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We Know This War by Heart - virtual exhibition

The Institute for Contemporary History and the Europeana Foundation, with the support of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presents 1914-1918 We know this war by heart. Portugal and the Great War, a virtual exhibition that explores the most significant moments of the Portuguese participation in World War I, namely its impact on Portugal’s political, economic, social, cultural and artistic life.

Photograph of the lieutenant João Malheiro de Sousa e Meneses
shared by a relative during “Dias da Memória”, Lisbon, October 2014.

This virtual exhibit is part of the project Portugal 1914 aiming to study the history and impact of the Great War in Portugal, to raise awareness to the importance of remembrance and the preservation of historical knowledge, and to engage the general public in the reflection and sharing of memories and knowledge on the First World War’s history and legacy. The Portugal 1914 web portal, promoted by the Institute for Contemporary History of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities of UNL, in association and with the collaboration of several institutions, is part of a plural and diverse program dedicated to the evoking of the First World War Centenary. Among other initiatives, the “Memory Days” (the Collection Days) was jointly organized with the Europeana Foundation and the Portuguese National Assembly, gathering more 1200 visitors and contributors during three days.

The last goodbye by Joshua Benoliel.
Portuguese Expeditionary Corps soldiers on their way to France in May 1917.
Public Domain

World War I was a breaking point that determined a deep global change in which Portugal was included. Between 1914 and 1918, more than 100 000 Portuguese soldiers were mobilized to Africa and Flanders, among which nearly 8000 lost their lives.

Take a tour to explore these and other facts on Portugal’s participation in the Great War:

Defeating the Russians on the Eastern front

During the summer of 1915, in Galicia and in Poland on the Eastern front, the German and Austro-Hungarian armies were on the advance, causing the Russians heavy casualties and forcing them to retreat. Due to heavy losses in the earlier Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive in May and June the Russian Army as a whole was already roughly 30% short of its nominal strength and found itself in an exposed position in Poland.

© / W. Wildeman- van Dam [CC-BY-SA]

In July, the Central Powers' armies opened a new series of offensives across the entire Eastern front. Especially the Germans advanced quickly to the far north of Poland and into Lithuania, whereas the Austro-Hungarians would finally regain large parts of their territories in Galicia which they lost during the first months of the war. This would include the city of Przemysl which had been under siege by the Russians after their crushing defeat of the Austro-Hungarian garrison. By mid-July 1915, the entire Russian line had been pushed back as far as 160 km to the Bug River, leaving only a small portion of Poland in Russian hands. On 22 July, the joint armies of the Central Powers crossed the Vistula river and in August Warsaw became isolated because of the continuing Russian retreat, offering the German 12th Army the opportunity to conquer the city on 4–5 August. Ongoing attacks by the German armies soon caused the Russian front to collapse and, after having received considerable reinforcements, they took Brest-Litovsk (on 25 August) and a month later Hindenburg's forces captured Vilna. The overall advance of the Central Powers on the Eastern front during the Summer of 1915 is important, because it marks the beginning of Russia’s later removal from the war in 1917.

© / Bodo A. W. Müller [CC-BY-SA]

On this website there is a large number of fascinating firsthand accounts of the various events on the Eastern front to be found. There is for instance the war diary of Wilhelm Habermann. Habermann was a so called Fahnenschmied, a certified blacksmith within the 46th Field Artilleray Regiment from Lower Saxony. He took part in actions both on the Western and Eastern front. On 5 May 1915 he writes in his diary that he considers warfare at the Eastern front easier than in France (“Das Kriegführen ist hier leichter als in Frankreich”). Habermann ends his diary on 1 August, just after his regiment reached Warsaw.
Another very interesting account of how the German military advanced in Poland and beyond is given by an NCO in the German Railroad Engineering Corps posted to the Eastern Front ]. The pictures he made during his stay at the front give an inight in the tremendous efforts that were made to keep up or rather rebuilt the infrastructures to ensure the ongoing logistics of the advance.

And there are also the heartbreaking stories of soldiers who fell far away from home. We can read the farewell letter full of regret and uncertainty that Richard Pick wrote in March 1915 to his wife just before he departed for the Eastern front. It was to be his last letter as well, as Richard died a few months later, on 15 June 1915.

© / Brigitte Pick [CC-BY-SA]

You can also have a look at the memorabilia of Konrad Mayr that his offspring shared with us. Only 16 years old he had just left school to take part in the German war efforts on the Eastern front. He was lucky enough to survive the war as he died in 1976. Also very young, but much less fortunate was student-architect Max Klawitter. Eager to escape his father’s home rule he had enlisted in August 1914. You can read what he wrote to his parents about his life at the front until he died on 22 June 1915.And how about reading Stabsartzt Otto Kaschel’s story who was awarded a Russian medal for medical services, or taking a look at the pictures that baker Willy Finger took of what he saw on the front.

In addition to these personal stories you can also see some spectacular footage from the Eastern Front from the original newsreels that were shown in those days, with moving images from marching soldiers, destroyed landscapes, tired Russian PoWs and captured artillery.There is even a complete filmed report on the Capture of Przemysl as shot an Austro-Hungarian army film crew. For more than 2.500 stories on the Eastern Front just click on the Eastern Front button on the Browse page.
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