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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bring Back the Iron Cross

Iron Cross purposes

Ironcross By Chris Schuler

As our Berlin correspondent, Tony Patterson, reported last week, Germany has been riven by controversy since the Defence Minister, Franz Josef Jung, announced plans for a medal, “similar in shape to the Iron Cross”, to be awarded to German troops risking their lives in Afghanistan. The proposal was greeted with fierce opposition from the Greens, Social Democrats, and Jewish groups, and within 24 hours, he had backed down, stating that any new medal would bear no resemblance to the Iron Cross.

"Given the legacy of Hitler and the Second World War,” said Rainer Arnold, a leading Social Democrat, “the medal is too burdened by the past to be reintroduced." Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of Central Council of Jews in Germany, was of the same opinion. The Iron Cross, he said, was "shamelessly abused" by the Nazis and had become synonymous with Hitlerism.

Yet the Iron Cross is not synonymous with Nazism, but was introduced by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III during the Napoleonic Wars. And although it has not been used as a military decoration since the end of the Second World War, it is still the official emblem of the Bundeswehr, and has been displayed on its tanks and planes for 60 years without protest.

It is worth remembering that, before Hitler came to power, many holders of the medal were Jewish: the picture shows a detail from the grave of a Jewish serviceman in the former German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland). Of the 555,000 Jews living in the German empire in at the outbreak of the First World War, 100,000 served in all branches of the armed; 12,000 of them died in action; and many were awarded the Iron Cross.

This did not, of course save them from the concentration camps. Perhaps the award is irretrievably tainted – but then again, maybe it would be better to reclaim it, rather that give the Nazis credit for something that was not theirs in the first place?


I lifted this article from the Independent Online Edition. I agree with Chris Schuler. The Bundeswehr (German Military Forces) adopted the Iron Cross as it's emblem in 1955. Jewish sensibility to a decoration awarded by Nazi Germany is understandable but this cross is without the swastika.

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