NAZI Germany’s cult of motherhood has resurfaced with the discovery in Berlin of hundreds of letters from women begging to receive the coveted “Mother Cross” for bringing children into the world for Adolf Hitler.
Hitler instigated the order, inset, on Mother’s Day in 1939, declaring the need for women to have multiple children for the Reich. He decreed women who bore four children would receive the Mother Cross in bronze, those who had six got silver and those with eight or more would receive a gold version.
More than five million women earned the right to wear the Mother Cross. But letters discovered in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin show that childbirth alone was not enough.
Thousands were denied the cross if their family backgrounds did not fit into the stereotype of the perfect Ayran family as dictated by Hitler.
Women who had fulfilled the number criteria were often refused if they had another child with a learning disability, a handicap, or an uncle with a criminal record. The Nazi no-list was as extensive as it was ludicrous.
And because the cross became the ultimate status symbol for married women in the Third Reich, being refused it was a social stigma few wanted to shoulder.
One of the letters discovered in the Bundesarchiv is to Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann, the Nazi chief of Hamburg.
A woman wrote in May 1941: “Dear Gauleiter Kaufmann, have I been forgotten? I have had eight children and am now pregnant again. I have not received my Golden Cross. My mother-in-law says this is a great shame and my husband was violent towards me today because of this. Please help.”
“We’re really not criminals”, wrote a mother of 11 to another gauleiter in Saxony. “Hereditary disease, prison, jail, alcohol abuse – these things do not exist in our family. I feel unworthy because I have not got the cross.”
Another plaintive plea for party recognition read: “Am I and my children not as good as others.” And a 60-year-old mother of 20 penned: “I have already applied twice for the cross and until today have not received a reply. I would love to have it. This is my desire.”
Husbands joined in the clamour for recognition too. One wrote: “Informers have called us dirty and put me down as a drinker. My wife has brought eight children into the world, is industrious and clean and working in an armaments factory. Why should such a woman not receive the Mother Cross?”
Those who did receive it got a booklet from Nazi party bigwigs telling them how and when to wear it. “On all festive occasions, family gatherings and of course the Fuehrer’s birthday, or the day of the seizure of power,” it said. A small version with a blue and white ribbon was recommended for “everyday wear”.
Hitler Youth were ordered to salute women wearing it and all tram, bus and train passengers were required by law to give up their seat for a recipient.
Cynics dubbed the cross “The Order of the Rabbit” but its sway in society was huge. Women in ration queues who displayed it invariably got the tastiest meat cuts and extra butter.
After the war, women had to hide the symbol of their pride out of sight. It became accepted that one simply couldn’t refuse the cross… but the begging letters tell a different story.