Although the themes of the work, of motherhood and loss, were common in Kollwitz’s work, her later experiences would give the piece an added poignancy. In 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Kollwitz’s son Peter volunteered for the German army and was quickly killed on a battlefield in Belgium. The loss of a child, already a focal point in several of her works, took on added meaning as she returned to the subject throughout her later works.
Soon after Peter’s death, Kollwitz began sketching memorials to her fallen son; she began work on a plaster cast featuring the dead soldier at rest in late 1914. In 1932, a final version of the memorial, The Grieving Couple, featuring parents bent in mourning, was unveiled at the cemetery where Peter was buried.