Who are more important soldiers or farmers

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World War I diaries

  • The Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

On June 28, 1914, the so-called assassination attempt in Sarajevo took place. The Austrian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot while visiting Sarajevo, the capital of the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shortly before, a bomb attack on Franz Ferdinand's car had failed. The attack in Sarajevo triggered the so-called July crisis: Austria-Hungary suspected that the Serbian government had supported the attack and declared war on the country.

There was a history of the attack: Austria-Hungary had forced the integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Around 40 percent of the inhabitants of Bosnia were Serbs, most of them very poor farmers. Many blamed Austria-Hungary for poverty and hardship in their country. Propaganda organizations (propaganda is a one-sided representation with which someone wants to achieve a political goal) from Serbia encouraged the Serbian farmers to believe that Austria-Hungary was to blame for their poverty.

The assassin, a young Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip, also came from a poor farming family. He belonged to the Serbian secret society "Black Hand", which sought to unite all Serbs by violent means. The “Black Hand” under the leadership of Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic-Apis called for a Greater Serbian nation-state that should be independent of Austria-Hungary. In order to achieve its goals, the secret society carried out a series of attacks and murders.

  • At the beginning of the war, many soldiers enthusiastically join the army (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

When Germany declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914, many Germans took to the streets in the big cities and cheered them mobilization. This enthusiasm for the outbreak of the First World War is known as the “August experience”. The leadership of the German Reich had convinced many people that it was a just defensive war that was inevitable. With parts of the population something like a “holy enthusiasm” set in: They were seized by a strong sense of community and celebrated the unity of the nation, supported by Truce of the parties. Numerous volunteers volunteered to go to war - believing that it would be over soon. Historians have long assumed that all Germans welcomed the war. Today we know that this is a picture of the propaganda is. Because there were also completely different feelings than enthusiasm. In the country in particular, people were skeptical: everyone was needed for the harvest.

Around 1914, the map of Europe looked completely different from today. Central and Eastern Europe consisted mainly of the German Empire, Russia and Austria-Hungary. In addition, there were several independent countries in the Balkans, such as the Kingdom of Serbia. There were repeated tensions between Great Britain and the German Reich. They were formed out of fear of the German Reich's strivings for power Entente as an alliance between France, Great Britain and Russia. Germany's ally was Austria-Hungary.

At that time Austria-Hungarians themselves consisted of many different peoples who by no means lived peacefully with one another. On the contrary: here, too, there was always tension. After this Assassination attempt in Sarajevo and the so-called July crisis, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Germany had assured Austria-Hungary the full and unconditional support of the Reich in an action against Serbia and now stood on the side of the ally.

On the side of Serbia stood Russia. Since Russia was allied with France, the German Reich had to wage a two-front war: one front in the west against France and one front in the east against Russia. In order to move quickly into France, German troops marched through Belgium, which was actually neutral. That got Britain on the scene: it had promised to protect Belgium and felt obliged to intervene.

At the beginning of the First World War, the actually divided parties in Germany decided to postpone their domestic political disputes for the duration of the war: with this truce they wanted to show that they stood together behind German war policy. This should also strengthen unity among the population. In France there was the "Union sacrée“Similar efforts. On August 4, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II proclaimed the unity of the German nation in the Reichstag with the words: “I don't know any parties anymore, I only know Germans.” All parties, including the Social Democrats, voted for the loans on that day, with which the war should be paid for. But as the war lasted longer and longer and the need in the population grew, the truce began to crumble. In the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in particular, violent conflicts soon arose. Karl Liebknecht voted as the first member of the SPD to vote against new loans for the war on December 2, 1914.

