1 August 1914 – The First Page of Aby Warburg’s ‘Kriegs-Zibaldone’, his war journal

“On 1 August 1914, after all, the mobilisation was announced. Our Kaiser has proven himself so worthy that he could even lose the war without disgrace; what God may prevent.” Aby Warburg began his war journal of the years 1914–1918 with these words. He positions himself in line with the patriotism of the majority of his milieu of the bourgeoisie, supporting “our Kaiser”. In all the praise of the Kaiser, though, he underlines the uncertain outcome of the war, even the possibility of losing it— a notion present already in the very first sentence of this journal. 

Aby Warburg, Journal (August 1914 – September 1915), p. 1, Warburg Institute Archive (III.10.4), photo: Warburg Institute, London

With the declaration of war, Warburg immediately started a new journal. He had not yet finished his earlier notebook and even started to write about the 1 August in there, but then decided to reformulate it in a dedicated war journal, to document this new time and comment on the events. Overall, his war-journals are comprised of six notebooks with around 1,500 pages in octavo-format, written in black ink like the opening page (see picture and transcription). At the beginning of each notebook (seen here on the left), he noted down the names of friends and acquaintances who were either killed or missing in action, and he thus kept returning to the first page repeatedly. In his daily entries, he noted not only the military and political events, but also the effects of war on society, economy and the arts, his manifold conversations, his personal life and (above all) the development of his projects, from his newspaper-work since 1914 to the Luther-study of 1916–18. A close reading of the war-diaries thus enables a tracing of the genealogies of Warburg’s work and ideas against the backdrop of current events during a particularly turbulent period.[1] As a source, the diaries are also telling in their own form and composition. 

The first page 

The first page summarises the events of two days. It speaks of personal preparations for the war, concerning food (“tried to buy flour at Heilemann’s (everything sold out) […] bought sausage and ham”), his eventually needing medical attestation and the visits to family and friends (with 30 people named in the two days alone). Warburg’s charitable work is mentioned: „Today at noon, meeting at the home of Senator Lattmann for the ‚Hamburg war aid‘.“ The „Kriegshilfe“ was founded to financially support families of soldiers. Warburg immediately contributed by means of his participation in the committee, in which he stayed until 1917. Most importantly, however, the first page documents Warburg’s attention to rumours as part of the uncertain situation:  

„Jaurès has been murdered! In the evening rumours that Poincaré had been murdered (wrong).” Warburg notes with an exclamation mark that Jean Jaurès, a French socialist parliamentarian and the leading voice of the pacifist movement was shot by a nationalist on 31 July. President Poincáre in turn had emphasized the French-Russian alliance to the Tsar in July. The assertion of true events becomes essential. Consequently, Warburg turned to a systematic comparison of the reports. His detailed collection and study of the newspapers became the central work of the following years. In his massive (now lost) Kriegskartothek he compared and filed the articles of eight papers in index card boxes as an encyclopaedic chronicle of all aspects of the war.[2] The Kriegskartothek and his personal journal were supplementing each other: on the one hand the objective and organised collection of official information, on the other personal observations and reflection.

The Kriegs-Zibaldone, his war journal

In his journal, Warburg combines the main events with personal observations that he perceives as telling for the time. The brief sentences are noted in telegram-like style, just as they are recapitulated at the end of the day. Warburg commented on this form of his journals when he titled the second notebook in 1915 “Kriegs-Zibaldone”. The combination brings together the actual time with the historic genre of the Italian Early Renaissance commonplace books. Warburg knew them from his research and, for example, quoted Giovanni Rucellai’s Zibaldone in his essay on Francesco Sassetti 1907. The notebooks were personal compilations of excerpts from classical and contemporary texts, accompanied by individual reflections. It is the specific selection and combination of sources that defines the authorship here.  It is the task of the historian though, to identify the central passages and reconstruct the essential thoughts from the variety of the material. That, one might say, holds true for the historic Zibaldoni as well as for the studying of Warburg’s war journals. 

