By: Lena Reis
Chapter 10 – Jugo Sokol at the Junior Olympics in Zagreb
The summer was very hard. There wasn’t much time for me to play anymore as we children had to work all summer in the fields doing one chore or another. I was really elated when it was time to return to school. I must say it was quite exciting.
On the first day our teacher informed us that she was married and would not be addressed as Miss Medunovic anymore but rather as Ma’am Batistich. The professor, who as we learned later was not a professor at all but had taken a correspondence course at the University of Zagreb, spent almost all of his time with his wife. Together they organized a gymnastic club, which was called Jugo Sokol. The club was active nationwide. It was so much fun and such a diversion from our ignorant daily life that all the Germans immediately participated.
However, because it was called Jugo Sokol and not Croatian Sokol, all but two of the Croatian families stayed away. And the fact that our teacher was a Roman Catholic in a 100% Catholic town, but had converted to the Serbian Orthodox faith for her husband’s sake did not help the matter any. Ever since the end of World War I, the Serbs and the Croatians had been archenemies. Serbia blamed Croatia for sabotaging the country and the economy. The Croats blamed the Serbs for milking Croatia dry. On the whole, this created an atmosphere so thick that it could have been cut with a dull knife.
The Club had to use the school building for its activities, which the Croats, of course, were dead set against. We had approval from the federal government; however, we had to deal with the local government. The Germans were always reaching for every cultural outlet that came along and were invariably boycotted by the Croats. But the organization persisted and grew. The members consisted mostly of Serbs, Checks and Germans. There were isolated towns in which Croats were active. The Checks were second only to the Serbs in participation. I will say though that the Checks are well known for organizing festivals and parades, more so than any nation that I know of.
It was a big experience for us youngsters. First we practiced locally, then we would get together with the neighboring town and then the county. Finally, we participated in Zagreb for the Junior National Olympics. Our uniforms were identical nationwide. All the gymnastic movements were the same throughout the country and any youngster could be thrown in with any other group at any given time in any given town and was able to participate to the rhythm of a playing band.
When we went to Zagreb for the National Junior Olympics, everything there was arranged and organized to the minutest detail. There were thousands of us from all over Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Even though there were so many of us, we were all taken care of and put up in public buildings. After we were shown to the school where we were to stay, we washed up and put on our uniforms. When we were all ready, we walked to a certain street, which in all likelihood must have been the city square. When we arrived there, we heard the band play. It was an army band. After this, every unit of the armed forces was presented. First came the King’s Guard followed by the Navy, Infantry and then the Air Force. After these came what were known as the members, the adult group. Finally, we joined in. Street after street. It must have been miles in length. We all marched to the stadium. There again, every group knew exactly through which gate to enter.
Our group leader took us all to our respective places. Each youngster had his exact place marked by a round piece of metal in the ground on which he stood throughout the entire performance. After we all were in our places, the president of the whole organization spoke and covered the minutest detail. After he had finished speaking, the band swung into the familiar melody and on the fifth beat of the drum, we all started. I would give anything if I could see us all over again today. The whole performance lasted three hours and consisted of five different segments. The girls all had little wreaths in each hand and the boys held tiny national flags with the colors of blue, white and red. The main performance was followed by competitive games, just like in the World Olympics, after which we all returned to the square just as we had started out.
In happy exhaustion we returned to the school building to spend the night. In the morning we received breakfast and at noon a dinner. After dinner we walked to the square once more for a repeat performance. Only this time the newly completed stadium was packed with spectators. Every seat was filled with cheering people.
After we were all at our places, the band swung into the national anthem, which was followed by a speech from the club president. All this was highlighted with an address from our Prince Peter, aforementioned as our ex-King, who is buried in Illinois. After the speechmaking, the band started to play again and we began our performance. We must have been fairly good because at times the cheering was so overpowering that it interfered with the playing of the band.