Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

On July 18, 1926, a monument to King Peter I was erected in the square in Novi Bečej, and in September 1937, a monument to King Alexander was erected on the dolma
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World War I

The struggle for the reshaping of the world emerged with wars towards the end of the nineteenth century (Spanish–American War in 1898, Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905). While England led the world, by the end of the nineteenth century, especially after the economic crisis of 1873, Germany emerged in economic development, catching up with England and demanding a redistribution of colonies.

The Sarajevo Assassination on June 28, 1914, served as a pretext for war and the realization of Germany's goals to conquer colonies via land routes through the Balkans, the Arabian Peninsula, and further towards India. Emperor Franz Joseph I, aging and not playing the role demanded by the situation in Austria, saw the increasing influence of his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, who, like the old king, leaned towards absolutist rule.

Franz Ferdinand aimed to create an organization where Slavic nations would have a position similar to what Hungary had within the dual monarchy. He wanted to diminish Hungary's political influence while simultaneously binding the Slavs to Austria. Fearing the freedom of the Slavs, he believed it necessary to conquer Serbia, which was a support base for the liberation movement of Southern Slavs in Austria-Hungary.

Ferdinand became the leader of a faction within the military demanding war and the conquest of Serbia and Macedonia, leading to an exit through Thessaloniki to the Aegean Sea. The first step in that direction was the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908.

Because of this, the Yugoslav nations viewed Franz Ferdinand as their blood enemy. Both the idea of granting rights to Slavs in the Empire and reducing Hungarian influence made him despised by the Hungarians. The annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina sparked widespread dissatisfaction and anti-dynastic demonstrations, even in areas considered loyal to the dynasty. Croatian and Bosnian nationalists began establishing stronger ties with Serbia, and the idea of creating Yugoslavia became very popular.

King Peter I, who ascended the throne after the assassination of Alexander and Draga Obrenović in 1903, soon came into conflict with Austria due, among other things, to his family ties indicating a closeness to Russia. Meanwhile, in 1905, the agreement that bound Serbia to economic dependence on Austria expired (Serbia couldn't export its products outside Austria). Serbia refused to renew the agreement and sought new markets, leading to a trade war known as the "pig war," from which Serbia emerged victorious.

At that time, there was a growing movement for the annexation to Serbia of all areas in Turkey and Austria-Hungary where Serbs lived. Serbia emerged victorious from the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, increasing its population to over four and a half million and strengthening its material foundation. This intensified the desire of all Yugoslavs in Austria-Hungary to liberate and annex all areas where they lived.

The immediate cause for war was the assassination of the Austrian heir, Franz Ferdinand, on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, by Gavrilo Princip. The Austrian government held Serbia responsible for the assassination and presented an unacceptable ultimatum. Russia supported Serbia, while Germany firmly supported Austria, even pressuring Austria to act. Serbia sought to resolve the dispute in The Hague, which Austria refused to consider, practically demanding Serbia's open surrender.

Unsatisfied with Serbia's response, Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. The Triple Entente powers (France, England, and Russia) attempted to prevent the war, but Germany preempted them by declaring war on Russia on August 1, 1914, and on France and Belgium on August 3, 1914. England was thus faced with a fait accompli, and it entered the war on August 4, 1914.

From the very beginning of the war, three fronts were formed, which held almost until the end of the war. The Western Front stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland for about seven hundred kilometers, where the French and English armies faced Germany. On the Eastern Front, from the Baltic Sea to Romania, the Russian army faced the German and Austro-Hungarian forces. In the south, along the Danube and Sava rivers, the Balkan Front was formed, where the small and poorly armed but morally exceptional Serbian army confronted the Austro-Hungarian forces.

