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Iron Cross, 2nd class, 2 ribbons, and box awarded to a German Jewish soldier for bravery in WWI

Object | Accession Number: 2003.361.9 a-d

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    Iron Cross, 2nd class, 2 ribbons, and box awarded to a German Jewish soldier for bravery in WWI

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Iron Cross 2nd Class medal awarded to Moritz Henschel for his bravery on August 14, 1915, on the Italian front in World War I (1914-1918.) 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.
    Date
    commemoration:  1915 August 14
    commemoration:  1914-1918
    Geography
    manufacture: Pforzheim (Germany)
    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
    Markings
    a. front, center, embossed : 1914 / 1918
    a. back, bottom, embossed : R.V. / PFORZHEIM / 18
    Contributor
    Subject: Moritz Henschel
    Biography
    Moritz Henschel was born on February 17, 1879, in Breslau, Germany (Wroclaw, Poland), to Karl and Emma Deutsch Henschel. In January 1910, he graduated from the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary and began working as a lawyer. Moritz served in the German Army in World War I (1914-1918), and was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, for bravery. After the war, he worked at the Landgericht, the regional court in Berlin. On June 28, 1922, Moritz married Hildegard Alexander, who was born on April 29, 1897, in Berlin. She served as a nurse in World War I and worked as a lab technician at a pharmacy company from 1919 to 1923. 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. Moritz was a member of the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden (Reich Representation of German Jews), which was established in September 1933 to oversee Jewish education, vocational training, welfare and economic assistance, and emigration and was an influential member of the Berlin Kehillah (Jewish Community). On March 5, 1938, the Jewish Community was no longer recognized by the Nazi government as a public corporate body, so Moritz, along with Heinrich Stahl and Herbert Selinger, ran it as an emergency committee. As conditions worsened, Moritz and Hildegard decided to get their daughters of Germany. In November 1938, they sent Marianne, 14, to a Zionist preparatory camp in Rudnitz. On January 31, 1939, Marianne left for Palestine with a Youth Aliyah group and settled in a kibbutz. In 1939, Lilly, 13, was sent to England on a Kindertransport. In February 1939, the Reichsvertretung was restructured into the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland (Reich Association of Jews in Germany), which oversaw Jewish emigration, education, labor, and welfare. Moritz was on the board. Hildegard worked for its Office of Emigration from 1939 to 1940. In August 1939, the Berlin Jewish Community was reorganized as a society under the Reichsvereinigung, with Heinrich Stahl as president. In March 1940, Moritz became president of the Jewish Community when Heinrich Stahl was removed by the government. Hildegard was a secretary for the Community’s health administration. On September 19, 1941, Jews in Berlin were forced to wear Star of David badges. The government began large scale confiscations of Jewish property, starting with an old age home. Hospitals and schools were also confiscated.

    Living conditions for Jews worsened as the government pursued the policy of making Berlin Judenfrei (free of Jews). In October 1941, the government began large scale deportations of Jews from Berlin. The Reichsvereinigung was forced to assist with the deportations. On Yom Kippur on October 1, Moritz and two of his employees were taken from the synagogue to meet with the Gestapo. They were told that a large number of people were being deported to Łódź. The Jewish community had to submit an updated list of all Jews in Berlin and turn one of the synagogues into a transit camp for 1,000 people. After 4,000 people had been deported, Moritz was told the next transports would be sent to a kibbutz near Riga and Minsk. He believed that cooperation was necessary because they would carry out the deportations more humanely than the German SS. Moritz had secret contacts in the railroad and they soon realized that they were being lied to about the destination of the transports. They received news that people were being moved from Łódź and Riga to Stutthof concentration camp, where they were killed. They never heard about the transport to Minsk again. The government eventually established more assembly camps in Jewish cemeteries, hospitals and synagogues, from which Jews were deported to eastern Europe. The deportations increased, but 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. After the president of the Reichsvereinigung, Leo Baeck, was deported to Theresienstadt in January 1943, Moritz became president.

    On June 10, 1943, German SS went to Moritz’s office and arrested him, telling him that the Reichsvereinigung no longer existed. Moritz, Hildegard, and the remaining leaders of the Reichsvereinigung were taken to an assembly camp in Berlin. On June 16, Moritz and Hildegard were deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German occupied Czechoslovakia. Moritz was elected to the Judenrat (Jewish Council). The chairman of the Judenrat reported to the German camp commandant and administered the camps for the Germans. He was advised by the members of the council. Moritz 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, with severe food shortages, and disease and starvation were widespread. Moritz and Hildegard 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, Moritz and Hildegard went to Deggendorf displaced persons camp in Germany. In 1946, they were given permission to immigrate to Palestine and settled in Tel Aviv. On September 13, 1946, Moritz gave a lecture about the last years of the Berlin Jewish Community. Moritz, age 68, died on April 22, 1947, in Tel Aviv.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Military Insignia
    Category
    Medals
    Object Type
    Medals, German (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    a. Bronze colored metal cross pattee medal with embossed dates within a laurel leaf wreath with a tied ribbon at the bottom. It has a raised edge and a recessed field. There are crossed swords between the arms. At the top is a metal bale with a circular bronze colored metal suspension ring looped though it. The back is smooth with embossed manufacturer information.
    b. Rectangular, striped ribbon with 5 vertical stripes: narrow black, white, wide black, white, narrow black. Both ends are frayed.
    c. Rectangular, striped ribbon with 7 vertical stripes: narrow black, white, black, red, black, white, narrow black. Both ends are frayed.
    d. Rectangular cardboard box covered with dark green textured plastic with a hinged lid. On the base is a metal release button to open the lid. The lid is lined with shiny white cloth, which also covers the hinge. The base has a white cardboard liner with a fitted insert for the medal, covered with dark blue velvety cloth.
    Dimensions
    a: Height: 1.625 inches (4.128 cm) | Width: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm)
    b: Height: 6.000 inches (15.24 cm) | Width: 1.250 inches (3.175 cm)
    c: Height: 5.875 inches (14.923 cm) | Width: 1.250 inches (3.175 cm)
    d: Height: 0.750 inches (1.905 cm) | Width: 2.875 inches (7.302 cm) | Depth: 2.250 inches (5.715 cm)
    Materials
    a : metal
    b : ribbon
    c : ribbon
    d : plastic, cardboard, cloth, metal

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    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:
    2022-07-28 18:29:54
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn523076

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