Ernst Friedrich: The Anti-War Museum

Ernst Friedrich, the founder of the Anti-War Museum in Berlin, was born on February 25th 1894 in Breslau. Already in his early years he was engaged in the proletarian youth movement. In 1911, after breaking off an apprenticeship as a printer, he became a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In 1916 he joined the anti-militaristic workers youth and was sentenced to prison after an act of sabotage in a company of military importance.

As a leading figure of "youth anarchism" he fought against militarism and war, against arbitrary action by police and justice. In 1919 he took over the youth centre of the »Free Socialist Youth« (FSJ) in Berlin and turned it into a meeting place of anti-authoritarian youth and revolutionary artists.

Besides organising exhibitions he travelled Germany and gave public lectures reading anti-militaristic and liberal authors like Erich Mühsam, Maxim Gorki, Fjodor Dostojewski and Leo Tolstoi.

In the Twenties the pacifist Ernst Friedrich was already well-known in Berlin for his book "War against War!" when he opened his Anti-War Museum at 29, Parochial Street. The museum became a centre of cultural and pacifist activities until it was destroyed by the Nazis in March 1933 and its founder got arrested.

Ernst Friederich by Bukowski

Friedrich’s book War against War! (1924) is a shocking picture-book documenting the horrors of the First World War. It made him a well-known figure in and outside Germany. Owing to a donation he was able to buy an old building in Berlin where he established the "First International Anti-War Museum." After having been in prison already before Friedrich was financially ruined when he was convicted again in 1930. Nevertheless he managed to bring his precious archive abroad.

In March 1933 Nazi storm troopers, the so-called SA, destroyed the Anti-War Museum and Friedrich was arrested until the end of that year. Thereafter he and his family emigrated to Belgium, where he opened the "II. Anti-War Museum."When the German army marched in he joined the French Resistance. After the liberation of France he became French citizen and member of the Socialist Party.

With the compensation payment he got from Germany Friedrich was able to buy a piece of land near Paris, where he established the so-called »Ile de la Paix«, a centre for peace and international understanding where German and French youth groups could meet. In 1967 Ernst Friedrich died at Le Perreux sur Marne.

Today’s Anti-War Museum recalls Ernst Friedrich and the story of his museum with charts, slides and films.



Ernst Friedrich's Pacifistic Anarchism

Douglas Kellner

Friedrich's anarchism was closer to the communal socialism of the Russian Peter Kropotkin than to Bakunin's more individualistic anarchism. and in contrast to Tolstoy's more passive religious anarchism, Friedrich always opposed quietistic and nonrevolutionary forms of pacifism, publishing in his various journals statements like:

"Without social revolution there can be no lasting peace....We must prepare systematically an uprising against war."

War Against War made a strong impression on Friedrich's contemporaries and was widely read & discussed. Never before had a German audience been subjected to such horrendous images of the savagery & destruction of WWI.

Friedrich helped form a "Revolutionary Pacifist Group" whose membership included such figures as Kurt Tucholsky, Walter Mehring, & the Expressionist writer Ernst Toller. During the last years of Weimar, Friedrich found himself in constant litigation against people who alleged that he had defamed them, and against state officials who accused him of "treason." In 1930, Friedrich was imprisoned for "high treason" for about a year because of the publication of antimilitarist writings intended for secret distribution among the army & police.


The Anti-War Museum of Ernst Friedrich  

Museum display

Ernst Friedrich founded the first international anti-war museum In Berlin (1923) as a testament to the German anti-militarist movement. He was conscious of the fact that the world was still thinking of Germany as irreconcilably militarist, despite the discrediting of the old Prussian aristocratic military state, and wanted to show many German workers had struggled against the military state. He also wanted in turn to show other German workers how vital that struggle was, and to demolish nationalist lies. The horrors of the war, on the front and at home, were overwhelmingly portrayed in his International Anti-War Museum at No. 29 Parochialstrasse, Berlin.



Nazi takeover of the museum

When the Nazis took power, they seized the Museum, burned the exhibits and books and transformed the place into an SA-Heim (storm troopers' barracks) They could not wait for the necessary alterations to be made and overnight painted out the word "Anti" from the fascia and posted a guarded on the door.


Selections from War Against War