Joseph Roth and his thoughts on the films generated by World War One

Joseph Roth (1894 - 1939)
The short life of Joseph Roth (Schwabenhof 1894 - Paris 1939) was all influenced by the great crack of the war. After his participation as volunteer and after being held prisoner by the Russian army, the echoes of war and of the ruins he experienced starting from 1919 spread all over his works and are already prominent in one of the his earliest books, the 1924 romance Hotel Savoy. Beside the renowned novels, we cannot forget his unruly but brilliant and sublime activity in journalism continued from the cities of Wien, Berlin and Frankfurt, before emigrating to the United States in 1933. Among the many writing and essays we can detect a remarkable part dedicated to cinema and one in particular is dedicated to the first flood of films inspired by the First World War. The short text we take today as our starting point was published in Italy in the book L'avventuriera di Montecarlo. Scritti sul cinema (1919 - 1935) (Adelphi, 2015).

In the above mentioned article (first appeared in "Frankfurter Zeitung", 25 August 1931) he firmly asks to stop with films generated by the war trauma. He starts from the analysis of the German film Douaumont and tries to figure out what happens in the filmmakers' minds when they start thinking about a story set on fake trenches and artificial lights. What emerges from this short yet interesting piece of journalism is a deep skepticism about the possibility of producing such movies. The first attack is for the directors, since they think to conceive their war films starting from a "documentarist" attitude. Their strong efforts in creating a new impossible "realism" of war is pointless since it brings the veterans to a useless comparison between the tragedy they experienced in the trenches and in the battlefields and the simulation reconstructed in the film studios. Roth realizes also that all veterans are interested in such films and somehow justifies their motivations but he cannot justifies the motivations that brought to life the first real war film industry. What disturbs Roth as a veteran is the fact that in this new war film industry everything "works perfectly" and this has nothing to share with the misery of life he tries to recollect in his mind. At the end, the unbridgeable distance Roth identifies in this early attempt of describing the new war film business is the one between the clean celluloid and the human flesh.

We all approximately know what the war film industry has become and we do not even debate about such themes. Think only about the Vietnam war or about the recent Iraq war and you will easily understand that a debate around the feasibility of war films seems today out of question. But is it?

The poets and the world war: "The Age" by Osip Ėmil'evič Mandel'štam

There's need to introduce one of the greatest poets of all times. The Russian Osip Ėmil'evič Mandel'štam was born in Warsaw in 1891 and did not spend on the army a part of his life due to his heart problems. Mandel'štam wrote the famous poem we include below in 1923, so long after the end of the war. A question may rise: why do we propose such poem written by someone that was not a soldier and why do we include it in a website fully concentrated on the First World War? It's quite easy to explain. First of all it's not necessary to take part to a war to write masterpieces about the warfare (take i.e. the case of the Italian novelist Federico De Roberto). Secondly, this is the opportunity to link and frame under a common view the shreds of time that a war leaves on the new terrain (Osip Ėmil'evič Mandel'štam will die before the Second World War in 1937 in a concentration camp not far from Vladivostok). The way Osip Ėmil'evič Mandel'štam addresses to "his century" is so unique and intense that we get out of this reading with a hand full of desperation and with the other squeezing a clean yet grim image of an entire age.

(from The Poems of Osip Mandelstam, tr. Ilya Bernstein - free pdf available here)

My age, my beast, who will be able
To peer into your pupils
And with his own blood glue together
The vertebrae of two centuries?
Blood-the-builder gushes
From the throat of earthly things,
And parasite merely trembles
On the threshold of new days.

A creature, as long as it is living,
Must carry its spine intact,
And wave plays in backbone
That is invisible to sight.
Like child’s tender cartilage
Is the age of an infant earth
But like lamb they have sacrificed
Life itself, bending low its head.

In order to free the age from bondage,
To begin the world anew,
The joints of days, gnarled and knotted,
Must be tied together by flute.
It is the age itself that causes
Human sorrow to undulate
And in the grass an adder breathes
Like golden measure of the age.

Buds will swell again as always
And green sprouts will spurt,
But your backbone has been broken,
My wonderful pitiful age!
And with meaningless smile,
You look backward, cruel and weak,
Like beast that used to be agile,
On the tracks of your own feet.

Blood-the-builder gushes
From the throat of earthly things,
And the ocean’s cartilage splashes
Hot fish against tepid shores.
And from the elevated bird net,
From the humid heaps of blue,
Indifference, indifference
Spills over your mortal wound.

Век мой, зверь мой

Век мой, зверь мой – кто сумеет
Заглянуть в твои зрачки
И своею кровью склеит
Двух столетий позвонки?

Кровь – строительница – хлещет
Горлом из земных вещей,
ахребетник лишь трепещет
На пороге новых дней.

Тварь, покуда жизнь хватает,
Донести хребет должна,
И невидимым играет
Позвоночником волна.

Словно нежный хрящ ребенка,
Век младенческий земли
Снова в жертву, как ягненка,
Темя жизни принесли.

Чтобы вырвать век из плена,
Чтобы новый мир начать,
Узловатых дней колена
Нужно флейтою связать.

Это век волну колышет
Человеческой тоской,
И в траве гадюка дышит
Мерой века золотой.

И еще набухнут почки.
Брызнет зелени побег,
Но разбит твой позвоночник,
Мой прекрасный жалкий век.

И с бессмысленной улыбкой
Вспять глядишь, жесток и слаб,
Словно зверь, когда-то гибкий,
На следы своих же лап.

Кровь-строительница хлещет
Горлом из земных вещей
И горячей рыбой мещет
В берег теплый хрящ морей.

И с высокой сетки птичьей,
От лазурных влажных глыб
Льется, льется безразличье
На смертельный твой ушиб.

