Red Cross, Black Swastika

A busy winter scene at a railway station somewhere in the sprawling Third Reich. Troops from a cavalry unit stand around while women from the Deutches Rotes Kreuz (DRK; German Red Cross) are preparing to serve something hot, perhaps coffee or soup. In the background, railway employees walk with snow shovels over their shoulders. The soldiers are probably on their way to the Eastern Front, a journey that usually took several days, sometimes waiting on railway sidings for other trains to pass, and then the dangerous travel through partisan-infested areas. The DRK, as one of the auxiliary organizations helping the Wehrmacht, was there to offer relief.

Instituted in 1864 , the DRK was a voluntary civil assistance organization that was officially acknowledged by the Geneva Convention in 1929. One of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles prevented the DRK from having any involvement in military matters, but with the Nazi rise to power in 1933, the DRK, like most other organizations in the Third Reich, was nazified (those that weren’t were prohibited). Leftist and Jewish members and staff were kicked out, and those who remained were expected to conform to Nazi ideology. After the defeat of Germany, the DRK was outlawed like all other Nazi organizations, and had to start afresh. The German Red Cross of today has nothing to do with the doings of the DRK of 1933-45.

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