95 years ago this month, the guns in Europe fell silent. After four years of terrible carnage, millions of casualties, destruction, famine, plague (the Spanish influenza), and genocide (the Armenian genocide), the Great War came to an end. In other theaters of conflict it had already ended--the war in the Middle East ended on October 30, when the Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allies. In other places, it went on. The German troops in Eastern Africa kept on fighting for another two weeks. The Russian civil war, an offshoot of the Great War, kept on for another three years.
This coming year, 2014, will be the centenary of the beginning of the war, and in many places in the world (in Europe especially) ceremonies are being prepared, memorials erected, and new publications are coming out, revealing new material and recalling the history of that great struggle. We, in the Israel State Archives, also plan to publish documents and other material connected to the First World War.
The First World War is a fault line in history. It was an end point and a beginning point simultaneously. The effects of the war are felt to this day. Although there is a tendency to regard the Second World War as more important (due to its global size, its enormity in death and destruction, and its horrible barbarity), the first war is just as important, since it began changes that the second war finalized.
The First World War brought an end to four great dynasties that ruled their countries and shaped history for centuries: The Hapsburgs, who had ruled central Europe and other parts of the continent since the 12th century; The Romanovs, who had ruled Russia since the 16th century; The Ottomans, who had ruled the Middle East and parts of Europe since the 15th century; and the Hohenzollerns, who had ruled Prussia since the 18th century and the whole of Germany since the end of the 19th century. The First World War saw the rise of Bolshevism and the revolution in Russia. It also directly affected the rise of Fascism and Nazism, even as it spurred the emergence of ideas such as self-determination, human rights, women's suffrage, and international organizations such as the League of Nations.
The outcome of the First World War is felt to this day in different places in the world, especially in the Middle East: The secret Sykes-Picot agreement, signed covertly during the war, carved the Arab-dominated areas into British and French influence zones, shaping the borders of the Middle East to the present moment. The Syrian civil war and the ongoing sectarian war in Iraq can be seen as the collapse of this arrangement. The Kurdish people who were separated into four different countries by the Sykes-Picot deal are still trying to establish their own national home. The First World War also gave rise to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the founder of modern, secular Turkey. His heroic defense of Gallipoli in 1915 made him a hero, and Gallipoli became a rallying point for his supports and adherents. Elsewhere, countries like Australia and New Zealand regard the First World War (especially the landing in Gallipoli) as a kind of founding moment for their statehood and a source of national pride (April 25 – ANZAC day).
We have posted in the past several stories regarding the First World War:
1) Photographs of the First World War – a series of photographs showing German soldiers in the First World War, part of President Ben-Zvi's collection.
2) The story behind a photograph of the German commander of the Middle East, Erich von Falkenhein and the story of his daughter, photographed with him in the old train station of Jerusalem.
As mentioned before, we hope to bring to light more information from the archives regarding this momentous period in history.