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.
The most famous picture book about the war was by Munich-based illustrator and caricaturist Arpad Schmidhammer, who published a war-themed picture book containing traditional ‘Knittelverse’ (simple rhymes, or doggerel) in 1914: Lieb Vaterland magst ruhig sein! [Dear Fatherland, Don’t Worry]. In a propagandistic manner, Schmidhammer uses the book to explain the causes of war and communicates them in an easily comprehensible form through pictures and short rhymes.
The protagonists are the German Michl and Austrian Seppl, who peacefully tend to their fenced flower-garden. For some inexplicable reason, the neighbours’ children, Lausewitsch, representing Serbia, and Nikolaus, representing Russia, are annoyed by this. Lausewitsch provokes the peace-loving boys and is backed up by the cudgel-wielding Nikolaus. To put an end to the unacceptable provocation, Sepp, who knows how to defend himself, calls for attack. When they are joined by Jacques from France, along with another ‘couillon’,* and John, who has a uniformed ape named Japs on his shoulder, a mass brawl ensues: ‘Six against two, a merry dance, The enemy won’t stand a chance.’ And yet the two gardeners are victorious in spite of being outnumbered, and manage to bundle the aggressors into a cage so that they can get back to their gardening.
The scenes are interspersed with a selection of classic poems such as Die Wacht am Rhein [The Watch on the Rhine], Friedrich Schiller’s Reiterlied [Horseman’s Song] from Wallenstein, or Ludwig Uhland’s Der gute Kamerad [The Good Comrade]. Memorable lines such as ‘Sunrise! Sunrise! Light my way to an early demise!’ from Wilhelm Hauff’s Der Reiters Morgengesang [The Horseman’s Dawn Chorus] or a Gebet während dem Schlacht [Prayer during Battle] show the way if it is necessary to die for the Fatherland: ‘God, here I surrender! If death’s thunder welcomes me...’.
Several of these poems depict the war as a ‘fun’ effort, attractive to children. Schmidhammer makes his contribution too, with Hans und Pierre. Eine lustige Schützengrabengeschichte [Hans and Pierre. A Cheery Tale of the Trenches]. Friendly Hans goes off to war with his mother’s promise to send ‘good things’ his way, and arrives in the trench, where he encounters Pierre, who is intent on revenge. While Hans is able to warm up and enjoy a hot lunch thanks to his mother’s food parcels and the functioning field postal service, Pierre has to make do with a meagre scrap of smoked fish, ‘because his field post is so late; it seems that over there, they have to wait’. When Pierre smells Hans’s tasty meal, he runs into the trap that lies in wait for him and is overwhelmed. Hans, who is rewarded with an Iron Cross for his heroism, writes a field post letter to his mother:
‘Thank you, dear mother,
For the frankfurters, cheese and butter.
If you trust in God, you can also win out
With frankfurters and sauerkraut.’
*Couillon: French, meaning ‘good-for-nothing’, ‘scum’, ‘coward’
Translation: Aimee Linekar
Schmidhammer, Arpad: Lieb Vaterland magst ruhig sein! Ein Kriegsbilderbuch mit Knüttelversen, Mainz 1914. Unter: http://digital.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/werkansicht/?PPN=PPN73207312X&... (19.06.2014)
Schmidhammer, Arpad: Hans und Pierre. Eine lustige Schützengrabengeschichte gereimt und gezeichnet von Arpad Schmidhammer, Mainz 1916. Unter: http://digital.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/werkansicht/?PPN=PPN730532593&... (19.06.2014)
„another ‘couillon’ ..." and following: Schmidhammer, Arpad: Lieb Vaterland magst ruhig sein! Ein Kriegsbilderbuch mit Knüttelversen, Mainz 1914. Unter: http://digital.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/werkansicht/?PPN=PPN73207312X&... (19.06.2014) (Translation)
„because his field post ..." and following: Schmidhammer, Arpad: Hans und Pierre. Eine lustige Schützengrabengeschichte gereimt und gezeichnet von Arpad Schmidhammer, Mainz 1916. Unter: http://digital.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/werkansicht/?PPN=PPN730532593&... (19.06.2014) (Translation)