Cross of Honour of the German Mother

Germany - Scott #476 (1936)
Germany – Scott #476 (1936)

On December 16, 1938, Adolf Hitler instituted the Cross of Honour of the German Mother Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter), referred to colloquially as the Mutterehrenkreuz (Mother’s Cross of Honour) or simply  Mutterkreuz (Mother’s Cross). This was a state decoration conferred by the government of the German Reich to honor a Reichsdeutsche German mother for exceptional merit to the German nation. Eligibility later extended to include Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) mothers from, for example, Austria and Sudetenland, that had earlier been incorporated into the German Reich.

The decoration was conferred from 1939 until 1945 in three classes: bronze, silver, and gold, to Reichsdeutsche mothers who exhibited probity, exemplary motherhood, and who conceived and raised at least four or more children in the role of a parent. A similar practice, that continues to this present day, was already established in France since 1920, by conferring the Médaille de la Famille française (Medal of the French Family), a tribute to the French mother who raised several children in an appropriate way.

In recognition of the substantial importance a woman’s role and motherhood was in support of a strong Germany, the Cross of Honour of the German Mother was introduced by decree in Berlin on December 16, 1938, by Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor) Adolf Hitler. The preamble of the statutory decree declared:

“As a visible sign of gratitude of the German nation to children-rich mothers I establish this Cross of Honour of the German Mother” (Original text in German: ”Als sichtbares Zeichen des Dankes des Deutschen Volkes an kinderreiche Mütter stifte ich das Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter”).

The crosses were awarded annually on the second Sunday in May (Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day), but also extended to include other national annual occasions of celebration. So despite its institution in 1938, the first awards were rendered in May 1939.

The Mother’s Cross was composed of three classes, and conferred to mothers in accordance with its statutory legislation: Verordnung des Führers und Reichskanzlers über die Stiftung des Ehrenkreuzes der Deutschen Mutter vom 16. Dezember 1938. Reichsgesetzblatt (RGBI) Teil I, 1938, Nr. 224, Seite 1923 (In English: Statutory Order of the Leader and Chancellor on the establishment of the Cross of Honour of the German Mother of 16 December 1938. Imperial-(Reichs) Law Gazette (RGBl) Part I, 1938, No. 224, Page 1923), and its stringent nomination screening protocol.

• 1st class, Gold Cross: eligible mothers with eight or more children
• 2nd class, Silver Cross: eligible mothers with six or seven children
• 3rd class, Bronze Cross: eligible mothers with four or five children

The cross design is a slender elongated form of the Iron Cross or cross pattée and very similar in design to the Marian Cross of the Teutonic Knights Order (Marianerkreuz des Deutschen Ritterordens), enamelled translucent-blue with a slim opaque-white border. Resting on the center radiant starburst rays is a metal roundel decorated with the words ”DER DEUTSCHEN MUTTER” (In English: TO THE GERMAN MOTHER) around an enamelled black straight centered “swastika” symbol, infilled white enamel. The cross design was the creation of the established Munich-based architect and sculptor Franz Berberich. The production of the cross involved several established Präsidialkanzlei (Presidential Chancellery) approved medal makers from across the German Reich. A maker’s mark was never applied to the crosses produced; though each official house of manufacture did apply their name to the dark-blue presentation case (inside cover) for the 1st Class Gold Cross and the presentation sachets (reverse side) for each of the 2nd and 3rd Class Cross.

In 1942, a “Gold Cross with Diamonds” grade was proposed, the criteria being the birth of twelve children, although in at least one document that number was stated to be sixteen (double the number required for the golden order). There were no known presentations of the decoration, although a prototype drawing was reportedly shown to Magda Goebbels. She would later be awarded the ad hoc and unofficial title “First Mother of the Reich” when Adolf Hitler gave her his Golden Party Badge just prior to his suicide.

Inscribed on the reverse side of the cross, of which two official reverse-side styles exist, is the inscription Das Kind adelt die Mutter (The Child ennobles the Mother) found on the initial version produced on inception during the early part of 1939. On the succeeding version produced from 1939 to 1945 the initial former reverse inscription was replaced during production with the date of the decoration decree 16. Dezember 1938. Directly beneath each of the two styles is the inscribed facsimile signature of Adolf Hitler; a style variation in this signature exists between the initial and succeeding version produced.

The decoration is worn around the neck on its accompanying narrow blue and white ribbon of circa 60–70 cm in length. No other format of wear or placement was permitted.

