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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 IV

Massacres and atrocities perpetrated on civilians

Pages 30 - 33:

    I have spared no effort in verifying the excesses committed by the Austro-Hungarian Army against the civil population in the invaded territory. In this enedeveavour I employed the following methods: Interrogation of Austro-Hungarian prisoners, interrogation of Serbian eye-witnesses, both civilian and military, the study of the Serbian official reports placed at my disposal by the military authorities, which reports I perued with a view to arriving at statistics, as well as the lists compiled by the civil authorities and obtained by me on the spot or forwarded to me by the said authorities, and finally, the personal inspection of the localities where the massacres and atrocities had been perpetrated.

    Eye-witnesses were examined on the spot and in most cases they were my guides to the places where the outrages had taken palce. Thus I was afforded the opportunity of verifying the truth of thier statemnets by actual and personal inspection. Besides this I have been at pains by corroborative evidence to assure myself of the reliability of my witnesses and of the authenticity of the facts laid before me.

    I have thought it advisible, although you are in possession of the original documents, likewise to include copies of some of the military reports in this paper.

    In most cases these reports agree with the information I was able to obtain elsewhere. Yet, I think that they are less reliable with regard to certain occurrences, than the evidence I have gathered from eye-witnesses. As a matter of fact, these reports were made from life, so to say, or, correctly speaking, directly after the excesses had been committed. It is an undeniable fact that at the time all minds were wrought up to a great pitch of excitement, and that since then the imagination has undergone the inevitable reaction, with the result that both such incidents as had been observed by the officers themselves, and such as had been reported to them by eye-witnesses, would bear a fuller investigation.

    As regards the statements I have personally taken from eye-witnesses, I believe that I may safely assert that they represent the truth. First of all, the personal investigations I was in many cases able to make, confirm them entirely. Secondly, the minds of the witnesses, by far the most of whom peasants, had calmed down since the time when the Austrians committed the atrocities. The danger of exaggeration from excitement, which is so natural in the first moment, was to a great extent eliminated. I also noted that the Serbs peasants are very reserved indeed, and I am convinced that they are more inclined to say too little than too much. Finally, misfortune has depressed them to such an extent (without however depriving them of their courage in fighting the enemy) that they have almost come to accept the evils that have fallen upon them as natural and inevitable. This is a state of mind which does not predispose to exaggeration. Thus the number of the wounded, which I adduce in the statistical notes at the foot of the chapter, certainly falls far below the actual number, because the great majority of the victims did not report their case to the authorities. I have had proof of this fact in many localities, where I asked for the number of the wounded. The mayor or his deputy would give me a figure which my personal inquiry proved to be too small by far. Thus, at Lipolist the mayor gave the number of the wounded as 5. Within one hour's search through the village, I had found 17, and I am certain that there were even more. It is also to be noted that even where official lists of the killed and wounded have been drawn up, the number of the victims does not seem to be absolutely fixed; in other words, I think there are many mor evictims than appear in the lists.

    I have also endeavoured to ascertain the number of the cases of rape committed by the army of invasion. This was even a more difficult task than to arrive at the number of the wounded. You, Monsieur le President, are well aware of popularr sentiment in your country in all matters touching the honour of the family, and you know that it is impossible, or at least, exceedingly difficult for a girl who has been outraged to find a husband. The families endeavour to conceal as far as possible the misfortune tha has befallen them in the violation of their women. Hence the utmost absolute impossibility of ascertaining the number of women who had been subjected to lewd assaults from the soldiery of the hostile army.

    I am convinced that the number of violated women and young girls is very great, and judging by what I saw during my enquiry, I do not think that I am mistaken in saying that in many of the invaded villages almost all women from the very youngest to the very oldest have been violated. Upon this matter I have collected and included in this report a certain number of statements and typical depositions.

    In this chapter you will find first of all the depositions of Austrian prisoners of war, which I believe may be considered veracious, since they are to the discredit of their own army. These depositions are followed by civil and military eye-witnesses... I have in every case added a statement of my personal verification of the wound to the deposition of the witness. I have also in connection with the deposition of some witnesses mentioned the result of an enquiry into circumstantial evidence on the spot...

Pages 34-35:

    [Austro-Hungarian soldier, witness] No. 48, of the 26th Landsturm, states that the men were given the order to bayonet all living creatures, women, men and children, without distinction. A private of the 79th Regt. told him that, near Drenovatz, the Austrian officers made a ring of 26 persons round a house, and then set fire to the house, thus burning the 26 victims...

    No. 50, [Austrian] hospital sergeant in the 28th Infantry Landwehr Regt., deposes that before crossing the frontier the officers abused the Serbs [drafted in Austro-Hungarian army from Bosnia and Krajina] in every possible way, calling them "barefoot," "gipsies," "assassins," "brigands," etc. All soldiers of Serb nationality were forbidden on pain of death to own to their race -- it was considered an act of treason. The officers gave out that they would finish with the Serbs in a week. Witness crossed the Drina [river which divides Bosnia and Serbia] with other troops during the night from the 12th to the 13th of August [1914], and at about 2 o'clock in the morning they passed near Mali Zvornik [town]. From Zvornik they went as far as Ljubovia. The officers told them to shoot all that was Serbian...

