|Most Germans thought that World War I would unify their divided society. The Kaiser's Jewish subjects greeted the outbreak of war in August 1914 with the same enthusiasm and patriotic fervor as other Germans. German Jews hoped that the war would eliminate the remaining barriers to their complete integration into German society. They believed that the sight of Jews fighting alongside their fellow Germans would extinguish anti-Semitism.
The artists associated with the Berlin Secession expressed their allegiance to the national cause in a journal founded by Paul Cassirer in August 1914Kriegszeit (Wartime)in which artists interpreted the war. As the war
progressed, Kriegszeit depicted the horrors endured by the soldiers and the anxieties of the home front; yet it retained its patriotic tone. But by 1916 the stalemate on the Western Front, the mounting casualties, and the growing
economic crisis produced a shift in mood. Cassirer decided to replace Kriegszeit with a new periodical, called Der Bildermann, which would communicate a desire for peace.
The war decimated the ranks of the European avant-garde; Franz Marc and August Macke, who had been closely associated with Der Sturm, were both killed on the Western Front. Ludwig Meidner and Jakob Steinhardt returned from active duty, but their wartime experiences left an indelible impression on their art. Like many Jewish soldiers who served on the Eastern Front, Steinhardt came into direct contact with the shtetl communities of Eastern Europe. This encounter with an unassimilated Orthodox Jewish community served as a catalyst for a return to more traditional forms of Jewish expression.
The Jews of Germany were particularly disillusioned by the 1916 census of Jews serving in the army. Ostensibly taken in response to allegations that Jews were shirking military service, the census showed that Jews were in fact performing their patriotic duty. When the army refused to release the exonerating data, German Jews experienced a profound sense of betrayal. Some of them began to sense the fragility of the "German-Jewish symbiosis."
The First World War irrevocably brought Wilhelmine culture to an end.
Portrait of Makabäus-Hermann Struck, 1915
Oil on canvas
31 11/16 x 23 7/16 in.
(80.5 x 59.5 cm)
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich