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Diary of a Prisoner in World War I/Italian Captivity—1916

Italian Captivity Diary of a Prisoner in World War I by Josef Šrámek (page 61 crop) 1916.jpg

December 29 (1915)

It seems to me that I am in a different world. When I stepped out of the boat yesterday, I felt like leaving wilderness. Everything just seemed to be other, nicer—the Italian soldiers are kind. We do not understand a single word of theirs but there is one thing we understand very soon: "Mangiare"[1]. I threw rags off my boots that I tied onto them to hide them from the spying Serb eyes. In the evening, we reached an Italian army camp and got rice soup from cans with meat and biscuits. Oh how I enjoyed those few spoons of hot, salty and greasy soup! I hadn't eaten salty soup in more than 20 days! We slept on a hill. It was freezing at night so we set out at 5 in the morning not to freeze. We were not allowed to light fires. We are going to Valona. We can see the beautiful Valona bay as early as noon.

December 30.

The port is beautiful, there are about 7 large steamers. Some 4,000 prisoners are crowded at the port, they push forward, step on one another and fall to the sea. The Italians have fun throwing pieces of biscuits among them and watching the prisoners fight just as dogs fight for bones. Finally, at 10 p. m. I managed to get to a motor boat that took us to a large cargo steamer - "Armenia" from Marseille. It's a cattle ship, there are troughs in it. I sleep in the hold.

December 31.

My breakfast was a cup of coffee and a biscuit. How I enjoyed coffee, nice and sweet, that I had not had for so long! My lunch was rice, meat and some wine. People are like cattle - the Italians are nice but good manners just don't work with our fellows. They only obey a whip. At 4, the anchor was lifted and we set out. I am seasick, can't sleep the whole night.

January 1, Diary of a Prisoner in World War I by Josef Šrámek (page 61 crop) 1916.jpg

This morning the Italians drove us to the upper deck, stripped us, bathed us, and dressed us in Italian uniforms. Meanwhile they cleaned the lower deck—threw all our things into the sea and disinfected all the rooms. They threw away all our things—shoes, blankets—I just managed to save my diary, which was already on its way out. Things the men had to drag all through Serbia, and with which they didn't part even in Albania, are now floating.

Unfortunately there was more that they threw into the sea—the dead. There were 20.

Our ship is still cruising along the coast, accompanied by two more: Sinai and Danten.

Yesterday was the end of that unlucky year—1915—in which I put so much hope and which disappointed me so much. Every one of us believed that year would bring us liberation, but instead it was a year of the worst tribulations and misery. The last 3 months were the worst; more than 4000 people died, and those who stayed alive looked like skeletons. Today, free of those rags and in clean underwear once again, we look ahead to the new year with new hopes. Will it bring me what I long for—peace and freedom?

When I feel bad or good, the memories of my home always give me strength and patience. Now, so far from you, my dear ones, somewhere near north of Africa, I am wishing you and myself much happiness and good health in the new year! May God fulfill my only wish—may we all meet again and stay in good health!

I wish I were free and at home today, just as I was 2 years ago.

January 2

The night was cold. We have no mantles or blankets, but no lice either. The meals are poor—a bowl of soup with a few macaroni and a few bits of meat. This is to be divided among ten people who are hungry like wolves!

Many people die of exhaustion and being seasick. They are just thrown into the sea and that's it. Nobody cares about their names.

January 3

We keep sailing, and we are still hungry. There was no supper, just 3 spoons of macaroni for lunch. That's a strange beginning for a new year. The ship doctor said we mustn't eat much as we are weak. But we are weak because we are hungry like wolves!

January 4

Today we landed on an island. 8 large steamers were anchored there. We were so hungry. We get less and less food every day. Many dead men were thrown into the sea again today. They think they can stop that dying by giving us less food. The lunch was very poor. They keep giving us biscuits instead of bread. I am looking forward to a piece of bread so much. I am hungry as I haven't been since the Albania days. Lunch is 5 spoons of soup; supper is just coffee. We are completely hopeless. We lie in the hold, many among us sick. I saw one who could not eat macaroni and vomited them. A Croat came and picked the macaroni from the vomit on the floor.