  • Field Marshal von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff have to realize that the war can no longer be won (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

The term “stab in the back” describes the attempt by the Germans Supreme Army Commandto reject responsibility for the defeat in World War I. The former Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg claimed after the end of the war that Germany had not lost for military or economic reasons. Rather, the army was stabbed from behind, so to speak, and betrayed at home: politics stabbed the allegedly undefeated troops in the back through a hasty peace agreement. The nationally conscious population in particular agreed with these allegations. She felt through the defeat of the war and the conditions of the Versailles Treaty humiliated. Right-wing parties used the stab-in-the-back legend to incite social democrats, left-wing parties and Jews. It contributed to the collapse of the Weimar Republic and paved the way for National Socialism.

  • On August 4, 1914, France's ally Great Britain declares war on Germany (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

At the beginning of the First World War in Europe, two power blocs faced each other: One of them was the Triple Entente or Entente for short (French for alliance) with France, Great Britain and Russia, which had come together by treaty. Sometimes these allies are also referred to as allies. They formed the other side Central Powers. During the First World War, Italy joined the Entente. Numerous other states joined the Entente as allies.

  • The French also fomented enemy images - here: the German monster (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

The national mood in Germany in that August experience was expressed should be maintained during the First World War: after all, at first all problems of the pre-war period seemed to have been blown away by a feeling of community. The "German essence" was glorified and the war also developed into a struggle between German and Western cultures, for example England or France. German intellectuals shaped the so-called “Ideas of 1914”: The goals of the French Revolution - freedom, equality, fraternity - they contrasted with the image of the large national community, which subordinates itself to an authoritarian state for the big picture. The First World War turned into a war of heads, a struggle over convictions: Western ideas of a society became an enemy - such as freedom and equality of the individual. Ideas like this were considered destructive and revolutionary. One had to defend the Prussian virtues such as rigor and order. This feeling of the superiority of German culture continued into everyday life - especially in the area of ​​language: foreign-sounding terms or names were despised as anti-national, as words of the enemy. Students suddenly had to find out from their teachers that they were no longer allowed to say something like “Adieu” or “Mama” - terms from enemy countries were now forbidden. Words that were previously commonplace were systematically Germanized. This went so far that even manufacturers of cigarettes renamed their brands: suddenly, for example, “Duke of Edinburgh” became the “flag gala” and “Dandy” became the word “Dalli”.

  • The field post is often the only band to go home (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

The field post was extremely important for the people in World War I: The letters and cards were usually the only connection between the soldiers at the front and their relatives and friends back home. Only in this way was it possible to find out whether the loved one was doing well - and whether they were still alive. How important this contact was is shown by a number: The field post carried around 28.7 billion items during the First World War. The soldiers could send letters and cards postage paid. The descriptions from the front were often in stark contrast to the official ones propaganda: The soldiers wrote to their loved ones about the injustices they had experienced, about the poor supply, the grievances - and above all about their wish that the war should end quickly. The field post was monitored, however: Superiors or post offices were supposed to check whether the officially propagated and embellished image of the war was being transmitted to the homeland. If the soldiers were caught, they could be punished with arrest and a ban on writing. How strictly this censorship was exercised varied greatly: some superiors only deleted military secrets. Others even interfered in private affairs. Since the number of letters and cards was so enormous, only some of them could really be checked. The soldiers themselves were eagerly waiting for news from their homeland: encouraging words from their parents, a package with warm socks or a few lines showing that their friend remained loyal to them were very important so that the men at the front could hold out. When, towards the end of the war, they read more and more often that the people at home were starving and freezing, it was terrible for the soldiers who were far away. Because of this, women in Germany were even asked not to write any “lamentable letters” and censorship was increased.

Peace of Brest-Litovsk

  • German and Austrian generals arrive in Brest-Litovsk for negotiations with Leon Trotsky (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

On March 3, 1918, Russia and the Central Powers signed the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty. During the October Revolution in Russia, the Bolsheviks came to power under Lenin's leadership. They feared that a prolonged war could endanger internal stability in Soviet Russia. That is why the revolutionaries broke with their previous allies and began peace negotiations with Germany. The Germans made high demands such as the cession of huge areas in Central and Eastern Europe. With their military advance they put the Russians under so much pressure that they finally agreed to the violent peace. Germany's tough stance influenced the design of the Versailles Treaty, which made the peace of Brest-Litovsk obsolete.

