Outbreak of the war
End of the war

From recovery to reintegration: the training of invalids

For the first time during the First World War it became clear that specific measures had to be taken to reintegrate draftee war invalids into employment again. This gave rise to the idea of training invalids.

It did not take very long before the war-waging nations – thus also the Habsburg Monarchy – had to face up to the problem that war invalids needed more than just medical care: if the countries wished to avoid providing for them permanently, it was imperative to enable them to return to a civilian occupation. This was also necessary in view of the competition on the job market, and it became virulent particularly at the end of the war, when uninjured soldiers were returning home from the front. But many of the war invalids could no longer pursue their original occupations because of their disabilities and thus had to be re-trained. The slogan was born of training for invalids.

This training started while still in the hospitals, with work therapy. Its purpose was to re-mobilise stiff and lamed limbs, or train the application and use of prostheses. Subsequently, war invalids could then attend various courses. Nearly all commercial and agricultural educational institutions offered training courses for invalids, also many private associations. There was a wide range of options, from literacy and type-writing to regular occupational training. However, not all war invalids exploited these opportunities voluntarily, they often had to be persuaded. Training of invalids was at the heart of war invalid welfare, since it was an ideal example of demonstrating the possibility of re-integrating war invalids into civil life, their return to normality.

The widely publicised measures suggested that every man – if willing and correspondingly trained – could become a fully employable citizen again. There were several impressive successes – musicians with false limbs and blind basket-makers did indeed exist – but in many cases the authorities hoped for more from these courses than they actually achieved. Most by far of the draftees came from agriculture and went back to it, invalids or not. On the other hand, re-training was not suitable for tubercular war invalids. Thus the number of trainees registered by facilities for training invalids remained relatively small, at only 15 %. After the war – when war invalids could no longer be kept in the trainings facilities – training for invalids very quickly disappeared again from the agenda. Despite this, war invalids could still claim free training until 1927.

Translation: Abigail Prohaska


Pawlowsky, Verena/Wendelin, Harald: Die Verwaltung des Leides. Kriegsbeschädigtenversorgung in Niederösterreich, in: Melichar, Peter/Langthaler, Ernst/Eminger, Stefan (Hrsg.): Niederösterreich im 20. Jahrhundert, Bd. 2: Wirtschaft, Wien/Köln/Weimar 2008, 507-536

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


    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.