January 5

Diary of a Prisoner in World War I by Josef Šrámek (page 64 crop) Asinara.jpg
At noon we disembarked on the Asinara island, where we are supposed to be for the quarantine. It's a small and bare island, just rocks and shrubs. Thousands of prisoners are camped here. Every one of us got a can of meat and biscuits. I made soup from the sea water. I met Šalomoun and Hruška. We sleep in one tent. Also Roubík, Černý, and others are here.

January 6

It seems like we had a feast today—I am sated once again. The day is beautiful and warm. The worst thing is there is no water. We walk very far to get it from somewhere in the rocks; we have to dig a hole and wait till the water appears and then take it out with a spoon. It's bad and muddy, but what can you do when you're thirsty? We get one meat can and 3 biscuits daily. I signed up with two groups so I get a double dose.

January 7

Disease is spreading among us. The water is to blame. Canned meals are salty, so people drink muddy water—even sea water. Then the stomach starts to ache, diarrhea comes, and as people are weak, sometimes they are dead on the second day. These are the consequences of Albania—all that strain, suffering, etc. People get as far as here and then die. We sleep under tents without blankets, and it's cold at night. We make campfires; there is an abundance of wood. About 140 people died in our camp last night. It is terrible to look at those thin figures.

January 9

The meals are all the same every day. It is very windy today; the wind tears down our tents. I got a cape today. The disease is identified - it's Asian cholera brought from Albania. People who lie down healthy are stiff in the morning. We are crammed into tents by five, and the infection spreads very quickly. You can see a poor creature in spasms behind every shrub. They are all very thirsty, so they crawl to the sea to drink, and soon they're dead. Drinking water is extremely rare. A few feeble springs in the rocks are besieged by the thirsty all day.

The sick get here, drink the water that kills, then get in the shrubs and die unrecognized and unidentified. Our island is not large; it is near Sardinia, and it's all rocks. Some say Turkish prisoners were here years ago, building wide stonewalls. Our camp is in the middle of the island. On one end of the island, there is a camp called Real. Ours is called Streti, and then there is Tamborina.

January 11

There are more and more sick and dead every day. Doctors examine us every morning. Everyone must put their pants down and show their shirts. People deny they're sick because otherwise they would be separated immediately. The doctors are our countrymen, but they have no medicine. They promise us all the time that they will cook meals for us, but they keep feeding us from cans. To our surprise we got a loaf of bread each instead of biscuits today. I liked it so much!

January 13

Feldwebel Salomon is in charge of the newly established hospital. I've moved along with him to be a cook. We make coffee, but it's difficult to get any water. I fetch it at midnight! The Croats started bargaining with it. They walk among the sick, selling water for biscuits and robbing them. We set up night watches. We got thirty cans of food for the sick; the wind tore down our tent, and someone stole the cans. I have good times. There is enough coffee and bread. But disease is rising still, and more and more men die day by day.

January 16

We cooked hot meals for the first time today—rice and meat and rice soup in the evening. The meat is frozen, from Argentina. Salomon organizes coffee parties—there are more and more frequenters day by day. Each platoon prepares coffee for its members.

The camp is now divided into groups named after the ships that brought them—Sinai, Armenia, Dante, Regina, Elan, etc. Each group is divided into platoons of 50 men. The men are divided by their nationalities.

January 18

Cholera is raging horribly. The number of the dead is peaking. Today we counted about 1800 of them. We gather them in piles and then bury them in one grave. Nobody tries to find out the names of the dead.

František Šaroch—a neighbor from my place of birth, Vraný near Peruc—died in the other camp. He was brought along with the sick and died on the third day. Cannot get any news about Toník, my stepbrother.

January 20

The Italians bring water on ships, along with meat and rice or macaroni every day. The cholera seems to have stopped somewhat. Today I met Karel Reichl. He told me Kulma had died here [on Asinara].