  • Manufacture of gas masks (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

With the use of poison gas, the First World War reached a new dimension in the history of warfare: the murder of thousands of people in one fell swoop was of a brutality hitherto unknown. The French were already experimenting with tear gas in August 1914. But it was the Germans who were the first to use poison gas as a weapon of mass destruction. On April 22, 1915, they first used chlorine gas against the French positions. The gas escaped from over 5,000 steel cylinders that the soldiers had previously buried. 180 tons floated in a cloud to the trenches of the enemy. Hundreds of Entente soldiers were killed and thousands seriously injured. Because the gas burns the lungs and the windpipe. The German chemist Fritz Haber had discovered that chlorine is suitable as a weapon, and he put all his knowledge into the service of war. In addition, the poison was cheap because it was produced as waste in the chemical industry. However, even then, the use of poison gas was considered a war crime. Nevertheless, a competition for the most poisonous gas began on both sides - the states of the Entente also experimented with the new weapon. Since poison clouds are heavily dependent on the wind direction and can endanger their own soldiers, the war leaders looked for other solutions: They used gas mines or gas grenades, for example. The Germans developed a particularly cruel technique: In July 1917 they fired for the first time with "blue cross" combat gases. These were also called "mask breakers" because the irritants forced the soldiers to tear off their gas masks. Immediately afterwards a deadly gas was used. This combination of different warfare agents was also known as "Buntschießen". It is estimated that over 90,000 soldiers were killed by poison gas during World War I.

  • Germans, British, French and other warring nations develop poison gas (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

  • Soldiers with gas masks in the fog (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

  • The armaments industry needs supplies of metal (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)
  • The population is called upon to donate metal goods so that new grenades and cannons can be produced (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

German propaganda spoke of the “home front” shortly after the outbreak of the First World War: This term was intended to emphasize how closely the home and the war front are connected: together, the people at home should stand up for the soldiers and for their country . In fact, the homeland was badly affected by the effects of the war: Because of the great losses at the front, new men were constantly called up to fight. More and more workers were lacking, young people and prisoners of war were deployed. Above all, however, it was the women who toiled in areas that had previously only been reserved for men - especially in arms production. Everyday life became hard work for them: They worked eleven to twelve hours a day and had no special protection against the dangerous substances involved in the production of weapons and ammunition, which resulted in serious and even fatal accidents. In addition, they had to take care of their families and during the war they had increasing problems in feeding the children at all. There was also a lack of labor in agriculture, so young people and prisoners of war were also used to work in the fields. The supply situation got worse and worse and resulted in the famine of the Turnip winters. The economic situation in Germany also deteriorated increasingly: Due to the sea blockade in England there was a shortage of raw materials: household items made from materials important for the war - such as bells, door handles, metal fences or copper roofs - were melted down. Skillful propaganda made sure that the people gave up gold and precious metals. In addition, the war was very expensive: The population was therefore asked to help finance it with securities, so-called war bonds.

At the beginning of the First World War, the aircraft was primarily a means of reconnaissance. Initially, it was rarely used for attacks. Zeppelins were mainly used for bombing until the middle of the war. They were also called airships. Zeppelins had simple aiming devices that were progressively improved. However, they were still quite imprecise. Above all, the Germans used airships over Great Britain. The air war became a threat to many people, even far from the front.

The history of the fighter began with the technical possibility of coupling machine guns with the propeller. Firing was interrupted when a rotor blade came into the line of fire. This provided a free field of fire and the planes could shoot in the direction of flight. Zeppelins in particular were easy targets for the fighter planes. They were slow to maneuver and their gas filling could easily catch fire on the ground. The fighter planes also shot down balloons, reconnaissance and bomb planes and other fighter planes.

