The soldier of La Ciotat

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The calendar story Der Soldat von La Ciotat , written by Bertolt Brecht , is based on the experiences of a French soldier who was marked by the First World War and who now suffers from an inexplicable illness . The short story is a criticism of Brecht's radical warfare by great rulers and the associated exploitation of “their” soldiers. Brecht wants to show the futility of all wars .

The southern French port city of La Ciotat


Brecht began writing in 1929 and finished the work around 1935 before finally publishing the book in 1937. The work is one of the Svendborg poems . When the National Socialists came to power in Germany in 1933 , Brecht fled to neighboring Denmark , where he stayed until the German invasion of Denmark in 1940. From Denmark, Brecht fled to the USA . Brecht foresaw the National Socialist danger early on and understood Hitler's intentions , so that Brecht began writing even before the National Socialists came to power. The short story was built on a Marxist , liberal foundation, with Brecht denouncing the wickedness of all wars in human history . This foundation of history was a thorn in the side of the National Socialists, as they had expansionist thoughts and thus a war was inevitable. In the end, the short story “The Soldier of La Ciotat” did not get enough attention from the civilian population, so that the story never achieved a high level of awareness.


The calendar story “The Soldier of La Ciotat” by Bertolt Brecht is about a former French soldier named Charles Louis Franchard. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and begs for money in the southern French port city of La Ciotat . Brecht uses the soldier as a striking example of all soldierhood in the course of human history. He criticizes the soldiers' willingness to suffer, which rulers shamelessly exploit.


Brecht's “The Soldier of Ciotat” can be divided into three parts, which are linguistically differentiated from one another. As the length of the short narrative increases, so does its linguistic complexity. There are some military words throughout the story , which gives the story an aggressive undertone. The first part goes from the beginning to “a small gift”, the second part begins with “We threw a coin” and ends with “behind you the general” and the third part goes from “Countless hands” to the end.

At first, Brecht mostly used parataxes , i.e. short sentences. A we-narrator describes what is to be seen, what should lead the reader to personify himself with the narrator.

In the second part, however, Brecht practically only uses hypotaxes . In these long sentences, Brecht repeatedly inserts subordinate clauses, so-called parentheses , which make reading more difficult. It is noticeable that in this section Brecht describes the heroic soldier as "he", while in the first section Brecht uses "he" for the buried soldier. This leads to Brecht deriving the typical from the individual case. At the beginning of the section, Brecht uses the genitive possesivus to make it clear that the soldiers belong to their rulers and cannot make their own decisions. Brecht later uses the participle , which makes the narrative very graphic. Brecht further compares different military rulers and their typical characteristics to show that the phenomenon of naive obedience is on the one hand timeless, on the other hand global. At the end of the section, Brecht indirectly poses the question of meaning, what should stimulate the reader to think and thus form neologisms .

In the last part, Brecht uses many exclamations behind which metaphors are hidden, and this is followed by an abrupt end with two questions that can be viewed as rhetorical or “real” depending on how you look at it.


Interpretation of the first part

In the first part of the short story, Brecht describes the mood in the small southern French port town of La Ciotat, in which the bronze statue of a soldier of the French army is displayed in a public square to celebrate a ship being launched. This happened in the post-war period of the First World War, whereby it can be interpreted that the euphoria about the great victory against the Central Powers was enormous. The lyrical self and his companion approach the statue of the soldier and notice that it was a living person standing on a stone pedestal in full war gear, painted bronze. Brecht's intention with the stone pedestal is to make the soldier stand out from the scene so that everyone can see him.

At the soldier's feet there is a piece of cardboard that reads “The Statue Man”, followed by the name of the bronze soldier: Charles Louis Franchard, a former French Army soldier who fought in the First World War. Due to a burial that he suffered from bomb detonations, he has the unusual ability to remain completely immobile, hence a statue person. He was buried in front of the hard-fought French city of Verdun . Verdun was one of the safest fortresses in the entire First World War. This disease has been studied by many professors, and even they found no answer to the mysterious disease. Donations are requested under the name of the bronze soldier, as he is a family man without a job. This inexplicable illness renders the soldier unable to work.

