Franz Pfeffer von Salomon was born in Düsseldorf on 19th February, 1888. He joined the Prussian Army and saw action in the First World War. He developed right-wing nationalist views and after the war was active in the Freikorps and took part in the Kapp Putsch. Pfeffer also organized resistance groups during the French occupation of the Ruhr. (1)
Pfeffer joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and was appointed Gauleiter in Westphalia. On 14th February 1926 he attended the Bamberg Party Congress where Hitler attempted to settle to Nazi Party program. There had been a clash of opinion between northern and southern leaders about future policy. Ernst Röhm, Gregor Strasser and Joseph Goebbels represented the urban, socialist, revolutionary trend, whereas Gottfried Feder reflected rural, racialist and populist ideas. At the conference Hitler made a two-hour speech where he opposed the socialism of Röhm and Strasser. He argued that the NSDAP must not help Communist-inspired movements. (2)
Goebbels was initially appalled by the speech and noted in his diary: "I feel devastated... Hitler a reactionary? Amazingly clumsy and uncertain... Italy and England natural allies... Short discussion. Strasser speaks. Hesitant, trembling, clumsy, the good honest Strasser. God, how poor a match we are for those swine... Probably one of the greatest disappointments of my life. I no longer believe fully in Hitler." (3)
Goebbels and Strasser finally accepted these arguments and in return they received promotion. Strasser was appointed as Propaganda Leader of the NSDAP and Goebbels became Gauleiter of Berlin. However, Röhm made it clear that he still retained his faith in socialism. As a result Hitler removed him as leader of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) and replaced him with Franz Pfeffer von Salomon.
According to Michael Burleigh, the author of The Third Reich: A New History (2001): "Franz Felix Pfeffer von Salomon... brief was to check its aspirations to quasi-military status by firmly subordinating it to the Party's political and propaganda goals. The SA was to perform two functions: to rough up opponents during elections, a practice Hitler seems to have admired across the Atlantic, and to assert the Nazi presence on the streets." Hitler wrote to Pfeffer: "We have to teach Marxism that the future master of the streets is National Socialism, just as one day it will be master of the state." (4)
It has been argued: "Pfeffer added orderliness and traditional army drill to SA formations to try to give parade-ground impressiveness and the glamour of a military appearance. His object was to make the SA an instrument of propaganda rather than a gang of bullies. It was Pfeffer who trained the SA in the mass parades and salutes with the raised arm, and the massed shout Heil Hitler! that became a feature of Party rallies." However, Pfeffer found Hitler difficult to work with as he was unable to discuss issues: "Hitler gets a cue to something he is interested in - but that's something different every day... then he takes over the conversation and the point of the discussion is shelved." Pfeffer gradually lost respect for Hitler and began describing him as "that flabby Austrian." (5)
Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) has argued that Pfeffer became just as difficult as Röhm had been. "Whatever steps Hitler took, however, the S.A. continued to follow its own independent course. Pfeffer held as obstinately as Röhm to the view that the military leadership should be on equal terms with, not subordinate to, the political leadership. He refused to admit Hitler's right to give orders to his Stormtroops. So long as the S.A. was recruited from the ex-service and ex-Freikorps men who had so far provided both its officers and rank and file, Hitler had to tolerate this state of affairs." (6)
On 2nd September 1930 Hitler relieved Pfeffer of his command. Hitler assumed temporary leadership of the Sturm Abteilung but decided to forgive Ernst Röhm for past indiscretions. A telegram was dispatched from Munich to La Paz. By the end of 1930 Röhm had returned to his native Germany, and in January 1931 he was named Chief of Staff of the SA. However, as one historian, Toby Thacker, points out, at the same time Hitler was negotiating with Röhm's enemies, industrialists and leaders of the German Army. (7)
Franz Pfeffer von Salomon died in Munich on 12th April, 1968.
In November 1926, Hitler reformed the S.A. and found a new commander in Captain Pfeffer von Salomon, but the ex-officers still thought only in military terms. The S.A. was to be a training ground for the Army and the height of their ambition was to hand it over lock, stock, and barrel to the Army, with jobs for themselves in the higher ranks. Both the Berlin and Munich S.A. leadership had to be purged. The Munich S.A. had become notorious for the homosexual habits of Lieutenant Edmund Heines and his friends: it was not for his morals, however, or his record as a murderer, that Hitler threw him out in May 1927, but for lack of discipline and insubordination. Such was the elite of the new Germany.
Whatever steps Hitler took, however, the S.A. continued to follow its own independent course. Pfeffer held as obstinately as Röhm to the view that the military leadership should be on equal terms with, not subordinate to, the political leadership. He refused to admit Hitler's right to give orders to his Stormtroops. So long as the S.A. was recruited from the ex-service and ex-Freikorps men who had so far provided both its officers and rank and file, Hitler had to tolerate this state of affairs. These men were not interested in politics; what they lived for was precisely this "playing at soldiers" Hitler condemned - going on manoeuvres, marching in uniform, brawling, sitting up half the night singing camp songs and drinking themselves into a stupor, trying to recapture the lost comradeship and exhilaration of 1914-18. In time Hitler was to find an answer in the black-shirted S.S., a hand-picked corps d'elite (sworn to absolute obedience) very different from the ill-disciplined S.A. mob of camp followers.
Having seen off volkisch challengers, Hitler was confronted by north-south tensions within the Party. In northern and western Germany, dynamic leaders such as Gregor Strasser and the Elberfeld journalist Joseph Goebbels wanted to concentrate on breaking into the urban socialist vote. They were both sceptical of Hitler's strategic talents, and antagonistic to the clique surrounding him in Munich. These men espoused a Prussian socialism. Whereas Hitler had recently vented his animosity towards Russia, they regarded it "as the socialist nationalist state for which consciously or unconsciously the younger generation in all countries long". Their socialism may have brought them into the same orbit as Othmar Spann or Oswald Spengler, but it does not mean that they forfeited every commonality with socialist parties, whose own heterogeneous historical roots included artisanal-utopian and statist tendencies.