January 22

What makes the boys suffer the worst is that there is nothing to smoke. They smoke dry leaves or grass—anything they can. They pay 1 Serb dinar for 1 cigarette. Anyway the value of the Serb money has dropped greatly. Ferdinand sold a one hundred-dinar banknote for 15 lire.

The rate of dying is decreasing, so at last the disease has stopped. What helped most was a change in the food the Italians give us and the drinking water they bring here. Many lives could have been saved [if they'd done this earlier]! They let us out on a barren island without water, and they gave us canned food that made us very thirsty! Everyone was feeble; when they got cans, they ate the food raw immediately and died by the next morning.

Inserted: a cutout from the Samostatnost magazine dated February 15, 1918, by Otto Brokl:

The fate lead us to Italy. The cholera Asinara was our lot. On a barren and contaminated island, cholera killed many a man among us mercilessly again. And finally, when we were able to count the Czech survivors, we all felt distressed. Out of the proud 33,000 Czechs in Serbia, there were only three and a half thousand left of us in a year. We were thinking profoundly about the horrible facts—while Italian sun and sea were miraculous cures for us, back home the Austrian persecution raged, our countrymen filled notorious prisons, even gallows were built into the stringent environment…

January 28

We moved to another hospital. I am in the kitchen again, along with thirteen other people. They are Hungarians, Romanians, and Dalmatians. The oberkoch[2] is a Hungarian who can speak some 7 languages.

Theft is flourishing here. The officers have real feasts at nights while the rank and file starves. I loathe to act thus. They eat all sugar and bacon while the men eat macaroni without any grease and drink bitter coffee.

January 30

Our pay is 20 centesimo daily. I am to get L4.20, and I chose to get paid in kind—a bit of sausage, 2 oranges, and some wine. I still have a lot to do.

January 31

I got a little sick today. The weather got ugly. The Italians never let anyone into the healthy camp without a test. They've got glass flasks; everyone must give a piece of their * into it, and then their doctors examine it for cholera or dysentery bacilli. Dysentery keeps on raging. Those who suffer from it get so weak they barely can walk. I saw boys who tied themselves to the latrines so as not to fall over—they were so weak!

February 5

We got Italian cards so I am writing home. The last time I wrote was October 1, 1915.

February 10

All the Jonio camp left for the healthy camp, and our chief cook left too. I don't miss him, the bastard. The Italians are building large tents for the sick.

The weather got nasty, bad winds and rain. I pay my dues in the kitchen—it's open-air, and standing in rain, wind, and smoke all day isn't easy! I've heard there is snow in Sardinia.

February 18

A Spanish consul is to come for a visit tomorrow, so we are cleaning everything. I visited the camp of the healthy today. I was surprised how nice it is managed there. The tents are lined up; there is a small garden near each tent; the streets are covered with sand. The tents even bear numbers and group names.

The larger areas are adorned with beautiful memorials and various sculptures. It is all concrete and nicely decorated with shells and colored sea stones.

February 20

Our hospital was divided into three departments: the Suspect, the Bacilli Carriers, and Cholera. One man died in Cholera today.

February 23

There is still a great shortage of water. The Italians bring it in little barrels borne by mules. Dr. Atzelt makes us feel like we're in the army all day now, walking around with his cane and hitting the sick and the nurses alike. Today the ship Foseton arrived from Dratch with 120 Austrians and 30 Bulgarians. Most of them are sick and frostbitten; they brought along a bounty of cans, sugar, flour, rice, etc. All of it comes from an American mission in Dratch.

February 28

The headquarters exchange Serb money—for ten Serb paper dinars you get L6.50, and for silver you get L7.50. I write home every week, to Ústí sometimes too. Our chief cook was accused of bargaining with sugar; Dr. Atzelt came, paid him with the cane, and brought 5 people to the kitchen from the foundry instead of us.

March 6

I am with the Foseton group, but not for long. I applied for the Sinai because all my acquaintances are there.

March 10

After the medical test, we moved to the healthy camp, and I went to Sinai, to the tent of Feldwebel Roubík.

