Pursuit of an 'Unparalleled Opportunity'
The American YMCA and Prisoner of War Diplomacy among the Central Power Nations
during World War I, 1914-1923.
by Kenneth Steuer

Appendix 11b

Serbian Aid Society

image With the outbreak of World War I, a large number of aid societies arose in the United States and Switzerland to provide relief for the Serbian, Belgian, and Polish people. Patrons established the Serbian Aid Society in Berne, Switzerland on 19 May 1916, to extend aid to Serbs across Europe, under the honorary presidency of Madame Slavko Grouitch, the wife of the Serbian Minister to the United States. The American branch of the organization was the Serbian Aid Fund, organized in New York City. The Serbian military collapse in 1915 resulted in the internment of large numbers of Serbian soldiers in German, Austrian, and Hungarian prison camps and the creation of a desperate refugee community in Switzerland. Madame Grouitch worked to collect donations for Serbian POW's (particularly for boy prisoners), students in Switzerland, and exiled officers' and functionaries' families. Ernest Sautter, a prominent member of the World's Alliance of YMCA's served on the organization's board of directors. The YMCA worked closely with the Serbian Aid Fund in other areas as well. Relief shipments bound for Serbian POW's passed through the Association's warehouse in Copenhagen and YMCA secretaries distributed the aid directly to the Serbian prisoners.1

The wide range of relief activities are outlined in this twenty-four-page pamphlet. Starting with a list of the prison camps in Germany, Austria, and Hungary that held Serbian prisoners, the publication provides a general report on relief activities and financial summaries. The section on the Serbian Hospital Fund provides an in-depth overview of the aid dispensed to Serbian POW's such as bedding and hospital garments, comfort kits for convalescent soldiers, sanitary and medical outfits, operating room equipment, sterilizers, tents and rubber blankets, motor trucks and ambulances, and a civilian refugee hospital. Another section addresses the efforts of the Fund for Serbian Officers and Functionaries' Families, which included relief work for Serbian students stranded in Switzerland and Serbian boy prisoners of war. The report then details a variety of fund-raising activities for the Serbian Section, including a Serbian booth at the Russian bazaar, charity work by auxiliary organizations, charity concerts, and the donation of office space. The pamphlet provides a series of lists, such as a summary of aid shipments to Europe by date and by ship; donated supplies; dispersements; a treasurer's report; and contributions by name or organization, which totaled $90,126.04 (contributions ranged from $1 to $10,290, which reflected the reliance relief organizations had on wealthy patrons while foreshadowing the need for popular-based fund raising campaigns). The report concludes with a sample of letters of thanks and appreciations written by the relief recipients.2

The second document was part of the Annual Report of the Serbian Aid Fund, 1 May 1917 to 30 April 1918 and describes how the YMCA worked with the Serbian Aid Fund to provide relief to Serbians. The report details Association assistance to Serbian students stranded in Switzerland. The second section focuses on the relief effort for Serbian boy prisoners of war incarcerated in Braunau in Austria and Neszider in Hungary. The Serbian Aid Fund worked through the YMCA War Prisoners' Aid office in Copenhagen and the Serbian Red Cross.

Appendices to Chapter 11:
Appendix 11a:
Appendix 11b:
Serbian Aid Society


Note 1: Serbian Section of the Bureau of Relief for Prisoners of War, The Other Side of the Trenches, New York, NY: Serbian Aid Fund, ca. 1917. Armed Services Records Box 55, Folder: "Prisoners of War-Pamphlets in Various Languages-ca. 1914-1918," Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

Note 2: Serbian Aid Fund, Annual Report of the Serbian Aid Fund, May 1, 1917 to April 30, 1918, New York, NY: Serbian Aid Fund, 1918. Armed Services Records Box 55, Folder: "Miscellaneous Publications," Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.