Germany was more prepared for war than the Triple Entente (Entente) countries, but the Entente had significantly greater resources. On the southern front, in the Battle of Cer from August 3 to 8, 1914, the Serbs defeated the Austrian army. In November and early December 1914, in the Battle of Kolubara (November 20 to December 3, 1914), defeated Austrian troops were pushed across the Drina, Sava, and Danube rivers, temporarily expelled from Serbia. About 50,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers were captured, and 142 cannons, 71 machine guns, 60,000 rifles, 2 airplanes, and 3,500 vehicles with ammunition and machine guns were seized.

By the end of September 1915, 350,000 Austro-Hungarian and German soldiers were concentrated on the Danube and Drina rivers, and at that time, 300,000 Bulgarian soldiers were ready to attack, against which Serbia could oppose about 250,000 soldiers. Under the pressure of a superior enemy, and despite resilient resistance, Serbian forces had to withdraw southward in an attempt to reach Thessaloniki and join the Allied forces.

In the fall of 1915, French and English troops formed the Salonika Front with their forces. In late 1915 and January 1916, these troops were reinforced by the withdrawal of some French and English troops from the Dardanelles, and the Russians did the same to counter the German and Austro-Hungarian forces advancing to the east.

However, on October 16, the Bulgarians captured Vranje, cutting off the retreat for the Serbian army to Thessaloniki. After the Battle of Kacanik, the Serbian army had no choice but to retreat, severely shattered, through the impassable paths of Albania to the Adriatic coast.

Destroying all reserves of ammunition, artillery, and equipment, scattered in groups through mountainous paths without equipment, the Serbian army, along with part of the population, livestock, and everything movable, moved through Albania. In this epic journey, triggered in part by the severe winter, more than 100,000 people died from hunger, exhaustion, and freezing in the impassable mountains of Albania.

The strongest and most enduring began to descend from the Albanian mountains to the Adriatic Sea in December 1915. In this arduous journey, around 140,000 people managed to break through and reach the island of Corfu.

According to the agreement between the Entente and Italy, naval operations in the Adriatic Sea were under Italian command. It seems that the Italian government, in some way, sought revenge against Serbs in the Austro-Hungarian army for the defeats they inflicted on Italians. Italy hindered and delayed the work of the French and English in transporting food and medicine and also delayed the transfer of the Serbian army to Corfu. It is estimated that, due to Italy's behavior, about ten thousand Serbian soldiers lost their lives.

After two to three months of recovery, the Serbian army was transferred from Corfu to the Salonika Front.

On July 20, 1917, an agreement known as the Corfu Declaration was signed on the island of Corfu between the Serbian government led by Nikola Pašić and the Yugoslav Committee in London led by A. Trumbić. The agreement focused on the creation and future governance of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

In the summer of 1918, a counteroffensive on the Western Front began with the French, English, and fresh American armies, shaking the previously well-organized German forces. On the Salonika Front, Serbian and French troops defeated the Bulgarian army. Bulgaria surrendered on October 29, 1918, and Turkey followed suit on October 31, 1918. By the end of October 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed.

At the assembly in Novi Sad from November 12 to 25, 1918, with the participation of 757 representatives from 211 municipalities, a decision was made to secede Banat, Bačka, and Baranja from Hungary and join Serbia. Delegates from Novi Bečej included Dragutin Vijatov and Vuka Tacakov, while representatives from Vranjevo included Mladen Vasić, Bogoljub Malešev, Zvonimir Tolmačev, Vasa Glavaški, Joca Vlajovanov, Sreća Sekulić, Ivan Popov, and Joca Komšić.

The peace conference with Germany was opened in Versailles, lasting from January 18 to June 28, 1919. It concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, later supplemented by treaties with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. This treaty significantly altered the map of Europe. Austria-Hungary ceased to exist, and Italy acquired South Tyrol, Istria with Trieste, the islands of Cres and Lošinj, and the city of Zadar, later followed by Rijeka. Romania was awarded, in addition to Bessarabia, Bukovina, Transylvania, and southeastern Banat.