March 12

We have nothing to do. The days are long, and so we dwell on politics for a long time. Fresh news arrives every day but no one knows where it's from. We call it latrinenbefehle[3] yet we like listening to it. As we have been left without any news from our home for more than 6 months now and cannot talk to the Italians much, we fabricate, combine, and distribute these rumors!

Someone from Real brought us the news that F.J.I. (Emperor Franz Joseph I) ordered Italy to release us immediately to neutral countries—the Swiss or the Americans. Reportedly he also said Austria will pay nothing for us. Someone else heard from the freiwillige[4] that the Italians will bring us to Italy to work in factories as civilians.

A piece of news arrives every day—it's always guaranteed!

March 15

We all write home every day but wait for replies in vain. Only a few lucky ones get money by postal order. We are well provided with underwear, uniforms, and shoes. Each of us has 2 good blankets, a cape, and 2 sets of underwear. There might be a little more food, though, especially bread, and what the boys miss most is money for tobacco and cigarettes.

March 17

There is a specialty here—daily markets. What for, here on a barren island? Just about anything. If you stroll at Piazza Vittorio Emanuello in the evening, you can buy a portion of meat for 10 Cts., cheese for 10, biscuits for twenty, loaf of bread for thirty, coffee, rice, macaroni—just about anything. The sellers, mostly Serbs and Croats, choose to starve just to have some money for tobacco. It is a wonderful sight, this spirit of trade.

We've gathered stones to build a wall around the cemetery. 1004 rest there—those who, having suffered through all the woes of Albania, thought they were saved.

March 19

It's my name day[5]—a rather sad one as I'm penniless, but still it's jollier than the previous one I spent in Djevdjekia, Serbia. I bought 3 portions of cheese and one loaf of bread.

The Italians are rather worried—they are missing some 600 people. They don't know where they are. It looks like they're back in Serbia. The Italians are making new lists of people.

We have noticed one interesting thing—there are really many who have ranks. People who were privates in Serbia are corporals and sergeants today, and former corporals are feldwebels now. We call them "Albanian ranks."

March 21

We can recognize sergeants—they have June ribbons on their caps, but you can also tell them by their large bellies. They get extra mangiare[6] and 20 cts. daily. Those who can speak a bit of Italian have golden times here.

In our Sinai there is one Serb narednik[7] who beat several prisoners to death on the way through Albania. He never gets out of the tent, or else he'd get beaten.

March 24

They vaccinate us against cholera now that four quarters of us are behind the cemetery wall. It is getting hotter during the day.

March 26

The Italians keep on building one house after another. We carry bricks, stones, and planks. Some get mail from home, mostly those who are Jewish. We had a visit today: three pretty ladies. All the camp was upside down—it has been almost 5 months since we saw a woman (except for hooded Turkish women and ugly Albanians).

March 28

The ship Sinai boarded 1,570 people—200 died on the ship, 254 died on Asinara, and 291 are missing, i.e. died and were buried without identification. That is 754—one half of all!

March 30

Today flour arrived for the finished bakery, which, however, had collapsed thanks to the crafty Italians.

Mail arrives very seldom. It's always just a couple of German postcards. I am unhappy. Four Jews from Sinai have already gotten money from home; they also get mail (of course it's German). We got one more set of underwear each, along with belts, needles, and combs.

April 2

Mr. Vlček came to visit me today. He's in the other camp and has received money from home—36 lire. Meeting him really made me feel happy. We revisited those beautiful times in Ústí in our memories. He gave me 2 lire and a piece of cheese. A nice boy.

April 4

We were on duty in the camp today, and we lost as bad as we could. A private and a corporal were arrested. The Italians are experts in punishing—they arrest one for 10 to 15 days without any bread. Our lieutenant collected Serb bank notes and went to Rome, and when he came back he said they were worth nothing. Yet he goes around the other camps and buys them still. A real good officer!

April 5

The bakery worked for the first time today. Our cook stood in for the baker. I was to go to the kitchen but I refused. We are getting a second vaccination. I am still waiting for a letter from home, but it's in vain! Mail arrives very rarely. Still there is news that peace is near. Supposedly we'll get 15 cts. daily.

