Ehrenkreuz des Weltkrieges 1914/1918 was the very first award of the Third Reich and remained the only commemorative award of the national-socialist state. It was instituted on July 13, 1934 by the President Generalfeldmarshall Paul von Hindenburg aiming to commemorate all those who fought and fell during the Great War and therefore was nicknamed “Hindenburg Cross”.
Cross of Honor was awarded to frontline veterans and non-combatants – German citizens and Germans who lost their citizenship due to the Versailles Peace Treaty as well as to relatives of the fallen soldiers – their widows and parents. Thus it aim was to reinforce pride not only in veterans but also military personnel of German Armed forces.
Cross of Honor was instituted in three classes:
1. Cross of Honor for frontline soldiers (Ehrenkreuz für Frontkämpfer). It was awarded only for the military personnel of the Imperial Army and Navy who had engaged the enemy in frontline combat.
2. Cross of Honor for war participants, i.e. non-combatants (Ehrenkreuz für Kriegsteilnehmer). It was awarded to military auxiliary personnel such as administrators and medics, as well as to civilians (state officials, etc.).
3. Cross of Honor for next-of-kin (Ehrenkreuz für Hinterbliebene). It was issued to widows and parents of those who were killed or died during WWI or were missing in action.
Award was issued after an application accompanied by a prove of wartime service or loss of a relative was approved by the authorities, the Reichsminister of interior being in charge of the distribution of crosses.
Cross of Honor was handed personally to the active military personnel and sent by post to veterans and civilians.
Ehrenkreuz des Weltkrieges was created by Eugene Godet who received commission from the Reich Chancellery and its design was based on that of the Prussian Kriegsdenkmünze reverse. It had a form of an equilateral 37x37 mm Teutonic cross with a
Three classes of the Honor Cross differed by the following details.
Cross of Honor for frontline soldiers made of bronze or bronzed iron had a wreath of laurels on the center, tied at the base by a ribbon tie with the ends extending to the lower arm of the cross. The wreath was composed of five bunches of three leaves on each side, with a pair of laurel berries at each joint. A pair of
Sometimes a crossed swords gilt device was worn on the ribbon.
Cross of Honor for war participants made of bronze or bronzed iron was of a nearly similar design but had a wreath of oak leaves and lacked swords. Its ribbon was similar to that of the Cross of Honor for frontline soldiers.
Cross of Honor for next-of-kin was similar to the Cross of Honor for war participants but was finished in black and its ribbon colors were inverted, i.e. central red stripe and white and black stripes on both sides accompanied by thin white stripes closer to both edges.
It’s worth mentioning here that though award documents for the Cross of Honor for next-of-kin were of two different types (“Ehrenkreuz für Witwen” and “Ehrenkreuz für Eltern”) the award itself was only of one type as described above.
The rarest type of the Cross of Honor for next-of-kin was made of iron and had a horizontal pin and catch on its reverse instead of ribbon ring that was missing.
All three classes of the award had a flat reverse with maker’s mark.
Ehrenkreuz des Weltkrieges was made of bronze or iron.
The Cross of Honor was worn mounted as part of a group or on the ribbon bar. The award ranked above service and occupation medals but below combat related awards.
Number of awards:
Ehrenkreuz für Frontkämpfer – 6,202,883 pieces.
Ehrenkreuz für Kriegsteilnehmer – 1,120,449 pieces.
Ehrenkreuz für Hinterbliebene – 345,112 pieces issued to widows with “Ehrenkreuz für Witwen” award document.
Ehrenkreuz für Hinterbliebene – 372,950 pieces issued to parents who lost their sons with “Ehrenkreuz für Eltern” award document.
As the Third Reich expanded on the eve of the WWII into the Saar, Danzig, Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Memel district and during the Second World War itself, orders were passed by the Reichsminister of interior to recognize ethnic Germans (Volksdeutschen) who were eligible in those areas with the timeframe for each territory being different.
Thus in November 1938 after the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria the Honor Cross was awarded to Austrian veterans and Sudeten Germans (Sudetendeutsche), in June 1942 to ethnic Germans who lived in Eastern and Western territories annexed by the Third Reich and in March 1943 to the population of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren). The final addition by Adolf Hitler’s personal order was made in September 1944 to include ethnic Germans from the South-Eastern part of Europe.
The last known official decoration by the Cross of Honor dates back to September 1944 while 1945 has been mentioned by some sources as the final date.
Thus its safe to say that a total of nearly 10,000,000 crosses of all the three classes were issued during the Third Reich era.