Accompanying the decoration was a deed of conferral (Besitzzeugnis  otherwise Verleihungsurkunde) sealed with the Hoheitszeichen des Deutschen Reiches (Great Seal of the German Reich) and the facsimile signature of Adolf Hitler and facsimile countersignature of the Minister of State Otto Meißner, head of the Office of the President of Germany (Präsidialkanzlei). An official pale-blue photo identification document (Ausweis) was also available, this identified the holder and attested the bestowal of the decoration to the recipient mother, as well as provided instructions on the reverse side for correct wearing of the decoration, permitted at all “formal” state, celebrative and family occasions only.

An optional semi-official approved miniature version of the Mother’s Cross measuring circa 2 cm with reverse-side inscription, attached to a blue-white ribbon bow, was also produced in each of its three classes; it was authorized for purposes of general everyday wear only. The wearing of the blue-white ribbon bow alone, without the miniature cross attached, was also authorized for same purpose. The miniature was an optional supplement, that could be purchased privately from relevant authorized supply stockists such as high-street jewellers or directly from the LDO (Leistungsgemeinschaft der Deutschen Ordenshersteller) approved medal makers responsible for manufacturing private retail supply. Other formats made available by those manufacturers to recipients of the honour, such as brooches, were simply unofficial merchandising embellishments.

The Mother’s Cross of Honour, upon the death of the honored recipient mother, was permitted by statute to remain inheritable with the bereaved family as a keepsake remembrance.

The Cross of Honour of the German Mother represented the fundamental ideologies of the role of the mother (the role of women under National Socialism) and ethnic-nationalism (the Völkisch movement) of that time period in Germany. Its inception followed the earlier “Roaring Twenties” or “golden 1920’s” as it was later referred in Europe and a period during Germany’s Weimar Republic, which saw young women breaking with traditional “mores” or likewise step aside from “traditional” lifestyle patterns.

A recommendation presented collectively at the beginning of each month to the Präsidialkanzlei der Ordenskanzlei (Presidential Chancellery of the Chancellery of Honours) in Berlin for the Mother’s Cross honour, could only be instigated by the local mayor’s office, or on application from the Ortsgruppenleiter (local political Party leader) of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), or the Kreiswart des Reichsbundes der Kinderreichen (District Warden of the Reichs Union of Children of Rich Families).

The nomination involved a lengthy and exhaustive bureaucratic process. Not only were certain characteristics of the mother observed and eligibility studied thoroughly, but those too leading to the grandparents. The conferral of the Mother’s Cross was so highly regarded by the government in Berlin, that additional bureaucratic resources assigned to lesser civil and military decorations were pulled for the exhaustive administrative procedures that this decoration alone required. Its precedence especially during Germany’s wartime period saw all other civil honors and decorations but the Mother’s Cross temporarily suspended since the original purpose for its establishment was now more significant. Local government agencies such as the Social Welfare Agency (Wohlfahrtsamt), Public Health Department (Gesundheitsamt), Youth Welfare Agency (Jugendamt), Police (Polizei) and other government agencies were all consulted in the eligibility investigation process. The decoration could and was only to be bestowed to the most honourable proven mothers. Accordingly, the following legislative prerequisites were to be strictly met:

a) that both parents of the children were deutschblütig (of German blood-heredity) and genetically-fit,

b) that the mother of the decoration was indeed “worthy” of the decoration, and

c) that the children were live births.

If some detail, these criteria required, for example:

I). Evidence to be provided by the mother in the form of a signed declaration “that the mother – and her husband — is/are  deutschblütig (of German blood-heredity), that their four grandparents are not of Jewish or other foreign ethnic origin, nor have ever belonged or subscribed to the Jewish religion, and in circumstances where the husband or marriage is deceased – confirms further that no contradictory facts are known in believing the  Deutschblütigkeit (German bloodline) of the former husband”.  Unless doubts were cast to suggest otherwise in the validity of the declaration given, it was to be accepted as sufficient.

II). The mother was indeed “worthy” of the decoration (I.e. proven an honourable mother of reputable moral standing, genetically healthy and genetically-fit. With no evidence of prior confinement to a state penitentiary (Zuchthaus), marital infidelity, unlawful abortion, or any other personal burdens of taboo or social offences such as prostitution or promiscuous behaviour, intimate interracial relationships (miscegenation) or otherwise exogamy, amongst other criteria that were required to be investigated and evidenced by government authorities)

III). Further conditions observed, involving the entire family, were that the children are clear of hereditary illnesses or genetic disorders, that a conscious responsibility exists without supervision in the parents being mindful of maintaining the family home to acceptable orderly standards and to nurturing their children towards being useful compatriots. The husband had not served a prison sentence, the family were not conceiving a great number of dependants (children) as a form of subsistence for the receipt of significant monetary disbursements of state child support (Kinderbeihilfe) and thereby feel entitled to avoid regular employment in exploiting such lifestyle, the family members were not chronic alcoholics, work-shy nor had conflicts with the law and police or presented other social delinquencies, and the family were not burdening private or public social welfare aid.

