Open main menu

Diary of a Prisoner in World War I/Introduction and historical context

Introduction and historical context

At the beginning of 20th century Europe was fragmented into a number of states which were remains of former feudal establishment and were heplessly out of date with the new trends of capitalist economy and national emancipation.

One very large of these states was the Hungaro-Austrian monarchy where the two leading nations were holding in subordinance other nations including Czechs. In 1914 there has been a well established Czech national movement due to which Czechs' loyalties belonged more to their subdued nation than to their Hungaro-Austrian state.

One of these Czechs was my grandfather Josef Šrámek. He was a boy working for a textile distribution company owned by Jewish partners Kohn & Kornfeld. He must have been quite good at trading and accounting as is reflected in wide use of numerals in his diary.

Then in 1914 came the irrational beginning of World War—a huge conflict that no one wanted and no one could really explain why it started. The Czechs were dragged into the war unwillingly and unmotivated because it was Austria's war, not theirs. The usual practice at that time was to draft young men into the military with no respect for their individual or national or ethnic opinions. This was very similar to a prison system in many respects. Civil disobedience has not been invented yet so most[1] had no choice but to enter the military. This is what happened to my grandfather and this is where his diary starts.

Diary of a Prisoner in World War I by Josef Šrámek (page 10 crop).jpg

First page of the diary

  1. A family legend says that Josef's brother avoided the military by blinding himself using a chemical.