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upon the atrocities committed by the Austro-Hungarian army during the first invasion of Serbia

Rodolphe Archibald Reiss

Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd., London
Published in 1916.

Back to the introduction of the book.

Chapter VI

Causes of the massacre

The excerpt starts from page 173:

    After having proved all these cruelties and atrocities it was interesting to seek for the causes. As a matter of fact, having in time of peace found the Austrians, and especially the Viennese, charming to all appearance, I was greatly surprised to see that in time of war this people could be guilty of such excesses. I therefore endeavoured by interrogating the prisoners and other investigations, to ascertain the causes of this change of attitude. I believe the following to be the correct explanation.

    For a long time the mighty Austria-Hungary had decided, as you know, to crush your democratic and liberty-loving Serbian people. Free Serbia attracted the Austro-Hungarian subjects of Serb race and, furthermore, she blocked the way to Salonica. But the people of the Dual Monarchy [Austro-Hungaria] had to be trained for the execution of this inconvenient neighbour. To achieve this object, the Austro-Hungarian papers, faithfully seconded by the German dailies, inaugurated a campaign of systematic disparagement against Serbia.

    "The Serbs must die!"
    Austrian fist crushes Serbian peasant in Austro-Hungarian and German newspapers of the time.

    According to these papers there could be no people more barbarous and more detestable than the Serbs. They were lousy, thieves and regicides. Nay, more, these abominable Serbs were murderous savages. They cut off the noses and ears of their prisoners, gouged out their eyes, and castrated them into the bargain. Such statements could be read even in serious journals. It goes without saying that the famous Carnegie Commission provided a welcome opportunity for further forcing this note. This report, which was drawn up by enquirers who made no enquiry either in Serbia or in Greece, constitutes a most partial piece of special pleading in favor of Bulgaria [the ally of Austro-Hungary].

    But the preparation of the public by the newspapers was not sufficient to inspire the troops with sufficient dread of Serbian barbarism. Therefore the officers of both superior and inferior rank made it their business to school their men on the subject of the alleged atrocities which your army would inflict upon its prisoners. All Austro-Hungarian prisoners whom I questioned assured me that the officers had warned them not to let themselves be taken, as the Serbs would massacre them. Even the officers believed in this tale. Thus a First-Lieutenant confessed to me that at the moment when he was taken prisoner he had drawn his revolver with the intention of committing suicide, because he feared he would be tortured by the Serbs. The instinct of self-preservation had prevailed however, and he added: "Today I am glad I did not do it, because [the Serb] Colonel Ilitch is like a father to us."

    I append a series of depositions by several Austro-Hungarian prisoners which show very clearly how the soldiers were prepared and trained for pillage and massacre by their officers.

    No. 87. Hospital Sergent in 28th Landwehr Regiment deposes: The officers told us to shoot all that was Serbian. The Hungarian officers were the most ferocious. Wherever the regiment went the officers urged them to kill everything - cows, pigs, chikens: in short, everything - even what was not necessary for the subsistence of the troops.

    Lieutenant Fischer or Trischler, said in front of witness to two medical men that the Serbs brutally ill-used their prisoners, cutting off their noses, ears, the penis, etc., and he added, "But I have got everything ready for these ruffians." The others asked him what he had prepared, and he replied that he had coverted 150 revolver-bullets into dum-dum bullets. When witness expostulated with him, and told him that one ought not to believe such rubbish, the Lieutenant answered that these things had been said and written by intelligent people, and that he, for his part, believed them. Moreover, he did not care for "Kultur", and prefered his "-----" to a thousand Serb swine", who deserved nothing better than a dum-dum bullets.

    No. 89, of the 78th Rgt., had heard that the order to spare nothing was given by the high command. First-Lieutenant Feutck of the 2nd Company on active service, said at Osick, the garrison town of the 78th, that they must show the Serbs what Austrians can do. They were to spare nothing and to kill everything.


    No. 90, of the 78th regiment 15th Company related that First-Lieutenant Bernhard told them that they must kill every living creature.


    No. 94, reservist, of the 70the Regiment. captain Lahodny gave them the order to kill without mercy all that was Serbian, both in Serbia and in Bosnia, and also to burn the villages.


    No. 101. The first Bosnian regiment killed peasants in Stavain (Bosnia) and burnt all the houses, because some uknown person had fired a shot in the village. It was the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Regiment, a Hungarian by extraction, who ordered this massacre. In Uvatz Lieutenant-Colonel Krumenack gave the order to set every house on fire, and that merely in order to destroy the house of a Serbian priest. In Strbzi and Dobrava everything was likewise burnt by order of tyhe same commander. All these villages are in Bosnia. As a general rule all houses on the Drina (Austrian side) owned by Serbs were fired.