    All men, old men and children, were captured and driven before the troops with bayonet thrusts. These people were questioned as to the position of the Serbs and the comitadjis. If their answers failed to satisfy the [Austrian] officers they were shot immediately. In most cases, when the troops entered a village the greater number of the hostages, or even all of them, were killed. These unfortunate people were almost always old men or children...

    In [Velika Reka village]... there was an inn. The innkeeper was bayoneted by Corporal Begovitch. The innkeeper's wife, who had witnessed the scene, wrenched the rifle from the Croat and killed him. Other Austrians threw themselves upon her and ripped her body open from end to the end with a bayonet. Her child was killed with the same weapon. The house was completely sacked...

Pages 36, 37:

    The Hungarians and the Croats were the worst, but the men were incited by their officers to commit atrocities. Wherever the regiment passed through the officers urged them to kill everything, cows, pigs, chicken, in fact everything whether it was required for the subsistence of the army or not. The men got dead-drunk, with "schnaps" in the [Serbian wine] cellars. They allowed the liquor to run out of the barrels, so that often the cellars were inundated with alcohol...

Pages 39 - 41:

    No. 53, of the 26th Regt., deposes: ... An Austrian soldier, one Doshan, a Croat, boasted of having killed a woman, two old men, and a child, and invited his comrades to go with him to have a look at his victims. ...

    No 56, Corporal of the 28th Landwehr Regt., deposes that in [Serbian town of] Shabatz the Austrians killed over 60 civilians beside the church. They had previously been confined in the later. They were butchered with the bayonet in order to save ammunition... There were several old men and children among the victims.

Page 43:

    No. 64, of the 93rd Regiment. Near [Serbian village] Ljubovia a lieutenant of the first Company shot a priest with his revolver. Captain Veit ordered the corpse to be burnt.

Page 47:

    [Child's name kept confidential] (Civil Hospital of Mrzanovatz [Serbia]), aged 13 years. He was herding cattle when the Austrians came. He was carried off with 5 other persons, two of whom were old men. Their hands were pinioned, and they were led away... At a certain place all six were placed on a hay-rick. The soldiers then fired upon them at close range (4 to 5 meters). [The child] was wounded in the head, and had to be trepanned. A bullet also passed through his left arm. The wounds were verified by me.

We will skip many of the Serbian depositions here. The victims tell how the Austrohungarian army used Serbian civilians - at the front line - as human shields. Women, children, old men murdered, butchered different ways. Whole families slaughtered, burned alive... Serbian woman (Draga Petronievitch) says [page 50] that "within the church, behind tha altar, the Austrian officers violated young Serbian girls." ... The case of Mihailo Yankovitch, aged 75, was mentioned on page 60. He "was killed with rifle shots. The male organ was cut off and placed in his mouth." ... We are skipping the depositions here. You got some sense of what was done almost rutinely. But there is more. Whole villages (i.e. the population that did not run in front of the invading army) were massacred...

Pages 70-73:

    Breziak consists of three villages, viz.: Slatina, Donja and Gornja Nedeljitza. In this district the Austrians killed 54 persons in varoiuos ways. Most of them were disembowelled with great sabres that were carried by your prisoners; this weapon has the following dimensions:

      width of blade, 5 cm; thickness of the back of the blade, 0.7 cm; length of blade, 46 cm; total length of the sabre, 63 cm. I append the names of some of the killed, with a brief specification of their wounds:

    [Serbian woman] Anitza Yezditch, aged 32, eyes put out, nose and ears cut off.

    Simo Yezditch, aged 14, nose and ears cut off.

    Yelka Domitch, aged 13, nose and ears cut off.

    Tzvetko Pavlovitch, eyes put out.

    Krsman Kalabitch, aged 56, eyes put out, nose and ears cut off.

    Smiliana Vasilievitch, aged 48, eyes put out.

    [Serbian woman] Mirosava Vasilievitch, aged 21, violated by about 40 soldiers, genital organs cut off, her hair pushed down the vagina. She was finally disembowelled, but only died immediately after this being done.

    Lazar Petrovitch, aged 46, one hand cut off and eyes put out. (*)

    Militza Petrovitch, aged 45, breasts cut off. (*)

    Dobria Petrovitch, aged 18, eyes put out. (*)

    Stanka Petrovitch, aged 14, eyes put out, nose cut off.(*)

    Ana Petrovitch, aged 7, ears cut off. (*)

      (*) One family. They were found in a ditch with their dog, pinioned and all died together, including the dog.

    Zhivko Pavlovitch, aged 50, cut in pieces. (**)

    Stanitza Pavlovitch, aged 50, cut in pieces, and eyes put out as well (**)

    Zorka Pavlovitch, aged 18, cut in pieces. (**)

      (**) One family.

