An Austrian Jewish Soldier’s World War I Diary

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.

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More about: Austria-Hungary, Austrian Jewry, History & Ideas, Jews in the military, World War I

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy