Early in 1930, The Face of War made its debut on the shelves of German bookshops. Printed on plain paper of modest dimensions, this anthology would not, at least by today’s standards, qualify as a coffee-table book. Nonetheless, lest readers doubt that the Schwerpunkt of the work lay with the nearly two hundred ‘optical documents’ it contained, the editor of the work, the already famous Ernst Jünger, entitled his preface ‘War and Photograph’.

Readers familiar with the popular literature on the First World War will recognize many of the photos found in The Face of War. The picture that shows a train car filled with jubilant German soldiers and festooned with triumphal slogans, for example, can be found in dozens of books and articles on the subject of the start of the war. Likewise, the photo published over a caption that read ‘Deployed Infantry’ [Infanterie beim Aufschwärmen] has since been used scores of times to illustrate the great German offensive of 1914.

The latter image, however, presents an immediate problem. In the middle of a group of walking soldiers stands a man, wearing civilian clothes (note the absence of pack, rifle, and boots) and the sort of banded straw hat sported by city-dwelling men of the Edwardian era. The body language of this man, moreover, suggests a degree of nonchalance that would have seemed out of place on an actual battlefield.

Some years ago, moreover, contributors to a discussion forum found copies of this picture in both a newspaper dated 13 September 1913 and a book published in 1915. Taken together, these two discoveries suggest that, while the photo captured a moment from (what would turn out to be) the very last of the Imperial maneuvers, it was soon repurposed to depict a scene from the German march through France and Belgium during the first few weeks of the First World War.

It is, of course, possible that Herr Jünger took the time to approve all of the pictures that appeared in the book that he edited. I would not be surprised, however, to learn that he left the task of finding photos to people low on the totem pole of the publishing house that prepared The Face of War for the press. Such underlings, I suspect, would be more likely than the author of The Storm of Steel to take the fact of prior publication as proof of authenticity.

Sources:

Ernst Jünger, editor Das Antlitz des Weltkrieges: Fronterlebnisse deutscher Soldaten [The Face of War: Experience of German Soldiers at the Front] (Berlin: Neufeld und Henius Verlag, 1930)

Grosser Bilder Atlas des Weltkrieges [Great Picture Atlas of the World War] (Munich: G. Bruckmann, 1915) Volume I, page 55

‘Grosser Bilder Atlas des Weltkrieges’, a thread, started on 27 October 2005, on the Axis History Forum

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