Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Eduard Frankl: Picturing the Great War - Image Gallery Essay

Eduard Frankl: Picturing the Great War - Image Gallery Essay | Wisconsin Historical Society
Large crowds gather outside the royal palace in Berlin after the announcement of mobilization against Russia and France on August 1, 1914.

Large crowds gather outside the royal palace in Berlin after the announcement of mobilization against Russia and France on August 1, 1914. View the original source document: WHI 131700

The summer of 2019 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, signed between the victorious Allied governments and the defeated German Empire. Along with the related peace treaties signed with the other Central Powers, it marked the formal end of World War I. The first great cataclysm of the twentieth century and the greatest shedding of human blood in history up to that point, World War I caused the deaths of an estimated ten million soldiers worldwide and an untold number of civilians. As the victors worked to craft peace agreements and to reassemble a European continent and parts of Asia and Africa that had been torn asunder by the conflict, they grappled with myriad political, cultural, and economic problems. Vast multinational empires such as the Ottoman Empire had been broken up; new, ethnically based nations like Poland and Czechoslovakia were formed or recreated; and large colonial possessions in Africa and Asia were redistributed to the victors.

EnlargeGerman reserve soldiers celebrating Christmas in 1914. This type of image was very popular with German audiences, reflecting a sense that life in wartime could still have elements of peacetime comforts and normalcy.

German reserve soldiers celebrating Christmas in 1914.

This type of image was very popular with German audiences, reflecting a sense that life in wartime could still have elements of peacetime comforts and normalcy. View the original source document: WHI 131641

World War I was also the first major conflict that was extensively documented through photographic and cinematic techniques. All of the major combatants used visual imagery to record the fighting, inform and influence their populations, and create propaganda. In addition to official government activity, both Germany and Austria-Hungary commissioned civilian photographers to create visual documentation to support war efforts. One such man from Germany was Eduard Frankl, a commercial press photographer who worked in Berlin. Although the date and place of his birth are unknown, Frankl began working as a photographer in 1904 and developed a business selling newsworthy images to the illustrated weekly magazines popular throughout western Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. A compilation of his war photography, totaling 1,440 photo prints with accompanying captions, is held by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

After the start of war in August 1914, Frankl quickly refocused his energies on taking photographs of German and Austrian soldiers and civilian war-related activities. Working as a civilian hired by the military authorities, he spent the next two years traveling to combat zones in East Prussia, Belgium, France, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and the Eastern and Balkan fronts. Whether Frankl did more war-related photography during the last two years of the conflict is not known, as no photos dated later than 1916 are in the Society’s collection. During the war, Frankl was obligated to turn over his negatives to German and Austrian Army High Command authorities for use in propaganda efforts. But he also kept copies for himself for sale to magazine publishers. Some of his images were widely reproduced in these publications, both during and after the war.

EnlargeVolunteers in Berlin prepare bandages for soldiers at the front.

Volunteers in Berlin prepare bandages for soldiers at the front.

View the original source document: WHI 131706

Beginning in August 1914, Frankl photographed scenes in and around Berlin such as the mobilization and training of soldiers and the preparation of supplies and bandages for troops in the field. He also visited Zossen, an internment camp outside the city for Allied prisoners of war.

In September or October 1914, Frankl traveled to the German province of East Prussia, located in current-day Poland, to photograph scenes of destruction caused by the Russian occupation at the beginning of the war. The Russian invasion and its attendant obliteration of life and property shocked the German authorities and led to a major reallocation of forces from the west, where they faced France and Britain, to the eastern front.

Frankl traveled next to occupied Belgium and shot images in and around the fortress city of Antwerp, which had been captured by the German forces in October 1914. Many thousands of the city’s residents fled the fighting to seek safety in the neutral Netherlands.

EnlargeThe Ottoman governor of Greater Syria, Ahmed Djemal Pasha, leaves the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in December 1914.

The Ottoman governor of Greater Syria, Ahmed Djemal Pasha, leaves the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in December 1914. View the original source document: WHI 136895

After the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Germany, Frankl traveled to the region. His trip occurred before the end of 1914, and the collection contains many images from the Middle East, including the Turkish capital of Constantinople, the mobilization and training of Turkish troops, and the troops’ journey to the southern front to face the British in Egypt.

Frankl next traveled throughout Ottoman Syria to Aleppo, Damascus, and Jerusalem, and as far south as Beersheba on the edge of the Negev Desert. Beersheba was the Turkish staging area for troops marching across the Sinai Peninsula to attack British forces, including the unsuccessful attack on the Suez canal in January 1915.

Frankl next applied for permission from the Austrian High Command’s War Press Office to travel to the battlefronts in Poland and Galicia, the Austrian Empire’s northernmost provinces. These provinces were the scene of heavy fighting with the Russian army, and in the winter of 1914–1915, Austrian troops fought a series of bloody battles defending the passes over the Carpathian Mountains in Galicia, which Frankl photographed in March or April 1915.

EnlargeAustrian troops at rest near Uzsok Pass, one of three routes through the Carpathian Mountains

Resting Troops Near Uzsok Pass

Austrian troops at rest near Uzsok Pass, one of three routes through the Carpathian Mountains View the original source document: WHI 134548

Lastly, after Italy’s declaration of war in the spring of 1915, Frankl made visits to the Alpine front in the Province of Trentino, Italy, near Lake Garda and to the high mountains around Mount Ortler in northern Italy. There, Austrian and Italian trenches faced each other at elevations above 10,000 feet. Frankl’s final photographs, which come from this region, end in 1916. 

It seems likely that the images in the Society’s collection, which are glued onto loose-leaf pages, were bound together at one time. It also seems likely that Frankl may have produced multiple bound versions of these photographs for sale. After the end of the war in 1918, Frankl brought his son Alfred (1898–1955) into the photo business, and they became known as A. & E. Frankl, Bilderichterstaetter, that is, press journalists. They worked together for a few years until Eduard’s death in Berlin in 1927. The image archive that he had created went to Alfred, and after his death, portions of Alfred’s collected work as well as his father’s were given to the German State Archives.

EnlargeMr. Frankl as a war photographer with the Turkish Army.

Mr. Frankl as a war photographer with the Turkish Army.

View the original source document: WHI 136947

The collection held by the Wisconsin Historical Society came through a more circuitous route. In the 1960s, the Society solicited and acquired through donation the papers, books, and photographs of the well-known Chicago Tribune reporter and author Sigrid Schultz (1893–1980). Born in the United States to parents of Norwegian ancestry, Schultz grew up in Germany, where her father, Herman Schultz, was well-known as a portrait painter working on commissions from the upper middle class and the aristocracy. Shortly after the war’s end, Sigrid was hired by the Tribune and became that paper’s bureau chief in Berlin in 1925. The Frankl photographs were discovered by Society archivists within Schultz’s collection. When Society director Les Fishel inquired about their origin, Schultz responded that the photographs had been given to her father in about 1920. Although Schultz could not remember the name of the giver of the photo collection, it was almost certainly Eduard Frankl. She wrote to Fishel that "the man was in financial trouble and father rendered him some service—probably introduced him to people who placed orders with him." In return, Schultz was given the photo album. In the financial and political chaos of postwar Weimar Germany, Frankl would have had difficulty making a living with his photography business. Seeking help from a prominent and socially well-connected painter such as Herman Schultz would have made good sense. It is not known how or when Sigrid Schultz brought the Frankl photographs to the United States, but a century after the conflict, her donation affords us better insights into those devastating events.

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