April 7

Our meals are all the same—at noon it's rice or macaroni, and in the evening it's soup and a bit of meat. No potatoes or vegetables. I dislike that food now. The rice is boiled down to a glue, and it's never greasy, and the macaroni is the same. Coffee is but a little dirty water.

Vejvoda from our platoon and Ryba from my tent got some money from home. The priests here are making a secret list for Austria[8]. For teachers they set up a special group like for one-year volunteers.

April 9

It is ordered that everyone must have their hair cut bald to get rid of the last few lice that still resist here and there (mainly among the Croats).

Mail arrives every day. How I wish for news from home—I haven't gotten a single line for 7 months!

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Monument of Hungaro-Austrian prisoners on Asinara—photo courtesy R. Pauli

April 12

Our daily pay will be 15 cts., corporals and sergeants 30 Cts., and feldwebels 50 Cts. The Italian prisoners in Austria get the same. Today I was in Rial and spoke to Eman Růžička. They have a beautiful memorial there. It reads, "In Memory of the Suffering of the Austrian Prisoners in Albania." It was built by a prisoner. It is a statue of a man looking toward the sunrise, which stands for suffering. The statue makes a great impression on each viewer.

Vich, who used to live in Vraný, told me that František Šaroch had died in Fornelia several days after landing. I went there to learn find out for certain but my visit was in vain. They also buried people without identifying them there. Later, in France, Mr. Sis told me František had died after four hours.

I can't get any news about Toník.

They should pay us lohn[9] but they keep postponing it every day. Once the documents are not ready, then they have no change. We have to wait for payments up to 8 days.

We received an order that every officer must sign to confirm his rank, so everyone started reducing their ranks. The stripes and stars fell down like rain.

April 22

It's Good Friday today, and we are not fasting, but I think that's not a sin as we fast every day. Roubík got a German postcard. I didn't get anything.

We set a table and bench in front of the tent. The heat is rising day by day. This Easter will be rather sad—what a difference between this one and the one 2 years ago! There was a mass in our chapel; teachers were singing, and our Croat parson gave a sermon about the difficult road to heaven. We have fasted enough here, walked our way of the cross long enough. The Bible says the way of the cross leads to heaven, but this is anything but heaven! We must have lost our way!

April 24

Today I got my first letter from the Ladies K. and K.[10] from Ústí They sent me 40 crowns and wrote that Lorenz is dead. They wrote to my parents too. I'm very happy—this is the first letter in 9 months. Here they search for craftsmen and farmers to work in France.

April 26

I received my first postcard from home, dated March 26. I'm happy that everyone is healthy. Karel was hurt on the Russian front and is home on leave.

April 28

We get a whole loaf every day so we can eat as much as we like. I got a second postcard from home—from Anna Šarochová. She asks if I know about Frantík[11].

The Italians keep talking about an early departure for France. They want us to get rid of all lice so they can disinfect. The camps, one after another, go to Realu to bathe and change clothes, underwear, and blankets. All of them are steamed.

About 70 parcels came. Ryba received one, so the tent smells of Virginia cigars every day. We make tea and eat chocolate.

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Prisoners at Asinara taking a sea bath—photo courtesy R.Pauli

May 1

Two postcards—one from home from Mařka.[12] Today was a beautiful day. We swam in the sea. Selected craftsmen were placed in a special department. Some say they will go to Tunis or Algeria.

The Italians continue to test us. We fill the test tubes, and the doctors examine them. We have to fill them under supervision, as even here people are swindled. Usually one does the tests for ten boys.

In the evening they took our boots and gave them to the selected ones so they are ready to go. Everyone has 2 sets of underwear, 2 pairs of boots, a towel, a vessel for food, a cup, a field flask, etc.

May 3

They pay us löhnung[13] every 15 days but there is a bad shortage of change. The Italians only send us five- and ten-lire bank notes, and nothing in the world can give you change for that here. Changing costs 30 Cts. Here they keep bargaining, mostly with bacon. A man can buy one kilogram of bacon, cut it to pieces, and go from camp to camp and sell it for 20 cts. a piece. The same goes for cigarettes. One can buy's 30 Francs worth of cigarettes and sell them to get the change for his bank notes. Everyone keeps their silver half-lire, and the shortage of change is worse and worse.

