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German Red Cross Headquarters

Carstennstraße 58
12205 Berlin

Phone: +49 (0)30 8 54 04-0
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History of the GRC Social Welfare

The Beginnings of GRC Social Welfare

Ladies of the Bavarian Red Cross producing Charpie
Ladies of the Bavarian Red Cross // DRK e.V.

In the beginning was the woman! And not just one woman, but many women, with Grand Duchess Luise out in front.

While Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, tirelessly sought - in 1859 on the battlefield of Solferino - to ease the suffering of the injured and discovered his mission, to try to make war more humane, there were already women in Germany who dedicated themselves to the development of voluntary societies to help ease the overall misery in the country. In this connection, in Karlsruhe, Grand Duchess Luise von Baden presented the president of the Ministry of the Interior, von Stengel, a memorandum in which she spoke out in favour of the foundation of a relief organization. This was the foundation stone of the GRC social Welfare.

Soon after the Geneva Conference in 1863 the Red Cross associations began to sprout up throughout the country. The first was the "Württembergische Sanitätsverein". The focus of this association was on the treatment of the war-wounded. However, the wars of 1864, 1866 and 1870 helped to develop the idea of also helping civilians in the field of social work. This movement became more and more important. The "Badische Frauenverein" had joined the ranks of the Red Cross in 1866.

Right from the start, the portfolio of many of these societies included civilian nursing care, health education and caring for the needy. In this way, from fairly early on, the attention of the societies was directed not only towards helping in wars, but also towards helping in emergencies in general. Already in 1882 various women's societies united to form the Verband Deutscher Krankenpflege-Anstalten, a Red Cross organization – and the predecessor of today's registered association Verband der Schwesternschaften vom Deutschen Roten Kreuz e.V.

GRC Welfare Work after the First World War

Food for the poor in Munich in the 1920s
Food for the poor in Munich in the 1920s // DRK e.V.

After the First World War there was a period of great upheaval. New peacetime structures were formed. In the previous years the work of the Red Cross had concentrated mainly on the medical services of the German armed forces and was strongly associated with the military and the monarchy. From now on the focus would be placed more on prevention, combating and alleviation of poor health and economic misery. One of the most pressing issues was seen, in the statutes of 1921, as being "the improvement of public health and the combating of epidemics and widespread diseases". The existing state associations and women's associations again turned their attention increasingly, in the context of the general demilitarization, to social welfare work.

At this time the Red Cross also operated care institutes and play-schools for children (these fulfilled the function in those days of the modern kindergarten), free lunches for the needy and the elderly, hospitals and other facilities for the ill and the disabled. In addition to this the Red Cross sought – in terms of a preventive approach – to inform people and to mediate rules of good hygiene.

The years after the First World War were often characterized by great misery. In the year 1930 the five million jobless were reason enough for the GRC to propose to the league of welfare-care associations a winter relief fund – and to set up a "Deutsche Bewegung gegen deutsche Not" [German Movement Against German Misery]. Already at this stage there was discussion of whether to move more towards direct, acute help or towards socio-political efforts to achieve structural improvements. This theme is still very relevant today.

The Welfare Work of the GRC under National Socialism

As from 1933 the GRC was brought into line step-by-step – or allowed itself to be brought into line to secure its existence. Most of the GRC social facilities were expropriated through the "NS Volkswohlfahrt" without compensation. In connection with welfare-care activities the NS ideology at first still stressed the importance of "peace work". Even the very successful winter relief fund proposed in the Weimar Republic was "pocketed" under the National Socialists and developed into a very doubtful routine body. One could no longer speak of the voluntary commitment that had initially characterized the winter relief fund.

When the NS Volkswohlfahrt became the biggest "welfare organization of the German nation" an offensive began against the free welfare associations. In keeping with the "Führer" principle the GRC was quickly organized on a strict hierarchical basis and finally lost all of its welfare facilities. Even the "Jugendrotkreuz" [Youth Red Cross] was dissolved.

GRC Social Welfare as from 1945

After the war the GRC began its welfare work again, step-by-step. It looked after those homecomers from the war and refugees, and it helped with many remedial measures for children financed from abroad.

The 1950s saw the first beginnings in the Federal Republic of the "voluntary social year". Already in 1964, before its legislation, the GRC was one of the first organizations to start up a pilot experiment. In the 1970a and 1980s in particular the GRC of the Federal Republic was sustainably developed in the fields of welfare and social work. Many reform projects were established.

The Red Cross in the GDR, which was founded in 1952, involved itself in particular with disaster control and population protection, rescue services and health education. Although certain welfare aspects nevertheless asserted themselves, welfare work and social work played a subordinate role.

GRC Social Welfare since the Reunification

Yearbook 1989/90 of the German Red Cross
Yearbook 1989/90 of the German Red Cross // DRK e.V.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the inter-German border the Red Cross also provided care for GDR refugees. At this same time the true cooperation between both GRC organizations began, and in 1991 the six associations of the new federal states were admitted to the GRC. Bit by bit the GRC in the new federal states began to involve itself more strongly in the field of social work, and to develop its current-day structures.

Until the present day the welfare and social work of the GRC has been based on the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary commitment, unity and universality. As a recognized central organization of free welfare care activities it looks after the interests of those "who need support in eliminating social disadvantage, misery and inhumane situations and who work towards improvement of individual, family and social living conditions." With 400,000 voluntary workers it makes an active contribution towards solving the pressing social challenges of the times.