File No. 763.72/1463
The Ambassador in Austria-Hungary (Penfield) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 16.]
Sir: Beginning with the note of the Austro-Hungarian Government to Servia, termed in diplomacy and by writers as “the ultimatum,” I am preserving in their sequence all documents and official utterances bearing upon the Dual Monarchy’s connection with the great conflict; and when completed this voluminous despatch will be forwarded to the Department to take its place with the official literature dealing with the world conflict originating with the assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.
A despatch devoted to side lights and conditions in Vienna at the close of the sixth month of the war may have some value as a document of information and find a place in the Department’s archives. Hence I have the honor to give the subjoined mélange, with an apology for the lightness of hand with which it is prepared and for a lack of continuity that is only too apparent.[Page 11]
Persons dwelling in Vienna enjoying no means of securing newspapers printed in other countries naturally can have no real knowledge of the development and events of the war. All journals published in the realm have from the first been subjected to a rigorous censorship, a control that is responsible for keeping the people in entire ignorance. But little information save that of victories of the Zweibund has been permitted to run the gauntlet of the censor; and as Austria-Hungary has had practically no successes, these have necessarily been confined to Germany’s victories on land and sea—and in the air. Defeats have seldom been spoken of in the public prints of the Dual Monarchy, and then not until days after the events, and probably printed only to allay ominous rumors.
When a greater part of Galicia had fallen into Russian hands, the retirement from Lemberg was naively spoken of in the newspapers as “a regrouping of forces for strategic reasons.” The first two defeats in Servia were wholly ignored, and the rout, resulting in the stampede from Belgrade was not touched upon until a week after the occurrence, and was then dealt with in four or five lines to the effect that the troops had retired in good order from the Servian capital “without firing a shot.” It might have been stated as well that they entered Belgrade without firing a shot.
For months there were no correspondents in Austria and if there had been they could have telegraphed not a word, or sent anything by post save letters telling of commonplace events. With foreign papers forbidden admission to the country, these rules have naturally produced a condition of absolute isolation and ignorance of events, and may furnish justification for a communication dealing in a rambling manner with what I have termed “side lights and conditions.”
The week in which war was declared Emperor Francis Joseph prorogued the Austrian Reichstag for the period of the conflict. By this decree the control of the Government passed unrestrictedly to the Emperor under what is known as “Section Fourteen” of the Constitution. Months before war was dreamed of, the Reichstag, it should be known, had broken up in a racial row producing a deadlock to legislation, and the members had been sent home.
All classes seem heartily tired of the war, and wish it might immediately end, if peace could come with national honor. The conflict was never popular with the masses, and the street demonstrations when the war was being embarked upon appeared to lack spontaneity. It was said that these demonstrations were engineered by persons close to the War Ministry or to the military caste ever anxious for service. Whatever the feeling six months ago, the war is to-day regarded with much disfavor. In Vienna the people revere the Emperor to such an extent that outspoken disapproval of the war would be regarded as proof of disloyalty to Francis Joseph. But at Prague and other places in Czechish Bohemia the campaign is openly denounced and called the “playing of Germany’s game for Germany’s sole benefit.” In Budapest there are varying currents of criticism of the campaign, and decided dissatisfaction is reported from Fiume. In Trieste it is known there have been several street demonstrations having an undisguised pro-Italian significance. Somebody has figured the cost of the war to Austria-Hungary [Page 12] as 50,000,000 kronen a day, and the belief is expressed frequently that if the drain continues for another six months the Dual Monarchy, whatever the political outcome of the great struggle, will be financially ruined.
Vienna has presented but few vivid pictures of the war since the first mobilization in July. Every street group has an admixture of the military, but no great bodies of soldiery are seen and little martial music is heard. In the Prater and other open spaces recruits are daily put through their paces, and commands are always to be seen at the railway stations of the lines leading to Galicia and Servia. The capital is surrounded by a series of newly made earthworks, varying from five to eight miles out of the city. These are fashioned on modern principles and have all the adjuncts of screened rifle pits and barbed-wire entanglements. Any thoroughfare leading to Vienna intercepts many of these constructions and a layman must be impressed by the employment of millions of yards of barbed wire.
