Saturday, June 4, 2011

How the Serbs treat their prisoners of war



Dr. Archibald Rudolph Reiss


Aleksandra's Note: Three proverbs capture the essential nature of how things work in the Balkans. They are: "History repeats itself", "The first casualty of war is truth", and "What's old is new again". The more one researches the history of the Balkans the more one becomes struck with just how relevant the past is to today's events. The unfortunate thing about this phenomenon is that those in power and the policymakers and the historians and journalists who evaluate what is going on presently never seem to pay attention to the fact that the same lies keep repeating themselves. It seems they are not even aware that they are repeating the same lies established long before any current sophisticated and modern methods of propagandizing were developed.  Or are they, indeed, very aware? 

Anyone following current 21st century events with regards to the Serbs who happens to care about "the truth" will be struck at just how relevant the observations made and conclusions drawn by a professional German criminologist almost 100 years ago remain today.

The question I have is this: Why are some observers willing to see beyond the propaganda in evaluating the realities of war and the conduct of the players involved and others are not willing to do so. Is it because it requires more time and effort to go beyond the manufactured boilerplate conclusions? Or is it that once an agenda is established nothing will be allowed to get in the way of bringing that agenda to fruition, least of all "the truth". 

Dr. R. A. Reiss was one of those observers willing to see beyond...

Archibald  Rudolph Reiss was born in Germany in 1875. After high school, he moved to Switzerland to pursue his higher education. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry and became an expert forensic scientist, becoming a professor of
forensic science at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in 1906.

With the advent of World War One, he found a new calling. Invited by the Serbian government to investigate the crimes committed against the Serbs by the occupying Central Powers, Dr. Reiss would end up extensively documenting his findings in two reports. The first, "Report upon the atrocities committed by the Austro-Hungarian army during the first invasion of Serbia" was written in 1915 and published in 1916, focusing on the crimes committed by the Austro-Hungarians against the Serbs during their invasion and occupation of Serbia in the first few months of World War One in 1914. The second Reiss report focused on the second round of the invasion and occupation of Serbia and crimes committed against the Serbs which began in 1915, this time by the combined forces of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Germany. This second report, "Infringement of the Rules and and Laws of War committed by the Austro-Bulgaro-Germans: Letters of a Criminologist on the Serbian Macedonian Front", was published in 1919.

Below is a portion of the first report specifically documenting the testimonies of Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war in the custody of the Serbs, their mortal enemy, whom they had sought to vanquish and upon whom they had committed atrocity after atrocity in just a few short months in 1914. They had good reason to fear potential Serbian retaliation.

Pay special attention to the documention describing what the Austro-Hungarian prisoners had been told to "expect" from their Serbian captors and what happened to those expectations.

Everything old is new again...

History repeats itself...

But, thanks to Dr. Reiss, "truth" did not remain a casualty of war.

Sincerely,

Aleksandra Rebic

*****

SERBIAN TREATMENT OF AUSTRIAN PRISONERS


From the first Reiss Report: "Report upon the Atrocities Committed by the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First Invasion of Serbia"

Published 1916

By Dr. Rodolphe Archibald Reiss
Professor at the University of Lausanne
Switzerland


“During my stay in Serbia I have frequently come
in contact with Austro-Hungarian prisoners through
interrogating them on the various points connected
with my enquiry. I thus had the opportunity of
observing, at all hours of the day, and in the different
prisoners' camps, the treatment which was meted
out to these people. I think it advisable to append
here a brief summary of my observations, supported
by the depositions of prisoners, which I obtained,
and of which I render a few of the most typical.”

“I will say at once that the prisoners of war of
the Serb race feel absolutely at home, and, as if to
show their satisfaction, they wear a small ribbon
with the Serbian colours on the breast of the tunics
or on their caps. I saw several hundreds of these
prisoners wearing the tricolor, and who, though
perhaps not quite so comfortable as in their own
homes, seem to be delighted to find themselves in
Serbian territory. I also noticed that they are
shown great confidence, and that outside the hours
of work they are permitted to go about quite freely.”

“In the prisoners' camps I had occasion to visit,
the prisoners are divided into companies, according
to their trades. They are made to work: some
are tailors, others bakers, yet others are employed
in repairing the roads, etc. One soldier (a Czech),
an architect by profession, directed the construction
of the bakehouse at Nish. The "one-year volunteers,"
boys who have received a good education,
are unoccupied and complain of the weariness
brought on by this lack of occupation. One of
them, a student of engineering, asked me if he
might not be employed in a technical office.”

“The prisoners were given the same food as the
Serbian soldiers : soup twice a day, meat, vegetables,
and an allowance of bread. Their companies
are often commanded by officers of the Serb race.”

“I have often seen the prisoners in contact with
the native population, and I have never observed
the slightest hostile demonstration on the part
of the latter. There are many married men among
the prisoners, and these are very anxious about
their families, because they only very rarely hear
from them.”

“As for the officers, wherever I have been, they
are suitably lodged. In Nish, for instance, they
are housed in the citadel. There was an Austrian
commander there who assured me that every
possible thing was done to make matters agreeable
for them and he only regretted one thing, which
was that they were only allowed to go out once a
week. At first they had been given their meals
at the Officers' Casino, but after the massacres at
Shabatz, demonstrations were feared, and they were
made to take their meals in tlie citadel. This
particular major told me that he quite understood
the precautions which had been taken. For the
rest they have the free use of a pretty garden, and
they have an Austrian cook who works under the
supervision of an Austrian officer. These officers
did not give me the impression of being too discontented
with their fate, as they sang and entertained
themselves as well as they could. The rooms
in which they are lodged are simple, but very
suitable.”

