In the First Wor­ld War (1914–1918), 32 nations par­ti­ci­pa­ted. At the time, Ser­bia was not a mem­ber of any alli­an­ce. Just a year ear­li­er, the young, small and poor King­dom of Ser­bia had emer­ged from the Bal­kan Wars. Phy­si­cal­ly worn and mili­ta­rily exhau­sted, she neit­her wan­ted nor was rea­dy for ano­t­her war.

        All hospi­tals in Ser­bia lack­ed doctors and other medi­cal per­son­nel, medi­ci­ne, medi­cal equip­ment, and eve­ryt­hing that was nee­ded for the woun­ded and sick. The­re is no examp­le in history of such a lar­ge army going to war with such a small num­ber of doctors. The­re were only 470 doctors avai­lab­le to the army. The­re were 26 in Val­je­vo, but only 10 wor­ked becau­se the others were in the Supre­me Com­mand of the army, which had been based in the city Val­je­vo sin­ce 1914. The Ser­bi­an gover­n­ment and the natio­nal Red Cross made calls for assi­stan­ce to the Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross, but in Sep­tem­ber 1914 the aid was orga­nized only from Rus­sia and Greece.

      It was not plan­ned that Val­je­vo, with a popu­la­tion of 8,000, would beco­me a lar­ge hospi­tal cen­ter, or a pla­ce whe­re the Serb Army’s Supre­me Com­mand was based. Befo­re the war, this town in western Ser­bia had two hospi­tals, the Distri­ct Hospi­tal for Citizens­hip and the per­ma­nent Mili­tary Hospi­tal for mili­tary per­sons, a total of 2210 beds for sick peop­le in the city, and in the event of war.

      The war began with an Austro-Hunga­ri­an atta­ck on Ser­bia. Their army cros­sed the Dri­na River, from Bos­nia, and atta­ck­ed Ser­bia from the west. About 200,000 Serbs under Austro-Hunga­ri­an rule ran to Ser­bia from rob­be­ry and kil­ling. All roads of esca­pe, for war inju­red and for local peop­le, led to this city. Aro­und 100,000 peop­le came. The­re was no more pla­ce to be sett­led in the city in hou­ses and vil­la­ges, so the refu­ge­es built huts aro­und the city to sett­le down. 

       Six more hospi­tals were establis­hed in Val­je­vo to care for all the woun­ded. Very soon the­re were thous­ands of woun­ded (one night 800 arri­ved). Even that woun­ded were sent daily by a medi­cal train into other cities of the coun­try. For the pur­po­ses of the accom­moda­tion of the woun­ded and sick, the Gover­n­ment appro­ved that cafes, hotels, schools and all other appro­p­ri­a­te buil­dings could be confiscated.

      The citizens of Val­je­vo establis­hed a Com­mit­tee for welco­m­ing and assi­sting the woun­ded on their own, gat­he­red a lar­ge num­ber of citizens, and orga­nized the sup­plies for woun­ded and sick peop­le. Day and night, they were on call at jun­ctions, visi­ting hospi­tals, escor­ting medi­cal eva­cu­a­tion trains, and offe­ring to the woun­ded and sick what litt­le they had. The Com­mit­tee was joi­ned by the daugh­ters and women of the most respected citizens, they were educa­ted due to a lack of hospi­tal staff to work in hospi­tals. When the num­ber of woun­ded rea­ched 7,000, the enti­re city tur­ned into a pla­ce that devo­ted itself enti­re­ly to the care of the woun­ded and sick. Hospi­tals and asso­ci­a­ted buil­dings were con­stant­ly growing, enl­ar­ging, so the city tur­ned into a huge, unique hospital.

      Austro-Hunga­ri­an sol­di­ers brought with them a vicious disea­se ‘spot­ted typ­hus’. 500 of their woun­ded who were infected with typ­hus were left in Val­je­vo and its sur­ro­un­ding area. So, for the first time in history, a bio­lo­gi­cal war began. At the end of 1914. The­re had been an epi­de­mic that cost a lot of lives. What was most wor­rying was that the num­ber of infected in com­bat units was rapid­ly increa­sing, and doctors were get­ting sick and dying.

