Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Historian

Dragica Vukotić.
Volunteer curator and director of the Werbass Cultural Centre or museum. If we had not found this women, our 7000 km. trip from Canada to find some of our family's past would have been in vain.
Mrs. Vukotić is a mother of three who is passionate about the history of her home town of Werbass and the Batchka region. She was educated in her field at the University of Novi Sad.

Ten years ago she started the Backa museum on a shoestring donation budget as an independent venture. Nobody gave it much hope for survival. A family of Danube Swabians who remained in Werbass post World War II donated approximately 2500 individual items including paintings and fine period furnishings. This gave the museum a serious base of artifacts although many are still in storage due to lack of space and funding. The eventual goal of the museum is to display the story of the region from prehistoric times through to modern times and it already has a prehistoric display.
The museum has now been recognized by the Voijvodina provincial government and has received official funding. Prior to this some funding came from the town of Werbass. She now has a staff of three and hopes to add an interpreter next that can give tours and translate the displays into multiple languages.

Mrs. Vukotić lives in a tidy house on a larger property on the west side of the town. Her husband is a professional who works in Belgrade and commutes back and forth 3 hours each way per day.Yes you read that correctly, six hours of commuting and he has been doing it for years. She has 3 children and her only son Millosh acted as our interpreter. Millosh is a bright young man who seems far more knowledgeable than your average 22 year old. Like my oldest daughter he has also dropped out of university in his third year, 3D computer graphic design.
When I walked into the museum office, I was not even sure if it was the right place since there are no English signs and the Serbian one is also small. A young woman and man with some English started to assist me and then went to get Mrs. Vukotić. Within about 10 minutes they had out a registry of Danube Swabien names and addresses, and old street maps from the prewar era since some of the street have changed names three different times since. A quick phone call was made to a local 84 year old Swabien who had returned to live here again. He verified some of the information for everyone.

We then followed Mrs. Vukotić's little red Fiat Panda over to her house to get Millosh. His English is nearly perfect and his remarkable translation skills were evident as he translated multiple conversations "on the fly". As he rode in our car, I admonished him to complete his university. His answer was "Hey, I admit it. I am lazy. Feel free to talk about anything in front of my Mom but please don't mention my university!"

We crossed the cobblestone bridge near the Vital factory and as it turned out the old property was just across the canal from the Club "A" restaurant.  The house address we were looking for was missing and there was a jump in the numbers so we inquired with the home owner nearest to the address. A middle aged couple came out of the house and explained to us how my family's original home had been torn down and their house was newly constructed on the site in the late 1980's. Basically, their back yard was the site of the former house on the corner lot. They were very friendly and we politely declined their offer to come in for coffee.
It used to be here.
Our next stop was the old Anglican Lutheran cemetery which just happened to be on the same street as the Vukotić home. We had to enter the site through a private back yard as the main gate is closed from use. This was truly incredible site as 2-3 hectares of land which was totally developed on all sides and had just gone back to nature with nobody tending it. The local government had recently paid for brush clearing with fire and chain saws and it was difficult walking through the large sawed off brush stumps, broken bottles and burned grass. Some of the tomb stones were still standing with many tumbled over and empty crypts were evidence that some of the deceased had already been interred to a new location. At the centre of this cemetery had once stood a monument celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Danube Swabiens arrival in the late 1700's. This monument is already in the possession of the museum to be displayed in future. Plans are in place to photograph the markers, catalog and then disinter all of the cemetery.

Mrs. Vukotić had to meet for a local cable access video interview so we all headed back to the museum and re met after her appointment. She gave us a detailed account of how the area was resettled by the Swabians and other groups after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. Serb society is rich in culture with its long checkered history and multi ethnic roots. The museum in Werbass is an important initiative in preserving the story of this area of Serbia. My mother and aunt made donations to the museum before leaving and I plan to contact the Voijvodina government in support of the museum as a foreign tourist.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my god :)
    Let me say first, that I am absolutely stunned by your memory Mike!
    You're better at remembering what I said than me myself! :D

    I really enjoyed reading this, and I am so glad you like Vrbas' and Serbian culture in general.

    Also, thank you very much for all the complements, same stands for you your mother and your aunt, all three of you are very good and cheerful people, obviously with a great sense for adventure, which I so much respect!

    As for my English I wouldn't really rate myself that high, I'd my grammar is still pretty bad, and I lack common type conversation.
    But thank you anyway!

    I'll make sure I send this to my mother and the rest of the two employees at the museum to read it. I'm sure they'll love it!