’Culture brothers’ in the prison camp

Kulturbrüder im Gefangenenlager.jpg

Description

The postcard is suggestive of the wide range of people fighting for the Allied armies. The mix of people - their uniforms, their skin tone, their facial expressions, and their postures - in front of a typical half-timbered house was meant to inform the German public about the lack of whiteness in the French and British forces. This was in direct opposition to a perceived consensus of European high culture. This is also symbolised by the displayed confrontation of a soldier in a typical Scottish uniform (probably from the British Expeditionary Force BEF) and a black soldier, wearing furred and colourful dress.

Context

During World War I, significant numbers of the Allied forces consisted of colonial soldiers. They came from French and British colonies or dominions and were often, but not always, forced into military service. The image presented on the postcard is fictitious, for these diverse groups of people never mixed in these numbers. Instead, they formed homogeneous units, possibly led by a white officer. In the German camps, prisoners of war were usually segregated along national or religious lines.
Through the writings of the famous German author Karl May (1842-1912), who produced fictitious travel novels about the Middle East and the United States, the German public felt that they were well-informed about the dress and traditions of non-Europeans. The group at the front right of the image, seemingly huddled around a dish eating in a traditional Middle Eastern way (or, at least, not in a German way), and the Native American at the back of the image serve to support the German bourgeoisie’s supposed knowledge of strange people and their savagery. It would be unlikely for a Native American prisoner to be in a German camp wearing his traditional headdress, so the scene presented was more a device to ensure that German citizens retained an animosity for the uncivilised groups within the Allied forces. The term 'Kulturbrüder' in the title of the postcard therefore serves to mock French and British troops, and to further undermine their military clout in the eyes of the German public.