World War I
World War I Warfare: 1914/1918Close
Silent film footage of troops in trench warfare and a military cemetery. National Archives and Records Administration
World War I WarfareClose
Silent film footage of World War I battlefields. National Archives and Records Administration
Iron Cross medal awarded to German-Jewish soldier Max Wachtel for valorous service during World War I. During the Nazi era, Max’s business was confiscated because he was Jewish. In 1938 he and his family left Germany and settled in the United States. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Andrea K. Wolf and Thomas M. Wolf More
Portrait of Fritz Bujakowski, a German-Jewish aviator in World War I. In 1943, Fritz , his wife Else, and teenage son Walter were deported to the Auschwitz killing center and murdered. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Helga James More
Photograph with inset showing a young Adolf Hitler attending a rally celebrating the German declaration of war. Hitler's World War I military service later helped to shape his nationalist racial ideology. Munich, Germany, August 1914. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of William O. McWorkman
Military Merit Cross 3rd Class with Swords awarded to German-Jewish soldier Maier Firnbacher in 1916 for bravery while serving in the German army during World War I. Maier and his family later left Germany to escape increasing persecution. US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, gift of Fred Firnbacher More
World War I-era portrait of Erwin Heilbronner, a Jewish soldier wearing the German Iron Cross awarded in recognition of his bravery in battle. In 1942, Erwin and his wife Flora were deported to the Drancy transit camp in occupied France. From there they were sent to the Auschwitz killing center and murdered. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Daniel (Heilbronner) Barnea More
Economic instability destabilized Germany under conditions of the post-World War I Versailles Treaty. Slide from a propaganda filmstrip titled Overcoming Versailles produced for Hitler Youth groups. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Stephen Glick More
Slide from a propaganda filmstrip titled Overcoming Versailles produced for Hitler Youth groups. This image of Hitler appears next to text which reads, in translation: “We demand the repeal of the dictated peace of Versailles.” US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Stephen Glick More
Official certificate issued to Siegfried Jacobsberg in 1935 recognizing him as a German war veteran and recipient of a medal of honor. In November 1938, Siegfried and his son were arrested during Kristallnacht and imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Walter Jacobsberg More
Stretcher bearers carry a wounded soldier during the Battle of the Somme. France, September 1916. © IWM (Q 1332) More
A fallen soldier lies in the mud. Third Battle of Ypres. Belgium, 1917. © IWM (Q 11 688) More
Ruins of a town hall destroyed during wartime fighting. Arras, France, May 1917. © IWM (Q 2049) More
British troops in a sunken road between La Boisselle and Contalmaison, during the Battle of the Somme. France, July 1916. © IWM (Q 813) More
German prisoners of war tend to a fallen comrade, Cambrai, France, 1917. © IWM (Q 31 82) More
American soldiers during a lull in fighting. France, 1917–18. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md
An American army field hospital inside the ruins of a church. France, 1918. Library of Congress More
The trauma of World War I (1914–18) profoundly shaped the attitudes and actions of both leaders and ordinary people during the Holocaust. Nearly ten million soldiers died fighting “The Great War,” a figure which far exceeded military deaths in all wars of the previous 100 years combined. By war’s end in November 1918, at least seven million civilians were dead, an estimated 21 million soldiers were wounded in body and spirit, and millions of people were uprooted from their homes. Never before had the face of Europe been so fundamentally altered. As the powerful German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires toppled, peacemakers drew new national boundaries, leaving a decimated populace that was weary and uncertain. World War I shook Europe to its core—reverberations that endured into the Holocaust era and continue today.
Did you know?
- Over 100,000 German Jews served in that country’s armed forces, far exceeding their proportion of the population; 12,000 of them lost their lives in combat. German-Jewish veterans later hoped their military service would shield them from Nazi persecution, a belief reinforced by their exemption from some early anti-Jewish measures and the awarding of certificates signed by Adolf Hitler acknowledging their military service on the 20th anniversary of the war in July 1934.
- World War I saw significant advances in the technology of killing, including aircraft, tanks, and the first use of poison gas as a weapon of war.
- By 1919, most European countries had lost virtually a generation of young men in combat. One half of all young Frenchmen were killed during World War I and more than one third of German men ages 19 to 22 were dead by war’s end. Such profound losses left most Europeans extremely reluctant to enter into another war.
- Exaggerated stories of atrocities during World War I later bred skepticism in response to initial reports of Nazi mass murder in the early 1940s.
After the devastation of World War I, the victorious Western powers (Great Britain, the United States, France, and Italy) imposed a series of treaties upon the defeated nations (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey). The settlements held these powers, particularly Germany, responsible for starting the war and liable for massive material damages. The Versailles Treaty of 1919 forced Germany to cede 13 percent of its territory and to severely limit the strength of its armed forces. The ensuing economic chaos and increased social unrest undermined support for Germany’s newly formed democratic government, as many citizens linked its origins to the humiliation of national defeat.
“This is not war,” one wounded soldier wrote home. “It is the ending of the world.”
Peace treaties did not settle all the international disputes that had contributed to the outbreak of war. In Germany, demands to revise the Versailles Treaty gave political parties of the radical right, including the Nazi Party, enhanced credibility in the 1920s and early 1930s. Promises to rearm the German military, to reclaim territory, and to regain prominence among world powers stoked ultranationalist sentiment and helped many German voters to overlook the more radical tenets of Nazi ideology. Similar conditions benefited anti-democratic and authoritarian systems elsewhere in Eastern Europe, raising levels of tolerance for violent antisemitism and discrimination against minorities throughout the region. The impact of the conflict of 1914–18 and its divisive peace would echo in the decades to come, giving rise to a second world war and genocide committed under its cover.