Stormtrooper Families

Homosexuality and Community in the Early Nazi Movement

Andrew Wackerfuss, PhD

352 pages, including glossary and index
9 black & white illustrations
Cloth, $90.00 ISBN: 978-1-939594-04-4
Paper, $35.00 ISBN: 978-1-939594-05-1
ebook, $22.99 ISBN: 978-1-939594-06-8

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Based on extensive archival work, Stormtrooper Families combines stormtrooper personnel records, Nazi Party autobiographies, published and unpublished memoirs, personal letters, court records, and police-surveillance records to paint a picture of the stormtrooper movement as an organic product of its local community, its web of interpersonal relationships, and its intensely emotional
internal struggles. Extensive analysis of Nazi-era media across the political spectrum shows how the public debate over homosexuality proved just as important to political outcomes as did the actual presence of homosexuals in fascist and antifascist politics.
As children in the late-imperial period, the stormtroopers witnessed the first German debates over homosexuality and political life. As young adults, they verbally and physically battled over these definitions, bringing conflicts over homosexuality and masculinity into the center of Weimar Germany’s most important political debates. Stormtrooper Families chronicles the stormtroopers’ personal, political, and sexual struggles to explain not only how individual gay men existed within the Nazi movement but also how the public meaning of homosexuality affected fascist and antifascist politics–a public controversy still alive today.
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1. Fathers and ForefathersFree Chapter

“Fathers and Forefathers” introduces readers to the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg as it existed in the imaginations of the boys who later became stormtroopers. The stormtroopers are present in this chapter only as children. However, their childhoods first introduced them to several themes critical to their later political journeys: their city’s contested heritage of democratic governance, its vibrant economic and political life, and the first debates over political homosexuality. This grand and worldly imperial Vaterstadt—the “father city” of their childhood—endured throughout their lives as a symbol of a vanished golden age that had been tarnished and betrayed.

2. Shattered Sons

In “Shattered Sons” the war generation marches off to fight and returns to a changed city. Their fear of political and economic crisis often intensifed existing social panic about increasing rates of divorce, unwed motherhood, abortion, venereal disease, homosexuality, and other alleged symptoms of degeneracy. These youths joined the nascent Nazi movement, which had positioned itself as a self-consciously pro-family party whose earliest meetings and events showcased marriage, family, and respectable domestic life. Yet the stormtroopers also loudly proclaimed their allegiance to an all-male lifestyle, which they had honed during the Great War and now continued to rely on for emotional stability in an unstable world. They therefore existed uncomfortably between two competing kinship networks—one familial, one comradely. The tension between the two became one of the most important characteristics of the movement.

3. Stormtroopers Confront The Criminal

“Stormtroopers Confront the Criminal” cuts to the heart of the stormtroopers’ paradoxical family lifestyles. On the one hand, they married, they founded their own families, and they claimed to be entering politics in order to protect the traditional nuclear family. On the other hand, they actively sought to live as soldiers, disconnecting from their families in favor of their comrades, embracing violence and combat, and at times demonstrating so much affection with one another as to call their sexuality into question. The conflict came to a head in 1928, when a murder trial outed a stormtrooper as homosexual. The SA then sought absolution through a public homophobic protest against a play, The Criminal, whose tolerant stance toward homosexuality became a flashpoint the SA could use to unite the radical right’s squabbling factions under the stormtrooper banner.

4. The Battle of Sternschanze

“The Battle of Sternschanze” describes a notorious battle in which an ill-planned SA march erupted into a widespread riot. This highly publicized media event established heroic masculinity and spectacular martyrdom as the stormtroopers’ best political weapons.

5. Community and Violence

“Community and Violence” shows how the stormtroopers created an all-consuming daily lifestyle of intense political and personal associations. Through a network of hostels, barracks, and kitchens, they drew recruits and mobilized comrades for political violence. The stormtroopers’ communal living spaces tried to root them in neighborhood and family life, but the homoeroticism, drunkenness, and debauchery found there bred conflict with more socially traditional and family-oriented wings of the Nazi movement. The tensions increased as a small number of homosexuals within the SA leadership became known, which led to the political left’s increasing eagerness to challenge the Nazis’ sexual self-image.

