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Instituted in 1864 by Dr. Aaron Silverman of the Charité hospital of Berlin, the German Red Cross was a voluntary civil assistance organization that was officially acknowledged by the Geneva Convention in 1929.
General Kurt W. von Pfuel was the Chairman of the Central Committee of the German National Red Cross during the Great War.
One of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles prevented the DRK from having any involvement in military matters. As a result, during the Weimar Republic under the leadership of Joachim von Winterfeldt-Mencken, the DRK became a national organization focusing on social welfare. In April 1933 the Nazi Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick made it clear to Winterfeldt-Mencken that this policy would no longer apply; instead, the DRK would be expected to play its part in supporting the armed forces in any future conflict. Shortly after this the DRK was informed that the head of the SA Medical Corps, Dr. Paul Hocheisen had been given responsibility for voluntary nursing organizations.

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