Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Men with amputations and the blinded were in the minority among war invalids. Many suffered under stiff joints, lameness and pain caused by shot wounds. The great majority however contracted tuberculosis.

People generally associate war invalids with soldiers with one arm, or one leg, or who have lost their sight. Amputated and blind soldiers also dominate the pictorial records. But the reality cast in statistics looks different. A post-war statistic for the Vienna region shows that only 6 % of all war invalids suffered amputation and only a minimum of soldiers returned blinded from the war. The number of those blinded in the war throughout the whole of Austria counted after the war to just around 300. In fact, most war invalids suffered under stiff joints, lameness and pain caused by shot wounds, and around 40 % of all war invalids were infected with diverse forms of tuberculosis, rampant at the time.

This discrepancy between awareness and reality demonstrates the general invisibility of many war injuries. And yet these hidden and less spectacular consequences of the war were extremely agonising for the former soldiers. Diseases contracted by the soldiers in the field were by no means valid at the start as explicit war invalidities. Soldiers with TB had not the slightest claim on the injury allowances eligible to the war injured according to the military welfare law. Nor were the many options for re-training open to them. A disease that in addition had not been contracted unambiguously through combat and from which many civilians suffered as well seemed far less heroic than a “genuine” war injury.

An ailment frequently observed for the first time in the First World War and which preoccupied physicians intensively, often entailing horrendous treatment methods from a modern point of view, was war neurosis – combat stress reaction. Mental breakdown transported into physical symptoms left the affected soldiers as helpless, so-called “Kriegszitterer” – literally war-related “shakers” – shell shock. Although physicians often accused these men of simulating their ailment, after the war 5 % of war invalids in Vienna were officially certified as suffering under a “nervous and mental illness” causally related to the war. Laws and expert consultants defined which injuries and illnesses applied as war injuries. The latter group was in a special position of power when defining and assessing the degree of injury.

Translation: Abigail Prohaska


Dietrich-Daum, Elisabeth: Die „Wiener Krankheit“. Eine Sozialgeschichte der Tuberkulose in Österreich (=Sozial- und wirtschaftshistorische Studien 32), München/Wien 2007

Hofer, Hans-Georg: Nervenschwäche und Krieg. Modernitätskritik und Krisenbewältigung in der österreichischen Psychiatrie (1880–1920), Wien/Köln/Weimar 2004

Malleier, Elisabeth: Formen männlicher Hysterie. Die Kriegsneurosen im 1. Weltkrieg, Innsbruck 1996

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Violence in war

    Violence was a universal social phenomenon during the First World War. Soldiers, civilians, men, women, children and old persons were all confronted by it in one form or another. The way it was experienced differed. It was practised and suffered, it had mental and physical manifestations, it took place at a structural and an individual level, and it was felt directly and indirectly.

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Experiences of violence

    While some of the front soldiers experienced the “storm of steel” as the apotheosis of their own masculinity, most soldiers suffered on account of their physical and/or mental injuries. The destructiveness of modern mechanical warfare and the mental strain caused by the days and weeks in the trenches, the constant noise of the artillery and the sight of seriously wounded and mutilated comrades produced not only an army of war wounded but also masses of soldiers suffering from war neurosis.

  • Object


    In November 1920 a report appeared in Neuigkeits-Welt-Blatt about the happy return of all seven brothers in the Baumgartner family. Six had returned unharmed from the front directly after the end of the war, while Otto arrived in Vienna in 1920 after five years as a prisoner of war. Whether wounded or intact, released from captivity or not, returnees faced difficulties in reintegrating in the post-war civilian world.

  • Object

    War invalids

    No other war left such an army of invalids and men with diseases and life-long psychological scars. Mechanical aids such as this writing aid were designed to restore functions to those wounded in the war and in this way to help them to reintegrate into the labour market. Even several years after the end of the war, it was impossible to determine the number of people who had returned injured or diseased from the front. In 1922 there were around 143,000 war invalids living in Austria.