Wounded men are omnipresent in Vienna streets. While these are mostly convalescents, the hospitals are crowded to repletion with hordes of ill and wounded from the battle fronts. At one time it was said that in Vienna alone there were 70,000 wounded, with half as many more at Baden and other suburbs. Counting the improvised hospitals in public buildings, the numerous Red Cross establishments, and the small hospitals conducted by private charity, the number of hospitals in Vienna has grown with the war to a hundred or more, perhaps to a hundred and fifty. The American Red Cross Hospital is located in a modern school building in a suburb, and has accommodations for about two hundred patients. It is admitted to be an establishment well equipped and admirably conducted. From experts I have heard many encomiums of praise of the model American Red Cross Hospital.
Cared for in Vienna and its suburbs are hundreds of thousands of refugees from Galicia, Poland and Bukowina. Nearly all these are penniless and a charge upon the Government. Such persons as escaped with funds from the frontier provinces are housed in Vienna hotels and lodging houses. Most of the refugees are hopelessly ruined by the war, with members of their families dead or lost track of.
The most conspicuous refugee in Vienna is His Highness Abbas Pasha, whom the British have deposed as Khedive of Egypt.
I can state with belief that His Majesty the Emperor has been in perfect health throughout the period of hostilities, notwithstanding the oft-repeated report in American and British newspapers that he was seriously ill, with life despaired of. A week or two since, the Grand Marshal of the Court, the Prince Montenuovo, assured me that His Apostolic Majesty was in better health than in two or three years; and a few days since, the newly appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs, with whom I had an interview just as he had come from a conference at Schönbrunn, informed me that the Monarch was in perfect health and even enjoying “high spirits.” Although in his eighty-sixth year the Emperor Francis Joseph is intent upon conducting the war almost single-handed from his bureau at Schönbrunn, He begins his labors by five o’clock in the morning. Critics of the way in which things have gone throughout the war insist that matters in which Austria-Hungary does not figure as successful are [Page 13] seldom communicated to the Emperor, but this statement has little basis of truth.
The heir to the throne, the Archduke Karl Franz Joseph, is at the headquarters near the front, serving as an aide to the army’s Commander in Chief, the Archduke Friedrich.
The four American military “observers” are at the front. Two of these, Major Ford and Captain Mclntyre, were with the army operating in Servia and were among the last to escape from Belgrade when King Peter’s troops routed their adversaries. The Americans were in the last boat to cross the river and were fired upon, but at such long range that the Servian bullets could not reach them. The military attaché of the Embassy has recently for a fortnight been at the fighting front in Galicia, but the naval attaché, arriving after the Austro-Hungarian Fleet had for safety taken refuge behind the hills of Pola, has been able to see nothing dealing with his branch of the profession of arms.
With the flotation of a war loan a few weeks since Austro-Hungarian finance is regarded as satisfactorily sound for some time to come. Nearly $500,000,000 was raised by popular subscription, but at the burdensome rate of 5.75 per cent interest. American credits command a premium in financial circles of the realm approximating 10 per cent.
Asiatic cholera has prevailed in a small way for months throughout the Monarchy, but it is believed to be under control and in no sense a menace to public health. It is brought from the Russian frontier by wounded men and refugees who have been subjected to privations and unsanitary conditions. The authorities expect a visitation of smallpox in the spring in a pronounced form, as it is said always to follow war. In Vienna there has been a house-to-house vaccination campaign and every precaution is being taken to cope with the disease when it makes its appearance.
Since December 1, acting under a governmental order, bakers are permitted to employ but 70 per cent of wheat in the making of bread. The admixture is rye, barley, or other cereal. It is known that Hungary can furnish all the wheat needed for months to come, but it is considered prudent to conserve the staple against a short crop this year resulting from a diminution of labor.
For months there has been no social life in Vienna, or at least the few entertainments regarded as obligatory in official and diplomatic circles are robbed of all display and never spoken of in the newspapers. Theaters are open and doing a good business at popular prices. They mainly produce war dramas. The cafés seem to be well patronized, but this is explained by the fact that the café is an essential element of Vienna existence, inasmuch as hundreds of thousands of petty officials and commercial people live in economical lodgings and go to cafes for food and social intercourse. Their expenditures in these times are obviously limited to the bare necessities of life. Few foreigners are seen about hotels and restaurants, and on the street the languages of England and France are taboo. Now and then an American is harshly reprimanded for speaking a language thought to belong only to persons from the British Isles. There is great and ever-growing hatred of perfidious Albion, which has reached such a pitch that the enmity against France tends to diminish.[Page 14]
English and French words have disappeared from signboards in the business quarter, and an Austrian would resent a bill of fare printed in French.