Only Brecht himself knows Brecht's true intention, but some references in the short story can be interpreted. However, it is assumed that Brecht chose the bronze color because he wanted to weaken the celebration of the end of the war and the army. The bronze soldier is said to symbolize victory in World War I. In addition to the glorious victory over the Central Powers, the war brought much suffering and sadness to the population and destroyed many human lives. These sad facts cannot be symbolized with the golden color, since war is far too terrible for such a valuable good. Brecht deliberately chose a French city to celebrate the end of the war. In doing so, he wants to make the German population aware of the war defeat of 1918, in the hope that the Germans will defend themselves against a renewed outbreak of war.

Interpretation of the second part

In the second part, Brecht primarily describes the heroic deeds of the soldiers and their grievances. At the beginning of the second part, they toss the soldier a coin and go on, “shaking their heads”. This shaking of the head does not refer to the soldier, but to the incomprehension of the war and the cruel consequences.

Brecht also describes the soldier as the protagonist of the war, which makes all great heroic deeds possible. He lists the rulers Caesar , Alexander the Great and Napoleon . The soldier is compared to the archers of Cyrus , sickle chariot driver of Cambyses , lancers of Genghis Khan , Swiss grenadier of XIV Louis and I Napoleon. All of these warriors were very successful and feared. Brecht wants to express that the soldier embodies all these heroic deeds and bravery. The soldier had to show a high willingness to suffer and is now numb as a stone. He was "[d] riddled with lances " or "[a] n driven by the chariots , those of Artaxerxes and those of General Ludendorff " or "[z] trampled by the elephants of Hannibal and the cavalry squadrons of Attila ". Brecht gives a few more examples. These events repeat themselves in history over millennia and the soldiers are always presented to us as heroes. In fact, however, they never know why they have to endure so much suffering. The long-term damage that occurs with the soldier from La Ciotat is caused by so much suffering.

Interpretation of the third part

The first exclamation metaphorically represents the home front, without which no war can take place and is intended to show that not only the soldiers on the front suffer and have to work hard, but the entire population. This shows that not only the soldiers misjudge the phenomenon, but also the rest of the population. This can be interpreted indirectly as a criticism of the societies that never rebelled against the ruler and never questioned themselves. The second exclamation shows in a metaphor the reason the rulers waged war. On the one hand, the national territory can be expanded and one is more powerful, on the other hand, the ruler can thereby increase his wealth, for example by plundering the state coffers of other countries.

The third exclamation represents as a metaphor that wars take place everywhere as the soldiers are cheered on in all languages. This is a criticism of the entire world population, since apparently no society recognizes the futility of war and is intended to encourage the reader to think. The fourth exclamation is to show that the soldiers have been shown that they are doing the right thing and that with God's help everything will be fine. It can also be seen as a criticism of the church, since the church also took part in wars. In the first question the irony with which Brecht describes the war becomes clear. A steadfast soldier suffers an incurable disease from a burial! But this is a contradiction, because how can someone imperturbable be buried. With this, Brecht wants to show that the soldiers are not stones, but also people with feelings.

The second question is no less ironic, because the disease can only be cured if either no spills occur during an act of war, which is very unlikely, or there would be no more war, because then there would be no more soldiers and there would be no burials due to them of acts of war more.


In the narration, connections to other short stories from Brecht's calendar stories can be identified. The main theme of several works is the history of war , for example in the short stories " The two sons ", " Caesar and his legionnaire ", " The wounded Socrates " and " My brother was an aviator ". The poem “ Questions of a Reading Worker ” shows, like “The Soldier of La Ciotat”, the anonymity of war victims and the timeless phenomenon of wars and represents the solution to the questions in the third part.

Effect / reception

The short story did not become well known because it was neither filmed nor performed in a theater .

From a historical perspective, the short story had no significant impact. A slightly expanded knowledge of human history in general and the history of war in particular is helpful for an understanding of the relationships presented in history and the historical persons addressed.


  • Ecker Egon: Bertolt Brecht Calendar Stories , C. Bange Verlag - Hollfeld / Obfr., Hollfeld 1984, page 53.
  • Hasselbach Ingrid and Karlheinz: Bertolt Brecht Calendar History , Oldenbourg Interpretations, R. Oldenbourg Verlag , Munich 1990, page 56.

Web links

Individual evidence