‘Earth from Bohemia, earth from Hungary, earth from Slovenia … earth from Austria’: With these words in his drama The Third of November 1918 the author Franz Theodor Csokor buries not only a colonel of the Imperial and Royal Army who has committed suicide out of despair but also, in symbolic form, the Monarchy.
Demand for war literature that was suitable for children was very high at the outbreak of war. Picture books were particularly popular, and therefore great numbers of them were published. The portrayals explored both serious and seemingly light-hearted themes, which turned the war into a cheery game.
Eugene’s last days and the lion of the Belvedere... the King of France, whom he had so often defeated, gave him an African lion... at last there were three days when the lion saw his master no more, refused all food and paced up and down restlessly inside his cage... at around three o’clock in the morning, he let out such a roar that his keeper ran out into the menagerie to see what had happened. There he saw lights in all of the chambers of the palace and heard the death knell in the chapel. Thus he knew that his Master, the great Prince Eugene, had died at this hour. (Hofmannsthal, Prinz Eugen der edle Ritter [Prince Eugene the Noble Knight])
Historical personages have served since time immemorial as figures onto which (usually) idealized portrayals of nations and peoples can be projected. During wartime, it is, naturally, victorious historical military leaders who are the figures of choice to be instrumentalized for propaganda purposes. In Austria, this was Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was celebrated in essays, poems and in children’s literature during the First World War.
In 1976, when Die Biene Maja [Maya the Bee] flew onto the television screen as a cartoon character and Karel Gott contributed the title song that would later become a pop hit, Waldemar Bonsels’s most famous character was making her second triumphant sweep across the German-speaking world. The fact that Bonsels’s book was considered a ‘classic’ on the Front during the First World War is largely unknown today.
‘It was boiling hot on the balcony. Even though it was on the shady side of the street, you could feel the scorching heat with which the August sun seared the streets of Berlin.’ With these words, Else Ury opens the volume Nesthäkchen und der Weltkrieg [Nesthäkchen and the World War], and we, the readers, are drawn in and carried along into the world-war adventure!
Like many of his contemporaries, Stefan Zweig was euphoristic at the start of the war, but this attitude changed radically from 1915 on. After working in the War Archives, he used the opportunity of a lecture series in neutral Switzerland to become an exile.
Good morning, Mr. Officer, / All four of us are here / Good, brave soldiers / And comrades without fear.
And so he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and, pressing with all his might, wrote as large as he could: ‘VIVE LA FRANCE!’ (Alphonse Daudet, La dernière classe [The Final Class])
A literary mobilization amongst children and young people was already taking place in Germany and France before the First World War. However, the focus was different in the two countries. While Prussia could boast proud victories, with its triumph against Austria in 1866 and, above all, against France in the war of 1870/71, France was trying to come to terms with this very defeat.
As far back as 1774, Empress Maria Theresa had declared in her decree on school reform that ‘the education of youth of both sexes (...) [was] the most important fundament for the true happiness of nations.’ One of the approved teaching methods was the targeted educational use of children’s and teenage literature. Austria and Germany were particularly productive in this field, with Nuremberg and Vienna being the most important centres of publishing. It was inevitable, then, that war propaganda would extend its reach to literature for young people.
Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday) (1942) is a testament, a description of Old Europe, interwoven with the author’s reminiscences – which tend towards idealization.
Erich Maria Remarque was called up for war service at the age of eighteen and shortly afterwards was wounded by a piece of shrapnel from a grenade. Marked by his experience of war, he developed an anti-militarist attitude, which finds expression in his novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1928).