The ‘Ordinary’ Soldier Becomes a Hero
Before the First World War military monuments were reserved exclusively for high-ranking personalities such as commanders and generals. In this respect the war led to a paradigm shift: now people wanted to have monuments in remembrance of the ‘ordinary’ soldiers and to ‘honour’ them in this way. War memorials dedicated to the soldiers who fell in the First (and later also the Second) World War were put up in many towns and even small villages.
The erection of memorials to soldiers was possible as a result of the cult of monuments among the bourgeoisie in the nineteenth century, which had deemed not only the ‘great’ commanders to be worthy of a monument but also increasingly ‘the citizen in uniform’. In addition the growth of nationalism contributed to a type of monument which was nationalist in character and intended to serve as an identity-forming manifesto and at the same time to provide evidence of cultural achievement through its artistic form. Moreover, the war memorials of the First World War had a propagandistic value, because their inscriptions told survivors why the soldiers had given their lives, that is to say for emperor and fatherland.
Because the mass slaughter on the battlefields could no longer be grasped and recorded and mechanized warfare left behind only unidentifiable bodies, a new type of monument was created, that of the ‘unknown soldier’. Thomas Kahler notes in this connection that it cannot be established when and where this type of memorial was put up for the first time. ‘Famous’ examples can be found in Britain and France from 1919.
As a contrast to the horrifying images from the reality of war, the central figure of many of the monuments is a soldier in a heroic pose, in Austria wearing the uniform of the Imperial and Royal Army. After a few months the ‘demand’ for memorials was already so great that the Imperial-Royal Office for the Promotion of Trade and Commerce asked Josef Hoffmann, Franz Barwig and Oskar Strnad, all artists who taught at the Commercial Art School of the Austrian Museum for Art and Industry, to design with their students sketches for war memorials and to publish them in a book called Soldatengräber und Kriegsdenkmale (Soldiers’ Graves and War Memorials), which was then distributed to local councils. In it Oskar Strnad differentiates with regard to function and form between a grave, which is dedicated to the memory of an individual, and a war memorial, which is meant ‘to convey a unity of visual content and emotional value. Its simple, clear architectural form should guarantee durability and dignity’.
Even during the First World War local councils often inscribed the names of the dead on their war memorials. After 1945 the names of those who fell in the Second World War were often added.
After the end of the First World War these memorials occasionally also stylized the soldiers as victims and thus expressed an explicit message of peace. In 1925 the Social Democrat city council of Vienna put up a war memorial designed by Anton Hanak in the Central Cemetery. It was intended to be:
… a counter design to the remembrance of heroes as practised by the Christian Socialist and German Nationalist camps. It is not meant to glorify war as expressed in some mistakenly conceived figure of a masculine hero; it is not meant to be a sign of revenge and vengeance of the kind that bad patriotism puts up here and there … . It is a monument of mourning and reconciliation, which will still say to our grandchildren: That was the terrible war under which humanity collapsed.
After it was erected this monument – like that to the Republic – became the object of ideological disputes between the political camps of the First Republic. In the 1930s the original inscription ‘Never again war’ was replaced by ‘Lord, grant us peace’.
An early work of the sculptor Fritz Wotruba is also remarkable. In 1932 he created an anti-war memorial in Leoben-Donawitz. Wotruba’s message of peace is chiselled in seven blocks: ‘May human beings damn war. To the victims 1914–1918. Erected by the Leoben Branch of the Provincial Association of War Disabled and by the Unemployed’. The upper part of the inscription was removed in 1934. In 1938 the Nazis dismantled the monument, without, however, destroying it. It was only in 1988 that it was put up again as a ‘Peace Monument’.
Translation: Leigh Bailey
Giller Joachim/Mader, Hubert/Seidl, Christina: Wo sind sie geblieben...? Kriegerdenkmäler und Gefallenenehrung in Österreich, Wien 1992
Kahler, Thomas: „Gefallen auf dem Feld der Ehre ...“ Kriegerdenkmäler für die Gefallenen des Ersten Weltkriegs in Österreich unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Entwicklung in Salzburg bis 1938, in: Riesenfellner, Stefan (Hrsg.): Steinernes Bewußtsein I. Die öffentliche Repräsentation staatlicher und nationaler Identität Österreichs in seinen Denkmälern, Wien/Köln/Weimar 1998, 365–410
Riesenfellner, Stefan/Uhl, Heidemarie: Denkmäler lesen. Anregungen zur Interpretation von Krieger- und Opferdenkmälern, in: Bundesministerium für Unterricht und Kunst: Denkmal und Erinnerung. Anregungen für Schülerinnen und Schülerprojekte, Wien 1993
Uhl, Heidemarie: Das Kriegerdenkmal der Stadt Wien (1925) und die Deutungskonkurrenzen um das Gefallenengedenken in der Ersten Republik, (im Erscheinen, 2014)
„to convey a unity of visual ...“: in: Kahler, Thomas: „Gefallen auf dem Feld der Ehre ...“ Kriegerdenkmäler für die Gefallenen des Ersten Weltkriegs in Österreich unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Entwicklung in Salzburg bis 1938, in: Riesenfellner, Stefan (Hrsg.): Steinernes Bewußtsein I. Die öffentliche Repräsentation staatlicher und nationaler Identität Österreichs in seinen Denkmälern, Wien/Köln/Weimar 1998, 365–410, hier: 370 (Translation)
„… a counter design to the remembrance ...“: Uhl, Heidemarie: Das Kriegerdenkmal der Stadt Wien (1925) und die Deutungskonkurrenzen um das Gefallenengedenken in der Ersten Republik, (im Erscheinen, 2014) (Translation)
- The First World War as a ‘Site of Memory’
- The First World as the ‘Original Catastrophe’ – Narrative I
- From ‘Powder Barrel’ to ‘Universal Conflagration’ – Narrative II
- ‘Laurels for the Soldiers Who are Worthy of Laurels’ – the Outer Burgtor Becomes a Monument to Heroes
- The ‘Siegfried’s Head’ at the University of Vienna
- The ‘Ordinary’ Soldier Becomes a Hero
- Remembrance Tourism: Travel to the Sites of War