Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The Austro-Hungarian film propaganda centred above all on the presentation of the imperial household and the military and economic strength. It was not just a question of outdoing the enemy but trying to match the over-representation of propaganda by allied Germany.

Direct attacks on the enemy were shown above all in cartoons. The Robert Müller distribution and production company began to make patriotic cartoons with the aid of Viennese graphic artist Theo Zasche. His mocking films often had anti-Russian and anti-Semitic content. In 1914, for example, he made the animated satire When the Russian Stood Before Przemyśl, a ‘short heroic epic by the Austro-Hungarian army against the Russian steamroller’. The Tsar and His Dear Jews appealed to the audience’s anti-Semitic instincts, and The New Triumvirate about the Moscow-Paris-London axis showed the three heads of state as malicious and hateful. Sascha-Filmfabrik also jumped on the cartoon bandwagon and hired Karl Robitschek, who operated under his screen name Rob. His works included The Sure Road to Peace (A 1917) and Us and the Others (A 1917). As the enthusiasm for patriotic cartoon films waned towards the end of the war, cinema owners were informed that it was their ‘patriotic duty’ to show political cartoons, which were ultimately distributed free of charge to the cinemas. None of the Austro-Hungarian war caricatures have survived.

The films by the Austro-Hungarian propaganda machine sought to present a positive picture and showed the enemy as a traitor, coward and weakling. In the film The Twelfth Battle of Isonzo (A 1917) the Italian units are seen running away and looking – obviously having been instructed to do so – at the camera. The pictures of prisoners of war moving slowly and in organized lines also look to be staged. The good treatment of the Italian soldiers was designed to show the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in the best light to neutral countries. In reality, there were considerable problems in supplying the enormous fighting units with food.

Huge camps were created, and reports on terrible living conditions were heard particularly in the first years of the war. The situation in the camps improved later, not least because many prisoners were put to work in the war economy. In Austria-Hungary in 1917 some 660,000 mostly Russian prisoners worked in agriculture or factories and almost 300,000 with the army in the field. Films like Building of an Austrian Armaments Factory by Russian Prisoners of War (A c. 1915) show internees at work.

Translation: Nick Somers


Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena: Gefangenschaft, Revolution, Heimkehr. Die Bedeutung der Kriegsgefangenenproblematik für die Geschichte des Kommunismus in Mittel- und Osteuropa 1917–1920, Wien/Köln/Weimar 2003

Rauchensteiner, Manfried: Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie, Wien/Köln/Weimar 2013

Renolder, Thomas (Hrsg.): Animationsfilm in Österreich. Teil 1 1900–1970 (International Animated Film Association), Wien o.J.

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

  • 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


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • 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.

  • Object

    Depicting the war

    The photo by Alexander Exax shows a scene in the trenches in Galicia in 1915. The title “im Feuer” [“under fire”] gives the impression that the picture has been taken in the middle of the action. Dynamic photos like this were typical of the pictorial iconography of the First World War. The illustrated weeklies were among the most important distribution media, but there were others: exhibitions and posters, picture postcards and cinemas collaborated with private picture agencies and the official propaganda to provide a visual depiction of the war.

  • Object

    The foreigner, the adversary, the enemy!

    To popularise the greeting “Gott strafe England” [“May God punish England”] and the response “Er strafe es” [“May He do so”] it was printed on posters, badges and postcards. The idea was to promote patriotism and hatred of England. Right after the start of the war, animosity and mutual attributions of blame by the two sides were manifest. Xenophobia was officially encouraged as a sign of patriotism. This singling out and denigration of the enemy was designed to strengthen solidarity and justify the country’s own war policy.

  • Event

    Start of 12th Battle of Isonzo

    German and Austro-Hungarian troops achieved a breakthrough at Flitsch [Bovec] and Tolmein [Tolmin] and advanced as far as southern Friaul [Friuli].


  • Development


    Around the turn of the century anti-Semitism entered the political agenda and became part of the ideological programme and guiding principle behind political activities. It was based on an ideology that stigmatised Jews as “different” and as a threat to society. During the First World War, anti-Semitic agitation abated initially underthe domestic “truce”, but it heated up again as the war failed to take the desired course.

  • Development

    Austria-Hungary and Germany: complicated relations

    Vienna and Berlin became closely associated following the Dual Alliance of 1879, although the Habsburg Monarchy was the junior partner. Its dependence in terms of foreign policy became all the more clear after the political unification of Germany in 1871 made it the dominant power in Central Europe. In domestic policy as well, dependence on the Hohenzollern empire made the German element predominant in the multi-ethnic state. The German-speaking populations were split in their identification with Austria and Germany.