Instituted on January 12, 1919 in two classes by Lieutenant-General Friedrich “Fritz” von Friedeburg (05.02.1866 – 27.04.1933), commander of the 6th Army Corps (VI.Armeekorps) following an initiative from Freikorps Paulssen officers.
Military personnel who served six months in the Silesian border campaigns against Polish nationalists were eligible for the Silesian Eagle 1st class while those with three months experience were decorated with the Silesian Eagle 2nd class. The lower class of a badge could have been awarded to civilians for their outstanding merits during protection of their homeland.
Silesia is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland with smaller parts also in the Czech Republic and Germany.
After the Great War Upper Silesia was contested by Germany and the newly-independent Second Polish Republic. The League of Nations organized a plebiscite to decide the issue in 1921. Results were skewed by the German population that wished to remain part of Germany. However following the third Silesian Uprising in 1921 the easternmost portion of Upper Silesia with a majority ethnic Polish population was awarded back to Poland where it was formed into the Silesian Voivodship. The Prussian Province of Silesia within Germany was then divided into the provinces of Lower Silesia and Upper Silesia. Meanwhile Austrian Silesia, the small portion of Silesia retained by Austria after the Silesian Wars, was mostly awarded to the new Czechoslovakia becoming known as Czech Silesia, although most of Cieszyn and territory to the east of it went to Poland.
Design of the Silesian Merits Badge was created by professor Theodor von Gosen (10.01.1873-30.01.1943), German medalist and sculptor.
The badge had a form of Silesian coat-of-arms: an eagle with lowered wings facing eastwards with the crescent surmounted by a cross imposed on its breast and a ribbon bearing an inscription “For Silesia” (“Für Schlesien”) in its claws.
Silesian Eagle 1st class was worn as a pin-back or screw-back cross on a lower left part of a tunic. The badge 2nd class with a suspension ring above the eagle’s head was worn on a 30 mm wide pale yellow ribbon divided into thirds with a central white stripe.
Awards documents were issued by the staff of the 6th Army Corps according to applications submitted by commanding officers of various Volunteer Corps. The badge had to be privately purchased by an awardee. The first phase of decorations ended on September 30, 1919.
Issuance of award documents was renewed in 1921 by an order of Lieutenant-General (res) Karl Hoefer (29.12.1862 – 12.05.1939), commander of Upper Silesian volunteer units.
Those eligible for an award but already decorated in 1919 were issued with additional elements – crossed swords or oak leaves wreath. It is considered that swords were presented to military personnel for bravery in the field while non-combatants received wreath. Both distinctions were said to be awarded for outstanding merits. It is understood though that those regulations were not usually followed and veterans added swords or wreath on their own.
Totally there were eight variants of a “Silesian Eagle” that represented various additions to the two basic grades, 1st and 2nd class.
1. Silesian Merits Badge 1st class (Schlesisches Bewährungsabzeichen 1.Klasse)
2. Silesian Merits Badge 1st class with swords (Schlesisches Bewährungsabzeichen 1.Klasse mit Schwertern)
3. Silesian Merits Badge 1st class with wreath (Schlesisches Bewährungsabzeichen 1.Klasse mit Eichenlaub)
4. Silesian Merits Badge 1st class with swords and wreath (Schlesisches Bewährungsabzeichen 1.Klasse mit Schwertern und Eichenlaub)
5. Silesian Merits Badge 2nd class (Schlesisches Bewährungsabzeichen 2.Klasse)
6. Silesian Merits Badge 2nd class with swords (Schlesisches Bewährungsabzeichen 2.Klasse mit Schwertern)
7. Silesian Merits Badge 2nd class with wreath (Schlesisches Bewährungsabzeichen 2.Klasse mit Eichenlaub)
8. Silesian Merits Badge 2nd class with swords and wreath (Schlesisches Bewährungsabzeichen 2.Klasse mit Schwertern und Eichenlaub)
The second phase of decorations ended in June 1921.
“Silesian Eagle” was produced by dozens of manufacturers and thus numerous varieties exist. Badges differ in color (black, white, gold), finish of obverse (silver, enamel, paint), attachment method for the 1st class (pin and screw) and material (iron, silver, zinc, bronze and other alloys), shape of swords, etc.
Silesian Merits Badge was one of the few Freikorps awards that were allowed to be worn on uniforms during the Third Reich after the ban on unofficial medals that followed on November 14, 1935. However swords and oak leaves wreath as well as enameled badges were banned. Nevertheless many veterans continued wearing them even in active military service.
Post-WWII West German Law regarding Titles, Medals and Decorations (“Gesetz über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen”) that was put into effect on July 26, 1957 specifically permitted “Silesian Eagle” for display and wear (together with another Freikorps award – Baltic Cross) and “legalized” crossed swords device as an evidence of bravery in the field.