From 1916 the war opponents switched to aerial combat in certain formations. Fixed squadrons were created. Successful fighter pilots quickly became celebrated war heroes. This included, for example, Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, who became known as the "Red Baron".

The German fighter pilots were technically and tactically superior to their opponents at the beginning.But that changed in the summer of 1917. Due to their numerical superiority, the aircraft of the German opponents achieved air supremacy. During this time, both English and German aviators were able to start the strategic bombing war with long-haul aircraft. This increased the threat to the population. Because the British defense with fighter planes improved significantly in the last year of the war, the German Reich was forced to stop the Zeppelin War.

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The battles in World War I, especially on the Western Front, are also known as material battles: Never before had so much war material been used - that is, heavy weapons, industrial weapons, tanks, planes and submarines. But never before have there been so many soldiers. Behind this was the belief that the sheer mass would make victory. This led to a veritable mass killing that exceeded everything that had come before. Machine guns, hand grenades, flamethrowers, mines, and bombs Poison gas wreaked havoc on humans and the environment. Especially in the Trench warfare on the western front one wanted to shoot the enemies with heavy guns, the so-called artillery, in continuous fire for hours ("drum fire"). Then attempts were made to use force to storm the enemy's trenches. Every attempt cost the lives of many soldiers because they were downright mowed down by the enemy machine guns as they advanced. The men were, so to speak, human material. The battle for Verdun in France in 1916 became a symbol of these cruel material battles and the associated mass deaths in the First World War: this battle alone claimed around 700,000 lives.

  • The German Emperor Wilhelm II and the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

The Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary together formed one of the two warring blocs in World War I - facing them was the Entente. During the war, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers. Since they were clearly outnumbered by the Entente in terms of inhabitants and soldiers, it was of great importance for the Central Powers to bring about quick decisions on the fronts.

When a state prepares its armed forces for an imminent war, one speaks of mobilization. Mobilizations on all sides led to the Assassination attempt in Sarajevo In addition, the crisis got out of control and culminated in the First World War: Through a complicated system of alliances, the declaration of war by Austria-Hungary on Serbia was followed by the mobilization of Russia, Germany, Great Britain and France.

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  • The Chiefs of the General Staff, Field Marshal von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

The highest level of military command in the First World War is referred to as the Supreme Army Command (OHL). The Chief of the General Staff directed the military operations: At the beginning of the war it was Helmuth von Moltke, he was followed by Erich von Falkenhayn in 1914 and finally General Paul von Hindenburg with Chief of Staff General Erich Ludendorff in 1916. Kaiser Wilhelm II was the supreme warlord and thus the only one who could control the military. In fact, the OHL also gained increasing political power and developed dictatorial tendencies under von Hindenburg and Ludendorff.

  • In French as well as in German schools, propaganda is carried out against the archenemy (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

Propaganda is the systematic dissemination of political convictions, world views or manipulated knowledge with the aim of influencing other people. It was first used on a large scale for warfare in the First World War. The population should be made to support the war. After all, it was about men registering as soldiers and people being willing to give money: right at the beginning, the German Empire financed the war with securities that the people were supposed to buy - war bonds.

Leaflets, posters, postcards and photographs were used as means for propaganda - but also the film, which was only invented in 1895. Both the German Reich and the Entente set up agencies in the course of the war to control the propaganda, for example the Image and Film Office (BUFA) in Germany, which sent photographers and cameramen to the front. The pictures were heavily censored: The terrible conditions, the suffering of the soldiers and the many corpses were not allowed to be shown. The war should appear orderly and the men well looked after.

In their propaganda, the powers of the Entente concentrated on portraying the Germans as enemies: They were shown as barbarians who mercilessly destroyed, plundered, raped and murdered. In Germany, too, there was atrocity propaganda, but above all the superiority and community of the German people, the strength of the soldiers and the security of a victory were emphasized. Propaganda pervaded everyday life - there were, for example, soldier dolls and children's books with war themes.

