The enemy is us. And our Christmas, or rather our Christmas postcards sent home from the Austro-Hungarian side of the Isonzo front, have just been presented from Advent to Twelfth Day on the Italian side of the same front, in the exhibition Auguri dal Fronte, “Greetings from the Front”, at the Palazzo Corner Mocenigo in Venice, by the Cats Museum of Cattaro/Kotor. As this Christmas is already passing the sign of field posts here at río Wang, let us, in its final hours, present the selection published from the exhibition by the Gazzetta di Cattaro, before it eventually disappears in the bottomless rumen of Facebook.
The Cattaro collection can be also supplemented by the Christmas selection of the Polish FB group Życie codzienne żołnierza piechoty Austro-Węgier (Everydays of the Austro-Hungarian soldiers). Perhaps not from the same front, but the same centrally printed postcards, in all the languages of the Monarchy.
The “Christmas of the enemy” evokes the story noted by Captain Imre Laky in his diary on Christmas 1914, during the siege of the fortress of Przemyśl by the Russians. The story, reminding us of the spontaneous Christmas fraternizations at the Western front, and quoted first by the Nagy Háború blog, then revived by the 444 portal for the centenary, tells about how besiegers and besieged gave Christmas gifts to each other.
“The Russians behaved quite gentleman-like. Despite our expectations, they did not let off a single shot throughout the Christmas holidays. What’s more, they sent Christmas greetings and gifts, as well. It so happened that, during the night, they hung up a great bag on the branch of a dry tree standing between the outposts.
The soldiers in the camp wondered with burning curiosity the entire day: what can be in the bag? As soon as night fell, an enterprising person went out for it. First he just walked around it, like a cat a hot meal or a mouse a mousetrap, but then he pulled it down with a pole. It did not explode. He lifted and dragged the heavy burden along to the camp. It was filled with freshly baked loaves, canned meat and fish, and it even included a German-language Christmas greeting in verse, in which the Russian artillery officers and soldiers confronting us wished us all the best.
At first we did not want to believe the sly-as-a-fox enemy, but when we saw that our stray dog, who joined the battalion, was eating the bread and the canned meat thrown to it as a test, we partook in the gift. And we decided to reciprocate the greetings for New Year.”
So much humanity, so much mutual goodwill and respect, so much love of the family, friends, hearth and home. I just do not understand why the war was necessary for all that.
Christmas of officers on the Russian front, 1915. From the Nagy Háború blog