During the Versailles Peace Conference, a prominent Serbian scientist, Mihajlo Pupin, who hailed from Idvor in Banat, arrived from America. He played a crucial role in ensuring that the borders of Yugoslavia were resolved more justly, especially concerning Banat with Romania and Italy. His significant influence as a scientist and friendship with then-President of the United States, Wilson, contributed to achieving the maximum possible under the given circumstances.

The Peace Treaty of Versailles in 1919 divided Banat between Romania and Yugoslavia. Out of 28,502 km2, Yugoslavia received 9,766 km2. In this part of Banat, according to the 1921 census, 561,958 inhabitants lived, including 214,213 Serbs, 162,530 Germans, 98,471 Hungarians, 72,377 Romanians, 17,595 Slovaks, 4,624 Jews, and 11,252 other residents.

Banat, as a fertile region, had been of special interest to Romania and Serbia since the beginning of the war. At that time, the Entente placed great hope in Romania as an ally in the war and was willing to make concessions to gain its support. The President of the Romanian government at the time, Ion Brătianu, set impossible conditions since he was reluctant to enter the war, believing that the Entente would not accept them. According to this demand, accepted and signed by the Entente on August 17, 1916, Romania was granted the entire Banat region up to the Tisza River. This treaty was concluded without the knowledge of the Serbian government.

Hopes for Romania were not fulfilled, as it was soon forced to capitulate to the Central Powers and accept harsh peace terms, rendering the treaty of August 17, 1916, meaningless. The Paris Conference did not consider this treaty at all. New Bečej and Vranjevo were part of Austria-Hungary and were two separate municipalities, administratively so detached that, during the time when Vranjevo was within the Veliki Kikinda District, their proximity felt similar to that of Stari Bečej or some other distant place.

In World War I, the present-day residents of Novi Bečej (Turskobečej and Vranjevo) were part of the Austro-Hungarian army. There is no data on the number of participants in the war, but it can be assumed that around three thousand soldiers were mobilized, consisting of ten to twelve age groups, including approximately 1600 Serbs and 1400 Hungarians.

The behavior and feelings of Serbs during the war were different from those of the Hungarians. Despite the Hungarians being fundamentally against Austria, in this case, they aligned their interests with Austria and Germany. It is quite logical that Hungarians from Novi Bečej and Vranjevo followed suit. The sentiment among the Serbs, on the other hand, was contrary. Although they couldn't openly express their feelings, as it was clear to the Austro-Hungarian authorities, they had no choice but to be mobilized and sent to fight against their own brethren.

It is essential to emphasize that our fellow citizens behaved mostly in line with the people in Budapest when it comes to Hungarians, or with the people in Serbia when it comes to Serbs from Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. Had they behaved differently, regardless of whether it was progressive or reactionary, they would have been considered traitors by the majority of their people. As simplistic and naive as this may sound, it seems to be the case. The actions of those in Serbia and those in Budapest can be evaluated and graded, and our fellow citizens were merely followers of such national policies.

We do not have information about the behavior of the people from Novi Bečej, but the Vranjevo calendar for the year 1930 provides interesting data on the behavior of the people from Vranjevo. This data may offer an insight into the mood of the people in Bečej before and during the war.

The annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 and the threat to do the same to Serbia, considering the plans of Germany and Austria to secure a passage through the Balkan Peninsula to Arabia and India, led to the formation of an organization in Serbia called the "Narodna odbrana" (People's Defense). Its goal was to gather volunteers for a potential fight. Austria-Hungary observed the activities of this society with great suspicion. The work of "Narodna odbrana" gained supporters in all countries and regions where Serbs lived, including those in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. Young people, especially students, spread the ideas of "Narodna odbrana." Through their actions, they attracted attention and were under close scrutiny by the authorities.

