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Auschwitz Exhibition Lenders: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Auschwitz Exhibition Lenders: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Artifact Spotlight: German Iron Cross

By Suzy Snyder, Curator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This German Iron Cross was awarded to Salli Joseph, who was born in 1886 in Neuenbürg, Germany. He was one of almost 100,000 Jews who willingly enlisted and served in the German Army during the First World War, despite existing antisemitism in the German military. The majority of Jewish soldiers were sent to fight on the frontlines, where an estimated 12,000 German Jews died in battle.

Salli Joseph was just one of thousands of Jewish WWI veterans honored for their service in 1934. The Iron Cross was awarded to German soldiers in recognition of their bravery, heroism, and sacrifice for their country during the First World War.

WWI-Iron-Cross-Medal
WWI German Iron Cross Medal, Collection USHMM for Auschwitz Exhibition

The timing for this award is interesting because Adolf Hitler was already Chancellor of Germany for more than a year and the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, announced in April 1933, had started the process of removing Jews (and others deemed for either political or racial reasons unworthy of being part of the Volk) from German society. Despite the rising tide of antisemitism in Nazi Germany, a majority of the remaining traditional authorities in the Third Reich believed that awarding the Iron Cross to only non-Jewish Germans was inappropriate and could lead to civil unrest. This protection came to an end in the late 1930s when all Jews under Nazi control suffered the same discriminatory treatment.

Austro-Hungarian and German Jewish soldiers celebrate Hanukkah at the front. (December 20, 1916)

After WWI, Salli married Martha Danziger and had two children.  Their daughter Margot stated that it was her father’s wish to leave Germany after Hitler was appointed chancellor, but her mother had extended family in Germany for whom it would not be easy to leave and assured Salli that the family would be fine.  By the time it became clear that the family needed to leave, it was too late. Their children were able to flee in 1939 and 1940 to the United Kingdom and Palestine respectively.

In 1943, Margot received the last correspondence from her parents, which stated they were being sent away. On March 6, 1943, Salli and Martha were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp where they were killed.