The Siege of Przemyśl during World War 1
The Siege of Przemyśl was the longest siege of the First World War and a crushing defeat for Austria-Hungary against the Russian attackers.
Przemyśl (German: Premissel) was a fortress town on the River San and a Galician stronghold.
The investment of Przemyśl began on 16 September 1914 and was briefly suspended on 11 October, due to an Austro-Hungarian offensive.
The siege resumed again on 9 November, and the Austro-Hungarian garrison surrendered on 22 March 1915, after holding out for a total of 133 days.
Diaries and notebooks kept by various people in the town have survived.
The diary of Josef Tomann, an Austrian recruited into military service as a junior doctor, reveals the results of the activities of garrison officers:
“The hospitals have been recruiting teenage girls as nurses. They get 120 crowns a month and free meals. They are, with very few exceptions, utterly useless.
Their main job is to satisfy the lust of the gentlemen officers and, rather shamefully, of a number of doctors, too.
New officers are coming in almost daily with cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and soft chancre.
The poor girls and women feel so flattered when they get chatted up by one of these pestilent pigs in their spotless uniforms, with their shiny boots and buttons.”
Other accounts reveal the pervasive presence of starvation and disease, including cholera, and the diary of Helena Jablonska, a middle-aged, quite wealthy Polish woman, reveals class and anti-semitic and racial tensions in the town;
“The Jewish women in basements rip you off the worst”, and on March 18, 1915 – “The Jews are taking their shop signs down in a hurry, so that no one can tell who owns what.
They’ve all got so rich off the backs of those poor soldiers, and now of course they all want to run away!”
Once the Russians arrived in March the fate of the Jews worsened and she noted:
“The Cossacks waited until the Jews set off to the synagogue for their prayers before setting upon them with whips.
There are such lamenting and despair.
Some Jews are hiding in cellars, but they’ll get to them there too.”