In the event the authorities were to find such discrepancies during their investigations leading to non-eligibility, the family risked being regarded or stigmatized as “asozial” (anti-social) or dysfunctional, which at that time was viewed as a risk and threat for the wellbeing of the German nation. It was declared inconceivable and abhorrent to consider or recommend any mother of such a family background for the Mother’s Cross honor. In a further extract from the official application screening protocol, the local mayor’s office was also encouraged, if his office was recommending a mother, to consider whether the mother in question, who has gifted her children life, has borne children likely to bear sacrifices in the interest of preserving the German nation, or whether the children posed a burden and peril to the future of the German nation, and the children perhaps should have better remained unborn.

Various privileges were bound to the honor, one example being preferential treatment, precedence and priority service within society and public services. As one recount recalls “…they were always given the best of everything: housing, food, clothing, and schooling for their children. Old people even had to give up their seats on the bus or streetcar. They were treated like royalty with the greatest respect. No standing in line for them. At the butchers shop the best cuts of meat would go into their baskets. A helper or nurse was assigned by the government to help them take care of the brood and arrived first thing in the morning”. An annuity was also considered for a recipient mother of the decoration, but due to government budget constraints, this proved unworkable. Members of the Hitler Youth organization were also instructed; a wearer of the Mother’s Cross was to be honorably greeted (saluted) when encountered. The Völkischer Beobachter (People’s Observer) national newspaper (1938 Issue No. 25) stated: “…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 honored comrades and our injured war veterans.”

The receipt of the decoration was no guarantee of permanent recognition, it could be annulled on a case-by-case basis under certain circumstances on the advice of the Reichsminister des Innern (Reichs-Minister of Interior). For instance, it could be annulled if the mother ceased to be “worthy” by neglecting her children, marital infidelity, or exhibited other problematic behavior.

The first public presentation ceremonies, following inception of the Mother’s Cross in December 1938, were held on Mother’s Day May 21, 1939, across Germany. However, due to the unexpected high number of mothers eligible for the decoration across all classes on its inception, despite a stringent nomination criteria, resulted in the initial presentations being restricted to mothers of age 60 and above due to various administrative and logistics limitations. The first year presentations were also extended to include October 1, 1939, “harvest festival” day (Erntedankfest), equivalent to thanksgiving, and December 24, 1939, Christmas Eve. It was not until Mother’s Day 1940 onwards that eligible mothers aged below 60 were finally presented with their Mother’s Cross decoration and once again these presentations were deferred until a later date that same year. A recipient mother who could not attend her official invitation to a local public presentation ceremony received her decoration delivered through the postal service. Some presentation ceremonies were also recorded filmed events chronicled by Die Deutsche Wochenschau (The German Weekly Newsreel).

Exact total decorations bestowed throughout its existence are no longer traceable through the limited official records that survived the Second World War, the central application archives held at the Präsidialkanzlei (Presidential Chancellery) in Berlin were lost or otherwise destroyed by closing war events, however, it’s estimated that up until September 1941 there were a total of 4.7 million recipient mothers honored with the Mother’s Cross decoration.

After the end of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Mother’s Cross was occasionally referred to as the Mütterverdienstkreuz (Mother’s Cross of Merit). The Mother’s Cross, however, belongs to the decorations and medals bestowed during the Third Reich era of Germany, and as such, incorporates by design the adopted swastika symbol; the wearing or display of which in public places, especially in Germany of such decorations since July 26, 1957, is restricted and regulated by German law (Ref. Bundesgesetzblatt (BGBl) I, 1957, S. 844, §6) in accordance with the succeeding Law on Titles, Orders and Honours of the Federal Republic of Germany (Gesetz über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen).

Scott #476 was released on June 3, 1936, as the highest value in a set of four stamps commemorating the Sixth International Congress of Municipalities, held from June 7-13, 1936, in Berlin and Munich (Scott #473-476). The 25-pfennig dark ultramarine stamp features a symbol of municipalities.

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