    No. 110 declares that Mohammedan and Catholic peasants from Bosnia accompanied the Army Transport Service. He saw them on Serbian territory. They were there to plunder. These peasants were included in the commissariat of troops. Between Kogluk and Biclina he saw armed civilians in the carriages with the officers and men.

    No. 111, of the 4th Bosnian Regiment. His regiment was accompanied by armed Bosnian peasants. They followed the Army transport Section and accompanied the police in order to "have an eye" on the Serbs. They wore yellow and black badges on their arms, and witness heard that these civilians brought lying reports about the Serbs to their officers in command, who thereupon ordered the houses to be set on fire.


    As may be seen from the above quoted evidence, the men were not only frightened by their superiors, but they were in many cases given orders to pillage.



    That the butchery of the population was systematic and according to order, is yet more clearly proved by the following excerpts quoted from a pamphlet issued by the Austro-Hungarian high command, and found in the possession of the men. These excerpts demonstrate most perfectly how the men were systematically trained and prepared for massacre:

      "K und K 9th Korpskommando"

      "Instructions regarding behaviour to be adopted towards the population in Serbia.

      The war is taking us into a country inhabited by a population inspired with fanatical hatred towards ourselves, into a country where assassination, as the catastrophe of Sarajevo has again shown, is condoned even in the upper classes, who extol it as heroism. In dealing with a population of this kind all humanity and kindness of heart are out of place, they are even harmful, for such considerations, whose application is sometimes possible in warfare, would here place our own troops in danger.

      I therefore give orders that, during the entire course of the war an attitude of extreme severity, extreme harshness, and extreme distrust is to be observed towards everybody."

    This was written by a Commander of the Army of that same Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose government was going to send a large number of people to the scaffold upon the evidence of forged documents prepared in its own Legation in Belgrade!

    The instructions continue:

      "To begin with I will not tolerate that non-uniformed, but armed men of the enemy country, whether encountered singly or in groups, should be made prisoners. They are to be unconditionally executed."

      The Austro-Hungarian General Staff, like all the rest of the world, was well aware that your [Serbian] soldiers of the Third Levy and a good half of those of the Second levy have never been uniformed. The directions given in these "instructions" are therefore an undisguised suumons to massacre these soldiers, a summons which was obeyed to the letter by the troops.

      Further on, in speaking of the hostages, we find the following: "In traversing a village, they are to be brought, if possible to a passage en queue and they are to be summarily executed, if even a single shot is fired at the troops in that locality." (In direct contradiction to the Hague Convention of 1907).

      "Both officers and men will keep a strict watch on every inhabitant, and not tolerate that he should put his hand in his pocket which probably conceals a weapon. They will, generally speaking, observe an attitude of extreme severity and harshness.

      The ringing of bells is absolutely prohibited and the bells will be taken down, As a rule, every belfry will be occupied by a patrol.


      Divine service is only to be permitted at the request of the inhabitants of the locality, and only in the open air and outside the church.

      No sermon, however, will be permitted under any conditions whatsoever.

      A platoon prepared to fire will hold itself in readiness near the church during Divine service.

      Every inhabitant encountered in the open, and especially in the woods, is to be considered the member of a band which has concealed its weapons somewhere, which weapons we have not the time to look for. these people are to be executed if they appear even slightly suspicious."


    It is idle to insist further on the undeniable fact that the men were systematically prepared for the work of massacre by their officers. the mere persual of the evidence and of this fantastic document suffices to prove it.

    Both evidence and documents also attest the fact of premeditation and of a very long preparation. The consequences of this preparation were not slow in making themselves felt. The Austro-Hungarian soldiers, finding themselves on Serbian territory and face to face with these people who had always been represented to them as barbarians, were frightened. It is from fear, lest they should be massacred themselves, that they probably perpetrated their first cruelties.

    But at the sight of blood, the phenomenon took place which I have often had occasion to observe: man was transformed into a bloodthirsty brute.


    The massacres were all the more readily committed by the Austro-Hungarian soldiers, as they were stimulated by the prospect of gain by pillage, which was permitted and even commanded by their superior officers. Those who from a sentiment of dignity did not wish to take part in the massacring and looting, were probably drawn into it by the fanatical Bosnian Mohammedan peasants, those professional plunderers, by whom the high command took care to have the troops accompanied while on the march.

    In short, it is beyond all doubt that the massacres of the civil population and the pillage were systematically organized by the command of the army of invasion: it is upon the command that all the responsability must rest, and also the disgrace with which for all time to come this army has covered itself - the army of a people which claimed to be at the head of civilisation, a people which desired to impose its "KULTUR" on others who did not desire it.

    Events have justified the attitude of those who refused to accept this "Kultur".

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Last revised: June 11, 2004