The women in this sheet hold back their children, some of whom are seen peeping out from behind their mothers, to prevent them from being sacrificed in a war.
In contrast to the previous, rejected versions which showed the mothers standing next to each other with their children on their arms, the women in this woodcut form a circular shape that is reminiscent of a fortress. Their defensive pose emphasises the union they have formed to protect their children. The etching as well as the lithograph version show each woman holding her child individually, and their poses are not as uniform as in the final version.
While Käthe Kollwitz found her etching on this theme unsuccessful, she was pleased with the result of the lithograph. On 6 February 1919, Peter’s birthday, she wrote in her diary:
I am working on the “Mothers”. […] Yesterday I decided to rework the War sheets as lithographs. […] I drew the mother embracing her children. It is a representation of myself, with my very own children, my Hans and my little Peter. And I was able to make it a good piece of work.«
Käthe Kollwitz, Diaries, 6 February 1919
Käthe Kollwitz, Mothers, rejected first version of sheet 6 in the series »War«, 1918, line etching, sandpaper and soft ground with imprint of laid paper and bundle of needles, Kn 137 II
Käthe Kollwitz, Mothers, rejected second version of sheet 6 in the series »War«, 1919, crayon lithograph (transfer), Kn 140 I
Käthe Kollwitz, The Mothers, 1922, charcoal on brownish laid paper, NT 857