The German Red Cross

The German Red Cross is probably familiar to everyone. Many people have already used the services of the DRK. But at the same time many citizens do not know so much about the German Red Cross. That must change. It is not uncommon for bad things to be reported about the German Red Cross, insinuations are part of everyday life, usually without evidence or basis. In the following, the DRK will therefore be examined more closely, because without the helpers of the DRK, many things in the country would not function or would be much worse.

History of the German Red Cross

Deutsches Rotes Kreuz Logo
Logo des DRK

The German Red Cross is not the only association of this kind. It belongs to the international Red Cross movement, which has its origin in the 19th century. A time in which there were many battles and wars, but in which there was also a rethinking and humanitarian ideas became more known. There are some traditions about the origin of the Red Cross Movement, but Henry Dunant is considered the father of the movement. The idea was triggered by the Battle of Solferino on June 24, 1859. The idea spread throughout the European countries, whereby in the German Reich the founding of Red Cross associations was rather independent of each other. Other names were also chosen for the communities. It was all quite chaotic, as we know it from the history books about the German Confederation.

The Red Cross associations were very strongly occupied by women, which is why the term Red Cross Sisters was also used. The task at that time was to care for soldiers wounded in the war. In addition, the idea of civilian nursing arose. On 20 April 1869, a good ten years after the idea was born, twelve German regional associations founded the Central Committee of German Associations for the Care of Warriors Wounded and Sick in the Field, which again ten years later was given the shorter name Central Committee of German Associations of the Red Cross. The seat of the association was Berlin.

The DRK in its present form

The step towards the foundation of the DRK in its present form was taken on 25 January 1921. The German Red Cross was founded by Joachim von Winterfeldt-Menkin in Bamberg. Winterfeldt-Menkin was also the first president of the registered association with legal capacity. The DRK became the umbrella organization of the regional associations, which, however, remained largely independent in their actions. At the end of the First World War, the Red Cross movement had to face a serious existential crisis. The purpose of the movement was to organise relief measures in the event of attacks and crises. Soldiers and warriors were thus cared for and cared for as far as possible. In times of peace, which were aimed at with the Versailles Treaty, the Red Cross units would have become superfluous.

The reorganization 1921 aimed at assigning new tasks to the DRK and thus to prevent the loss of the organizations. Paragraph 2 of the statutes adopted at that time describes the association as part of the world community with the aim to prevent and combat health, economic and moral distress. It follows a listing of charitable tasks. The Verwundetenfürsorge is mentioned only in the last point. A certain dissociation to former tasks is to be obvious thus. By joining the International League of Red Cross Societies the DRC was able to establish itself as a respected welfare organisation in the post-war period. However, the rejection of militarized values at the time was only superficial.

DRK during National Socialism

As all larger organizations, the DRC was treated equally during the Third Reich. Personnel changes and new legal foundations led to a new understanding of the German Red Cross. Numerous SS and SA men held leading positions in the aid organization. War crimes and the incomprehensible crimes in the concentration camps had to be watched and accepted by the DRC. On April 26, 1945, the DRK main camp and presidium in Babelsberg were occupied by Soviet troops. There was no trace of the SS leaders at that time.

DRK after the Second World War

Due to the occupation and division of the German territory, the structure of the DRC was also divided as far as possible. While the DRC was dissolved in the Soviet and French occupation zones, it continued to operate in the American and British zones. In Saarland, which became its own country, the DRC changed its name to Saarländischer Sanitäts- und Hilfsdienst. In the Federal Republic, the DRC was re-established as a federal association on 4 February 1950. After the Saarland was annexed to Germany, the Saarland association was annexed to the German Red Cross. The separation of Germany into East and West brought new structural reorganizations. After reunification, however, the corresponding regional associations were reintegrated.

tasks of the German Red Cross today

Ambulance from insideThe DRK today is very broadly positioned and fulfils tasks in different areas. Civil protection and disaster control are particularly outstanding. In the event of natural disasters or disasters, the DRK provides vehicles, material and personnel to support the work of the rescue forces of the fire brigade and THW. Especially in the medical area the DRK is then active. However, most people know the DRK better from the ambulances and the rescue service. One call is enough and a team of emergency doctors hurries to place and brings the patient to the nearest hospital. There is a close cooperation between hospitals and DRK.

In addition, however, the DRC also assumes other important social tasks, such as social work and care for the elderly. Pastors, psychologists, geriatric nurses and social workers are often trained by the DRK and sent to the scene by the DRK. In an international context, the German Red Cross is active in catastrophes and humanitarian crises. The German Red Cross is particularly strongly represented in Africa, where there is the greatest need worldwide.

In addition, the DRC fulfils the following tasks:

  • Children and youth welfare
  • Family care
  • Integration, Inclusion and Migration
  • Training to become a first-aider
  • Health promotion


The DRK is an umbrella organisation to which other associations are subordinated. First of all, there are the 19 regional associations which, with the exception of the Bavarian Red Cross, are all registered associations (e.V.). Subordinated to the national federations are again 480 circle federations and the 33 members of the federation of the sisterhoods of the German Red Cross (VdS). The communities, mostly on an honorary basis, represent the foundation of the DRK. The most active members, approximately 300,000 in number, are accommodated in these communities. Beside the active members there are over 2.9 million supporting members.

