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Stahlhelm (Steel Helmet)

Der Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten" [the Steel Helmet, Association of Frontline Soldiers] was founded in 1918 by onetime Soda-water Tycoon and war veteran Col. Franz Seldte, his brothers and some other soldiers from his unit. The association was originaly meant as both a mutual aid society for world war one veterans and as a political combat group like many other that sprung up during the 1920s. The Reichswehr's defensive impotence was revealed in 1920 and 1921 when incursions by Polish and Soviet irregulars along Germany's eastern borders had to be opposed by hastily assembled Freikorps units rather than by the inconsequential Reichswehr. Paramilitary units such as the Freikorps and the Stahlhelm remained essential to the defenseof the eastern frontiers until Germany's rearmament in the mid-1930s.

In 1926, it numbered half a million members, by far the largest at the time. Around this time the Stahlhelm entered politics although unlike similar groups, it didn't endorse a single party prefering instead to present itself simply as Conservative. It must be said that most of those who became deputies did so as members of the monarchist DNVP or liberal-nationalist DVP. As "volkish" elements entered the stahlhelm, it continued to slide into a more radical and authoritarian mindset that culminated in the more moderate DVP severing ties with them. The Stahlhelm eventualy joined the DNVP/NSDAP coalition that brought Hitler to power. After 1933, the Stahlhelm was first put under the command of the SA's leader and in 1935 it was disolved with its members being absorbed into the Nazi organisation, either in the SA or in the veterans association. Interestingly, the later kept using a steel helmet (thought undefaced) as one of its symbols.

The transfer took place as follows: On 27th April, 1933, the entire Stahlhelm was placed under Hitler's orders by the leader of the organization, Seldte. On 21st June, 1933, the Junior Stahlhelm (Jungstahlhelm) and on the 4th July, 1933, the entire Stahlhelm, were subordinated to the Supreme SA Leadership by Hitler's own orders. According to the decree of 4th July, 1933, the Jungstahlhelm and the Sports Units, later called Military Stahlhelm (Wehrstahlhelm) that is, Stahlhelm members up to the age of 35 years, were included in the active SA (Exhibits 1-7). The transfer of the original Stahlhelm, that is, members of the ages of 36 to 45 years, was effected, as mentioned before, on 25th January, 1934. This transfer and inclusion, both in the case of the Wehrstahlhelm and the original Stahlhelm, took place without the member being asked, partly by announcing the orders at roll calls, partly by transferring the membership lists of the SA.

The transfer of the Stahlhelm did not take place without friction. In the case of many members coercion was used. Many elements in the organization did not agree with the subordination of the Stahlhelm, or with the co-operation of the Stahlhelm in the seizure of power. Duesterberg, who must be regarded as the head of the opposition to Seldte's policy, objected in particular. This attitude resulted in his arrest, as well as in the numerous arrests of Stahlhelm members which were made by the State Police in the spring of 1933, especially in Brunswick. Members of the Stahlhelm who did not obey the order for the transfer were forced into service by State agencies and occasionally punished.

Just as the SA disintegrated because of the events before and after 1933 through the influx of people with the most widely different aims, so this also happened in the case of the Stahlhelm because of the events of the year 1933. The Stahlhelm disintegrated. For some of its members it had been of importance that at the time of the transfer they had been expressly assured of a certain amount of independence under their own leaders and retention of their old uniforms, as well as the further connection with the Stahlhelmbund. This is shown by nearly all documents, affidavits and testimonies. When these assurances were not kept, the opposition group's resistance against Seldte increased. On the part of the National Socialist leaders of the State this group was considered politically unreliable and reactionary.

Upon joining the SA the Stahlhelm members brought with them their own Stahlhelm ideology, which differs in essential points from National Socialism. Politically speaking the majority of them rejected the totalitarian claims of any political party, and the Fuehrer principle. As before, they remained in constant touch with their old Bund which, until its dissolution in 1935, continued to exist under the name of the NSDFB (Stahlhelm). Even after it was dissolved they formed strong, close-knit groups among themselves and held comradely meetings over almost all Germany. In many of those groups the hope of a political revolution continued to live on for a long time.




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