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 peak, 2521 meters. Mountain Nidže had been created by fissure in Tertiary and comes in Paleozoic slate, while its highest parts feature some Mesozoic characteristics. Mountain Nidže is known by outstanding richness of forests, mountain pastures and diversified flora.

The Natalia Ramonda flower is also known as the Phoenix Flower which became symbol of the unbearable losses and sufferings of the Serbs in the First World War when 1,3 million people got killed that was nearly a third of total population after which the statehood was regained. The Natalia Ramonda is found only in the east of Serbia, North Macedonia and Greece, also in the Nidze Mountain and the Kajmakdhalan peak which was the battleground of the important battle. This flower features characteristic of remaining dry, looking like extinguished in drought periods and possibility to regain its green and fresh features and to “resurrect” when gets water. Such regaining energy is related to the fact that Serbia also achieved its “resurrection” after huge and exhausting fights in the First WW.

Nidže Mountain spreads on the borders between present Macedonia and Greece, east of the Pelagonija valley, and on the eastern slope it is almost precipitous, with so steep and inaccessible 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. The heroic 17th and the 5th regiments from Valjevo and general Zivojin Misic and chentik volunteers of the legendary Duke Vuk especially distinguished themselves in achieving the victory of the Serb Army. In the command of Zivojin Misic to his soldiers for break of the Salonica Front, general Misic writes on the 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 several times changed conflicted hands of the armies. The Serbian Army was entrenched few hundred meters beneath the mountain peak on which was set the “Peak of Boris”, named after the Bulgarian emperor because this stronghold was considered impregnable due to endless rows of trenches, and machine guns and entrenched howitzers. After harsh and bloody fites that caused numerous dead, eventually the Bulgarian and German forces were overpowered and 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 an extremely 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.

The latest research on the course and the whole Kajmakchalan Battle prove the total Serbian loses of 5.855 officers and soldiers, than the previously known number of 4.643 killed as was earlier determined. Those figures do not make all number of the killed Serbian soldiers, for example the volunteers of Vojvoda Vuk were nearly all killed in Kamjakchalan, likewise their brave commander.

Veternik Mountain is part of the Kajmakcalan mountain masif. In memory and respect for the Serbian volunteers of the Firt World War, in 1923 was founded a settlement of Veternik in Novi Sad for army veterans and invalids who fought on the Veternik Mountain in Macedonia. After the First World War King Aleksandar granted land in Novi Sad to his brave soldiers who were permanently blinded by the nerv gas in fierce battles against the Bulgarians on the Veternik Mountain. The then Veternik had only two streets, with typical houses erected on granted estates, of which some are still preserved. It was 37 families of the brave Salonica soldiers with 107 members of their families who settled the fertile Vojvodina plain and created a nucleus of the present Veternik settlement in Novi Sad.