Erhard Heiden (23 February 1901 – c. 1933) was an early member of the Nazi Party and the third commander of the paramilitary wing of Schutzstaffel SS, the Sturmabteilung (“Storm Detachment; SA”).
Heiden was appointed head of the SS, an elite subsection of the SA in 1927. At that time the SS numbered less than a thousand men and Heiden found it difficult to cope under the much larger SA. Heiden was not a success in the post, and SS membership dropped significantly under his leadership. He was dismissed from his post in 1929, officially for “family reasons”. He was arrested after the Nazi’s came to power in 1933 and executed that same year.
Erhard Heiden was born on 23 February 1901 in Weimar-Simmerberg, a city in Bavaria, In 1917, he attended the NCO school in Fürstenfeldbruck. Little is known about his early life. Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, hyperinflation, mass unemployment, poverty, crime and civil unrest plagued the country. During that time, Heiden served in a Freikorps unit. Also in 1919, a small right-wing political party known as the German Workers’ Party (DAP) was created and seated in Munich. In 1920, it changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party; NSDAP). It rejected the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and advocated antisemtism and anti-Bolshevism.
At party meetings in late 1919 and early 1920, hecklers and protesters tried to disrupt Adolf Hitler’s (did you know) speeches, and fought with party members. It was decided that a permanent group of party members would serve to protect Nazi officials at rallies and disrupt the meetings of opposing parties. The basis for the Sturmabteilung (“Storm Detachment”; SA) had been formed. Heiden became an early member of the Nazi Party and the SA. In 1923, Heiden joined a small personal bodyguard unit for Adolf Hitler named Stosstruppe Hitler (“Shock Troop-Hitler”).
That same year, Hitler felt strong enough to try to seize power in Munich. Inspired by Benito Mussolini’s “March on Rome” the previous year, the Nazis aimed to first establish power in Munich and then challenge the government in Berlin. On 9 November 1923 the Stoßtrupp, along with the SA and several other paramilitary units, took part in the abortive coup d’état , resulting in the death of sixteen Nazi supporters and four police officers, an event known as the Beer Hall Putsch. After the putsch, Hitler and other N
xazi leaders were incarcerated at Landsberg Prison for high treason. The Nazi Party and all associated formations, including the Stoßtrupp, were officially disbanded. After Hitler’s release from prison in December 1924, the Nazi Party was officially refounded. In 1925, Hitler ordered the formation of a new bodyguard unit, the Schutzkommando (“Protection Command; SS”). It was formed by Hitler’s look a like Julius Schreck and included old Stoßtrupp members such as Emil Maurice and Heiden. That same year, the Schutzkommando was expanded and renamed the Sturmstaffel (“Storm Squadron”), and finally the Schutzstaffel (“Protection Squadron”; SS). Heiden, described as “a former police stool-pigeon of unsavory reputation”, joined the SS in 1925 and was an early advocate of separating the unit from the SA, its parent organization. On 1 March 1927, Joseph Bechtold transferred leadership of the SS to Heiden, who was his acting deputy. Berchtold had become disillusioned by the SA’s authority over the SS..As head of the SS, Heiden also found it difficult to function under the larger and more powerful SA. Under Heiden’s leadership a stricter code of discipline was enforced than would have been tolerated in the SA ranks. Heiden further demanded that the men under his command were not to be involved in party matters which were none of their concern. His intention was to create a small elite unit and obtain higher quality recruits. Joseph Bechtold in 1945 he was arrested by Allied forces but was released and not tried as a war criminal. Joseph Berchtold died in Herrsching, age 65, on 23rd August, 1962.
Except for the Munich area, the unit was unable to maintain any momentum. The membership of the SS declined from 1000 to 280 as the SS continued to struggle under the SA. As Heiden attempted to keep the small group from dissolving, Heinrich Himmler became his deputy in September 1927. Himmler had a great enthusiasm and vision for the SS and displayed good organisational abilities which Heiden used. Himmler became the driving force within the SS and in time eclipsed Heiden
Upon the dismissal of Heiden, Himmler assumed the position of Reichsführer-SS with Hitler’s approval in January 1929. There are differing accounts of the reason for this dismissal. The party merely announced that it was for “family reasons”. It was also suggested at the time that the dismissal was due to Heiden associating with Jews .Since 1928, Heiden was co-owner of a clothing supply business that sold uniforms to the SS. Another company in Munich supplied Heiden and his partner with the pants which were used for the SS uniforms. It was discovered that this other company was owned by a Jew. Further, it was alleged that Heiden had been making large profits on the clothing sales to the SS for uniforms. This led to Heiden having to resign as head of the SS. Historian Adrian Weale says that the dismissal was probably because he was ineffective in the job, but there also were rumors that he was a police informer . Himmler’s biographer Peter Longerich says that beyond the official announcement “we have no further clues to explain either Heiden’s dismissal or Himmler’s appointment”. Under Himmler the SS greatly expanded over time, with his ultimate aim being the one to turn it into the most powerful organization in Germany. After the Nazi’s came to power in January 1933, Heiden was arrested. On orders from Himmler and his chief lieutenant Reinhard Heydrich, he was murdered later that year by members of the Sicherheitsdienst (“Security Service”; SD). Heiden’s corpse was found in September 1933 and he was buried on 15 September 1933.