DRK Financing

The DRK is financed on the one hand by the membership fees of the approximately four million members in the various associations, but on the other hand also by the proceeds from blood donation services. It is assumed that 500 million euros flow to the DRK from blood donations alone, a further 700 million euros from the turnover of the rescue services. As a social charity, the DRK enjoys tax advantages which are beneficial for the financing of the structure. In addition, each district and regional association, 520 in total, officially works independently of each other. The DRK also receives income from the training of first-aiders, which is indispensable for the driving test, and from other specialised training courses. The total turnover of the DRK is estimated at 4.5 billion euros. This is not undisputed.

criticism at the DRK

The German Red Cross often comes under criticism. Especially their status as an association for the common good and charity is often questioned. The trigger is often the financing of the German Red Cross and its income. Experts are certain that the revenues are not exclusively for social and charitable purposes, but also flow into other funds. By the rather unclear and intransparent structure of the DRK this is not however simply provable. Nevertheless, a turnover of 4.5 million euros is assumed. The reproach that the DRK is a business enterprise stands for years in the area.

The blood business in particular was negatively impacted. In 2016, the revenue per blood donation, i.e. per 500 millilitres, was around 135 euros. That makes a price per litre of 270 euros. The donor sees nothing of the proceeds. Blood donations intended for crisis areas are expected to generate even higher revenues. In view of these circumstances, doubts about non-profit status are entirely justified. Blood donations are still urgently needed, but the blood donation system should change. Officially it means on the part of the DRK that no significant surpluses are gained.

Development aid

Despite all criticism, the successes and help of the DRK cannot be suppressed. The Red Cross associations work closely with development workers and universities in order to be able to provide the most targeted help possible in the needy countries. After devastating catastrophes such as the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 or the earthquake in Haiti, the German Red Cross (DRK) helps to build up and supply the population. Medical care as well as mental care are also part of the DRK’s offer of help.

But the German Red Cross is also active in regions threatened by catastrophes. Prevention and resilience are among the goals of the German Red Cross. The population is to be trained in order to be able to help independently in the event of future disasters. In addition, the people are shown the ecological and sustainable cultivation of food in the region, as well as the production of clean drinking water. This help is guaranteed by numerous volunteers and honorary , who take on the risks without being remunerated. The gratitude of the local people is usually enough payment.

If one looks at the numbers to the foreign assistance, one can come in the astonishment. The DRK is active in over 50 countries in order to improve the living conditions of the local people. In order to optimally design the worldwide aid, the DRK works closely together with the societies of the respective countries. The aid system is coordinated by the IFRC, an association of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. In the case of wars and conflicts, the International Committee of the Red Cross usually coordinates the work of the national societies.

Application Areas


The DRK is in operation on every continent of the world. In Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia in particular, the DRC has a strong presence. In Africa, the DRC is active in the following countries:

  • Egypt
  • Liberia
  • Madagascar
  • Morocco
  • Nigeria
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Togo
  • Uganda

These countries are project countries. Drought, famine and refugee movements are the central problems of these countries. The aim of the DRC is to address the causes of flight and to secure food supplies in the countries. Nearly nine million people die worldwide as a result of malnutrition and hunger. The situation is particularly urgent in Africa.

In Asia, assistance is mainly provided in South East Asia. This region is particularly affected by natural disasters. Typhoons, monsoons and earthquakes are recurrent events that hamper development and progress. The nutrition of the population has priority, but work is also being done on early warning systems and safe architecture.

To support the German Red Cross

ambulance and marathon runner
DRK staff treat an exhausted marathon runner

The DRK is relying on the help of volunteers and volunteers. Without these people the help in the numerous countries would not be possible at all. Every helper is needed. Who has thus joy at helping and gladly also new regions of the world to become acquainted wants, can announce itself to the DRK as a helper. That goes with the local association locally. Direct journeys do not go naturally, because first it needs a basic training to the crisis helper . It needs finally also a strong will and an unshakeable spirit. One must be ready to take risks and be able to tackle them.

Of course one can also tackle in one’s own country. Social work, care of the elderly, training must be taken over by someone. Strengthening is handstruggling looked for in some local federations. But of the approximately four million members only a few are in active service. With most members it concerns supporter and supporting members . The youngest members are active to the German youth red cross, where they learn already early, how one can help and tackle. The federation of the youth is particularly active with its approximately 140,000 members within the range health and environment, beside it also with the international understanding and the employment for peace on the world.

The DRK can also be supported without being a member. Donations of any kind are gratefully accepted. The following types of donations can be made to the DRK:

  • Apparel and shoe dispensers
  • Donations of money
  • Donations in kind
  • Food donations (especially from companies)
  • Blood and plasma donations

New challenges of the DRK

With the migration of many people from the Middle East from 2015 onwards, many state and non-profit organisations were called upon in a new way. Of course, the DRC was also involved in this and looked after the entry, food and accommodation of refugees. This aid continues to this day and is increasingly to be found at the borders where the refugees arrive.

But there will also be new international challenges in the future. Climate change will intensify the extent of many weather phenomena. Cyclones, floods and heavy rainfall will cause immense damage to people and buildings. The DRC will have to adapt to this form of damage. In addition, new preventive measures must be found to counteract the new forces of nature. Around the tropics, the risk of drought will probably continue to rise sharply and destroy the food basis of many people. Particularly in view of the strong population growth in Africa, solutions that really work must be found quickly.

In addition, the German Red Cross will adapt to new conflicts. Wars over water are no longer an unthinkable scenario today, especially if one has the images of withered desert regions in mind.


The German Red Cross is an important organisation that operates worldwide and helps in crisis regions and countries hit by catastrophes. Medical, material and preventive aid in over 50 countries is bearing fruit and saving many people on the ground. The DRK is also active in many areas of social life in its own country. Although the DRC is not always uncontroversial, it is an indispensable organisation that saves lives and helps people in need. This is also made possible by the many volunteers who are there out of conviction.


William C. Hilberg
As an author, Mr. Hilberg has published several papers on health issues that have gained international recognition. He is close to nature and loves the seclusion and activity as a freelance journalist. In his function as editor William C. Hilberg manages the entire content of PENP. Our team greatly appreciates his expertise and is proud to have him on board.