A nucleus of the work of the Kriegs-Zibaldone can be seen already in the first page: In 250 words (like in a blog post), Warburg sums up the world-historical situation by tracing the fundamentally overturning events on the political, personal and scientific situation in shorthand style. This first page proves to be the template for Warburg’s then daily task of the journal: to create an overview and find a form of reflection for the overwhelming and chaotic events of the war. 


„Am 1. August 1914 kam nun doch nachmittags die Kriegserklärung Mobilmachung; unser Kaiser hat sich so bewiesen, daß er sogar den Krieg ohne Schande verlieren dürfte, was Gott verhüten möge. Vormittags 5 1/2 auf; Frau Schulz soll ihrem Mann telegraphieren, daß er zurückkommt (geschah, heute(!) wieder zurück). Mehl bei Heilemann zu kaufen versucht (alles leer verkauft). Am Bahnhof Koffer doch noch gefunden (Material Ferrara), Wurst und Schinken gekauft, Mineralwasser bestellt nach Hause. Mary will mit Detta zu Embden, weil sie Blinddarm hat. Tatsächlich Reizung, aber keine Entzündung. Brauche nicht operirt zu werden. Für Embden Manteltasche bei Neustadt vergeblich requirirt, nachher mit ihm – auf dem gemüthlichen Mittelweg bei dem gemütlichen Jürgens eine „Erkennungsmarke“ bestellt. Auf die Stadtbibliothek dort bleiben viele alte. Embden stellt mir ein Diabetes Glukosurie Attest aus; Knöpfe, kleine Waschkumme; Jaurès ermordet! In der Stadt abends Gerücht, daß Poincaré ermordert (falsch). Bei Wilhannas [Wilhelm and Johanna Hertz]: Behns und Zeller. Nachmittags zu [Robert] Münzel: Kommandant der mobilen Eisenbahnstation V bei Altona. Wer muß nicht alles mit!! Man darf nicht daran denken! Heute [2. August] Mittag Sitzung bei Senator Lattmann Comité Hamburgische Kriegshilfe (Dr. [Friedrich] Zahn, [Otto] Lohse, Oberlandesgerichtsrat Dr. [Andreas] Koch, Alfred Levy Excellenz von Petersen, Pastor [Eduard] Grimme , Tapetenfuchs, Albrecht, [Eduard] Hallier, Frau Fr. Oynhausen, Frln. Eiffe, Frau Senator [Carl] Mönckeberg, Fräulein [Helene] Bonfort, Fr. Kapitänleutnant Dräger, Fräulein [Agnes] Wolfsohn, Abends bei Muttchen „wie sonst“. Wilhelm muß übermorgen nach Bahrenfeld. Zu Nürnberg französische Bomben? Gefangen bei Allenstein französische Offiziere in preussischen Uniformen. Der kleine deutsche Kreuzer Augsburg bombardiert Libau.“ At the top is added later: „[31. Juli] Die Familie noch eben rechtzeitig aus Konstanz (Gaflei) abgeholt. Nachmittags [die Zeitung Hamburgischer] Correspondent verkündet Zustand der Kriegsgefahr.“

[1] Cf. Claudia Wedepohl, „‚Agitationsmittel für die Bearbeitung der Ungelehrten‘. Warburgs Reformationsstudien zwischen Kriegsbeobachtung, historisch-kritischer Forschung und Verfolgungswahn“, in: Gottfried Korff (ed.), Kasten 117. Aby Warburg und der Aberglaube im Ersten Weltkrieg, Tübingen 2007, pp. 325–368; Dorothea McEwan, „Ein Kampf gegen Windmühlen. Warburgs pro-italienische publizistische Initiative“, in: ibid., pp. 135–164.

[2] Cf. Peter J. Schwartz, „Aby Warburgs Kriegskartothek. Vorbericht einer Rekonstruktion“, in: ibid., pp. 39–70. 

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Steffen Haug (June 22, 2020). 1 August 1914 – The First Page of Aby Warburg’s ‘Kriegs-Zibaldone’, his war journal. BILDERFAHRZEUGE. Retrieved July 13, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/m0jz

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