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Professor Stephen Berk




The Great War and the Jews


World War One and the Jews:


I. The Lights Go Out: August 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of World War 1. The war changed everything. It is the seminal event of the 20th century. The accession to power of Lenin, and the Communists in Russia, the creation of a Fascist Italy by Mussolini, and the emergence of Nazi Germany can all be traced to the Great War. The beginnings of decolonization and major social and economic changes also have their origins in the war.


II. Stalemate: The Schlieffen Plan goes awry. The French hold at the Marne, and the Germans have a great victory in the East. The Germans, the French and the British try to outflank each other. The results are a 400 mile line of trenches, and the horrors of trench warfare ensue.


III. The Yanks Are Coming: 1916 was the time of two of the greatest battles in the history of warfare: Verdun, and the Somme. The Germans rolled the dice at Jutland and made very serious diplomatic mistakes such as unrestricted submarine warfare. An angry American president moves the United States to a declaration of war


IV. Changing Jewish Destinies: The war was a catastrophe for everyone involved, but a case can be made that the Jews of Eastern Europe suffered more than anyone else, with the possible exception of the Armenians. At the same time the seeds of a future Jewish state were planted. French and British duplicity would also have dramatic consequences.


V. “With Our Backs to the Wall”: Ludendorff set “Der Tag” for March 21, 1918. He told the Kaiser that Germany had to win the war before the Americans arrived. Sir Douglas Haig made the famous statement urging British soldiers to fight to the death. The Allies hold and go over to the offensive. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the Great War was over.


VI. Versailles and the Seeds of a New War: The social and economic consequences of the war were tremendous. The peoples and governments of Britain and France rejected all calls for a lenient peace treaty with Germany. At Versailles they made the possibility of a new war very likely. It was the greatest political blunder in modern history. The repercussions of Versailles resonate down to the present day.


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