chapter  9
Staging Prisoners of War
The interpreter figure in First World War postcards
ByMichaela Wolf
Pages 9

During the First World War, an estimated six to eight million men were held in camps as prisoners of war (POWs), yet historians have only recently begun to examine this captivity experience seriously. This chapter investigates the postcards that show Russian and British prisoners of war in German captivity. Postcards issued for propaganda purposes often 'staged' those interpreters in their motifs, not least as an attempt to prove that the prisoners were being treated humanely. In the context of the postcard, the institutionalized interpreting activity takes place on what Goffman calls the 'front stage', the zone where the 'ensemble' meets the audience. Military interpreters on both sides were mostly soldiers, officers or civil servants; as an exception, though more and more often with the war's expansion, individual civilians were recruited from the local population. The chapter provides analysis of the postcards featuring interpreters in POW camps, which has shown that the interpreter figure is actively used to compose the pictures.