The weather's gotten badly windy. Our tent is torn down every now and then.

May 6

Some more news—they say peace has been declared and we will go home, hence the preparations. Today again the Italians collected towels and handkerchiefs for those who are ready to leave. In the 4 months we've been here, they've given us a pair of rags, and now they want it back. Nosek keeps furnishing us with bacon, cheese, sugar, and coffee from the storage. I make coffee three times a day.

The Italians had the payroll signed by barbers and sergeants—but then drove them out and gave them nothing.

May 8

Many pay slips are gathered, but the payments take incredibly long. You have to wait for ten days; even if you go to the office every day, you get nothing every day. We just about assault the office hut, but the Italians have a terrible mess in that area.

Finally they returned the collected Serb bank notes today, saying they are no longer exchanged. The Italian soldiers are going around the camp and buying them for 4 lire apiece. They tried to draft volunteers for the Serb army; many Serbs enlisted.

May 10

Today Roubík was paid the money that was sent on March 23. It's L19.07 for 25 crowns. News spread that our officers from the Isle of Elba left for Austria. All of us believe peace is here. Everybody is excited, and we speak of nothing but an early journey home. I am looking forward to it, but what if we will be disappointed again?

A lieutenant visits everyone to check if we've kept the prescribed equipment. I get mail from home and Ústí regularly these days. We spend days talking about the journey home, but nobody knows where the rumors are from, and nobody cares either.

May 12

At 10:00 a.m. there was a zeppelin to the east, flying toward Sasari. The entire camp watched it with great interest. As it approached Sasari, suddenly it shook, flames burst out of it, and it fell to the sea. Immediately several steamers set out from Real to search for the drowned, but it was all in vain. We were convinced it was a German zeppelin, but we were told it was French. Two French high officers visited

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Camp at Asinara—photo courtesy R.Pauli

May 14

The peace enthusiasm has calmed down again. It's getting hot. We swim in the sea every day, but the heat is unbearable. The Italians haven't brought any water for 5 days now. They say it is rather expensive—15 cts. per liter. Daily we consume 280 hectoliters.

A sailboat from Sardinia comes every day, bringing cheese, wine, lemons, cherries, etc. for sale. Everything in the canteen here is incredibly expensive. Still prisoners always besiege it, buying mostly potatoes and onions.

May 16

Our daily dose: 4 liters of water, 700 grams of bread, 137 grams of macaroni or rice, 200 grams of meat or cheese, 10 grams of sugar, 8 grams of coffee, 5 grams of bacon, 10 grams of Pomadore, and 12 grams of salt.

A great visitor came. Toward noon the archbishop of Sardinia came to consecrate the church in Real, and with him were 5 churchmen, including a Swiss bishop. They visited all the hospitals and asked thoroughly about everything. They also consecrated the cemetery and gave us blessings. Guards at the gate (they were actually prisoners) received commands in Italian: "Attenti![14]" The Swiss bishop wondered why we had Italian commanders although we were Austrian soldiers. Well, the parsons really gave the Italians a proper licking. They gave us papal greetings, and everyone got a box of 10 cigarettes plus a cross or a rosary to remember the visit. This means the cigarettes must have cost them more than L6,000 and the rosaries must have cost at least as much.

The visit had a good effect. The Italians got a little scared, and our situation improved somewhat. Now they pay us better.

May 18

Everyone is enjoying papal cigarettes. It's the first time anyone sent us anything. The Jewish Community of Rome sent maces to the Jews here.

And some more excitement among the folk—some news. Prisoners from Russia are going home—ergo peace is certain! Our transport to France was changed, reportedly—we'll go to Italy.

May 21

We were beaten again—the general appeared suddenly in the evening, and, as some men had their shirts off (it's been real hot all day), our lieutenant Kakatchi arrested the lagerchef[15] and 5 sergeants. The prison is a tent erected at the end of the camp. The convicts had wine brought in and feasted. At night each of them went to sleep in their tents, and in the morning the daily corporal came with a courteous plea: may the gentlemen come back before the lieutenant arrives?

