World War I: Germany--Red Cross

World War I German Red Cross
Figure 1.--This is a German World War I post card printed in 1914. It shows uniformed Red Crosww volunteers at the Freiwillige Sanitätskolonne in Mannheim, Germany. Notice that there are boys among the uniformed staff. The post card was mailed in 1915, presumably by one of the wounded soldiers recupeating there. Click on the image to see the back. Unfortunately the scan is too small to read clearly.

Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman who became a social activist, witnessed the Battle of Solferino during the Franco-Austrian War (1859). He published a book Un Souvenir de Solferino addressing the need to protect the sick and wounded during combat. The impetus for what became the Internationa Red Cross came from Switzerland a few years after the Franco-Austrian War. A Swiss Army general, Switzerland did not participate in the Franco-Austrian War, but its German and French population was deeply disturbed by the carnage and loss of life. The Société genevoise d'utilité publique (Geneva Public Welfare Society) established a committee of five Swiss citizens to pursue the ideas in Durant's book (1863). The committe called for an international meeting. Sixteen nations attended the meeting and adopted a series od resolutions including the internatuinslly recognized Red Cross symbol--the reverse of the Swiss flag (1863). One resolution appealed to countries to organize voluntary national societies. Germany organized its Red Cross Society (1864). Fürst Hatzfeldt headed the German Red Cross during World War I. The War imposed huge demands on what was still a relatively new orhanization. We have little information on the Society's operations. We do know that like other national Red Cross units, they were heavily involved with caring for wounded soldiers and prisoners of war (POWs).

Red Cross Founding

Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman who became a social activist, witnessed the Battle of Solferino during the Franco-Austrian War (1859). He published a book Un Souvenir de Solferino addressing the need to protect the sick and wounded during combat. The impetus for what became the Internationa Red Cross came from Switzerland a few years after the Franco-Austrian War. A Swiss Army general, Switzerland did not participate in the Franco-Austrian War, but its German and French population was deeply disturbed by the carnage and loss of life. The Société genevoise d'utilité publique (Geneva Public Welfare Society) established a committee of five Swiss citizens to pursue the ideas in Durant's book (1863). The committe called for an international meeting. Sixteen nations attended the meeting and adopted a series od resolutions including the internatuinslly recognized Red Cross symbol--the reverse of the Swiss flag (1863). One resolution appealed to countries to organize voluntary national societies.

German Red Cross

Germany organized its Red Cross Society (1864). The first head was Dr. Aaron Silverman of the Charité hospital of Berlin. It was a voluntary civil assistance organization. We do not know a great deal about the early German Red Cross. The organization at the time seemns narrowly focused on caring for soldiers in ime of war.

World War I

We have only limited information on the German Red Cross's activitie during World War I. World War I was the firt major conflict in whichthe Red Cross played a mjor role so as an organization it was just begiining to develop its activities and role. Probably the major ctivity was caring for wounded soldietrs. Fürst Hatzfeldt headed the German Red Cross during World War I. The War imposed huge demands on what was still a relatively new organization. We have little information on the Society's operations. We do know that like other national Red Cross units, they were heavily involved with caring for wounded soldiers and prisoners of war (POWs). German charities, especially religious charities, operated many hopitals and sanatotia in Germany. The Red Cross participated in this effort. We think they may have assisted at thdse faclities rather than operating thm, but our informtion is still limited. The American Red Cross operated ambulances, even before America entered the War. We are not sure if the German Red Cross did. We also notice efforts to help orphaned children. In the case of Germnany this meant mostly fatherless children. And of course all Red Cross organizatins in combatant countries were involved with POWs. We also note some effort to organize children, but do not yet have any detailed information. The Red Cross was the Royal Family's favorite charity.

Mannheim Postcard

Our German readers have been able to decphier much of the message on the back of the card even though it is a very poor scan. The postcard was adressed to "Herrn Oberbahnassistent [only in German a title like this could have been created] Jos. Kennel (or Kenneb), Darmstadt, Rhönring 111, 3rd floor" ("Oberbahnassistent" is a clerk in middle level of a railroad company). It was mailed (post marked) in Mannheim, October 11, 1915, between 9 and 10 pm, the postage stamp has been removed. The card is a coomercial card available to the patients, it pictures the "Freiwillige Sanitätskolonne, Träger.... beim Transport" ("voluntary ambulance group, ????? porters transporting"). The Red Cross circled stamp is "FREIW. SANITÄTSKOLONNE MANNHEIM". The wounded soldier has veitten, "Mhm. 11. 10. 15 ["Mhm. is shorthand for Mannheim"] Liebe Eltern ("Dear parents"). Den Brief von Erni habe ich erhalten und freut es uns alle sehr, daß Erni uns einen so schönen Brief geschrieben hat Ich wollte Ihr früher schreiben, wir hatten aber immer die Karte vergessen Onkel Wilhem u Gertrud (?) ??? aus Gernsheim u ihr Br kam bei ??? ???? zu uns Onkel Wilh grüßt Euch heute ?????. Sorry, the rest at the bottom, top, and on the right side, I can't read anymore or what I can read makes no sense. This translates as, "I have received the letter from Erni [probably a girl] and we are all pleased, that Erni wrote us such a nice letter". I planned to write her earlier, and I had left the cardside open. Uncle William and Gertrud [his wife ?] from Gernsheim [a village near Mannheim] and her brother (?) came to us. Uncle Wil sends greetings to-day ....."

Weinmar Years (1919-33)

The Red Cross change significantly during the Weimar years. I had been seen as the facorite charity of the Royal Family and upper-class. Through the War it primarily operated as an organization to care for wounded soldiers and assist POWs. After the War, Germany no longer had a sizeable army and another great war seemed unlilely. Thus the Red Cross took on a range of civililan welfare functions. [Burleigh, p. 220.]

NAZI Era (1933-45)

Unlike its role in World War I, the operation of the German Red Cross in World War II is highly controversial. President Hindenburg appointed NAZI Pary leader Adolf Hitler Chancellor (January 1933). Hitler quickly moved to orchestrate a NAZI seizure of power. This was not only aolitical seizure of power. The NAZIs moved to seize control of professional groups, youth groups, labor unions and civic organizaions as well. This included social welfare organizations. This was complicated because most German social welfare orgnizations were founded and run by religious groups. The Red Cross (DRK) despite its symbol was not a church organization and thus a relatively easy group for the NAZIs to take over. Jewish members were expelled. The process of seizing control of the German Red Cross began by making sure that NAZIs were appointed to important positions in the orgasnization. Most prominantely this began with the appointment of HRH Duke Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg as president.

Sources

Burleigh, Michael. The Third Reih: A New History (New York: Hill and Waang, 2000). 965p.






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Created: 3:27 AM 11/6/2009
Last updated: 3:20 AM 4/16/2014