Outbreak of the war
End of the war
The politicization and mobilization of school children

During the First World War, schools constituted a central plank in the campaign of mobilization. As early as the summer of 1914 the war was comprehensively integrated into the timetable as a subject of study, with droves of educational experts, schoolteachers and nursery school staff placing themselves at the service of war propaganda.

The militarization and indoctrination of school children had antecedents in the late nineteenth century. Since that time military codes of conduct had gradually penetrated many spheres of life. Military-style manners and educational methods shaped pedagogical thinking, and many teachers barked their instructions in the classroom like military commands.

On the outbreak of war schools embarked on a comprehensive programme to integrate children into the ‘culture of war’. The progress of the war became an important point of reference in lessons. Most teachers regarded themselves as agents of war propaganda, with the result that on the whole the prevailing mood in schools was one of patriotism and approval for the war.

Teaching was intended to provide constant fuel for the children’s enthusiasm for the war, and through the use of emotive techniques promote their identification with the war’s objectives. Books, patriotic songs and other educational materials helped teachers to integrate the war into the different subjects in a diversity of ways. Children were exhorted to explore the war creatively in essays, poems and drawings. A widespread phenomenon was the so-called Kriegsstunde, that is, a lesson which focused on the current war situation in keeping with official propaganda. Nationalistic songs were sung, the progress of the war explained, front lines pinpointed on military maps and the course of battles charted. Classes also commemorated fallen heroes and prayed together for the troops at the front.

Initially the war tended to be romanticized in schools. Faced with the massive onslaught of propaganda, children and teenagers had a largely undifferentiated perspective on the war, and in its first months were swept up in the general enthusiasm. However, this initial euphoria began to wane as the effects of the war began to be felt in everyday life. Lessons were frequently cancelled, teachers were called up and pupils increasingly suffered from mental and physical exhaustion. Children’s health deteriorated as food became scarcer, and their performance at school declined sharply. The euphoric celebrations of certain victory at the beginning of the war gave way to memorial services for teachers and fellow-pupils who had fallen on the battlefield. The radiant glory of heroism disappeared from the children’s essays and drawings, which now tended to focus on the horrors of war, the absence of brothers and fathers and the presence of death.

Translation: Sophie Kidd


Audoin-Rouzeau, Stephane: Kinder und Jugendliche, in: Hirschfeld, Gerhard/Krumeich, Gerd/Renz, Irene (Hrsg.), Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg, Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürrich 2009, 135-141

Demm, Eberhard: Deutschlands Kinder im Ersten Weltkrieg. Zwischen Propaganda und Sozialfürsorge, in: Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift 60/2001, 51-79

Heckmann, Gerhard: Das zweite Heer des Kaisers. Schule und Jugend im Krieg, in: „Als der Krieg über uns gekommen war...“ Die Saarregion und der Erste Weltkrieg. Katalog zur Ausstellung des Regionalgeschichtlichen Museums im Saarbrücker Schloß. Saarbrücken 1993, 141-155

Rauchfleisch, Udo: Kinder und der Krieg, in: „So ist der Mensch…“ 80 Jahre Erster Weltkrieg. 195 Sonderausstellung Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, Wien 1994, 33-41

Saul, Klaus: Jugend im Schatten des Krieges. Vormilitärische Ausbildung, Kriegswirtschaftlicher Alltag, Schulalltag in Deutschland 1914-1918, in: Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen (1983), 34, 91-118


Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Guiding the masses

    Guiding the mood of the masses was an important aspect of warfare during the First World War. Considerable information and communication work was carried out to persuade the population of the “true facts”. All areas of life were influenced by propaganda in a way that had not been seen hitherto: reports in the newspapers, posters on the walls, even teaching material in schools now communicated controlled information. What methods and media were used? How did the various warring nations attempt to influence public opinion? What was communicated and how effective was the propaganda?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    War enthusiasm

    This brass kitchen mortar was exchanged as part of a metal collection for an iron mortar as an example of the possible ways of participating actively in the war and showing enthusiasm for it. When the First World War broke out, large sections of the Austro-Hungarian population were gripped by veritable euphoria. This enthusiasm was not shared by all sectors of society, however. It was strong in urban, bourgeois and intellectual circles, less so in the rural and working population.

  • 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

    Monitoring & control

    Everyday life in the Habsburg Monarchy was characterised by propaganda, monitoring and control, as can be seen by the many blank spaces in the daily newspapers and deletions in private correspondence and telegrams. At the same time an attempt was made in texts and audio-visual media to whip up general enthusiasm for the war. Not even the youngest inhabitants of the empire remained untouched, and the influence of the state was also felt in the schools of the Monarchy.


  • Development

    Daily life on the (home) front

    How was daily life at home and on the front between 1914 and 1918? Was the life of a middle-class woman similar to that of a worker? Did officers experience warfare in the same way as other ranks? Or were the experiences of the population at home and the soldiers at the front too individual and diverse for generalisations?