100 years after its outbreak, this series lets viewers experience WWI solely through the eyes of those who lived it.
History tells us ‘what was’. It tells us when things happened. When kings and cultures lived and died, armies were raised and vanquished, and mighty empires rose and fell. History, as we know it from books, is often boring, for it fails to answer one very simple question: What was it like? When war broke out in Europe in July 1914, people on all sides believed it would be over by Christmas. Little could they know just how wrong they were. A seemingly petty conflict in Bosnia soon snowballed into the first truly global conflict. This was a new kind of war, fought with means and techniques never seen before. By November 1918, ten million people had died, and the political map of the world had been re-drawn. People’s minds and attitudes had changed forever, and the Modern Age had begun. Caught up in the middle of this chaos were millions of ordinary men, women and children. Their very lives changed in ways they could never have imagined. This is their story.
14 Diaries of the Great War retells the story of the greatest war mankind had ever seen in a unique way – it lets viewers experience World War I solely through the eyes of those who lived it. From over 1,000 very dramatic stories of the war, left behind in diaries, letters, postcards and telegrams, 14 of the most vivid and emotional have been chosen, deriving from characters all over the globe.
Directed by Jan Peter; Produced by LOOKS Film & TV GmbH with Les Films D’Ici in Co-Production with ARTE,NDR,SWR,WDR,NTR/VPRO,ORF in Association with BBC,CT,DR,Historia,NRK,RAI,RTVSLO,S4C,SBS Australia,Spiegel Geschichte,SVT,TG4,Toute l’histoire,YLE
Part 1: The Abyss
Following the murder in Sarajevo, the European nations call for the battle. A war seems inevitable.
We are witnessing the beginning of the war through the eyes of 14-year-old Russian Marina Yurlova, who is left behind by her father, a soldier at a cossack regiment. German artist Kathe Kolwitz sees her son enthusiastically leaving the front. The Austrian Karl Kasser, initially rejected for the service, is eventually called for the army. 10-year-old boy Yves Congar from Sedan believes France will soon win. Elfriede Kuhr, a 12-year-old girl from the German Posen, believes that it will soon be over. “By Christmas we’re back” promise the soldiers. But at the end of 1914 there have already been a million casualties and the war does not seem to be over yet.
— The Making of-feature joined as introduction to the series —
Part 2: The Onslaught
The European conflict is spreading like an wildfire around the world. Turkey, Japan and Africa are also involved in the struggle.
The British Charles Edward Montague considers the war as a battle between Germanic barbarism and Western civilization. Although pacifist he volunteers for service. Marina Yurlova becomes horse caretaker with Russian cossacks. Louis Barthas, French soldier, has to leave his wife and child and the trenches are in front. Karl Kasser, Austrian, gets injured and is captured by the Russians. To be away from school, Ernst Junger offers himself for the service. Soon he gets into life-threatening situations.
Part 3: The Anguish
There are thousands of victims in the battlefield, but there are too few doctors and nurses to provide the necessary medical care.
Elfriede Kuhr helps her grandmother in a Red Cross Post in Schneidemuehl, where she sees one soldier after another. In Ypres, Scottish nurse Sarah Macnaughtan is confronted with the first victims of poison gas. In an explosion, child soldier Marina Yurlova is severely injured. Louis Barthas experiences the horror of the flame throwers in the trenches. The Italian American Vincenzo D’Aquila does not want to watch the side line: he becomes volunteer, a choice he regrets soon.
Part 4: The Heart’s Desire
Behind the front women, mothers, daughters struggle with the doubt. Are their beloved men, sons, fathers alive or are they killed?
In Berlin, Kathe Kolwitz receives sad news: her son has fallen on the battlefield in Flanders. Marie Pireaud wants more than just letters from her husband at the front: she is looking for him. Elfriede, 14 years old, falls in love with a young lieutenant who dies shortly later. Ernst Junger gets into a secret affair with a French woman, a relationship regarded as treason. The 16-year-old Marina is now at the front. Men flirt with her, but she only wants one thing: to become a soldier!
Part 5: The Annihilation
Cruel and ingenious, like poison gas, the war penetrates into the lives of the people. At the front, all sides try to force a breakthrough.
The unit of Charles E. Montague is sent to the Somme, but his men are not inclined to follow him. On the other side of the front, Ernst Junger has meanwhile become a lieutenant. Marina Yurlova, now working as a “medic” in the Russian army, is taking a gas attack and is buried almost alive in an explosion. Nurse Sarah is a witness to the Armenian genocide. Corporal Louis Barthas is still fighting on the western front.
Part 6: The Home Front
The idea of the home is what keeps everyone in the fight. At home front, security means a lot in a world where death and destruction rule.
Ethel Cooper, an Australian musician and teacher, lived and worked for many years in Leipzig. Germany was her second home. Now, however, she is no longer welcome there. Karl Kasser, Austrian prisoner of war in Russia, is being transported to Siberia. The French boy Yves makes a daily contribution to the German occupation. One day his father is taken by the Germans as hostage. For Elfriede – terrible enough – the war has become part of her young life.
Part 7: The Uprising
“The Uprising” deals with the idea that the war itself becomes the real enemy. Soldiers no longer want to give their lives without reason. In 1917, popular uprisings, mutinies and rebellions occured in all the warring countries, reshaping the conflict.
It is March 1917. Marina, adjudant in the Caucasus, has experienced the Russian revolution. In England, the workers of the ammunition plant, where Gabrielle West is working, turn double shifts. But now they are in strike. In the psychiatric department of San Osvaldo Hospital, Vincenzo D’Aquila is subjected to cruel treatments by the military doctors. Louis Barthas survived the battlefields of Verdun and the Somme. Thousands of French soldiers lie beaten in the mud. The men of Lieutenant Ernst Junger are mowed down while fighting.
Part 8: The Tipping Point
In the spring of 1918 the Germans begin an ultimate offensive. With the support of America, the Allies hit hard back. The war is tilting.
The father of Yves is deported to Germany as a forced laborer. His family remains behind yearning. Ernst Junger and his men are completely exhausted, they now only care about themselves. Charles Montague, meanwhile too old for active service, leads American photographers to German prisoners. Marina will spend her 18th birthday in the Prison of the Red Army. Elfriede almost has no memories of a life without war. In October 1918 she heard of a possible German defeat for the first time. A few days later on November 11th it’s finally reality: the Great War is over.