Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Circumventing the censorship and "self-censorship"

Shortly after the war began, soldiers on the front developed a number of strategies to get round the censor.

For instance letters were given to comrades who were going on "home leave" from the front. They could then mail the letters at a state post office in the hinterland, thus escaping the censor's hands. It was particularly in such secret letters that soldiers often wrote about matters that they did not dare to set out in letters or cards mailed openly. In some cases, the soldiers also used special codes, as explained by First Lieutenant Ottokar Hanzel in this letter to his wife on 26 June 1915: "The following for the future: I will not underline anything in my messages. If anything is underlined, the opposite is true. Sections in brackets in my messages will be toned down as compared with reality."

Since the writers of field postcards and letters were aware of the censorship, they usually kept back problematic content as well as personal or intimate matters.

The new experiences and events of the war, the ever-present violence, suffering and death, were very difficult to put into letters. In addition, the writers did not want to impose on their recipients the concerns, fears and suffering at the front, and so mostly left out these aspects.

At the same time, there is no doubt that the field post letters from the First World War occasionally contained expressions of discontent about the censors and ‘undesirable content’. A number of those who did this in their letters also addressed comments to the censors directly.

For instance an Austrian soldier, who was wounded in 1916, abandoned by his battalion and fell into Russian captivity. In a letter to his fiancée in June 1917, he openly described how he was wounded and then captured, casting a poor light on his own comrades and the solidarity in his battalion. At the end of the letter, the writer then addressed the following lines to the Imperial and Royal Censorship staff: "This letter has become almost too long. But I appeal to the goodness of the ladies and gentlemen of the censorship office to be lenient, to refrain from demanding a further sacrifice of my sorely-tried patience and to allow these lines to reach my Marie uncut."

Translation: David Wright


Ziemann, Benjamin: Feldpostbriefe und ihre Zensur in den zwei Weltkriegen, in: Beyrer, Klaus/Täubrich, Hans-Christian (Hrsg.): Der Brief. Eine Kulturgeschichte der schriftlichen Kommunikation,  Heidelberg 1996, 163-171



„The following for the future ...“ : Ottokar Hanzel to Mathilde Hanzel, 26.06.1915, Sammlung Frauennachlässe, Nachlass 1, Institut für Geschichte der Universität Wien

„This letter has become almost ...“: Anonym to Anonym, June 1917, Sammlung Frauennachlässe, Nachlass 74, Institut für Geschichte der Universität Wien

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Staying in contact

    The First World War separated thousands of families, in some cases for many years. It was therefore all the more important for each individual to stay in touch with loved ones far away. Many people hitherto unaccustomed to writing now took up a pen or pencil and attempted to stay in contact with absent families, friends and acquaintances.

  • Aspect

    Guiding the masses

    Guiding the mood of the masses was an important aspect of warfare during the First World War. Considerable information and communication work was carried out to persuade the population of the “true facts”. All areas of life were influenced by propaganda in a way that had not been seen hitherto: reports in the newspapers, posters on the walls, even teaching material in schools now communicated controlled information. What methods and media were used? How did the various warring nations attempt to influence public opinion? What was communicated and how effective was the propaganda?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Prisoners of war

    In May 1916, Anton Baumgartner sent a POW postcard to his son Otto in Novo Nikolayevsk POW camp in Siberia (now Novosibirsk). Otto Baumgartner is only one of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who fell into enemy hands during the First World War. One in thirteen German soldiers, one in ten French and Italian, one in five Russian and almost one in three Austro-Hungarian soldiers ended up in captivity.

  • Person

    Ottokar Hanzel

    Ottokar Hanzel was a mathematics and descriptive geometry teacher from Vienna. During the First World War he was a Landsturm captain on the Italian front.

  • Object

    Personal war testimonies

    For a long time, the First World War was narrated only from the point of view of prominent personalities or generals. The way in which the people of the Austro‑Hungarian Monarchy experienced and survived it remained unheard. Personal documents like this diary give us new and diverse insights into how individuals experienced, understood and felt about the war.

  • Object

    Monitoring & control

    Everyday life in the Habsburg Monarchy was characterised by propaganda, monitoring and control, as can be seen by the many blank spaces in the daily newspapers and deletions in private correspondence and telegrams. At the same time an attempt was made in texts and audio-visual media to whip up general enthusiasm for the war. Not even the youngest inhabitants of the empire remained untouched, and the influence of the state was also felt in the schools of the Monarchy.


  • Development

    Daily life on the (home) front

    How was daily life at home and on the front between 1914 and 1918? Was the life of a middle-class woman similar to that of a worker? Did officers experience warfare in the same way as other ranks? Or were the experiences of the population at home and the soldiers at the front too individual and diverse for generalisations?