Roubík and Feldwebel Zwick were not at home, but, having learned that, they went to the prison to join the others. The lieutenant's surprise and anger were great as he found 8 convicts instead of 6. Thereafter, the Italians abandoned the punishments.

May 23

Today the first transport is leaving with selected farmers from Real, Streti, and Tamborin. There are 5,000 of them going to France, reportedly, but everyone thinks they are going home!

All the day is filled with talk about peace, which everybody here takes for granted. Various rumors spread mouth to ear, but everybody is convinced that the peace is there. My neighbor, Sergeant Ferdinandi, excels at that. I run away so I don't have to listen to it, and I don't believe it.

May 24

I got a parcel—a box—from home that arrived untouched. There were biscuits in it, some brandy, tea, sausage, and chocolate. I enjoyed that very much. It came from my home! There was also a set of underwear, socks, and a handkerchief. I am so pleased. Oh, I wish I could get back home soon and reward you for all that, my dear parents! Daily, hundreds of parcels arrive, as well as many pay slips. The Italians wonder at how much money the Austriaci[16] receive.

Our kitchen received a double dose of everything today—the storage is overfilled. The pay slips are now paid much faster, as are our salaries.

May 26

Again transports leave us and Real. This time they don't say they go home, but to Algeria instead. Reportedly, Gruenhut from Prague had it written on his ticket. They say one ship sank; a warship accompanies each transport. Terrible heat every day.

May 28

Ferdinandi received more than 200 lire, so I made a feast dinner—fried potatoes and fried fish with wine.

The Italians ordered us to go bathing at Real while our underwear and uniforms were steamed. We moved to our old place. There was a gale at night that took away the roof of the storage.

May 30

Now I get mail often, from both home and Ústí. Dysentery is spreading again due to the heat, and almost everyone has colic. The Italians line the camps up 500 men at a time and do tests with alembics as before, under control to avoid cheating. They say we will get moved away—maybe to England. The time's up, otherwise we might get baked here on this Ass Isle.

May 31

I was bored, and the sun shone so hot, I wrote the following poem and sent it on a card to Miss Anna in Ústí. It arrived alright, and Anna wrote to me later that she burst into tears when she read it. Strange; I wanted to amuse her!

The "poem" goes like this:

Nejmilejší slečno Anči—jak Vám, tak i slečně Fanči zasílám přes širé moře tisíc vřelých vzpomínek.

Dear Miss Anne—to you and to Miss Fanny, I am sending a thousand warm memories.

Těší mne, že vzpomínáte na ty krásné staré časy, které jistě nikdy víc bohužel, již nevrátí se!

I am glad that you remember those good old times that, alas, will never come back again!

Píšete, že byste "gerne" odešly do velké "ferne",poslechněte moje slova a zůstaňte pěkně doma!

You write that you'd love to travel far—but listen to me and stay home instead!

Všade dobře, doma nejlíp, praví pořekadlo staré, všade špatně, doma nejlíp novější je—ale pravé.

It's good everywhere but it's best at home, says an old proverb; it's bad everywhere but it's best at home is a newer proverb, and it is true.

Procestoval jsem já Srbsko, prošel celou Albánií, na Oslí se ostrov dostal Asináru v Itálii.

I traveled through Serbia and Albania, and got to Ass Isle—the Asinara here in Italy.

Bůhví, kam přijdeme ještě, co z nás ještě udělají, jedno pravím, to mi věřte, domů bych jel nejraději!

God knows where we will come or what they will do to us. I'll say one thing, and believe me: I would like going home best!

June 3

The heat is intolerable. There are no trees. We swim in the sea every day. We are killing our best times here—what I could experience t home if there were not that damned war.

We are well off. We boil potatoes, make potato salad, and buy fruits and various things the Italians bring in from Sardinia. Much wine gets drunk here—one liter costs one lire—and we play cards. The Italians set up one central kitchen for the entire camp; theft is easier that way. Sergeants get extra macaroni and all the bacon. The rank and file get some ugly brew.

