BY RICHARD MADDOX
BEING A MUSEUM OF SOCIAL HISTORY looking at the experience of British and Commonwealth nations in times of conflict from World War One onwards, IWM’s collection is vast and diverse.
And of course there are always some surprises.
Take for instance the enamelled award below, part of the IWM’s collection.
Officially named the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter (the Cross of Honour for the German Mother) or more simply the Mutterkreuz or Mother’s Cross, it was instituted by Adolf Hitler on 16 December 1938 (the rear of the award shows this date and a facsimile of the Fuhrer’s signature) (1) as part of a campaign to increase the birth rate following the deaths in the First World War and the Influenza pandemic at the end of the conflict.
The medal was conferred in three separate classes or grades and awarded on the basis of how many children a woman had given raised.
- Gold Cross: First Class Award, bestowed on eligible mothers with eight or more children
- Silver Cross: Second Class Award, awarded to eligible mothers with six or seven children
- Bronze Cross: Third Class Award, for eligible mothers with four to five children
But the medal wasn’t just for becoming pregnant and successfully giving birth.
It directly supported the three ‘Ks’ of German society in the 1930s; Kinder (children), Kirche (church) and Küche (kitchen) (2) – all of which were considered important and had a great impact on the lives of women at the time.
There were strict conditions that were attached to the award that had to be satisfied by lengthy and through bureaucratic investigation by local government agencies and the police.
For example, the mother and her husband had to be ‘deutschblütig’; that is of ‘pure’ German bloodline or ancestry (under German law at the time this phrase also included both sets of grandparents of the new baby) and a signed affidavit had to be produced to this effect.
The parents also had to be physically and mentally fit and not alcohol or drug dependent.
The mother had to be ‘honourable’ and ‘worthy’ of the decoration. She had to be able to prove no evidence of prostitution, marital infidelity, having intimate relationships that were contrary to the race laws at the time or unlawful abortion.
She (and her husband) had not to have been in prison and be able to prove that they were not having children to avoid work or attempting to live solely on state child benefit or have behaved in any way that could question their moral standing and reputation.
If she or her family failed to meet the criteria they risked being seen as dysfunctional and ultimately a risk to and burden on the state.
Having the award granted privileges.
A German national newspaper stated in 1938 that ‘…the holder of the Mother’s Cross of Honour will in future enjoy all types of privileges that we by nature have accustomed to our nation’s honoured comrades and our injured war veterans.’ (3)
In practice this meant that award holders could get better rations, have priority for seats on public transport and practical local help to assist with the care of the children. Members of German youth groups were required to salute the wearer of the award and greet her in a respectful manner.
Once awarded, the mother still had to behave appropriately. If she neglected her children or behaved in a way that was contrary to the criteria of the award it could be revoked.
There was also provision that Adolf Hitler would become a godfather to the tenth child in any eligible family (4).
Interestingly given the at times quasi-religious ceremonies of German National Socialist and Workers Party the colours of the medal and ribbon are seen in some quarters as a nod to the traditional colours that the Mary, the Mother of Christ is often depicted wearing (5).
It is estimated that some 4.7 million awards were issued between its inception in 1938 and 1944 when the awards ceased (6). The first award ceremony was held on 12 August 1938 as Hitler’s mother (Klara) mother was born on that day in 1860 (7).
More information and sources:
(3) The Völkischer Beobachter (People’s Observer) national newspaper (1938 Issue No. 25) stated (English translation of the original German text) : “…the holder of the Mother’s Cross of Honour will in future enjoy all types of privileges that we by nature have accustomed to our nation’s honoured comrades and our injured war veterans.”