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Iron Front 1931-1933 (Germany)

Eiserne Front

Last modified: 2018-02-15 by pete loeser
Keywords: arrows: 3 | iron front | spd | militia |
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Image by Tomislav Todorovic, 12 April 2015

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Introduction: Iron Front
Eiserne Front

     Iron Front was founded on 1931-12-16 by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the labor unions, the Realm Banner Black-Red-Gold and workers' sport clubs, as a united front for defending the democracy in Germany, mainly against the rapidly strengthening Nazis, but also against the monarchist nationalists and the Communists. Organized as a militia, it held mass demonstrations in support of the Weimar Republic, which frequently turned into the street fighting against the Nazis or Communists. The Iron Front was banned in 1933 along with its founding organizations. [1, 2, 3]
     The flag of Iron Front was red, charged with three large white arrows in the canton, pointing towards the bottom fly [4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. The depicted emblem was created by Sergei Tschachotin (1883-1973), German scientist of Russian origin and Social Democratic Party activist, who designed it so that it can easily cover Nazi swastikas [1], as shown on the covers of Tschachotin's book "Three Arrows against Swastika" (Dreipfeil gegen Hakenkreuz) [9], as well as on the posters of Iron Front [10] and Social Democratic Party [11].
     There are two explanations of the arrows [1, 2, 3]: they stood either for the enemies of the Republic - Nazis, monarchists and Communists [12], or for the Iron Front founding organizations - the SPD, the trade unions and the Realm Banner Black-Red-Gold [13]. Frequent use of three arrows by the SPD without explicit naming of the Iron Front [12, 13, 14], has made the flag often be directly associated with the party itself, although it never was strictly a party flag. When used as the stand-alone emblem, three arrows were almost always arranged in bend sinister [11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16]; on the flags, they were always arranged in bend [4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 17], which is also true for the modern replica flagss [19]. In all of these cases, they were pointing downwards. Their shape, as well as the precise position and orientation, varied somewhat, as did the flag ratio; there was clearly no strict specification of the design. Regarding the shade of red field, while it is rather dark on the existing flags, it must have been darkened by age to same extent; still the photos of their original use, all black and white, do reveal that a dark shade was indeed used, for it appears as a rather dark shade of gray.
     The flagstaff was typically charged with a finial in form of a voided spearhead which encloses the representation of a handshake (an old Socialist symbol) within a wreath composed of oak and olive branches [17, 18].

  1. Iron Front at Wikipedia (in English).
  2. Iron Front at Wikipedia (in German).
  3. Iron Front at Wikipedia (in Russian).
  4. German Historical Museum website - Photo of the flag of Iron Front.
  5. Social Democratic Party of Germany, Offenbach city section website - Photo of the Iron Front uniformed flag-bearer.
  6. Friedrich Ebert Foundation website - Photo of the Labour Union Hall in Hamburg, with the Iron Front flags hoisted, from 1932.
  7. Bielefeld city website - Photo of the founding conference of the Iron Front city section.
  8. Mannheim city website, Labor Union Hall page - Photo of the old Labor Union Hall, with the Iron Front flags hoisted, from 1932.
  9. Max Planck Society website - Photo of the book "Three Arrows against Swastika".
  10. German Digital Library - Photo of a poster of Iron Front from 1933.
  11. German Digital Library - Photo of a poster of Social Democratic Party from 1933.
  12. Naumburg City History website, 1932 elections page - Posters of the SPD (image #1, image #2)
  13. Realm Banner Black-Red-Gold, League of Active Democrats website - Photo of the SPD leaflet.
  14. Bruchsal city website - Photo of an election poster of the SPD.
  15. LeMO website - Photo of the Iron Front armband.
  16. Frankfurt am Main 1933-1945 website - Photos of Iron Front flag-bearers and Labor Union Hall.
  17. Main Post website - Photos of Iron Front flag and flagstaff finial.
  18. Photo of Iron Front flagstaff finial.
  19. Culture Center Faust website - Photo of a modern replica of Iron Front flag
Tomislav Todorovic, 12 April 2015

Iron Front Pennant
Eiserne Front Wimpel

Image by Tomislav Todorovic, 12 April 2015

     In Dornburg, Hesse, a pennant of the Iron Front was saved and is kept by the city section of the SPD. At their website, it is shown as if hoisted vertically, with the arrows arranged in bend. It is not quite clear if it was really meant to be hoisted that way; in case of horizontal hoisting, the arrows would appear to be arranged in bend sinister, as is usual.
     Source: Social Democratic Party of Germany, Dornburg city section website - section history page (image).
Tomislav Todorovic, 12 April 2015

Anti-Nazi Demonstration Flag 1932

Image by Tomislav Todorovic, 12 April 2015

     During an anti-Nazi demonstration in 1932, a flag was used which was derived from the Nazi flag by covering the swastika with three red arrows. The flag was obviously hand-made: it is more oblong than the Nazi flags, the disc with swastika is somewhat smaller, and the arrows are not completely parallel, as revealed by their relative positions to the swastika (especially true for the central arrow). The orientation of arrows differs from the one used at the Iron Front flags - they are almost horizontal. The photos are black and white and the red color appears as a very dark shade of gray, which shows that the real color shade must have been rather dark.
     The above image above is slightly regularized, compared to the photos (orientations of individual arrows related to the swastika), because it seemed to be virtually impossible to position them correctly, and they were meant to be parallel anyway.
     Sources: Civil Courage and Resistance Learning Centre website - Photo of the anti-Nazi demonstration flag (large photo).
Tomislav Todorovic, 12 April 2015

Image discovered by Tomislav Todorovic, 8 November 2017

A large photo of the same flag can be found here. Unfortunately, no information about the time and place of photographed event can currently be retrieved, so it remains unknown for now whether it was the same event as shown in the earlier source, or not. Along with the already described details, though, it also reveals that the arrows end in simple spikes, not the usual arrowheads. It is hard to tell whether the same is true for the flag from the earlier source, for that photo is much smaller, but it is very probable. It seems that the widths of individual arrows differ somewhat as well, although it is also difficult to tell, because the flag is not spread perfectly due to the way it is held.
Tomislav Todorovic, 8 November 2017

Image by Pete Loeser, 19 December 2017

The existing pictures all appear to show irregular un-barbed arrowheads rather than the stylized barbed arrows used on logos and other printed materials, possibility the result of hastily sewing on strips of red cloth over existing NSDAP party flags. At times the thickness of the arrows seems to vary, and the angle of the arrows seem almost horizontal rather than angled, lending further credence to this theory.
Pete Loeser, 19 December 2017

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