Archibald Reiss, “a friend of Serbs in the toughest days”

Archibald Reiss
Archibald Reiss

Archibald Reiss, a professor at the University of Lausanne and Swiss criminologist arrived in Serbia at the beginning of the World War I in order to investigate the crimes committed by Austro-Hungarian army, and remained in it until his death. He is remembered as one of the greatest friends of Serbs with whom he passed the worst and the most glorious days of the Great War.

The son of the German landowner Reiss, a young doctor, chemist, professor at the University of Lausanne, famous criminologist, Archibald Reiss, accepted the invitation of the Serbian royal government to investigate the crimes committed by Austro-Hungarian army in Serbia, at the beginning of the Great War.

The house of Archibald Reiss in Topčider
The house of Archibald Reiss in Topčider

Even though, this was the reason he was not popular in his homeland, he sent to the world pictures of the Serbs at the beginning of the war. He loved Serbian peasant and he wanted to join Serbian army as a volunteer and be part of it in difficult moments. Those definitely were the days when army was crossing Albany, in which he participated as a faithful comrade with the soldiers of Morava Division and in the breakthrough on the Salonika Front.

At the end of the 1918 he was not working as a professor at the University of Lausanne anymore, and he changed this position for Belgrade and a modest house in Topcider, which he called Good Field, in memory of the place in Macedonia, where one of the decisive battles on the Salonika Front was fought in 1918.

Reiss got the land in Topčider, as a sign of national gratitude, and the house was built like majority of traditional Serbian houses in villages: simple, with ground floor and with only four rooms. However, there was something very special about that ordinary house: a porch with three arches on two wooden pillars painted with colors of the Serbian national flag. The interior of the house matched Reiss visions of the Serbian village, his spirit and mentality.

His whole living space was filled with a country he loved so much, so it can be said that Reiss chose to be a Serb.

“Your people are patriotic. I do not know a nation in which legendary national heroes live so long in national soul like it is a case with you. Your people are democratic, and truly democratic, but not in the way the politicians are. Among your people, a man is valued for being a man, a not for his suits and titles. The people are proud, but not mean. Finally, you are smart people, one of the brightest I have ever seen in my life”.

Monument in Topčider

As a sign of gratitude to war comrade and friend, The Association of Reserve Officers and Warriors raised a monument to Archibald Reiss in August in 1931. The monument is the work of a sculptor, Marko Brežanin. On the 80th anniversary of the death of Archibald Reiss, experts from the Institute for Protection of Monuments of Belgrade, restored the monument.

Monument of Archibald Reiss
Monument of Archibald Reiss

He was a member of delegation in Yugoslav government at the Peace Conference in Paris, engaged in the Ministry of Interior business, but he soon had a conflict with Nikola Pašić. As he did not want to work with people he did not respect, doctor Reiss decided to withdraw from the public life.

In the peace of his home in Topčider, he wrote sort of a political testament “Listen, Serbs“, in which he observed the strenghts and weaknesses of Serbian people, and clearly made a difference between the common people, to whom he remain loyal until his death, and officials, which he considered to be thieves.

Rough words of one such official, former minister Kapetanović, a war profiteer who was abroad during the war, sick and weakened heart of Archibal Reiss could not bear. After one argument with him, Reiss suddenly died.

He was buried in Topčider, but his heart was buried separately in Kajmakčalan, to rest there with his comrades. Not having forgotten how he descibed their documented war crimes, Bulgarians, according to historical records, stole his heart from Kajmakčlan in the World War II.

Serbs owed doctor Reiss that beside a monument and the street named after him in Čukarička Padina (Čukarička Slope), rearrange his dilapidated house in Topčider and turn it into a museum. They owed him an eternal memory and mentioning.

While, on the other hand, this “Swiss volunteer in Serbian army, a friend of magnificent warriors of Šumadija, Danube, Morava, Timok and Vardar“, besides from his heart and life, left Serbian people with the advice for years to come: ”Listen, Serbs! Watch out from yourselves!“

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