Immediately after the assassination of Crown Prince Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, the arrest and persecution of Serbian youth in Vranjevo began. On St. Vitus Day, June 28, 1914, the night of the assassination in Sarajevo, the sons of the then teachers in Vranjevo and several students from the teacher training school were arrested. They were taken to the Čilag prison in Szeged, where they were tortured, and some fell seriously ill and were released to die at home, as was the case with Stevan Trećak, Marinko Davidović, and Emil Galetić. Some were interned in camps in Ipoljšag, Hont, and Szeged. This struggle against Austro-Hungarian authorities continued until the end of the war. Soldiers on the front were looking for every opportunity to surrender to the forces of the Entente, especially on the Eastern Front to the Russians. This behavior of the Slavic population influenced the actions of the people from Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. Some of the mobilized ones sent to the front surrendered to the Russians.

Upon entering Russian captivity, as soon as the gathering of volunteers to aid Serbia began in the summer of 1915, the people of Vranjevo and Novi Bečej submitted requests to the Serbian ambassador in Petrograd in the Russian prisoner-of-war command to be admitted to the First Serbian Volunteer Division in formation. We do not have data on the involvement of people from Novi Bečej, but Jovan Pejin collected and published information about the people from Vranjevo. According to these data, Vranjevo provided 156 volunteers, including 140 fighters, eight corporals, four sergeants, and four non-commissioned officers. Of this number, three were killed, nine went missing in the war, and three died, while 82 were wounded. Although these data differ from those published in the Vranjevo calendar for the year 1930, which states that two hundred volunteers from Vranjevo returned, we are inclined to accept the data compiled and published by Jovan Pejin. All of them, as part of the mentioned division, participated in the battles in Dobruja, where almost fifty percent of the fighters of the First Volunteer Division were wounded, killed, or missing due to completely unsuccessful military operations in Dobruja. The majority of the survivors from the failed military operations in Dobruja joined the units of the volunteer division sent to the Salonika front. They participated in these battles until the breakthrough of the Salonika front, i.e., until the liberation of all the regions of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

Those who remained in Russian captivity also honored the reputation of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo and actively participated in the October Revolution on the side of the Bolsheviks. There were whole squads and platoons of our fellow citizens among the ranks of the Red Guards and partisans.

After the withdrawal of Austro-Hungarian authorities in early November 1918 and until the arrival of the Serbian army, there was a brief period of anarchy, which the poor exploited for looting shops and large estates in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. On this occasion, a shop selling iron goods owned by the Jew Hugo Rihter, located across from the present-day "Miloje Čiplić" School, was set on fire in Novi Bečej. A part of the house towards the current gymnasium burned completely, so during the reconstruction, only the ground floor was built in that part, while the other part, where the "Potisje" shop for paints and varnishes is now located, was rebuilt with both the ground floor and the first floor. This house still stands as a "thorn in the side" — in that most beautiful part of Novi Bečej.

These shop lootings, or "revolts" as they are called today, had broader dimensions and affected other places. To restore order, around a hundred soldiers (a punitive expedition) composed of German soldiers from Timișoara were needed, and they ruthlessly dealt with the ringleaders. It is reported that eighteen people were shot in Novi Bečej during that time, although according to the accounts of the oldest inhabitants of Bečej and Vranjevo, that number seems quite different. In Vranjevo, five Vranjevo residents were shot in front of the Orthodox church on November 16, 1918, and the next day, November 17, three residents of Novi Bečej were shot.

After the breakthrough of the Salonika front and the crossing of the Serbian army across the Sava and Danube rivers, Vranjevo was liberated on November 21, 1918, and Novi Bečej was liberated on the same day. The Serbian army, led by Colonel Dragutin Ristić, who soon became a brigade general, entered Vranjevo at 4 p.m., and the same day

at 5 p.m., they entered Novi Bečej. In gratitude, one of the streets in Novi Bečej is named after Brigadier Ristić.

The monuments erected by the Hungarians in gratitude to the fighters in the great uprising of 1848-49 and the Honvéd General Leiningen were soon removed. On July 18, 1926, a monument to King Peter I was erected in the square in Novi Bečej, and in September 1937, a monument to King Alexander was erected on the dolma.

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