In Germany, the end of the Second World War went down in history as “zero hour”. Germany was destroyed, her cities gutted by bombing. Warm clothing, food and accommodation were in short supply everywhere. In 1945, the occupying powers dissolved the German Red Cross as a national society – it had too many Nazi functionaries in leadership positions.
Still, the Red Cross workers tirelessly carried on. The need for them was greater than ever before. Vast numbers were returning home from captivity. Mothers were searching for their sons, brothers for their sisters, children for their parents. The Red Cross tracing service was set up that same year. Over the following years, it would go on to help some 16 million people find their next of kin.
The impressions of the Second World War were still fresh in the mind in 1949, when the governments of 59 countries gathered in Switzerland to update the Geneva Conventions agreed in 1864. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies were called on as experts. Probably the most important addition agreed at the conference was the Fourth Geneva Convention, on “the protection of civilian persons in time of war”.
In 1950, Germany’s regional Red Cross organisations once again joined forces and founded the German Red Cross for the Federal Republic of Germany, DRK for short. By 1951, the DRK was already setting up its first Blood Donor Centre in Düsseldorf. Today, 3,800 full-time employees and 200,000 volunteers support the blood donor service across Germany.
In 1952, the East German Red Cross was founded in Dresden.
Let’s stay in 1952 for the moment. 11.2 million people from Germany’s eastern regions were heading for a devastated West Germany. They were worried that the borders might be shut down. The German Red Cross set up hostels and makeshift camps for the refugees. It wouldn’t be the last time they’d provide aid to refugees.
In 1963, it was time for another rerun. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies were again awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was their fourth!
Fotos: © Rotkreuz Museum