Nidze Mountain Kajmakchalan

Nidze is mountain in south Macedonia, along which goes the border with Greece. The highest peak of the Nidze Mountain is Kajmakčalan, 2521 meters. Mountain Nidže had been created by fissure in Tertiary and comes in Paleosoic slate, while its highest parts feature some Mesosoic characteristics. Mountain Nidže is known by outstanding richness of forests, mountain pastures and diversified flora. Nidže Mountain spreads on the border between present Macedonia and Greece, east of the Pelagonija valley, and on the eastern slope it is almost precipitous, with so steep terrain that is almost impossible to climb. Towards northwest Nidže Mountain borders the Skočivir Ravine, while the Crna reka River /Black River/ joins in large bend with the Satoka River, which further flows in direction of more than 90 degrees southeast to its junction with the Gradashtanska River.

Despite centuries of dispute over who owns Macedonia, a part of the recently independent state of Macedonia remains of great historical significance to Serbs. During World War I, from 12th September until the 3rd October 1916, the Battle of Kajmakcalan between Serbian and Bulgarian-German troops took place at the Kajmakčalan and around the adjacent peaks, resulting in the great Serbian victory. Besides the strategic importance, Kajmakchalan peak was of the utmost importance for Serbs, as along its highest ranges spread the state border of the Kingdom of Serbia. Serbian solders were specially motivated to do what enemy considered impossible, and named the Kajmakchalan peak “Gate of Serbia – Vrata Srbije” or “Gate of freedom – Kapija slobode.

Decision to break the Thessaloniki – Salonica front was made in June 1918. The Serb Army was divided into two armies – the First Army, commanded by Petar Bojovic, and the Second Army, led by Field Marshal Stepa Stepanovic, while Zivojin Misic was the Chief of General Staff of the Army.  In his command to soldiers for breaking the Salonika Front, Zivojin Misic writes on 13 September 1918: „All commanders, brigadiers and soldiers must have the idea that the speed of progression in invasion  would determine the success of the whole offensive. That speed is at the same time the best guarantee for surprise, as it gains enemy derangement and full freedom in our penetration actions. You should impudently penetrate, without rest, until the ultimate borders of human strength and horse endurance. To the death, do not stop ! Heroes, towards the Fatherland, with firm and steady faith and hope !“ This command testifies on sturdiness and determination of the Serb people to liberate their homeland.

The Nidže mountain changed hands several times, but eventually the Bulgarian and German foes were driven back, and the Eastern Front saw a change in the course of the Great War. Yet nothing could prepare visitors for its breathtaking beauty, quietness and solitude, in contrast to the intolerable noise of the battle that raged there nearly 100 years ago. Valiant and heroic Serbian combat ended the bloodiest battle of the whole Salonica campaign with liberation of Bitola /Monastir/ within the Salonika front, and had marked the beginning of the successful outcome of the First World War. After the First World War, the chapel with the Memorial ossuary was erected on the Kamjakalan peak. There was carved inscription of the words of the Serbian King Aleksandar – „Mojim div junacima, neustrašivim i vernim, koji grudima svojim otvoriše vrata slobodi i ostadoše ovde, kao večni stanari na pragu otadžbine.” /dedicated to my titan and fearless and faithful heroes who opened the door of freedom by their chests and remained here, as the eternal guardians on the foot of the homeland/. Besides this ossuary, in the vicinity of the Kajmakcalan Mountain there are more graveyards of the Serbian solders, although the majority of killed solders were buried on the Zejtinlik graveyard in Thessaloniki.

The Serbs won the Kajmakcalan Battle, but they payed a very high price – around 10.000 Serbian casualties and wounded. There is a tiny church dedicated to Saint Elijah – Sveti Ilija made up of weapons, shells and barbed wire fence off the church, in a testament to eternal peace and a crypt for the Serbian soldiers who heroically died in the Kajmakchalan battle. In the ossuary beneath the church there are bones and remains of 4600 Serbian heroic solders who built in their lives into the break of the Thessaloniki Front, and the triumphal end of the Great War. On the Nidze Mountain, in the foot of the Kajmakchalan peak, there are 44 Serbian small military cemeteries. In the church of Saint Elijah there is an urn which contains the heart of Dr. Archibald Reiss, the Swiss-German father of Forensic Medicine, who sought to bring to the world’s attention the slaughter of Serbian civilians during the Great War. It says :

“In this urn, On Kajmakčalan’s peak, The golden heart sleeps, Of a Serbian friend, 8th August 1929”.

Such was Reiss’s loyalty to the Serbian cause that he fought alongside Serbs, lived in Belgrade until his death, and declared in his will that his heart be embalmed and placed in an urn on Kajmakčalan. This unique testament to the indescribably heroic Serbian history and numerous Serbian victims at the Thessaloniki-Salonica Front is not that well known, and deserves not to remain so, but to gain constant admiration of the world as the legacy of Serbs among the present mountains of Macedonia.

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