But the longer the war lasted, the less the image of the propaganda matched the experiences of the people in Germany: They fought not to starve or freeze to death and were very afraid for their relatives at the front. Towards the end of the war it therefore became an important task of propaganda to persuade people to persevere.

Germany feared war on two fronts, with France and Russia. This problem was to be solved with the Schlieffen Plan, which Chief of Staff Alfred von Schlieffen had drafted as early as 1905. The plan was to first encircle France like a pincer - with an attack via neutral Belgium and northern France against Paris - and thus force France to give up quickly on the western front. This was to be followed by the struggle on the Eastern Front against Russia. The plan failed in practice in the Battle of the Marne and, among other things, the rapid one mobilization Of Russia.

  • Germany initially wants to march through northern France and neutral Belgium against Paris (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

  • German troops march against France (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

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The stresses and strains of World War I led many soldiers to break down nervously and suffer severe trauma. In the warpropaganda the strong, tough man who proudly defended his fatherland was always portrayed. The reality in the trenches was different - and the soldiers were not mentally prepared for it: Im Trench warfare if they were exposed to grenade fire, flamethrowers and machine gun salvos, the noise was deafening. In the narrow trenches they could only hold out and hope that they would survive. They constantly saw comrades injured or killed. The naked fear for one's own existence determined existence. But the mundane everyday life was also terrible. In summer it was stuffy, and when it rained the ditch was full of water. And when the excretions of the soldiers mixed with it, it was almost unbearable. The dead were difficult to recover. Many men broke down mentally under these impressions. They were shaken by fits of crying, vomited, had panic attacks and trembled uncontrollably - that's why they were also called "war tremors" at the time. This term already shows that the traumatized soldiers met with little understanding among the population: they were often cursed as slackers and cowards. Some of them were subjected to inhumane treatment with electric shocks and isolation in order to be able to send them back to the front as quickly as possible. By the end of the war, over 600,000 men had been diagnosed with various nervous disorders. Today soldiers who return from the war with similar symptoms are referred to as “post-traumatic stress disorder”.

In the so-called September program of September 9, 1914, Reich Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg laid down guidelines for the German war aims in the First World War. Among other things, he planned to forcibly incorporate areas of Western Europe and to form a colonial empire in Central Africa. The establishment of a Central European Economic Union under German leadership was also considered. To this day, the real significance of the September program has been hotly debated among historians.

The turnip winter is a severe famine from which the German population suffered in the winter of 1916/1917 during the First World War. None of the countries involved was prepared for a long war. Because of that there was no food supply. The supply deteriorated for several reasons: One was the British naval blockade, which cut off Germany from imports of all kinds. But there were also problems in the country itself: Too many different departments in the German Reich helped to decide what should be done with the food - and that caused chaos. In addition, because production for the war had priority over everything else, it was soon no longer certain that the people in the country would have enough to eat. Many farmers had to go to war themselves, which led to major crop failures. Basic foods such as bread and potatoes were becoming increasingly scarce. From 1915 onwards, every citizen was given exactly what food he was supposed to get - and that was very little. The climax of the need was the turnip winter of 1916/1917: the potato and wheat harvest was extremely poor. Turnips, which the pigs otherwise ate, were handed out so that there was still something to eat. The queues in front of the shops were long, prices kept rising and those who had money bought the food illegally. There were violent protests. People ate just 1,000 calories a day - less than half of what they needed. In total, over 700,000 people died of malnutrition in World War I.

