Outbreak of the war
End of the war
Militarism, Chauvinism and Demonization as Themes in German and French Literature for Children and Teenagers before 1914

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.  

On the whole, soldiering was accorded a high status in German children’s literature.  In the Wilhelmine empire, military education was an integral part of the life of male offspring, and enlisting in the Kaiser’s army was seen as a worthy goal.

Friedrich Wilhelm Güll wrote Der kleine Rekrut [The Little Recruit], which was recommended as a song for use in schools until 1919 and was a firm favourite in picture books and school books:

If you want to be a soldier
Just get your rifle out,
Load it up with powder
And a bullet up the spout.
Young lad, if you join the fight,
Learn this song with all your might,
Little horsey, giddy-up, giddy-up
With a trot and a hop, hop, hop!’

The picture books Die Wacht am Rhein [The Watch on the Rhine] (1910) or Zehn Jahre deutsche Not, Vaterländische Bilderbücher [Ten Years of German Hardship: Picture Books of the Fatherland] (1912) take up themes from the Napoleonic Wars and show through examples where the military force should be directed: that is, against France.

Francophone children’s literature was also arming itself verbally, if on a smaller scale. French children’s and teenagers’ literature as a genre was at that time less important and less widespread than in German-speaking countries, where children’s literature was seen as an important means of socialization and was often produced by members of the teaching profession or the army.

In France, the task of writing books for children and teenagers was left to ‘professional’ writers. Nonetheless, their works were often aimed at both a young and an adult audience. Examples of this are Alphonse Daudet’s Les Contes du Lundi [The Monday Tales] (1873), which became ubiquitous in school libraries. Daudet, who had himself served in the Garde Mobile during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71, enumerates the national virtues: above all, love of the Fatherland, the French language, and the flag, which, carried in the hearts of soldiers, represented invincible France. The best known of the Tales is La dernière classe [The Final Class], where Daudet laments the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, personified in the ageing village teacher, and portrays the non-violent resistance of the villagers against the Prussian occupiers. This resistance becomes rather less non-violent in Le Prussien de Bélisaire [The Prussian of Bélisaire], which sees a carpenter beating a Prussian to death in his cellar. Daudet’s tales as a whole stand for resistance against Prussia, and later, Germany – a theme of French literature that to this day plays a major role in moulding the perceptions of the country’s Western neighbour.

Translation: Aimee Linekar


Christadler, Marieluise: Kriegserziehung im Jugendbuch. Literarische Mobilmachung in Deutschland und Frankreich vor 1914, Frankfurt am Main 1978

Daudet, Alphonse: Contes du Lundi. Unter: (19.06.2014)

Kotzde, Wilhelm (Hrsg.): Die Wacht am Rhein – Soldatenbilderbuch von Angelo Jank. Gedichte ausgewählt von Nikolaus Henningsen, Mainz 1910

Lukasch, Peter: Der muss haben ein Gewehr: Krieg, Militarismus und patriotische Erziehung in Kindermedien vom 18. Jhdt. bis in die Gegenwart, Norderstedt 2012



„If you want to be ...": Unter: (19.6.2014) (Translation)

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

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Persons, Objects & Events

  • 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.