From the Archivportal: "Focus on – Stahlhelm / Bund der Frontsoldaten"


In the section “Im Blickpunkt” (“Focus on”), we present special highlights from archives represented in the Archivportal-D. These selected archival documents give an insight into the holdings and offer research suggestions for a possible search in the Archivportal-D or in the theme portal “Weimarer Republik” (“Weimar Republic”).

This month, we are pleased to present a scientific contribution by Dr. Dennis Werberg, military historian at the Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr (ZMSBw – Centre for Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr) Potsdam, with sources from the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg (State Archives of Baden-Wuerttemberg), the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives) and the Stadtarchiv Wedel (City Archives of Wedel).

Der Stahlhelm (“The Steel Helmet”) was founded in Magdeburg in December 1918 by the factory owner and reserve officer Franz Seldte. Up to the middle of the 1920s, it saw itself first and foremost as a group representing the interests of returning world war veterans and their surviving dependants.

At first, membership was limited to men who had been deployed as soldiers in the First World War for at least six months and who had full rights as citizens. It was not until 1923/24 that it began to set up its own sub-organisations for children and young people, women and men without front-line experience. The Studentenbund Langemarck (Langemarck Students’ League) and the Stahlhelm-Selbsthilfe (Self-Help Group) were added to these as workers’ representation.

Der Stahlhelm saw itself as the “hidden reserve” of the Reichswehr; the paramilitary sports training of the “Jungstahlhelmer” (“Young Steel Helmets”) was organised in particular in cooperation with the military.

Right-wing orientation, radicalisation

Although Der Stahlhelm did not have a clear political profile in the first months of its existence, an increasing right-wing orientation began from summer 1919 onwards. Radical political currents, including national influences of different origins, became noticeable. In Halle, Der Stahlhelm developed into the most important stronghold of the radical wing. This is where the rise of Theodor Duesterberg (1875-1950) began to become the second leader of the League next to Seldte. In the course of the 1920s, Der Stahlhelm advanced to become a mass organisation and rallying movement for the national camp. In the conservative milieu (Frank Bösch), it was successful in gathering together a broad section of social classes and making this into a rallying point of right-wing, anti-republican forces of all colours. The publication of the Stahlhelm-Botschaften (messages) in 1927 und 1928 can be considered to have completed the reorientation into a political paramilitary organisation.

The most important individual political actions in which Der Stahlhelm was significantly involved were the petitions for a referendum against the acceptance of the Young Plan in 1929 and the dissolution of the Prussian parliament in 1931. These can be rated as a rallying movement of all right-wing forces.

With the participation in the mass rally of the so-called Harzburg Front in 1931, the leaders of the League also finally joined the fundamental opposition to the republic, but resisted the NSDAP’s unquestioning claim to leadership.

Rivalry with the NSDAP (Nazi Party)

In the Reich presidential elections in spring 1932, Der Stahlhelm, the DNVP (Deutschnationale Volkspartei – German National People’s Party) and other representatives of the non-National Socialist right put forward Duesterberg as their own candidate against Hitler and Hindenburg. In the course of the presidential election campaign and due to the closeness of the League’s leaders to°von Papen’s government°, the rivalry with the NSDAP and the SA (Sturmabteilung – Storm Detachment – paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party) escalated into open hostility.

After Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of the German Reich, Der Stahlhelm was part of those forces which the people around Hindenburg expected to effectively contain the National Socialists. Seldte became the Reich’s Minister for Labour and finally took over the sole leadership of Der Stahlhelm, after political pressure had continued to increase against the NSDAP critic Duesterberg. In the same month, Seldte joined the Party; the gradual integration of the League’s members into the SA began.

Enforced conformity and dissolution

At first, the local groups of Der Stahlheim provided a niche for conservatives – and sometimes also for social democrats – under the NS regime but, as early as 28th March 1934, the League’s members, who were still subject to Seldte’s leadership, were consolidated into the Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Frontkämpferbund (NSDFB – National Socialist German Combatants’ Federation). In the course of building up the German armed forces, this was dissolved in November 1935 at the request of Seldte and by order of Hitler.


Many thanks to Dr. Dennis Werbergmilitary historian at the Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr (ZMSBw) Potsdam for making this available.


Further objects on this topic in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German Digital Library)


Research possibilities in the Archivportal-D

If you are interested in further sources on the topic of Der Stahlhelm, select “Stahlhelm / Bund der Frontsoldaten” in the A–Z Index and combine this thematic keyword with the geographical reference Deutsches Reich” (“German Empire”).

You can find further sources on the keywords “Stahlhelm – Bund der Frontsoldaten”, “Militarismus” (“militarism”) und “Nationalismus” (“nationalism”) in the object gallery at the bottom of the homepage of the theme portal.