernst Röhm was Hitler’s best friend. His right hand man. Hitler once said “When they write the history of the Nazi party, he will be second in importance only to me.” Röhm built up the storm troopers. He was in charge of the secret cache of German weapons after the first World War, and he gave some to the Nazis for the failed Beer Hall Putsch. He was the only who actually accomplished his objective, take the barracks and wait for Hitler. Decorated war hero that he was, the judge let him off easy.
Röhm shows up in my first book, A TRACE OF SMOKE, because he came back to Germany to save Hitler’s butt after the storm troopers rebelled. He’s an interesting guy, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that he was gay and out. And everybody knew it.
But there is no published biography of him that I could unearth. To find out about him, I had to read the bits where he's mentioned in huge history books (like RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH), plus a few passages in Sefton Delmer's autobiography, THE COUNTERFEIT SPY, but mostly I read Röhm's autobiography, published in 1928, then mostly destroyed later by the Nazis, but snagged from some school in Dresden and dragged back to UC Berkeley where it was bound in a bright orange cover. And it's all written using the old fashioned Fraktur font.
He's not a good guy or anything, but all the other Nazi figures have been profiled, from the important ones all the way down to the secretary who typed Hitler’s personal letters. But not Röhm. Why not? I think because he’s so gay that Nazi scholars are afraid to claim him, and he’s so Nazi that gay scholars don’t want him either. But somebody should. He was a fascinating guy, albeit a dangerous and scary brute.
How did he die? Hitler ordered his best friend shot in 1934 (yes, that’s in the second book, A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES). It seems to have been one murder he actually felt guilty about too.
So, would some poor history PhD student somewhere write that book, so I don’t have to?

20 comments:

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

This may not be a birth to death bio. It came out last year:
http://www.amazon.com/Ernst-Rohm-Hitlers-Chief-Staff/dp/0230604021

put it on your Kwanza list!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Mysti! At $90 for 288 pages, I'd better be on the Nice List.

I feel for her with only one Amazon review and it's two stars. Plus Macmillan didn't do the work to let people see the bio or the table of contents. Breaks my heart for Eleanor Hancock.

I did some more research online and found out that she teaches history in New South Wales, Australia, so it does look promising...

Sophie Littlefield said...

Wow, Rebecca, seriously...that would be fascinating but soul-bruising. You're amazing.

Jen Forbus said...

We need the good people bios as well as the villains. And sometimes the bad guys are far more interesting to read about - even if you'd never want to be friends with the person!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Aww, thanks, Sophie! Some of the research is pretty awful, and it's getting worse now that the books are set after the Nazis took over. The 1938 book (Kristallnacht) is going to be very, very hard to research and write.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I agree, Jen! Plus I think we could learn a lot looking into the background of the people who brought about such terrible things. Roehm was an interesting case because he wasn't particularly anti-Semitic and certainly not anti-gay, but he was loyal to the idea of a greater German Reich and willing to do whatever was necessary to get there.

Kelli Stanley said...

That's fascinating, Becky--I had no idea Roehm didn't have an official biography. I mean, gee, everybody's got one (or a memoir) these days ... you'd think someone instrumental to Hiter's rise would be covered!

And hasn't there been quite a number of books on Goebbels, the 'good family man', and Himmler the chicken farmer, and Goring the cross-dresser?

I'd want you to write it, except that would mean less time for Hannah, so I'm sorry, but we're not going to let you. More Hannah!! (and Anton, of course!) :)

xoxo

Kelli

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Kelli! And don't worry, I have WAY too much fiction to write and promote to get to it. And I've been working feverishly on A GAME OF LIES. Am a little over halfway through. Lots of Hannah, but no Anton or Boris. Hope you can forgive me!

Kelli Stanley said...

I'll forgive you anything, Becks, but really--don't make us fall in love with Anton and then withhold him! ;)

Can't wait to read the next one!!

xoxo

Kelli

Shane Gericke said...

Bad guys are always more fascinating to read about than good guys, which is why they're so much fun to write. The Roehm--doesn't he sounds like a water heater?--book would be very interesting if done right, perhaps novelish in style albeit all-facts in content. Give it a whirl, Becky, who wouldn't want a Nazi killer brute-scummo wandering around her brain for months and years of research and writing :-)

Shane Gericke said...

These Nazi strongmen particularly creep me out because they were such ... regular people. Next-door neighbors. Politicians. Grocers. Then they got jackboots and power and a world fell apart.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Shane! I have had Nazi thugs running around in my head for years, so I suppose it wouldn't be too different.
If I had time...I have some great quotes for him too, from "revolutions devour their children" on the day of his execution to this exchange with Sefton Delmer (reporter turned spy). Delmer was trying to convince Himmler to let him into Dachau as a prisoner to report on conditions There after Himmler kept telling him how great it was there. Himmler said something like we will see and Roehm piped up "wonderful idea. We can give you a full tour, starting with the beating and ending with you shot while trying to escape." then he clinks glasses with Delmer and Himmler sits there grinding his teeth. He was such a straightforward thug.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

"revolutions devour their children"?

I thought it was meter maids!

Good grief!

I think UNSW is a pretty good school (maybe not as GREAT as ANU, where I went for a year, but darn close).

It'd be cool to read something with no German OR American bias, wouldn't it?

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Found a gently used copy for you, it should arrive by Nov 30! Let me know if it's any good!!!!

Jeremy Duns said...

Apologies for coming in late, but I only just saw this. Fascinating stuff - shame you can't write it. And I love that anecdote with Sefton Delmer. Well, perhaps 'love' is the wrong word for something so queasy, but I can imagine a compelling biography just from that snippet. Maybe in years to come you can revisit the idea?

Anonymous said...

Ernst Rohm is actually my husbands great, great, great uncle. We have been doing some research of our own and would love to have the book written.

bill said...

Actually, I'm a grad student at CUNY and am working on a biography of him myself. I've read Hancock's book. She's unearthed a huge amount of info on him but there are still big holes, possibly ones that could never be filled.

But you're right - a fascinating guy.

Anonymous said...

there is a good french book about ernst rohm.by jean mabire.fayard 1983.out of print.bill;i hope you'll write a gook book about ernst rohm with pics and new informations.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why there isn't a serious biography about Ernst Rohm ?

Lorrie Roehm said...

I was just doing a little google search and found this interest in my relative Ernst Roehm. I have quite a bit of information about Ernst within my Family History research. Stories passed down, some are in German from relatives in Germany. One thing he tried to assassinate Hitler but was caught and killed. Lorrie Roehm