On 29th of June 1882, Franz Seldte was born. He would found and lead the paramilitary organization Stahlhelm and become National Minister of Labor during the Third Reich.
During the chaotic Weimar era in Germany, many of the political parties had paramilitary organizations that would pave the way for their own party or protect its meetings. The largest paramilitary organization was the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold of the Republic, affiliated with the Social Democrats and Liberals, and according to their own statement, they had three million members in 1932. The Communist Party had Rotfrontkämpferbund, which ended up in very bloody conflicts with the National Socialist stormtroopers, Sturmabteilung (SA) and Schutzstaffel (SS).
Among all these groups was also Stahlhelm (steel helmet), which with its 500,000 members in 1930 was Germany’s second largest paramilitary organization and was attached to Alfred Hugenberg’s German National People’s Party DNVP. The DNVP was a nationalist-reactionary party that worked to reintroduce the German monarchy and was supported by major proprietors and industrial magnates to pursue a pro-capitalist policy. Stahlhelm, however, was more radical than the DNVP and was closer to national socialism, even though they were referred to as “German fascists”. Particularly with regard to the Jewish issue, Stahlhelm held a radical line, banning Jews from entering the organization.
The founder of Stahlhelm, Franz Seldte, was born on June 29, 1882, in Magdeburg. Seldte was the son of a factory owner who produced chemical products. He studied chemistry at the universities of Braunschweig and Greifswald and in 1908 he took over his father’s factory. During the First World War, Seldte was wounded and awarded the first and second class crosses. At the Battle of Somme, a grenade had worn off Seldt’s left arm and he was forced to replace the lost arm with a prosthesis. Despite this, Seld wanted to return to the battles at the front but his application was rejected because of his disability. He instead became a military reporter and in 1918 he became a reserve officer. That same year he founded Stahlhelm, or Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten as it was called. As the name suggests, the organization included war veterans from the First World War.
Stahlhelm was aiming to overthrow the Weimar Republic. After the failed Kappkuppen in 1920 – a national conservative attempt to overthrow the republic and reintroduce the monarchy – where Stahlhelm participated, the freikorps dissolved and many freikorps soldiers joined Stahlhelm. By this time, Stahlhelm also received political support from Benito Mussolini, who would take power in Italy a few years later.
But many freikorps soldiers would also join the newly formed NSDAP and a rivalry would be developed between the nationalists in DNVP / Stahlhelm and the national socialists in NSDAP / SA. After the failure of the Hitler Cup in 1923, NSDAP began to stand in elections, which would be the grace of the German nationals, and finally, Stahlhelm. Stahlhelm would firmly increase its membership until 1930, but the political branch, DNVP, would be outdone by NSDAP. From having received 20.5% of the votes in the parliamentary elections in 1924, the DNVP received 14.3% in 1928 and only between 5.9% and 8.7% in the following years. The NSDAP curve looked completely different. When the DNVP received 7% of the votes in 1930, NSDAP received 18.3 and then not below 33.1%.
This forced DNVP’s new party leader Alfred Hugenberg (1928) to start collaborating with the National Socialists for the party to survive. In 1929, one worked together against the Young Plan, which demanded war reparations from the First World War. In 1931, Seldte, Hugenberg and Hitler founded the Harzburger Front, which was a united nationalist front towards the Weimar Republic.
Co-operation was initially not entirely painless since the rivalry between SA and Stahlhelm had led to physical conflicts in various locations around Germany. Many of the Stahlhelm considered that SA’s extremely aggressive line that was counterproductive and would lead to a ban (which also happened) while members of SA, including Joseph Goebbels, considered Stahlhelm to be reactionaries. At this point, Goebbels considered that the cooperation between them threatened to compromise the revolutionary identity of the National Socialist Party, but that he “trusts the boss’s (Hitler) healthy political instinct, which has not let us go so far”.
It turned out that this instinct was right and that several nationalists from Stahlhelm eventually came up with better thoughts about the National Socialist Message and NSDAP.
In January 1933, when Hitler became a chancellor of Germany, Seldte was appointed the National Minister of Labor in Hitler’s first cabinet. Three months later, April 27, 1933, Seldte joined the SA:
Since I do not have a party affiliation, I hereby declare my entry into the National Socialist German Workers Party because this party is the movement that will unite the entire German people in a single entity. I, therefore, place myself and the Stahlhelm, which I founded, as a military unit under the command of the Führern Adolf Hitler.
In August 1933, Seldte was appointed to the SA-Obergruppenführer and in 1934, Stahlhelm changed its name to Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Frontkämpferbund and was integrated into SA.
Seldte was a minister of labour until 1945 and was involved in the huge work of creating jobs for millions of unemployed Germans. During the National Socialist regime, several streets were called after Franz Seldte, including in his native city of Magdeburg.
Seldte was arrested by the Allies at the end of the war and died at an American military hospital before being prosecuted for any crimes. The war hero of the First World War, Stahlhelm Leader and National Socialist Franz Seldte died on 1th of April, 1947.