I remember during the World War II unit in my European History class my senior year of high school, our teacher told us during one lecture that in the early days of the Nazi party, homosexuality was tacitly tolerated at the upper levels of the leadership. Specifically he said that Ernst Rohm was homosexual, which that Wikipedia article seems to bear out; he also said that many other high-ranking Nazis were gay, and I remember him specifically noting that the Nazis were only against the effeminate and “weak” kind of homosexuality, but supported and even encouraged the “butch” variety as a model of German manliness and virtue, somewhat along the lines of the ancient Spartans.
What I want to know is, how much truth is there to this? Was “macho” homosexuality a part of early Nazi party (brownshirt-era) ideology, maybe not openly acknowledged but silently understood? This teacher was a progressive-minded guy so he was not telling us this stuff as some kind of swipe at gays; I think he was trying to illustrate the hypocrisy of the Nazis. Does anyone know about this?
I think in its early days the Nazi Party was somewhat ambivalent on this point. There may have been a variety of views within, and the issue may also have been seen as not really central. As the OP notes, Ernst Röhm was fairly openly homosexual, and I think had a clique of gay or gay-friendly associated in high positions in the SA.
Röhm was murdered in 1934, probably because Hitler feared a challenge from him, but the reason officially given was Röhm’s homosexuality. His gay circle was likewise purged. Thereafter the party seems to have adopted a uniformly anti-homosexual tone, articulated most forcefully by Himmler (who perhaps needed to make it clear where he stood with respect to Röhm, to whom at one stage he had been politically close). That’s not to say that there may not have continued to be gays in the party, but they would have needed to be increasingly discreet, and gayness would have posed an increasing barrier to advancement in the party, and in due course to continued membership.
This homophobia tied in with Nazi racial ideology – gays were seen as weakening the Volk by their failure to breed, and because of this racial imperative Himmler explicitly rejected the “sexuality is a private matter” argument. Anti-gay laws were strengthened and more vigorously enforced, and party organisations – especially in due course the SS – took an increasingly explicit anti-gay line with their own membership.
My guess is that if there was ever a time when the climate in the Nazi party was favourable to “butch”, “manly” homosexuality, that time came to an end pretty quickly after 1934.
I suspect that the Nazis couldn’t afford to be too picky in their early days and let in men like Rohm that they would not otherwise have taken. But once Hitler had consolidated his grip, he could cast aside those helpers whom he found distasteful. Like UDS says, Rohm was purged because he was a threat to Hitlers power. The homosexuality was a convienant excuse.
Apparently, when Hitler first found out about Röhm’s homosexuality, he asked, “He’s not fooling around with boys, is he?” They told him no, and he then shrugged it off. Even though the Nazis had always spoken out against homosexuality, calling it degenerate, and a Jewish plot to destroy Germany, Hitler’s attitude, especially before the party came to power, was “I don’t particularly care about your personal failings, so long as you’re loyal to me and do your job.” As UDS mentioned, this changed after the Nazis came to power, and Himmler led the crusade to “cleanse” both the Nazis and Germany as a whole, of gays.