       Val­je­vo, under the occu­pa­tion, beca­me the most important hospi­tal cen­ter for the Austro-Hunga­ri­an army. Vicious disea­ses kil­led both sol­di­ers, citizens, newco­mers, doctors, and para­me­di­cs. In the ter­rib­le dra­ma, in the face of ter­rib­le and pain­ful suf­fe­ring and temp­ta­tions, peop­le stood wit­hout the uni­form and wit­hout the flag. Many dia­ri­es of Austro-Hunga­ri­an sol­di­ers do not record any cases of Serb and Austro-Hunga­ri­an sol­di­ers being tre­a­ted dif­fe­rent­ly in terms of medi­cal help. Soli­da­ri­ty and huma­nism were seen daily, and the only goal was to help and save peop­le wit­hout thin­king of their nationality.

       Despi­te the con­stant refer­ral of the woun­ded and sick to other pla­ces, in Val­je­vo remai­ned about 8000 woun­ded peop­le (on only about 2500 beds). Due to the lack of hygi­e­nic con­di­tions and hospi­tal mate­ri­al, an epi­de­mic of typ­hoid was spre­a­ding, which car­ri­ed away about 50–100 lives a day at the end of Decem­ber 1914 and 100–200 lives a day after Janu­ary 15th. An epi­de­mic erup­ted as a fire. The city was dub­bed the “Val­ley of Death.” From the­re the epi­de­mic spre­ad in Serbia.

    Austro-Hunga­ri­an sol­di­ers brought with them a vicious disea­se , ‘spot­ted typ­hus’. 500 of their woun­ded who were infected with typ­hus were left in Val­je­vo and its sur­ro­un­ding area. So, for the first time in history, a bio­lo­gi­cal war began

Zvez­da­na Petrović

      The disea­se was trans­mit­ted by whi­te fleas resi­stant to a tem­pe­ra­tu­re of 100 degre­es Cel­si­us. Hope came with the inven­tion, by the Bri­tish offi­cer Sta­mers, of using water vapor to reach tem­pe­ra­tu­res of 120 degre­es Cel­si­us to kill bacte­ria from the dres­sing materials.

      Not­hing see­med impos­sib­le any­mo­re. Peop­le were no lon­ger at war with each other, but in a war for sur­vi­val. Side by side, Ser­bi­an, foreign, and cap­tu­red doctors wor­ked, trying to save peop­le’s lives. All the flags and col­ors under which they went to war on each other fell befo­re the exten­ded hand that asked for help and the one that gives it. Traf­fic was sus­pen­ded, schools clo­sed, sta­tions for dis­in­fection were set up in a num­ber of locations.

      The epi­de­mic was not con­tai­ned until the spring 1915, becau­se of impro­ved weat­her and assi­stan­ce of mis­sions from allied and neut­ral sta­tes (a total of 82 doctors and 430 nur­ses). Among others in May 1915, in Val­je­vo was a Danish mis­sion with the out­stan­ding doctor Teo­dor Mel­gaard, who belon­ged the Danish roy­al family.

      During the epi­de­mic, about 3500 Serb sol­di­ers, 2000 Austro-Hunga­ri­an sol­di­ers and about 4000 citizens died during the epi­de­mic in the town of Val­je­vo. Ser­bi­a’s spot­ted typ­hus epi­de­mic kil­led 360000 peop­le in all. From that num­ber 132 were doctors died out of a total of 534 doctors during 1914/15.

      Accor­ding to the Con­fection of Pea­ce in Paris in 1919, Ser­bia lost 1247435 peop­le or 28% of the enti­re popu­la­tion in 1914. From that num­ber 402435 sol­di­ers died on the field or died from wounds and epidemics.

(Over­sat af Mire­la Redzic, Vej­en Gymnasium)

Bil­le­de: Bok­si, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wiki­me­dia Commons

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