Today, February 25th marks 68 years since the official end to the Prussian Empire. What is Prussia you ask? It was the Empire that built Germany into a major political player in Europe and was the glue that made the German states hold together to become one German Empire. When World War I came knocking at the doors of Europe, the Prussian Empire was one of the loudest knocking. By the time the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the end of the war though Germany was in a state of havoc and ruins. The harsh conditions of the treaty, stating Germany was the loser and must be pay for their actions, sparked a flame of revenge that resulted in World War II twenty years later. Alright, let me back up a bit and explain what Prussia was and why it’s actions help lead up to WWI.
Germany was not always unified, in fact before unification in 1871 Germany was 27 separate states each with their own royal leader. Hard to get things done with so many people in charge. In the decades leading up to 1871 Prussia and its leaders were picking battles and building the most rigid and respected military of its day. After winning the Schleswig Wars, the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War steps were made under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck to unite the German states once and for all. Even though it was called the German Empire the leadership was given to the Prussian Empire. Below is a map showing where the Prussians were and where the boarders were under their leadership of Germany.
Later in 1914 it was the close ties of the Prussian Empire with the Austro-Hungarian Empire that put the two countries along with the Ottoman Empire up against the Allied forces of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy and in 1917 the United States.
In building itself up to be a major political player in Europe, the Prussians made a lot of promises and treaties with other nations. It was their treaty of alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire that officially engaged Prussia in the battle.
You see, the Austro-Hungarian’s Emperor Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian on June 28th of 1914. On July 28th Austria- Hungary declared war on Serbia. Serbia at the time had a treaty with Russia who was obligated to assist them in battle against the Austro-Hungarian military. The Prussian Empire declared war on Russia shortly after on August 1st because they saw the mobilization of the Russian military as an act of war against their ally. By the end of WWI all three of the Empires fell or changed politics and borders of Europe were changed dramatically.
In 1947 Germany officially called an end to the Prussian Empire. The Prussians lost power in 1918 with the last Prussian Emperor, William II, being abdicated just 17 days after the war ended. He later died while exiled in the Netherlands in 1942.
Since 2014 to 2018 mark 100 years since WWI many special projects and resources are being made available to remember those that fought and those that gave their life. On a national level the World War One Centennial Commission was approved by President Obama in 2013. The project’s goal is to offer many resources, programs and events related to remembering the war. Locally here in Chicago we have the Pritzker Military Museum and Library which has virtual exhibits, photos and film from WWI, and both primary and secondary resources for studying not only WWI but all campaigns of United States military history.
Remember, if you want to learn more or find additional resources you can always ask a librarian!