Germany’s tribute to motherhood
by Chris William
As WWI drew to an end, Germany had lost more than 2.5 million men in the brutal trench warfare that had come to exemplify the European battlefields of the Great War. Many families were lost their young fathers and sons, causing the population of war-torn Germany to decrease over the next 15 years.
When Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (N.S.D.A.P – Nazi party) came to power in 1933, one of their main goals was to expand the territories of the new Third Reich, and increase the number of German people living in these regions. Nazi philosophy used a constant stream of idyllic propaganda to promote the ideals of large, “racially pure” Germanic families to populate the new empire in place of the “inferior” races then living there. To encourage child bearing among young women, Hitler introduced the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter (Cross of Honor of the German Mother) on December 16, 1938.
These awards were to be given on each “Mothering Sunday” (second Sunday of May) beginning with the first awards in 1939. To be considered for the honor, a German mother (or later a suitable German ethnic mother from the newly conquered countries) had to first be nominated to the Prasidialkanzlei der Ordenskanzlei (overseeing Berlin State authority) by a local party official.
A candidate was subjected to thorough investigation by members of the State social welfare and police agencies to determine if she was of pure Germanic lineage and good character (along with that of her husband; both having no criminal history or having exhibited any “anti-social” behavior). They had to further determine whether the mother would be raising children as future assets to the German Reich, rather than potential detrimental members and welfare recipients. Once deemed fit and approved, a mother would receive her award at a public ceremony enhanced by the typical Nazi propaganda pomp and fanfare.
The awards (designed by architect, Franz Berberich) were constructed in the shape of a slender Maltese cross (35mm wide by 42mm long) with an elongated lower arm and a rectangular ribbon loop attached to the top. The sections were covered in a deep blue translucent enamel with an opaque white border. A square pattern of sun rays protruded between the arms intersection, and a disk with a white field and black static swastika was mounted on the center front. Around the edge of the disk was cast the phrase, “Der Deutschen Mutter” (To the German Mother). The reverse of the medals were stamped with either “Das Kind Adelt die Mutter” (The child ennobles the Mother- used during the first year of issue in 1939), or “16 Dezember 1938” (the date of the award’s inception—used from late 1939 to 1944). In addition, both inscriptions also contained a facsimile of Adolf Hitler’s signature at the bottom. Awards were suspended by a long, thin ribbon with three dark blue and four white stripes, that was typically worn about the recipient’s neck during formal political and social occasions.
Three classes of Mother’s crosses were awarded depending on the number of healthy children that the mother gave birth to. Each was of identical construction to the others with the exception of the background metal finishes:
3rd class awards in bronze were given for 4-5 children.
2nd class awards in silver were given for 6-7 children.
1st class awards in gold were given for 8 or more children.
Awards were typically presented in blue paper envelopes (for 3rd and 2nd classes) or dark blue leatherette cases with artificial white silk linings for 1st class gold awards. In addition, award documents with the mother’s name, date and a facsimile of Hitler’s signature accompanied the crosses. An Ausweis (identity document/booklet) was sometimes awarded which had the recipients photo and personal information, containing the rules for proper wear on the document’s reverse, and giving her authorization to wear the cross.
Miniature Mother’s Crosses (22mm tall) suspended from a pin back blue and white ribbon bow were also authorized to be worn in lieu of the larger decoration. These smaller awards matched the exact designs of their larger counterparts (but with some having maker’s marks on the reverse bottoms), and could be pinned to a woman’s lapel or blouse front. Besides the less cumbersome miniatures, various private purchase crosses were available for sale with clips or pin back attachments to allow for more ease in everyday wear.
In addition to the awards, the Nazi State conferred a small monetary amount to each award recipient along with rules for public recognition of the mother. These allowed for purchase discounts and mandatory salutes to cross wearers by Hitler Youth members.
By the end of the last year of production in 1944, there had been more than 4.5 million crosses given to the mothers of Hitler’s dying regime which would consume over 7 million of its own citizens and 20 million more of its neighbors. With the Allied occupation of the former Reich in 1945, Crosses of Honor for the German Mother were no longer allowed to be worn because of their Nazi association. What had once been a source of great honor and pride for the women of Germany, had become a badge of shame spurned and denounced by the rest of the free world.