Shortly after the Nazis first rose to power in 1933, they began the systematic "coordination" of German society.1 Political opponents and Jews were forced from professional organizations, social clubs, and sports leagues. Many German doctors joined the Nazi Party or its subsidiary organizations, and the German medical profession developed a close but complicated relationship with the Nazi regime.2 The regime banned Jewish medical practitioners from treating non-Jewish patients and required "Aryan" members of German medical organizations to establish their political reliability.3
The featured photograph illustrates the Nazi domination of Germany's formerly independent professional medical organizations. The image shows dozens of nurses swearing their allegiance to the German Red Cross (Deutsches Rotes Kreuz) at an induction ceremony in Nuremberg in June 1940. The regime appointed Nazi officials to lead the German Red Cross and its nursing associations, and its nurses began receiving political indoctrination as part of their professional training. The organization changed its emblem to a swastika-adorned black eagle with a red cross clutched in its talons, which is visible on the gigantic banner at the center of the photograph.
Although little is known about the career of photographer Fritz Wolkensdörfer, it appears that this image was captured for its potential value as an official propaganda photograph.4 Wolkensdörfer was clearly granted access to the ceremony, which seems arranged in a militaristic fashion. Uniformed nurses stand in disciplined rows with their faces hidden from view, gazing at distant Nazi officials on the stage. Oversized banners with swastikas and the German Red Cross emblem dominate the frame. Does the vantage point of the photograph seem incidental or intentional? What might Wolkensdörfer have hoped to capture or suggest with his framing of the scene?
Like other countries' national Red Cross organizations, the German Red Cross operated in association with the International Red Cross (IRC), which was responsible for monitoring prisoner of war (POW) camps during World War II.5 The IRC has been criticized, however, for not doing more to aid Jews and others imprisoned within the Nazi system of concentration camps and killing centers during the Holocaust.6 Thoroughly Nazified by the late 1930s, the German Red Cross refused to cooperate with IRC requests to inspect concentration camps.7 The regime eventually allowed the IRC to conduct a limited number of elaborately staged and heavily supervised inspection tours.8