Stahlhelm

   Germany's largest postwar veterans' organization. Founded by Franz Seldte* on Christmas Day, 1918, the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsol-daten, began with three basic principles: comradeship, support of law and order, and reconstruction. Although it was opposed to the November Revolution,* it was initially neither reactionary nor antirepublican. Membership was open to socialists and Jews* so long as they had served a minimum of six months at the front. But law and order soon eclipsed the emphasis on comradeship; by 1920 the Stahlhelm stood too far to the Right to be deemed a pillar of the Republic. Rapid growth resulting from the partial dissolution of the Freikorps* in March 1920 served to radicalize the Stahlhelm: in March there were only thirty local chapters; by the end of 1921 the number had grown to three hundred. The organization s newspaper,* Der Stahlhelm, exposed this heightened radi-calization as criticism of the Republic increasingly overshadowed veterans is-sues.
   Acknowledging that its membership criteria must lead to decline, the Stahl-helm organized a youth auxiliary, the Jungstahlhelm, in October 1923. During 1924 youth chapters were located throughout northern and eastern Germany. The auxiliary accepted young men aged seventeen through twenty-one. Upon their twenty-second birthday members could join the Ring-Stahlhelm so long as they had two years in the Jungstahlhelm.
   From a brotherhood of about 2,000 in 1920, the Stahlhelm grew to more than 100,000 in 1924. When post-1923 stability led many paramilitary associations to either fold or convert into political combat leagues (Kampfbunde), the Stah-lhelm politicized. Under the command from 1927 of Seldte and Theodor Dues-terberg,* it absorbed other organizations and by November 1928 had an estimated membership of between 450,000 and 500,000. Meanwhile, its right-radical political ideas were trumpeted by a new journal, Die Standarte. It cam-paigned in 1929 against the Young Plan* and joined the Harzburg Front* in 1931. Whereas Stahlhelm membership remained steady after 1930, that of the Jungstahlhelm declined, revealing the attraction of the SA.* Yet it was only in the Republic s waning months that the SA matched the Stahlhelm s numerical strength. Claiming that it had become a Marxist fraternity, Hitler* dissolved the organization in early 1934.
   REFERENCES:Berghahn, Stahlhelm; Bracher, Auflosung; Diehl, Paramilitary Politics.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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