Friday, June 25, 2010

Dr. Michael I. Pupin pledged all his worldly possessions and stood to lose all that he had...

Dr. Mihajlo (Michael) Pupin

Aleksandra's Note: Helen Losanitch Frothingham was a young woman in her twenties, living in Belgrade, Serbia when World War I began and her beloved city was assaulted by the Austrians. Her family, like the Serbian government, left for Nish, south of Belgrade. She was living in Nish when, in November of 1914, she was appointed the Serbian Red Cross delegate to America to enlist help for her homeland. The war was only four months old, and the worst was still to come for her people, though no one knew that at the time. She left for America in January of 1915 to begin her six year service on behalf of war relief for Serbia and the Serbs. Over a six year period, between 1915 and 1920, she wrote letters to her sister and her family, keeping them updated on her experiences. These letters, an amazing personal record of an extraordinary life which, fortunately, were saved by her family, were published in the book "Mission for Serbia: Letters from America and Canada" in 1970, 50 years later.

Here I would like to highlight not Helen herself, but another Serb who left a great impression on her. Though many have heard of him and know his name, and he is a renowned historical figure in the world of "Inventions", Physics, and Chemistry, I don't know how many know of a pledge that he made during WWI on behalf of his countrymen, thousands of miles away, which reflects so perfectly what kind of man Dr. Mihajlo (Michael) Pupin was and just how big a heart he had.

I'm grateful to Helen Losanitch Frothingham for documenting this revelation about the nature of the Serbian character as is exemplified by one of Serbia's finest sons.


Aleksandra Rebic


January 1, 1919
New York

"These past weeks were such stormy ones for me that I just could not write you. But now, after an endless period of indecision, our committee has finally voted to use all the funds on deposit here to care for our war orphans...

"Now we are in the process of reorganizing the committee and have a friend of Mr. Plimpton's, the Dr. Dutton whom I had met at Walpole, acting as temporary chairman until a permanent one can be found. Our immediate task is to purchase everything needed to establish our orphanage and to look for Americans to staff it. I shall, of course, go with the mission.

"Now that I've brought you up to date on our committee's plans for the future, I want to tell you something of my life in New York since returning from Washington...

"Of course I saw Professor Pupin frequently at all those turbulent committee meetings, and I had lunch with him a few days ago. He told me that he had recently attended a banquet given at Sherry's in honor of Dr. Masaryk (the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia 1919-1935), at which he had been seated next to an American admiral. In the course of conversation with him, the admiral had suddenly turned to Pupin and said, 'I think you Serbs are the finest people in the world.' This remark touched Pupin greatly and it reminds me of something I have been meaning for a long time to tell you about him.

"When our Serbian troops were assembled on the Salonika front preparing for the push north to liberate Serbia, a Serbian puchasing mission was in the United States to buy much-needed munitions and other war materials for this action. But the American businessmen whom they approached in this matter were naturally reluctant to fill orders without some guarantee of payment. How could they trade with representatives of a country under enemy occupation or with a government in exile on a small Greek island in the Mediterranean? When Pupin heard of the mission's difficulties, he came forward and personally pledged all his worldly possessions as security for the payment of supplies to be ordered. I shall never forget the expression on his face as he told me this. I think few of our people knew about this magnificent act, which, to me, is a measure of this man's greatness and his devotion to his native land. If our troops had not been successful in those last battles, Pupin stood to lose all that he had. You can see now why the admiral's remark about what fine people the Serbs are reminded me of this act of Pupin's."

Helen Losanitch Frothingham


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