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Photograph of German Red Cross Nurse Induction Ceremony

Red Cross Nurses Item
Stadtsarchiv Nürnberg A 41/II Nr. LR-791-3A

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

 In German, the Nazis' process of "coordination" was known as "Gleichschaltung."

Compared with the wider population, German physicians were over-represented in the Nazi Party and its organizations by roughly three to one. Nearly half of all practicing German physicians belonged to the Nazi Party during the years of the Third Reich. For more on the German medical profession and the disproportionately large percentage of German doctors who supported the Nazi Party, see Michael H. Kater, Doctors Under Hitler (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989).

For primary sources on the Nazis’ removal of Jews from the medical profession, see the Eviction Notice for Dr. Erwin Schattner and the Diary of Aron Pik

Other photographs taken by Wolkensdörfer also marked important Nazi events or celebrations. For example, a photographic portrait Wolkensdörfer made of Nazi leader Julius Streicher appeared for the notorious antisemite's fiftieth birthday in the February 1935 issue of Fränkische Heimat, a German periodical published in Würzburg from 1929 to 1969. 

IRC representatives in Nazi Germany were allowed to inspect and supply camps where the regime imprisoned prisoners of war (POWs) from the armies of the Western Allies. The Nazi regime did not permit Red Cross inspections of Soviet POWs, however, arguing that the Soviet Union had not signed the 1929 revisions to the Geneva Convention and therefore had no rights to the protections it offered. For more, see Gerhard Hirschfeld, ed. The Policies of Genocide: Jewish and Soviet Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany (Boston: Allan and Unwin, 1986); and Aron Schneyer, Pariahs among Pariahs: Soviet-Jewish POWs in German Captivity, 1941–1945, translated by Yisrael Cohen (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2016). For more on the controversial record of the International Red Cross during the Holocaust, see Gerald Steinacher, Humanitarians at War: The Red Cross in the Shadow of the Holocaust (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017); Jean-Claude Favez, The Red Cross and the Holocaust (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

The IRC feared that publicizing reports of the persecution of Jews, condemning Nazi Germany for its crimes, or pushing the regime to allow IRC representatives to inspect concentration camps would cause Nazi authorities to cut IRC access to POW camps within Germany. For more on the controversial record of the International Red Cross during the Holocaust, see Aimé Bonifas, "A 'Paradisical' Ghetto of Theresienstadt: The Impossible Mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross," Journal of Church and State, 34:4 (Fall 1992): 805–18; Naomi Baumslag, "The Red Cross Fails Its Humanitarian Mission," in Murderous Medicine: Nazi Doctors, Human Experimentation, and Typhus (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005), 169-200; and Irvin Molotsky, "Red Cross Admits Knowing of the Holocaust during the War," New York Times (Dec. 19, 1996), B17.

For more on the Nazification of the German Red Cross, see Naomi Baumslag, "The Red Cross Fails Its Humanitarian Mission," in Murderous Medicine: Nazi Doctors, Human Experimentation, and Typhus (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005): 169–200. 

 

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Stadtsarchiv Nürnberg A 41/II Nr. LR-791-3A
Source Number StadtAN: A 41 / II No. LR-791-3A
Date Created
June 2, 1940
Photographer / Creator
Fritz Wolkensdörfer
Location
Nuremberg, Germany
Still Image Type Photograph
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