Every device for raising money for all conceivable purposes germane to the war, from the direct contribution to the ingeniously indirect abstraction, has been exploited. Fashionables and persons reputed to be well-to-do have not been able to escape for a day the appeals of members of society for monetary assistance. Benefit concerts and theatricals, of course, are nightly occurrences. Scarcely a woman, from members of the Imperial family to wives of small functionaries, has failed to enroll as worker in the Red Cross or other helpful organizations. All hospitals swarm with women voluntarily acting as nurses, and their work is as earnest and patriotic as that of the peasant soldier on the firing line.
One of the most prolific measures for raising money for war uses is the “gold for iron” movement. In Vienna a depot has been in operation since the beginning of hostilities where patriotic persons stand in line to contribute to the public needs their gold ornaments and discarded jewels. A favorite gift is the gold wedding ring, for which one of plain iron is given, and this inexpensive ornament is proudly worn as a badge of devotion to country. In Vienna this form of prolific giving has gathered gold and precious stones to the value of more than $300,000, it is stated. Elsewhere, at Budapest, Prague, and Pressburg, the “gold for iron” idea has produced golden results.
In the matter of food supplies Vienna has nearly preserved normal conditions. There has been a small advance in the cost of standard articles, say from 10 to 12 per cent. Certain luxuries coming from foreign lands have disappeared from the shops. A rigid boycott has been declared against French wines. Salt is becoming dearer as a consequence of the drafts of soldiers from the salt-mining districts. Pork and all swine products have risen by 40 or 50 per cent, owing to the Russian seizure of the Bukowina province. The rise in food prices has made its influence felt in expenditures of the poor class, what may be termed minor luxuries having been curtailed or entirely abolished. Since the beginning of the war the mayor of Vienna has sternly opposed every effort to unduly advance prices or to hoard supplies.
Most automobiles and taxicabs have for months been commandeered by the Government, and to obtain a tire for private use requires an amount of influence.
As already stated in this despatch, the desire for peace is on every one’s lips—“peace with honor,” the tactful express it. High and low all want peace. Persons speaking retrospectively state that Austria-Hungary has embarked on a one-sided conflict, a war that can bring no material advantage even were the Emperor-King’s arms to succeed. It is claimed that the campaign, sapping the nation by $10,000,000 a day, if kept up at the present rate for a year, would reduce the Monarchy to a state of exhaustion. The loss of the major part of Galicia seems to be accepted by the thoughtful Austro-Hungarian. The chagrin over the last debacle in Servia will always rankle in the heart of Francis Joseph’s followers. The losses in Galicia, critics of intelligence maintain, came from being unable to cope with a vastly superior force. The Servian defeats, [Page 15] terminating with the stampede from Belgrade after the fourteen days’ occupation, they insist were the fruits of unpreparedness and overconfidence. Several generals having to do with the campaign against Servia have been relegated to private life by the Emperor’s command. The newspapers give “ill health” as the reason for these unfortunate officers going into private life.
The total number of soldiers already placed in the field by Austria-Hungary cannot definitely be learned. But the consensus of opinion in military circles is that the number ranges between 2,225,000 and 2,500,000 men. Fresh calls for troops come with remarkable frequency. As this despatch is being prepared the report is current that Germany has sent as many as 200,000 trained Bavarian soldiers into Francis Joseph’s realm, to reinforce the army proceeding against Servia and to guard the Italian frontier in that part of Austria called the Trentino. The statement is not denied that German troops have strongly reenforced the Austrian defense in the Carpathians, and that the command there has passed into the hands of German officers.
In Austria there are now very few native Americans. For six months our citizens have been filtering out of the country and those who remain are doing so from choice. There may be two hundred to two hundred and fifty native Americans now in Austria—business people, sojourners in the Tyrol, theological students at Innsbruck, etc.
The moratorium has again been extended, this time from February 1 to May 31. The Vienna Bourse has been closed since the outbreak of war.
I have [etc.]