WWI Art—Hermann Struck’s portraits of Muslim POWs

Raupratta Chan, Punjabi, 1916, Etching by Hermann Struck.

Raupratta Chan, Punjabi, 1916, Etching by Hermann Struck.

As empires clung to their supremacy and nationalist movements advanced an opposing vision of the link between ethnicity and state, troop movements and migrations brought people from across the globe into contact with one another. Artists like Hermann Struck, a Zionist and orthodox Jew from Berlin, turned an ethnographic lens on various groups of “exotic” people encountered during the conflict, including the first Muslim community in Germany.

The German War Ministry established a POW camp in Wünsdorf near Berlin with the objective of convincing Muslims captured from the colonial armies of the British and French to wage jihad against their colonial oppressors. About 4,000 prisoners populated the “Halbmondlager” (crescent moon camp), which offered everything necessary for the POWs to practice their faith, including the first Mosque built on German soil.

Struck made these striking portraits—flattering and orientalist at once—with the full support of the War Ministry. Dozens can be found in the LBI Art Collection, and many were published in a volume of POW portraits that included an essay by the anthropologist Felix von Luschan.

Luschan, Felix von, and Hermann Struck. Kriegsgefangene: ein Beitrag zur Völkerkunde im Weltkriege (Prisoners of War: A contribution to Anthropology in the First World War). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1917.

lbi.org/pows

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