6. Bloody Sundays

“Bloody Sundays” describes events of 1932, the Weimar Republic’s final year. A series of violent encounters that took place on Sundays culminated in Bloody Sunday, when an SA march through the suburb of Altona so provoked local Communists that it set off an epic confrontation between Communists and police. The resulting riot seemingly gave evidence to Nazi claims of Communist criminality versus Nazi righteousness. It helped align the forces of order on the Nazi side and set off a national chain reaction that began the Republic’s final descent.

7. The SA Takes Power

“The Stormtroopers Take Power” relates how SA men used violence to secure authority that they immediately abused. The SA drove its enemies from public life, arrested them without warrants, and consigned them to “wild” concentration camps that it ruled with brutality. However, the SA simultaneously integrated itself into the community in new ways. SA men now took jobs with the police and in city government, seized patronage positions, enjoyed the fruits of corruption, and claimed psychological ownership of taverns, pubs, and restaurants that had formerly resisted their presence. These actions increased tensions between the SA’s two communities, because they highlighted the conflict between two opposing goals. On the one hand, the SA sought to establish the stormtroopers as responsible young men, while on the other it hoped to strengthen the brawling samesex society that had brought the movement this far. At the same time, the rush of victory attracted a new wave of self-interested recruits who knew little of the emotional and spiritual foundations of the stormtrooper lifestyle and instead sought only their own advantage. Victory therefore brought more grief than solace to many SA men, who now faced the irreconcilability of their two families as never before.

8. Long Knives

“The Night of the Long Knives” shows how tensions between same-sex camaraderie, revolutionary demands, and the SA’s new pretension to legitimate authority reached a head by mid-1934. By then, Hamburg had had enough of the bullying SA. The stormtroopers’ loud insistence on their honor and privileges, their rampant corruption and excess, and their continued use of violence in public spaces now threatened to undermine the Nazi movement. Hitler and his cronies took action, purging the SA of its leaders and settling old scores in a national massacre that lasted for days. Hitler then mobilized political homophobia as his prime justification for the purge, arguing that he had acted to extirpate the rot of homosexuality from SA and party ranks. Now that the group was cleansed, he said, every German mother could again feel safe with the party in charge. The stormtroopers had thus fallen victim to sexualized political paradigms that they themselves had strengthened, as in their homophobic protest against The Criminal. After June 1934, not only were homosexual stormtroopers chased out of the organization, all SA men were now under the scrutiny of a Nazi Party able and eager to police its citizens’ sexual morality and family circumstances. In other words, the authoritarian family policies the Nazis later imposed on all Germany came first to the stormtroopers.


From Sodom to Gomorrah: Hamburg in Ruins

“From Sodom to Gomorrah: Hamburg in Ruins” traces the final decline of an SA that had little purpose in the Nazi state. This concluding chapter tells how war came home to the stormtroopers, either as soldiers on the front lines of the battlefield or as old men on the home front trying to defend their neighborhoods from a rain of Allied bombs. The stormtroopers’ efforts to protect their families during the destruction of Operation Gomorrah often brought them into conflict with the Party, their neighbors, and their former comrades. The SA men had always been caught between family and party. Now, at the very end, those who chose their families over their public responsibilities were purged yet again. In any case, all stormtroopers were helpless to prevent the destruction of their beloved “father city.” This chapter relates the final fates of the stormtrooper leaders whom readers have met in the preceding chapters: their death, or exile, or imprisonment as broken men who had lost both their same-sex and traditional families. The book ends by tracing the enduring legacy of the sinister figure of the gay Nazi. The legend of this figure, while based on reality, has been mobilized out of all proportion to its actual authority in the Nazi system, with very real political consequences that reach into the 21st century.


(since 1/26/17)


(since 1/26/17)


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