History of the cemetery

The POW camp in Milovice was not established independently like some other POW camps, but on the territory of the military training ground near Milovice (at that time it was written almost exclusively military training ground near Old Venice).

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Austro-Hungarian government considered the establishment of a military training ground for all types of weapons in Bohemia, because the monarchy had only one training ground of an appropriate nature at its disposal, namely in Hajmaskér in Hungary. This training ground was intended mainly for training in artillery sharpshooting.

Negotiations on the establishment of a military training ground near Milovice began in 1903 by establishing contacts with the owners of land and real estate located on the future territory of the military training ground. In 1904, purchase contracts were concluded with the individual owners of these properties.

The village of Mladá, located almost in the middle of the training ground, was evicted. The territory on which the military training ground was established previously belonged to Prince Thun-Hohensten. The area originally measured 35 km2, later the training ground was expanded.

The training ground was mainly intended for the training of units of the 8th and 9th corps, which were units of all weapons, stationed in Bohemia. The construction of the first camp was started soon after the land was bought from the original owners – the peasants. The I. camp was built on a gentle slope and located facing southeast. The barracks were brick, made of white brick, one-story, and 43 of them were built. The camp had a hospital and an isolation pavilion, built for this purpose at a greater distance from the other buildings. There were also stables for horses, various workshops and baths.

The barracks were temporarily occupied by training units that were in Milovice for live fire training. At that time, electricity, water supply and sewage had not yet been installed in the camp.

During the first three months of the war, i.e. from August to October, 5,000 prisoners of war, mostly Russian and Serbian at the time, were housed in the barracks in Camp I. The Austro-Hungarian army was forced to start building new barracks for prisoners of war in the fall.

To the west of the existing camp No. I, a POW camp – camp No. II – was built on slightly sloping terrain. 101 barracks were built in it. They were wooden, the walls covered with cardboard, the floor was made of bricks. Peasants with wagons were hired for the construction, and Russian prisoners of war were also used for the work. The barracks were 30 to 45 m long and 10 m wide. 220-300 men were accommodated in one barrack.

Another change occurred with the declaration of war between Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1915. Another POW camp was built, namely Camp No. III, northeast of Camp No. I. In this camp, 46 barracks of the same type as in Camp No. II were built. According to the annual report of the POW camp in Milovice, the number of prisoners of war on June 19, 1915 was a total of 25,391 men.

Austria-Hungary was a signatory to all agreements, conventions and conventions related to the law of war, especially the Hague Convention and the Geneva Red Cross Agreements, which related to prisoners of war and the protection of wounded and sick soldiers of the warring parties. The circulars of the Reich Ministry of War ordered the headquarters of all levels to strictly observe these conventions and agreements, especially the headquarters of the POW camps.

Captured officers did not have to work, similarly captured non-commissioned officers by profession and longer serving non-commissioned officers were not subject to work duty. One-year volunteers and students could be assigned to physical work only at their express request. Otherwise, they were eligible for office work, in hospitals, etc. Captured doctors were not de facto considered prisoners of war.

As the number of wounded and sick prisoners increased, 10 barracks in the POW camp – outside the garrison hospital – were gradually converted into hospital barracks, the other 2 barracks were designated as infectious departments.

The prevailing diagnoses of the sick were: pneumonia, meningitis, diseases of the digestive tract, heart weakness, edema, tuberculosis, typhus, Spanish flu, purpura hemorrhagica, general exhaustion due to war hardships, cholera and others. Compared to the Russian prisoners of war, who were both more used to cold weather and the psychology of the Russians was also different, the Italian prisoners of war were afflicted by an unusual cold for them and they endured captivity more difficult than the Russians and the Serbian prisoners of war. The number of deaths of Italian prisoners of war was sometimes low – 3 to 4 patients in one day, but in some periods as many as 35 died per day.

At first they were buried individually in coffins, later in mass graves and without a coffin. The Catholic priest from Milovice, Pavel Svankmaier, was present at the funeral of all the Italian dead.

Burials began at the military cemetery in 1915. Its area is 5,000 m2 and, according to reports, 5,094 Italian prisoners of war are buried there (the number varies, other documents indicate the number is 5,176). In 1927, the remains of another 182 Italian prisoners of war, who were transported from the military cemetery of the then POW camp in Broumov, were buried at the military cemetery. Furthermore, 2 Frenchmen, 527 inhabitants of the Russian Empire and 144 Austro-Hungarian soldiers were buried here. Between 1919 and 1939, 35 Czechoslovak, 38 German and 10 Russian soldiers were buried at the military cemetery, as well as 4 women and 2 children who could not be further identified.

The Italian Military Cemetery was founded in February 1915, burials were held here until 1945. Soldiers of various armies, nationalities and religions are buried in the cemetery: there are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim monuments. In total, about 6,500 soldiers are buried here.
Most of the graves date from the First World War, when a POW camp was located nearby. The most numerous are Italians (about 5,200), which is why this place is referred to as the “Italian Cemetery”. But also 527 Russian, 224 Czech, 49 Hungarian, 40 Polish, 6 Romanian and 4 Austrian soldiers rest here. In 1929, 60 Serbian soldiers were moved to the mausoleum in Jindřichovice.

Most of the Italians died towards the end of the war in 1918 from malnutrition and disease epidemics that spread in the prison camp. In 1917, soldiers were still buried in individual graves, after Christmas the numbers began to grow so much that mass graves were created, in which several dozen soldiers usually lie. During February, daily Italian deaths rose to 70 soldiers per day, and these high numbers were maintained throughout March and into mid-April. Only then did the numbers gradually begin to decrease. The last Italian soldier was buried here in November 1918. Italian graves in the cemetery are symbolized by 252 white crosses.

After the war, between 1918 and 1939, 49 Czechoslovak soldiers were still buried in the cemetery. In 1927, the remains of 182 Italian prisoners of war from Broumov were allegedly moved here. During the Second World War, the remains of members of the Wehrmacht were buried here, but they were later exhumed and transferred to the German cemetery in Mariánské Lázně. In 1945, 12 Soviet soldiers were also buried here, to whom a monument under the trees near the museum is dedicated.

The first memorial to Italian soldiers dedicated by the Italian public and the government – a monument with a black granite slab – was unveiled in the cemetery on 25 May 1920. The large central monument was then built two years later thanks to the local and Italian authorities and was solemnly consecrated on 29 October 1922.
The cemetery has not been cared for since the 1950s, and with the arrival of the Soviet occupation troops in 1968, the territory was essentially inaccessible.

It wasn’t until 1991 that the cemetery was returned to the city of Milovice and subsequently handed over to the administration of the Embassy of Italy. In 2003–2004, the Ministry of Defense of Italy carried out an expensive renovation: the old wooden crosses were replaced by white Carrara marble crosses, a small museum dedicated to the history of the local POW camp was built on the premises, landscaping was carried out, trees were planted and the cemetery was newly fenced. Every year in autumn, a commemorative ceremony is held on the spot with the participation of representatives of the Embassy of Italy, the city of Milovice, the Czech and Italian Ministries of Defense and Czech and Italian citizens.