“I append a few typical depositions by Austro-
Hungarian prisoners of war.”

“No. 114, of the 25th Regiment, 3rd Battalion,
12th Company, complains of the lack of food in
the Austrian army. The Army Transport Corps
was never on the spot. The troops were told that
the Serbs maltreated their prisoners, cutting off
their noses, ears, etc. Witness is greatly surprised
at the humane treatment he is experiencing in
Serbia. He was slightly wounded, and the
doctors and hospital attendants were very kind
to him.”

“No. 115, squad leader of the 1st Bosnian Regiment,
deposes that an Austrian Hospital Corporal
was taken prisoner by the Serbs, and subsequently
released. This incident was greatly praised by his
Austrian colleagues. Their officers were of German
extraction. He himself was wounded in the
shoulder, and congratulated himself on having been
very well treated by the Serbian hospital attendants,
who gave him tobacco and bread.”

“No. 116, of the 32nd Landwehr Regiment. The
bread is much better than the Austrian bread. His
comrades and he had not expected to be so well
treated in Serbia. It was said everywhere in
Austria, and especially in the army, that the Serbs
ill-treated their prisoners, cutting off their nose,
ears, the penis, etc.”

“No. 117, of the 91st Regiment, from Budweis,
and No. 118, from Karlsbad. Both declare that
the Serbian population provided the Austrian prisoners
with food, and that in hospital they were
treated the same as the Serbian soldiers.
A Major commanding, prisoner in Nish, witness
No. 119, assured me that the Serbs did all they
could to make things pleasant for the prisoners,
and there was only one thing he regretted, and
that was that they were only allowed to go out
once a week. They had at first been admitted to
the Officers' Casino, but after the massacres of
Shabatz, demonstrations had been feared. The
commander said, he quite understood the precautions
taken by the Serbian military authorities.
The officers are lodged in the citadel, and a fine
garden is at their disposal. They have an Austrian
cook, and one of themselves superintends the
catering.”

“No. 120, of the 78th Hungarian Infantry Regiment.
He cannot but admit that he is very well
treated. The food is good, and there is meat twice
a day. He does not feel cold at night in the large
rooms in the prison, which serve as dormitories.
The officers had told the men that the Serbs ill-used
their prisoners.”

“No. 121, of the 8th Landwehr Regiment. He
is satisfied, and has nothing to complain of. The
police beat some of the prisoners, but he does not
know why they were thus treated. The men who
were beaten belonged to different races, and they
met with this rough usage after the news of the
massacres of Shabatz had been received. Such
occurrences were rare, however, He himself had
always been well treated. Never had the population
demonstrated against the prisoners on their
journey.”

“No. 122, of the 78th Regiment, is satisfied with
his food and treatment. He saw that some of the
prisoners were beaten by the police ; but he does
not know why.”

“No. 123, ‘one-year volunteer,’ in the 92nd Infantry
Regiment, finds the food good, but misses
his first breakfast, the cofFee-and-milk in the
morning.”

“No. 124, of the 79th Infantry Regiment. Both
he and No. 125, of the 28th Hungarian Landwehr
Regiment, are satisfied with their food and treatment.
From all this evidence, and a great deal more
which I obtained, it is quite plain that the prisoners
are satisfied with their food which, taken all round,
appears to be far more plentiful than that which
they had received on the Austrian front. It is
also apparent that the great majority of these
Austro- Hungarians are quite astonished at being
so humanely treated in Serbia. I have already
explained in the preceding chapter that those
soldiers had been led to believe that your army
ill-used and massacred its prisoners. These men
were therefore agreeably surprised to experience
the very opposite.”

“It is true that privates Nos. 120, 121 and 122
relate that several prisoners were man-handled by
the police at Skoplje. This incident actually took
place, but the explanation is already contained in
the evidence of the witnesses. It was an outburst
of excitement after the massacres of Shabatz, and
moreover directed against men who, perhaps, had
nothing to do with it, but who belonged to the
enemy who had done so much evil. Still, I think
it would be as well to see that such man-handling
episodes do not recur, for the beauty of the part
played by Serbia in this war consists precisely in
this, that she has indulged in no reprisals towards
the Austro-Hungarians who have committed atrocities
without name or number.”

“I know that the maintenance of so many prisoners
of war is a heavy tax upon your country, and that
it is a difficult matter to house them. Your military
authorities are doing their utmost to make life
as endurable as possible for these prisoners. I
have frequently met Colonel Ilitch and I know
that this excellent man has done almost more than
possible for the captured soldiers of the enemy.
He made it a point of honour to treat them like
Serbian soldiers. The Austrian Lieutenant F. S.
said to me: "Colonel Hitch is like a father to us."
Obviously your resources are only limited, and the
sheds in which you are obliged to house these men
cannot be easily heated. It is inevitable that some
of them should suffer, but this occurs even in
countries which are far less sorely tried than yours.
These countries cannot make the irrefutable excuse
which you have every right to quote : the " impossibility
of doing better." The lot of a prisoner of
war is never an enviable one, and judging by what
I have seen, you will always have the right to
say that, in spite of the economic difficulties that
beset your country, you have done your duty as
far as possible, and often even more than your
duty. You have practised humanity.”


R. A. REISS
Professor at the University of Lausanne.
Lausanne, Switzerland
January—March, 1915.

*****

If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at heroesofserbia@yahoo.com


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