In February 1917, a Viennese Jewish accountant named Karl Klein was conscripted into the Hapsburg army and fought on the Italian front, stationed high in the Alps. The following November, he participated in the Battle of Caporetto—famously depicted by Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms. Klein also recorded his experiences in a diary, which has now found its way to Israel’s National Library. An excerpt:
Today is the eve of Rosh Hashanah. I think glumly about this joyous festival, in the forsaken corner with the destroyed houses. I have not even received any news from home. I sadly ponder my future destiny. In an hour’s time we will take our positions and spend the night there—as usual—almost sleeplessly in a dank and cold cave. God! When will you put an end to this miserable life? This terrifying question does not leave my thoughts. Will I ever again live a regular life as a civilian?
The archivist Stefan Litt writes:
The weeks and months passed with oscillations of the front, training, and attempts to improve the daily diet—until mid-November 1917. During the massive Austrian attack on the Italian front, Karl Klein’s battle hour arrived as well. Klein describes the events of November 11 and 12, the days in which he was personally involved in the fighting, in great detail. From the description of these days in his memoirs we can feel the level of fear Klein felt during the battles. Several of his comrades from the unit fell, and others were injured.
From a military perspective, these were successful days for the Austro-Hungarian army’s war effort. In the fall of 1917 the soldiers managed to capture more areas in Italy, a fact Klein does not expressly mention.
Two decades later, Klein fled Nazi Austria for England and in World War II enlisted in the British army to fight against Germany and Austria.