    Nikola Tomitch, aged 63, many bayonet wounds

    Zhivko Madjarevitch, aged 70, eyes put out

    Stanoie Madjarevitch, aged 40, ears cut off

    Yotso Milovanovitch, aged 90, skin cut to ribbons

    Milosav Obradovitch, aged 18, nose and ears cut off, eyes put out.

    Dragoljub Isitch, aged 18, nose and ears cut off

    Zhivko Peitcitch, aged 70, eyes put out, riddled with wounds

    Svetozar Tomitch I, aged 54, eyes put out

    Svetozar Tomitch II, aged 60, nose and ears cut off

    Tzvetko Yakitch, aged 23, eyes put out

    Mileva Yakitch, aged 17, violated, then killed.

    Sreten Rositch, aged 26, slashed and riddled with wounds

    Milivoie Rositch, aged 25 (***)

    Sava Rositch, aged 50 (***)

    Mihailo Rositch, aged 18 (***)

    Stana Rositch, aged 50 (***)

    (***) Eyes put out, riddled with bayonet wounds

    Ljubomir Madjarevitch, aged 16, nose cut off, eyes put out

    Stanitza Shakitch, aged 24, violated several times and bayoneted

    Dragomir Shakitch, aged 35, violated several times, transpierced with a bayonet

    Stana Shakitch, aged 15, violated, several bayonet wounds

    Mileva Gaitch, aged 44, covered with wounds of various kinds.

    All these atrocities were perpetrated by the Austrians on their arrival on August 3rd. No one among the civil population had fired upon the enemy, and most of the villagers had taken flight. Almost all those who remained were massacred. The bodies of Zhivko Boitch, aged 70, and his daughter-in-law, Pelka, aged 25, and her infant, aged 4 months, were found later on. The bodies had been cut to pieces. An Austrian general Staff had its headquarters in Breziak. The Yadar districts lost about 800 persons in killed and missing. Still this number does not include the atrocities committed by the Austrians among the population of the two communes still occupied by the troops pf Francis Joseph (October 1914)...

    Smilia Vasilievitch, aged 60, of Breziak, witnessed the murder of Smiliana Vasilievitch. After having killed her mother the Austrians wanted to violate the daughter Mirosava, but the girl defended herself...

    Yovan Milovanovitch, aged 90, and the woman [Smilia Vasilievitch] saw the soldiers put out Mirosava's eyes, cut off her ears, and strip off her skin....

Page 90:

    ... Dr, P., Austrian Army Surgeon of Serb nationality... stated that before crossing the frontier [of Serbia] the Croat officers had addressed their troops in following fashion:

      "You must not allow anything to live, not even a child in mother's womb. But you must not spend your cartridges on killing these people. As every body has two holes, let your bayonets go in at the one and out at the other."

End quote

Starting on page 143 of the chapter "Massacres of Civilians" Professor Reiss gives summary tables (with numbers) of how many men/women were shot vs. killed with knives vs. hanged, disembowelled, burned alive, had their nose, eyes, ears, arms, legs, breasts,... cut off.

Dr. Reiss reminds the reader that Austro-Hungary had signed article 50 of the Hague Convention of October 18, 1907 which stipulates: "No collective punishment, pecuniary or otherwise, may be pronounced upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which the population cannot be held collectively responsible."

The war had cost Serbia 23 percent of its population.

The above quote is from:
15th edition, (year: 1986),
Volume 29, Macropedia, page 1075
Entry: Yugoslavia, World War I
Tiny Serbia was extremely successful in repelling attacks of humangous Austr-Hungarian empire for full year and a half. Then, at close of 1915 Bulgaria joined Austro-German alliance and attacked Serbia from the back. Almost completely surrounded by enemies Serbia could not defend itself successfully any more. The Serbian Army, together with the Serbian King and the Parliament started withdrawing over Albanian mountains during harsh winter. Common people joined en masse too. People did not want to stay and wait and see what mercy would the butchers have... Countless thousands of Serbs perished in the snowy hights of the barelly passable Albanian mountains called "Prokletije" (cursed mountains).
The retreat of [the Serbian] king [Peter I], government, Skupstina, and masses of the people with the Army across Albania stands out as one of the great exploits of any war.

The above quote is from:
15th edition, (year: 1986),
Volume 29, Macropedia, page 1075
Entry: Yugoslavia, World War I
So many died during that exodus... But many of those who stayed in their homes under Austro-Hungarian occupation got the same destiny.

Mass slaughter of Serbian civilians was common all across Serbia. These are sculls and bones of some 3,000 (three thousand) Serbs dug out after the war at Surdulica a small village near Belgrade.

The first victims were usually intellectuals: priests, teachers, scientists.

The following photograph is from "The Album of the War of 1914-1918," by Andra Popovic, "Ratni Album," Belgrade, first printed 1926, reprinted BIGZ, Belgrade, 1987. Page 153:

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Last revised: June 11, 2004