Lifestyle images from the era of World War I

One of the biggest wars of world history was the First World War, in which 70 million soldiers participated, and it ended with the death of more than 15 million people and the re-division of the colonial- and interest systems of the period. In this week’s exhibition, we are introducing photos from the period of the World War I, selected mainly from the archives of the Hungarian Franciscan Library and Archives.


104_cm_hosszcsv_lveg.jpg Cannon firing - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY

The direct casus belli for the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo. However, the real reason of it is still debated among historians. War activities started with the Austrian-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia.

“If you think about where this world-shaking war that covers our land with its bloody veil came from, you can realize that the first starting point was the Balkans. In the two big Balkan wars, the European great powers, especially Austria-Hungary and Russia, had to commit themselves and then this triggered a certain tension between the two countries naturally. The tension coming from the conflict of interests in Balkan affaires was latent for many years; diplomats tried settling the conflicts and softening the tension in vain.” – 1915. Tolnavármegye és a Közérdek (periodical magazine).

Germans and Austrians wanted it, only Hungarians objected to the war

SMS_Erzherzog_Karl.jpgH.M.S. Erzherzog Karl, battleship of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY

In his manifesto to people, Franz Joseph I of Austria referred to hostile practices of Kingdom of Serbia and dangers threatening the state order of the Monarchy.

The machinations of a hateful opponent force me, after long years of peace, to take up arms to protect the honour of my monarchy, to safeguard its reputation and its authority. (…) So I must proceed by force of arms to make the pledges essential in ensuring the internal peace and the lasting external peace of my country. At this solemn hour I am fully aware of the importance of my decision and my responsibility before the Almighty. I have verified and considered everything. It is with a clear conscience that I tread the path that it is my duty to follow. I trust in my people, who have always gathered round my throne in harmony and loyalty in times of hardship and have always been prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the honour, greatness and strength of the Fatherland. I trust in the devotion and enthusiasm of Austria-Hungary's brave armed forces. And I trust in the Almighty, that He will grant me victory in the fight.” – 28 July, 1914. (Details from the transcript at www.


Ruined cemetery - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY 

Nmet_mozsrlveg.jpgLoading of a German cannon - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY 

German Emperor Wilhelm II committed himself to the war as well. The only politician in power, who opposed to the war, was the Hungarian Prime Minister István Tisza. He thought that if the Serbs belonged to the Monarchy, it would decrease the Hungarian influence in the empire, and on the other hand, in case of defeat, the Monarchy would disintegrate inevitably. Finally, he was right. Although the military leaderships of the opposing parties on both sides were convinced that they could win with a fast offensive and manoeuvres could end within six months, the war led to a four-year bloody combat eventually. If naming the reasons for the war – maybe slightly over-simplified –, one can mention the collision of imperial interests and greed, as period authors wrote about it:

This war is an economic war undeniably; it is like two children falling out over a piece of fallen walnut. Esteeming the value of the walnut is the casus belli, the gourmandism and incapability of renouncing, as a result of degeneracy gives the energy to the fight; the stronger one brings down the weaker one and gets the walnut, the value. The other one gets a broken nose.” – 1917, Esztergom (Political and social weekly periodical magazine)

Olasz_front_b.jpgSoldier among ruins at the Italian battlefront - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY

Regarding the death toll, we do not have punctual data, but according to estimations, it was between 9 and 17 million. Other estimations counted 16 million deaths from which 9 million were soldiers and 7 million were civilians. However, most people did not die in military actions but due to the genocide and flu epidemic. Including those numbers, we can count with further 50-100 million victims. The period press reported on the various actions naturally:

The Times reports from the British headquarters: The artillery fire, which started on the whole battlefront at half past five in the morning on Friday, was rather fierce. Germans erected their cannons at a distance of 10-14 metres, and also put many mortars in the trenches. The bombing of our front positions is among the most violent gunfights in this war so far. The distance that cannon fire could reach is also unprecedented. Not only the first trenches and spare positions were under gunfire, but also the areas far behind them, several towns and villages. The enemy fired so far that could be done only with large-calibre, rapid-fire cannons. Here, we are facing the largest-quantity artillery ammunition accumulation till now.” – 1918. Szatmári Újság


At the entanglements - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


Damaged buildings in the streets of Gorizia  - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


Cannons firing on board of H.M.S. Viribus Unitis battleship - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


His Majesy's Battle fleet - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY

The Order, the Library and the war press photos

There are many photos in the collection of the Hungarian Franciscan Library, which were taken during the World War. The Library collects material related to the Franciscan Order most of all. A speciality of the Order is in its story that stands against greed as a kind of counter-culture, counter-example. According to the anecdote, it was established because the born-rich Saint Francis of Assisi (his original birth name is Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone) chose poverty instead of wealth voluntarily.KF_8890_03.jpg

Francis came from a rich Italian clothes merchant family, but thought that wealth hinders him in finding the real Christianity. After leaving behind his heritage and family, he started preaching and living the life of the poor. His faith and astonishing example convinced many people. His followers arrived in Hungary in the 1200s.

The photographer of the Franciscan Order took many photos that could be categorized nowadays as press photos mostly. For example, photos of the battleships of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, a capsized German plane, bombed Italian buildings and ravaged cemeteries or the train wreck of Vác. The majority of images were taken by imperial and royal reservist artilleryman Zoltán Jeney.


Soldiers' cinema - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


A German plane in an unusual position - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


Flying Austro-Hungarian hydroplane - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


Railway catastrophe in Vác - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


His Majesty's Battle fleet (S.M. Kriegsflotte) - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


 Birch casino at the military post - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND


A hydroplane in the bay of the airport Fasana - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY

 Erdélyi Károly

Translated by Zita Aknai



More thematic virtual exhibitions