Deutschland, Österreich, Osteuropa, England, Belgien und Frankreich
Subjective Experience and German Youth in the First World War. The Diaries of Jo Mihaly and Ernst Buchner
This article evaluates the only known diaries by German children that cover the entire period of the First World War. It argues that the diaries were authentic, with perhaps some embellishment. However, they were not socially representative of German children more generally. The diaries nonetheless capture the objective experience of youth in wartime, including war pedagogy (Kriegspädagogik), patriotic voluntary activity (freiwillige Kriegsarbeit), the breakdown of schools, and changes in courtship and everyday life. The diaries suggest, however, that the subjective experience of youth in the war mostly did involve any of these. Instead, what consumed the thoughts of these diarists was hunger and death.
As the only published diaries by young people in Germany that span the period 1914 to 1918, the journals of Jo Mihaly (1902–1989) and Ernst Buchner (1906-?) have the potential to give an unparalleled window into the subjective experience of German youth during the First World War.1 The diaries show not just what two young people experienced during the war. They also show how they experienced it, and how they understand what was happening around them. Historians have found many such diaries in France and Great Britain that offer such potential insight into subjective experience. However, in Germany, Mihaly’s and Buchner’s are the only ones with the length and detail to reveal how young people grew up during wartime and how they changed their views about the world in flux around them.2
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