Fünfzehn Kriegsgefangene, teils stehend, teils sitzend an Tischen beim Verteilen von Paketen

World War I: Historical images and photographs in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek


The massive distortions and devastation brought about by war had a huge influence on the development of Europe in the 20th century. Until 16th November the 6th European Month of Photography in Berlin is showing photographic material and other images from these wars. The Festival’s exhibitions and events will address social, historical and aesthetic issues relating to this year’s theme, “Upheavals and Utopias. The other Europe”.

                                          Fifteen Prisoners of War distributing packages (Source: Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg)

2014 has already been an occasion for widespread commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War a hundred years ago, and the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, too, contains digitised material bearing witness to an age marked by the cataclysmic breakdown of civilisation. As an example, a search for photographs from the period 1914 -1918 will turn up items from the military-history photographic collections held in the Stuttgart Hauptstaatsarchiv at the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg. Alongside photos of posing soldiers – including future General Field Marshall and Nazi war criminal Hermann Göring as fighter pilot – the collection shows prisoners of war at work in workshops and kitchens, performing in theatre productions, painting in studios and playing in orchestras

Hermann Göring, future General Field Marshall (Wehrmacht) sitting in a plane, a group of soldiers around him (Source: Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg)

These pictures, whose staging was no less blatant to past observers than it is from our present-day perspective, suggest normality and a well-nigh civilian quality to daily life in a P.O.W. camp, which in turn highlights the ideological power and propagandistic instrumentalisation of photography. No less interesting in this light is the DDB’s extensive collection of military postcards sent back from the front. The material includes digitised versions of items held at the Stadtarchiv Karlsruhe and the Hessisches Stadtarchiv Darmstadt. As well as the standard photographs of parades and processions and soldiers in heroic poses the collection contains numerous images that avoid all reference to war, showing idyllic rural scenes instead. Equally revealing are the postcards depicting caricatures, in which the horrors of war give way to a humorously romantic glorification of the soldier’s life.


The 6th European Month of Photography: All information and events