  • Everyone is looking for something to eat (Source: SWR - screenshot from the program)

  • Children in particular are affected by hunger and malnutrition (source: SWR - screenshot from the program)

At the end of 1914, the German troops had suffered two major defeats in World War I: They had lost the Battle of the Marne. And they had failed to occupy key canal ports and thus stop British supplies (the so-called "race to the sea"). Now the war of movement froze - and became a positional war: the armies of the Entente and the Germans faced each other on a front line of around 700 kilometers. It stretched from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. The soldiers on both sides dug deep holes in the ground to protect themselves against enemy fire. Little by little, an increasingly ramified system arose from these trenches. The troops on the front line were connected to the supply stations and hospitals via long trenches. The soldiers were able to stay in a shelter that was poorly fastened with boards. The war was in a kind of standstill: the soldiers' task was to hold posts once they had been won. If the enemy wanted to storm the trenches, he had to accept heavy losses - barbed wire and the incessant defensive fire of the machine guns cost many lives. The struggle for a few meters of muddy land became a struggle for survival on both sides. Everyday life in the trenches was horrific and marked by injuries, nervous breakdowns and death. Many soldiers suffered from the nervous strain Trench trauma.

  • Always ready to fire - nerve-wracking positional warfare (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

  • The soldiers remain in the trenches for days (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

The German navy was the pride of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German people. Before the outbreak of World War I, it was the second largest battle fleet after Great Britain. During the war, however, the huge ships lay uselessly in the ports because the Germans shied away from sea combat with the superior British. However, Great Britain had set up a blockade in the North Sea to cut off Germany from food and raw material deliveries. Thereupon the German naval war command declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone and wanted to set up a counter blockade with submarines. When the submarines appeared, however, they were defenseless against attacks by merchant ships. That is why the German naval war command decided on February 22, 1915 that war and merchant ships of the enemy should be torpedoed without warning: the unrestricted submarine war began. The neutral states protested violently against this approach. On May 7, 1915, a German submarine sank the British passenger steamer "Lusitania": Around 1200 people died, including at least 120 American citizens. In order not to further strain relations with the USA, the German Reich initially withdrew its submarines. The supply situation in Germany got worse and worse. The Supreme Army Command therefore resumed the submarine war on February 1, 1917. The USA declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917: The balance of power in World War I now shifted decisively in favor of the Entente.

  • The German navy - the pride of Wilhelm II. (Source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

  • German sailors refuse to attack the vastly superior English fleet (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

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The various political forces in France put down their domestic political disputes for the duration of the First World War in order to concentrate on the defense of the country and the defense of German troops as the Union Sacrée, i.e. in "holy unity". The term goes back to an appeal by President Raymond Poincaré in 1914. In times of need, France stood united against the enemy - similar to Germany in the so-called truce.

  • The National Socialists use the so-called Versailles "Shame of Shame" to incite against the Weimar Republic, which was proclaimed a few months earlier (source: SWR - screenshot from the broadcast)

The Versailles Treaty is a peace treaty signed on June 28, 1919. After the armistice of Compiègne on November 11, 1918, the First World War was sealed under international law. The victorious powers of the Entente and their allies had agreed the terms at the Paris Peace Conference. The defeated German Reich had to accept it in order to prevent the Allies from continuing the war. Sole blame for the outbreak of war was ascribed to the German Reich. The demands were high: Germany lost all colonies and a seventh of its territory with a tenth of its population and was obliged to make enormous reparation payments. In particular through the war guilt article, the Versailles Treaty was referred to by all German parties as a "shameful peace". The National Socialists in particular used it to stir up strong political tensions in the Weimar Republic.

With the Armistice Treaty of Compiègne, the First World War came to an end on November 11, 1918 after around four years. The main trigger was the USA's entry into the war. The USA declared war on the German Reich in April 1917. Among other things, the Germans sunk the British passenger steamer "Lusitania" in 1915. Hundreds of people were killed - including at least 120 Americans. After protests from the United States, the Submarine war initially restricted. When the Germans declared unlimited submarine warfare on February 1, 1917, it was clear that the United States would also join the war. This brought a decisive turning point: the armed forces of the, reinforced by the USA Entente the German Reich had little to oppose. The German soldiers were completely exhausted, their supplies of armaments and food were getting worse and worse. The German allies Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria-Hungary gradually collapsed. On November 9, 1918, the time had finally come: the Reich Chancellor announced the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the resignation of the Crown Prince. The ceasefire agreement was signed two days later.

© Text: Nadine Albach