Opening of the “Rescuing Serbia: The American Mission and the Typhoid Epidemic in Serbia in 1915” Exibit in Sabac

Thank you, Mayor Zelenović.

Let me me also extend my gratitude to Dr. Milovan Pissari, who did so much historical research on the the work of the Red Cross, the Rockefeller Mission, and Dr. Strong.  And thanks to the whole team involved in putting together this exhibit.

It is my pleasure to open this exhibition tonight, in a year marking the 100th anniversary of our alliance and friendship forged during World War I.

The friendship between the people of Serbia and America was forged in the crucible of the First World War.  Earlier this year, we commemorated 100 years since the day President Woodrow Wilson flew the Serbian flag over the White House as a symbol of America’s respect and solidarity for the enormous sacrifices of the Serbian people during that conflict.

Thousands of Serbian-Americans joined the Serbian Army as volunteers and fought alongside their Serbian cousins at Thessaloniki (Salonika).

Patriots like Mabel Grujic collected funds to support the Serbian people.  Great artists like Malvina Hoffmann contributed their works to enlist support for our Serbian allies.

Cooperation in the field of medicine is another gripping chapter of this story.

The American doctor Dr. Rosalie Morton became a special commissioner of the Red Cross and took supplies to the Macedonian Front, where she worked in field hospitals.  After the war, in March 1919, she established the International Serbian Committee to help young Serbs study at universities in America.  A park just down the hill from the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade bears her name.

The famous scientist Mihailo Pupin, born in Idvor in Vojvodina and was a professor at Columbia University and Serbia’s honorary consul in New York at the time the Great War broke out.  Pupin became a key figure in organizing the nationwide campaign to assist Serbia.  He also set up the Columbia Relief Expedition to help supply Serbia not only with financial support, but also thousands of tons of humanitarian aid for the poor and for displaced refugees: food, agricultural tools, and seed; medicine to fight typhoid and treat other diseases; and twenty-five cars to serve as ambulances and deliver aid.

The typhus epidemic in Serbia began late 1914, following the bombardment of Belgrade.  It spread rapidly and with incredible ferocity, infecting between 1,500 – 2,500 people each day, with a mortality rate of 50 – 70%.  At the end of six months, typhoid had killed nearly 150,000 people in a population at the time of approximately four and a half million.

And doctors were not spared from the devastating impact of the epidemic.  Over twenty percent of Serbia’s 450 doctors died of typhoid and twice that number were too sick to treat patients.

And in April 1915, Dr. Richard Strong, director of the Harvard School of Tropical Medicine and one of the world’s preeminent epidemiologists, arrived in Serbia at the head of a joint medical mission, organized by the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Red Cross, which played such a key role in halting the spread of the terrible typhus epidemic.

Medicine and science more broadly are areas where the U.S. and Serbia have cooperated for many years.  Just this August, I had the honor of addressing Serbian, American, and other scientists at the Palata Srbije about that very issue.  We have an American doctor in Serbia this year on a Fulbright grant, and two Serbian doctors are in the United States this year – a medical doctor at the Mayo Clinic and a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore – sharing their knowledge and experience with their American counterparts.

I am positive that the U.S. and Serbia will keep building upon this century of friendship and cooperation in the years and decades to come.

Thank you.