Käthe Kollwitz and European Women Poets of the First World War1
Käthe Kollwitz’s 1922–3 cycle War addresses themes of maternal sacrifice and nationalist mobilization that also figure in women’s poetry. Her anti-war protest in Sacrifice depicts a mother who raises her infant, echoing Jacques Louis David’s defiant mother in his Sabine Women. Likewise Anna Akhmatova’s blasphemous ‘Prayer’ offers to sacrifice her child and poetry to halt the war, and poems by Berta Lask and Claire Studer Goll condemn women’s own silence for the mobilization of their dead sons. Kollwitz’s cosmopoetic theme of maternal solidarity in The Mothers binds figures visually, just as dialogue in Lask weaves a sisterhood of protest. The woodcut Volunteers places her son Peter with his blinded, suicidal friends led by Death; similarly, Ricarda Huch’s poems of 1917 expose hollow wartime exhortations to heroic combat that blind and destroy young men. Kollwitz’s post-war poster Never Again War complements Gertrud Kolmar’s protest against war commemorations as the tawdry dazzle of nationalist remobilization.
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