At a hastily convened conference in Bamberg in early 1926, Hitler quashed plans to support SPD and KPD initiatives to expropriate the holdings of Germany's former ruling dynasties, and forbade any further discussion of first principles. Having reasserted his grip, Hitler appointed Gregor Strasser to the Party leadership with responsibility for propaganda, with Heinrich Himmler as his factotum, and promoted his new admirer Goebbels as Gauleiter of "Red" Berlin. Having created something which was more than a volkisch sect or a conventional political party, Hitler also checked the independence of the movement's paramilitary wing. In mid-1926, he replaced Ernst Röhm as SA chief by Franz Felix Pfeffer von Salomon, whose brief was to check its aspirations to quasi-military status by firmly subordinating it to the Party's political and propaganda goals. The SA was to perform two functions: to rough up opponents during elections, a practice Hitler seems to have admired across the Atlantic, and to assert the Nazi presence on the streets...
The SA continued to have attitudinal problems. These would eventually be corrected, with their blood on cell walls, by a smaller force that multiplied under their aegis but grew apart from them in terms of their focused fanaticism: Hitler's SS (Schutzstaffeln) praetorian guard consisted of men who were better educated, leaner, taller and older than the eighteen-year-olds, if not the pot-bellied middle-aged bullies, who comprised the SA. The SS included bullies too, but they were superior, academically educated examples of the type.
He might have thrown half of the S.A. after him. While Röhm peddled his books or sat around with his friends, the S.A. was led by a man who at heart was no National Socialist at all, Captain Pfeffer von Salomon. He used his power like a hired captain in the Renaissance; he had exacted the condition that Hitler should have no right to interfere. Pfeffer knew that he could not, on Sundays and Saturday afternoons, make a serviceable military troop out of these students, white-collar workers, and sons of peasants. But the S.A. could be a Preparatory school for the army; as many S.A. men as possible should enter the Reichswehr and flood it with rebellion. Hitler trembled at the slightest thought of illegality; they would deport him at once, of that he was certain. Pfeffer ordered the S.A. to engage in military manoeuvres; Hitler issued counter-orders. Pfeffer's orders were not valid, he declared, unless countersigned by him, Hitler. Violent scenes ensued; mask-like and immobile behind his pince-nez, Pfeffer listened to Hitler's violent outbreaks. Afterwards he said to others, "You can't take orders from this slovenly, terrified Austrian!" It was impossible to make those S.A. captains understand that the purpose of the S.A. was expressly not military. They held to a statement Hitler had once made himself: that "An army cannot be trained and taught the highest self-respect unless the function of its existence is preparation for warfare. There are no armies for the preservation of peace, but only for the victorious waging of war."
In the eyes of these former lieutenants and captains, the storm troops were a piece of the future army "waging a victorious war". They must be ready to slip into uniform at once and shoulder arms when the Reichswehr called them. The S.A. leaders had changed their views about Seeckt's army. Rossbach, for example, who had previously been so sceptical, said: "The Reichswehr in a superhuman struggle of infinite perseverance has step by step achieved an inner elevation, as we old soldiers today can perceive with seeing eyes". Consequently, the old soldiers must forget their old rancour and revise the faulty judgments. Pfeffer desired nothing more, and would have liked best to hand over the whole S.A. to the Reichswehr, calculating that he himself would then become a general, and Hitler, if necessary, could go to the devil. He led the S.A. back to the drill-grounds of the Reichswehr and trained them to bear arms; it was beginning to be a repetition of 1923, which Hitler recalled with horror. That must not happen again. The Reichswehr must not be allowed to take "his" S.A. out of his hands, and perhaps look on smiling while the bourgeois State's attorney prosecuted Hitler for illegal military drilling and the Socialist Minister of the Interior ordered the foreigner deported. He forbade his troop any connection with the Reichswehr, on grounds amounting to high treason: "The National Socialist, and first and foremost the S.A. man, has no call to stir so much as a finger for the present State, which has no understanding of our outlook and can only perpetuate the misfortune of our people.... The coming Reich for which we are struggling alone obligates us to stake our persons."
With Röhm in South America, Hitler placed Captain Franz Pfeffer von Salomon in charge of the SA. This was a move Hitler came to regret, as Pfeffer von Salomon (like Rohm) had an independent mind, but unlike Rohm had no fealty to Hitler, who he characterized as "that flabby Austrian."
By August 1930 Hitler had reached the end of his patience with Pfeffer von Salomon. He relieved him of his command and, on an interim basis, personally assumed leadership of the SA. A telegram was dispatched from Munich to La Paz, as once again Hitler in a time of need turned to the man who had been so essential to him in past days of travail. By the end of 1930 Rohm had returned to his native Germany, and in January 1931 he was named Chief of Staff of the SA.
He immediately began the task of rebuilding and enlarging the SA, and in so doing brought his homosexual friends into leadership positions. Hitler turned aside all complaints about Röhm's morals, lifestyle, methods, and techniques, and defended the SA by saying it was "not an institute for the moral education of young ladies but a band of tough fighters." And so it was, as the ranks burgeoned to encompass the criminal element as well as sundry undesirables.
(1) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 217
(2) Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889-1936 (1998) page 275
(3) Joseph Goebbels, diary entry (14th February 1926)
(4) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 103
(5) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 217
(6) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 168
(7) Toby Thacker, Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death (2009) page 113