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WWI Red Cross merit medal, 3rd class awarded to German Jewish woman

Object | Accession Number: 2003.361.8

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    WWI Red Cross merit medal, 3rd class awarded to German Jewish woman

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    Brief Narrative
    German Rothe Kreuz [For Merit in the Red Corss] medal, 3rd class, awarded to Hildegard Alexander for her service as a nurse in World War I (1914-1918). See 2003.361.19 for the Rothe Kreuz ribbon she was also awarded. Her husband, Moritz Henschel, had been decorated for his service in the German Army during the war. Moritz was an influential lawyer in Berlin when Hitler came to power in Germany in January 1933. As government persecution of Jews intensified, Moritz and Hildegard sent their daughters Marianne, 15, to Palestine and Lilly, 13, to England in 1939. Moritz was on the board of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, created by the Nazi government in February 1939 to organize Jewish affairs. The Association was eventually forced to assist with deportations. In 1940, Moritz became president of the Berlin Jewish Community. In January 1943, Moritz became president of the Reich Association, when Leo Baeck was deported. On June 10, 1943, the Reich Association was shut down and Moritz and Hildegard were deported to Theresienstadt. Moritz was elected to the Jewish Council and put in charge of the Freizeitgestaltung, which produced cultural events and materials. On May 9, 1945, the camp was liberated by Soviet forces. Moritz and Hildegard went to Deggendorf displaced persons camp, then emigrated to Palestine in 1946.
    received:  1919 December 12
    received: Berlin (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Yoel Givol and Michal Lilli Kahani, in memory of their grandparents, Hildegard and Moritz Henschel
    front, embossed : W / R / A / V [Wilhelm Rex Auguste Victoria]
    back, embossed : FUER / VERDIENSTE/ UM DAS / ROTHE KREUZ [For services to the Red Cross]
    Subject: Hildegard Henschel
    Issuer: Deutsches Rothe Kreuz
    Hildegard Alexander was born on April 29, 1897, in Berlin, Germany. During World War I (1914-1918), she served as a nurse for the German Red Cross and was awarded a medal for her service. She worked as a lab technician at a pharmacy company from 1919 to 1923. On June 28, 1922, she married Moritz Henschel, who was born on February 17, 1879, in Breslau, Germany. They had two daughters: Marianne, born on September 6, 1923, and Lilly, born on April 5, 1926.

    In January 1933, Hitler came to power and, by summer, Germany was ruled by a Nazi dictatorship. As living conditions worsened for Jews, Hildegard and Moritz decided to get their daughters out of Germany. In November 1938, they sent Marianne to a Zionist preparatory camp in Rudnitz. On January 31, 1939, Marianne, 15, emigrated to Palestine with a Youth Aliyah group and settled in a kibbutz. Lilly, 13, was sent to England on a Kindertransport in 1939. Moritz served on the board of the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland (The Reich Association of Jews in Germany), and became the president of the Berlin Kehillah (Jewish Community) in March 1940. Hildegard worked for the Reichsvereinigung Office of Emigration from 1939 to 1940, then as a secretary for the Jewish Community’s health administration. On September 19, 1941, they were forced to wear Star of David badges. The government began confiscating Jewish property, starting with an old age home. Hospitals and schools were also confiscated. The conditions in Berlin worsened as the government pursued the policy of making Berlin Judenfrei (free of Jews). In October 1941, the Nazi government began large scale deportations of Jews from Berlin. The Reichsvereinigung was forced to assist with the deportations. Moritz believed that cooperation was necessary because they would carry out the deportations more humanely than the Germans. As the deportations increased, the number of Jewish suicides increased. Every case was taken to the hospital where Hildegard worked and she kept track of the rising numbers. Moritz eventually learned that he was being lied to about the destination of the transports and that people were being killed. Moritz and Hildegard were protected from being deported because they were employees of the Jewish Community and had special identification. They wore their Star of David badges on the left and had a stamped armband. In January 1943, Moritz became the president of the Reichsvereinigung after the former president was deported.

    On June 10, 1943, the German SS closed the Reichsvereinigung. Hildegard, Moritz, and the remaining leaders of the Reichsvereinigung were arrested and taken to an assembly camp in Berlin. On June 16, Hildegard and Moritz were deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp. Moritz was elected to the Judenrat (Jewish Council) and was put in charge of the Freizeitgestaltung (Leisure Time Department), which produced cultural materials and events, such as music, poetry, and plays. Moritz was also made head of the post office. The camp was overcrowded and severely lacking in food. Death from disease and starvation was common. Hildegard and Moritz survived by receiving food parcels from Sweden and keeping a low profile. They were liberated on May 9, 1945, by Soviet forces.

    In fall 1945, Hildegard and Moritz went to Deggendorf displaced persons camp in Germany. In 1946, they immigrated to Palestine and settled in Tel Aviv. Moritz was in poor health and died at age 68 on April 22, 1947, in Tel Aviv. On May 11, 1961, Hildegard testified in the trial of Adolf Eichmann and discussed her experience in wartime Berlin and Moritz’s position in the Jewish Community. Eichmann, as chief of Reich Security Main Office department IV B 4 (Jews). was responsible for organizing the mass deportations of Jews to concentration camps and killing centers. The trial was televised and attracted worldwide attention as the first detailed, public examination of the evidence and atrocities committed during the Holocaust. Eichmann was found guilty at the trial and executed in 1962. The trial experience was very difficult for Hildegard and she never spoke about the Holocaust again. Her daughter Lilly died in 1962. Hildegard, 86, died in 1983 in Israel.

    Physical Details

    Military Insignia
    Object Type
    Medals, German (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Circular gray colored metal medal with an embossed equilateral Geneva cross, with textured vertical lines. There is a Prussian crown at each arm end and uppercase letters between the arms. The reverse has embossed German text with a tree branch with 3 acorns and several oak leaves curved along the left. The medal has a raised rim and smooth edge. The top of the medal has an extension with a hole with a suspension loop and a suspension ring.
    overall: Height: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm) | Width: 1.375 inches (3.493 cm) | Depth: 0.125 inches (0.318 cm) | Diameter: 1.250 inches (3.175 cm)
    overall : metal

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Corporate Name
    Deutsches Rotes Kreuz

    Administrative Notes

    The medal was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2003 by Yoel Givol and Michal Lilli Kahani, the grandchildren of Hildegard and Moritz Henschel.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-31 15:02:29
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