Australian War Art Exhibition at National World War I Museum and Memorial

News Release
Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Australian War Art Exhibition, Visit from Australian Ambassador & American Premiere of Documentary Highlight Upcoming July Events at National World War I Museum and Memorial

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The opening of a new special exhibition, A Centenary of Australian War Art, and related programming, including a visit from the Australian Ambassador and the American premiere of an acclaimed documentary film are among the July events at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

A Centenary of Australian War Art, a new special exhibition, opens on Friday, July 17 in Memory Hall. The exhibition features the most comprehensive collection of Australian war art ever seen outside of Australia. The Australian ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley, will visit the Museum on July 16 for an evening private reception as part of the exhibition opening. In conjunction with the new exhibition, award-winning producer Marian Bartsch travels to Kansas City for the U.S. premiere the documentary The Waler: Australia’s Great War Horse at the Museum on July 23 at 6:30 p.m. Following the free screening, Bartsch will participate in a Q&A session with attendees.

The next two programs in the Iraqi Jewish Archive Speaker Series will be held during July at the Museum. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage from the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education at the National Archives (through Aug. 15), Dr. Mark Cohen will discuss the historical role of Jews in Iraq on July 1 at 7 p.m. On Wednesday, July 15, at 7 p.m., Corine Wegener, the Smithsonian’s Cultural Heritage Preservation Officer, will address the process of saving the Iraqi Jewish archives. Both events are free to the public.

On July 24 at 6:30 p.m., the Museum will hold a free advance screening of the season finale of The Crimson Field in partnership with KCPT. The hit PBS series follows the lives of a team of doctors, nurses and women volunteers who work together in a tented field hospital in France during World War I healing the bodies and souls of men wounded in the trenches.
Other events during the month include Hands-on History every Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. in which history is brought to life during this family-friendly program where kids of all ages are invited to handle Great War artifacts. Living Historians present Day in the Life on Sunday, July 12 in which they will discuss what life was like for soldiers serving on the Eastern Front in 1915 using meticulously re-created period attire. The Museum’s latest offering for the In the Know series on Sunday, July 19 at 2 p.m. features award-winning children’s author Anola Pickett and Museum Archivist Jonathan Casey discussing the art of writing and the role of research in both historic fiction and non-fiction.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial holds the most diverse collection of World War I objects and documents in the world and is the second-oldest public museum dedicated to preserving the objects, history and personal experiences of the war.

Media interested in covering any of the Museum’s offerings should contact Mike Vietti at 816-888-8122 or

ANZAC Cove (The Landing Place), 1915, by Horace Moore-Jones
Watercolor over pencil on paper
Anzac Cove was the principle landing area of the Allied Forces on April 25, 1915 on Gallipoli (Çanakkale, Turkey). Moore-Jones landed at Gallipoli in the British Section of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He was not officially designated a war artist in the Australian program but attached to Sir William Birdwood’s ANZAC printing section he painted the landscape of the peninsula.

Dead beat, 1918, by Private Frank Rossiter Crozier
Oil on canvas
Crozier was one of the few artists in the Australian Imperial Force who had experienced first-hand the heavy fighting of the war, starting at Gallipoli in September 1915. In Dead beat, his experiences come to the canvas in the person of the solitary soldier who sits alone in the middle of the Somme landscape, exhausted from war.

Hospital Ships, Le Havre, 1918, by Charles Bryant
Oil on canvas
Charles Bryant was appointed an official Australian war artist in 1917. He was commissioned by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to depict the embarkation and disembarkation of Australian troops at Le Havre and Boulogne in France. The camouflaged hospital ships were painted in this fashion to make the ships harder to sight as a target by German U-boats (submarines).

El Arish, March 1918, by George Lambert
Oil on wood panel
El Arish was a large village on the coastal route across the Sinai Desert about forty five miles southwest of Gaza. It was captured by British forces on December 21, 1916 from the Turks.

About the National World War I Museum and Memorial
The National World War I Museum and Memorial is America’s leading institution dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community. The Museum holds the most diverse collection of World War I objects and documents in the world and is the second-oldest public museum dedicated to preserving the objects, history and experiences of the war. The Museum takes visitors of all ages on an epic journey through a transformative period and shares deeply personal stories of courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice. Designated by Congress as America’s official World War I Museum and Memorial and located in downtown Kansas City, Mo., the National World War I Museum and Memorial inspires thought, dialogue and learning to make the experiences of the Great War era meaningful and relevant for present and future generations. To learn more, visit

A photo reportage from Verena fort in the Asiago plateau

Among the many forts you can visit in Italy, you might take into consideration the one built between 1910 and 1914 on the top of the mountain called Verena, in the Asiago plateau (municipality of Roana, Vicenza province). In the case of the Verena fort there is also a symbolic meaning, since from there came the first shot of the Italian war on May 1915. One year later, on May 1916, the fort became an Austrian outpost and so remained until the end of the war. Here is the Wikipedia page (at the moment available only in Italian).

(We thank Alessandra Conte who lives nearby and sent to World War I Bridges the following images and we remind that all people wishing to share their WW1 photo reportages from different areas in the world can get in contact with us by using the contact form beside. Thank you for considering this simple yet meaningful opportunity of cooperation.)


    Fort Verena: top of the Mount Verena (2015 mt). Roana, Asiago Plateau

    Fort Verena, east side

    Fort Verena, one of the entrances on the east side (pillbox)

    Fort Verena, view from the west side: you can see the Austro-Hungarian border with Fort Spitz Verle (1908 mt)

    Fort Verena, upper floor

    Fort Verena, upper floor (sentry post and gun place)

    Fort Verena: upper floor, to the howitzer place

    The top of Fort Verena: you can see what remains of the howitzer place (east side)