by Sebastián J. Bianchi
The Iron Cross is indisputably the most historically rich and notorious German award. Its long tradition dates back to 1813, when King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia first instituted the order during the War of Liberation against Napoleon. The cross went on to be suspended from the uniforms of admirable German soldiers in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, and again in 1914 for World War I. Through the sacrifice of the men who earned it, its humble but striking design became synonymous with old world German courage and triumph.
In the new world order where Germany was a pariah after World War I, few reminders of past conflicts could be a source of pride. Still, the old silver and black was reminiscent of gallant Prussian warriors, the great victories of the Bismarck era, and the brave soldiers of World War I; the cross has had an unquestionable aura since it was created. With the opening salvos of World War II, Hitler superimposed his chilling political imagery to this aura, evoking the glory of bygone days. With that act, the 1939 Iron Cross, now forever interlaced with the Third Reich, instantly became one of the most visually powerful and recognizable military awards of all time.
The myth surrounding the Iron Cross, and particularly the Knights Cross, has only expanded as tales are passed from elder to youth. Today the decoration is studied, collected, and treasured by young generations who travel through time on the shoulders of its history. Perhaps the most impressive legacy of the Iron Cross is that, by luring the young into the past, it continues to pay homage to the valor of the old warriors who lived and fought in that different time, and in that different world. As the last of those fighters dance into eternity, they entrust their memories to the contours of this silver and iron cross.
The pages in this section tell the story of the Iron Cross both from a collector and historical point of view.
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