Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Lack of resources and wartime financial difficulties on film

The war propaganda reported on successful engagements by the troops and advances in production. In reality, the First World War had long turned into a battle for resources.

The Central Powers suffered a decisive defeat in terms of resources. Their coal, steel and iron production stagnated and ultimately declined. The shortage of raw materials forced the authorities to requisition metal appliances from private households. In Catholic Austria even the church bells were no longer sacred, as the documentary Metal Household Appliances at a Metal Collection Point (A c. 1917) shows. The discrepancy between the propaganda reports and the shortage of raw materials, goods and arms was apparent.

War bonds were an important instrument for raising money for the war effort. The first call for performance of a ‘financial military duty’ was made in November 1914. The 5 per cent interest made the war bonds a good investment and prompted large institutions and the middle classes in particular to subscribe. A total of eight series of war bonds were issued, bringing in a nominal 35 billion crowns. In this way the First World War used up a quarter to a third of the national wealth and ended up in a economic and monetary fiasco. Holders of war bonds ultimately found themselves with worthless bits of paper in their hands.

A number of propaganda films were made to persuade people to invest, all of them appealing to the conscience of the ‘subjects’. The first promotional film of this type in Austria-Hungary was made in November 1914. The range of war bond films extended from cartoons and caricatures to semi-fictional reality films, documentaries and comedies. They were shown in movie houses, mobile and field cinemas and were also sometimes included in the weekly newsreels.

Only one single fragment of these Austro-Hungarian war bond films has survived (The 7th War Bond Subscription, A c. 1917). The fragmented production advertises for the 7th war bond subscription and gives an insight, both in terms of content and production, into the often highly skilful scriptwriting. The reluctant grouchy prototype Austrian is satirized. Stereotypes are exaggerated, laughed at and ultimately converted. The familiarity of the situation appeals to large sections of the population (from workers to small businessmen, young girls to old women), enabling audiences to identify with what they see. The only close-up in the fragment clearly shows the aim of the film: the 7th war bond is available for subscription.

Translation: Nick Somers


Eigner, Peter/Helige, Andrea (Hrsg.): Österreichische Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Wien/München 1999

Sandgruber, Roman: Ökonomie und Politik. Österreichische Wirtschaftsgeschichte vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, Wien 1995

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?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Mobilisation of the civilian population

    During the "Gold for Iron” campaign, gold rings or jewellery donated to finance the war were exchanged for iron rings. The civilian population was called upon to play an active role in welfare and aid associations and to offer its services for the fatherland. Women and children collected clothes and blankets for the army and hospitals, and materials like wastepaper and iron for recycling. They knitted and sewed, and these "Liebesgaben” or charitable gifts were sent to the front to provide emotional encouragement to the troops.


  • 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

    Shortages and poverty

    When the population reacted to shortages of bread and flour in January 1915with panic buying, the Kriegs-Getreide-Vekehrsanstalt [Wartime Grain Trade Department] introduced ration cards. Individual quotas were determined and handed out on presentation of bread and flour ration cards. But even the allocated rations became more and more difficult to supply, and the cards became worthless.

  • 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.