How did German diplomacy work 100 years ago – and how did it fail? The Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office has for the first time digitised 900 documents on the outbreak of the First World War and published them online. The papers show what information was available to certain actors, what steps they took as a result and what people were involved in making specific decisions.
“This is very stupid!” This was the harsh comment made by Kaiser Wilhelm II in June 1914 on a letter from the German Ambassador in Vienna; the pencilled note on the letter is still clearly legible. The Ambassador was reporting on the attack on Franz-Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo and on the suspicion that “the threads of the conspiracy (...) all came together in Belgrade”. At the same time, however, the Ambassador warned against taking overhasty steps against Serbia, much to the Kaiser’s displeasure, as the note in the margin proves. Kaiser Wilhelm II added his own assessment of the situation: “It’s high time a clean sweep was made of the Serbs.”
Unique insight into historical contexts
The many documents on the outbreak of the First World War held by the Federal Foreign Office give a unique insight into the historical contexts of that dramatic year, 1914. While they cannot give a definitive answer as to how the First World War came about, they do show what information was available when to a certain actor, what steps he took as a result, and who was involved in making specific decisions. In this way the files reveal timelines and responsibilities and frequently give valuable insights into their author’s character.
Accessible online for the first time
The Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office has for the first time digitised the originals of 900 documents on the outbreak of the First World War and published them online. So files which previously could only be consulted in the Reading Room of the Political Archive, or in the printed version dating from the 1920s, are now directly accessible to a broad public. The online archive also includes extensive information on how to read and understand diplomatic documents. Enjoy browsing through them!