July 28th marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War which later came to be known as World War I. On this date in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia – exactly a month the Austrian heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his Czech wife Sofie Chotek were assassinated in Sarajevo. The conflict would eventually draw in Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain and other nations.
On the 100th anniversary of the start of WW I, public broadcaster Czech TV travelled to towns in Serbia which fell to Austro-Hungary in the conflict, including Rudnik, where Czech and Slovak soldiers, as part of the Empire, also fought. Local amateur historian Mončilo Paumovič, showed Czech TV unique photographs of the town under Austrian control, taken by a lieutenant colonel who had been born in Bohemia. The photos were obtained by the amateur historian earlier this year, over the internet, from a previous owner based in London. Some of the photographs in the collection show the lieutenant colonel himself. Here’s how amateur historian, Mončilo Paumovič, described it:
“This is a photograph of the Czech-born lieutenant colonel in the Austrian-Hungarian army whose name was Dočkal. He lived in Rodnik with his family… I simply couldn’t resist acquiring these – whatever the price. I paid because I needed to have them.”
Even today, in Serbia there are monuments remembering the fallen on both sides. According to local legend, many Czechs who fought in the area of Kragujevac, south of Belgrade, refused to fire against their Serb opponents, and were themselves shot along with the Serbians they were meant to be fighting. Historian Nenad Djordjevic of the city museum in Kragujevac told Czech TV that there were many cases where Czechs deserted from the Austro-Hungarian army to fight on the Serbian ie. Slav side.
During the Great War one million Czechs were called up, with many fighting on the Serbian front as well as in Italy and Russia. One hundred and thirty-eight thousand never returned. Among the Serbs, the numbers were even more horrific:
“The kingdom of Serbia suffered enormous losses: 1.2 million people died. A horrendous number - that was a quarter of the population.” For information about new or ongoing exhibitions related to WWI, look up velkavalka.cz on the internet.