Nobody wants rice anymore. It used to sell for 50 cts. per cup, and now you have to give the men 10 cts. to make them eat it.

June 6

Strong winds brought a sandstorm to the isle. Everyone in my platoon has money, and I am penniless, although two payments are on the way. My platoon is ready to leave for France but Roubík, Ferdinandi, and I will stay.

June 10

The service is getting tough. We have to do pushups daily. The doctors were searched, and their papers and books were taken away. The suitcases of the parsons were seized. The Italians discovered that a Spanish barge used to come here with newspapers. The barges from Sardinia were prohibited to arrive here. The Italians are scared of German submarines.

We all must be in our tents after 8 in the evening, no fires and no smoking. The gendarmes patrol in the camp, breaking up any gatherings with sticks.

This is a trustworthy sign that the Italians are now bad off. It was the same in Serbia: When the Serbs were losing we felt it with our backs.

The Italians bargain with bacon that Nosek brings us from the storage.

The sunsets are beautiful here; I have never seen anything so beautiful and charming in my life. The nights with the moon are charming too.

June 12

The Italians rage like they are possessed. They discovered that reportedly our fellows signaled to the submarines at night. In the Indiana camp they searched the tents and arrested ten officers for espionage. They seized all their things and ripped the collars and sleeves of their coats to see what was hidden in there.

June 18

There is a great line-up every day. The Italians count us at 8:00 p.m. Smoking at night is forbidden, and those caught outside the camp lines will be shot immediately. We are listed for departure and fully equipped.

June 20

Intolerable heat. We received our wages up to today. It's Corpus Christi today. Everything must be blossoming back home, and here there is barren waste. All is burnt by the sun. Days pass by. We don't even know if it's Sunday. Remembering and longing in vain still. Will the day come when we break out of this slavery, free to enjoy the world in our homeland? I am ready to doubt that this will ever be.

June 23

The Italians read the lists of those who will leave. I am separated from Roubík and Ferdinandi. The Italians examine our underwear and our genitals. We were to leave today but no ship came. The mail works poorly now.

June 28

Finally money from home arrived. I got L25.90 out of the 36 crowns they sent. The next day money came from Kohn and Kornfeld from Ústí—I got L32 from 40 crowns. Ferdinandi got two parcels—food cans, cigarettes, chocolate. The Armenia and Regina Elena camps left. Dante got a new lieutenant who requires order and discipline from his Serbs and Croats.

July 2

Many parcels arrive daily but half of them are robbed. The Italians smoke Austrian cigars and cigarettes in public. The large ship Sinai came today but the departure was delayed again. We will leave tomorrow.

We got an order that all must embark. The sick—there are many of them—will use a great Red Cross ship. The guards took our blankets and gave us backpacks.

July 7

Today it is exactly 6 months since we landed on Asinara, and we are embarking on a journey to France. The ship is huge and is called the Seine.

Goodbye, Ass Isle. You hosted us for six months and did us much good but much more bad. Well, we swore at you a good deal, longing for the day when we would leave you. We were convinced we will be free people, but we are heading to be prisoners again. How will we do there?

The anchor is raised. I look back to say goodbye to our comrades beyond the white wall under the green grass. You poor ones. This is where you found the peace that everyone was looking forward to so much. Sleep tight. The tide will tell you about your distant homeland, and we will bring your greetings to it.

We are leaving the bay slowly. The isle is getting smaller. The last contours disappear in an hour.


  1. To eat
  2. Chef.
  3. Latrine rumors.
  4. Volunteers.
  5. A tradition in of celebrating the date associated with one's given name based on calendar a of saints.
  6. Food.
  7. Sergeant.
  8. Purpose of the list is unknown
  9. A salary.
  10. Mrs. Kohn and Mrs. Kornfeld—wives of former employers.
  11. František Šaroch who is reported dead earlier
  12. Josef's sister.
  13. War salary.
  14. Attention
  15. Camp commander
  16. Austrians.