Between 16 and 23 of September, 2016 seven exceptional young people from five European countries visited the multicultural borderland region of Baranya county, Hungary. They had an opportunity to meet its inhabitants, and conduct and document interviews with them. Although Pécs was the main venue of the project activities, participants also stopped by few other places: Erdősmecske, Pécsvárad, Sellye, Drávasztára and Piskó.
Julia Barandun from Switzerland, undergraduate student of Political Sciences at the University of Zurich, Orsolya Gabriella Csizmár from Hungary, student of Translation and Interpreting at the University of Graz, Máté Makaji from Hungary, student of Architecture at the University of Pécs, Klaudija Miceva from Macedonia, student of Tourism at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, Petra Mieth from Hungary, student of History and English at the University of Pécs, and Noelia Paz Fernández from Spain, visual artist currently focusing on the remembrance and identity processes related to the place attachment, accompanied by Evelina Hägglund from Sweden, independent researcher, visual artist and undergraduate student of Fine Arts at the Academy of Visual Arts in Ljubljana and the ENRS coordinator, Beata Drzazga in just one week met the representatives of six ethnic minorities living in the region of Pécs: German, Romany, Croatian, Serbian, Polish and Greek. They have conducted fifteen interviews in six different languages: Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian, German, English and Polish, with multi-generational group of people, aged 18-90. Here is a summary of their journey.
Days 1-2 | Erdősmecske
The study visit began in Erdősmecske, a picturesque Hungarian-German village located 32 km northeast of Pécs, where the participants spent the first two days. The history of the settlement itself deserves some attention. Until 1930s the village’s name was Rácmecske (Rác – English: Serb), due to its predominantly Serbian population. 18th and 19th century brought some significant changes in the ethnic composition of the population of the village. Along with the arrival of the Hungarians and people of German descent, the population of the Serbs started to decrease. Today there are no people of Serb origin in Erdősmecske. During and after the Second World War also the German population decreased significantly, because many people were forced to flee their homes (deportations and forced labour). The 1990s brought Erdősmecske a much needed development. In 1999, two years after establishment of a leisure and social club for pensioners, the youth initiated the formation of the German-Hungarian Friendship Association. Its aim is to preserve and pass on the traditions and customs of the German population living in Erdősmecske. Few years later the German National Local Government has been established in the village, and a traditional German folk dance group came into being. The German-Hungarian Friendship Association, under the leadership of Ms Melitta Hengl, organizes a number of events each year. One of them is the annual German National Afternoon, in which, luckily, the participants of the In Between? project had an opportunity to take part. They also visited two exhibitions: Erdősmecske in the Change of Times and In the Memory of Old Times, both telling a story of the village and its inhabitants.
Guided tour with Ms Melitta Hengl, Erdősmecske:
The most important point of the visit to Erdősmecske, however, were the meetings with the local inhabitants. The In Between? team had an opportunity to conduct two very intense and moving interviews. The first one was with Mrs Brunn Péterné. She was born as Veronika Schlapp in 1926 to Hungarian-German parents in Vadászcsárda, Hungary. At the age of 6 she started school. Six years later she became a housemaid. When she was 18, together with her three sisters she was deported for forced labour to Horlovka in Soviet Union, where firstly she worked at an orchard, and later was assigned to do woodwork. She returned to Hungary after 3 years, in 1947. Two years later she got married and together with her husband she moved to Erdősmecske. They had one daughter, Teréz. Mrs Brunn Péterné – as a member of the surviving generation – told us a lot about the difficult fate of Hungarian Germans, especially during the Second World War.
Julia interviewing Mrs Brunn Péterné:
The second interview in Erdősmecske was conducted with Mrs Schnell Henrikné and her husband. Mrs Schnell Henrikné was born as Teréz Weber in 1941 to a Swabian family in Erdősmecske. Between 1954 and 1963 she worked for the local Agricultural Cooperative, where she met her future husband. They had two children, János and József. Mrs Schnell Henrikné has been a housewife for most of her life. Presently she is also an active member of the pensioners’ club, and the local government, being involved in planning and execution of all village events. She told us about the life, customs and family traditions of the Swabs living in this area.
Mrs and Mr Schnell (now and in 1962):
Day 3 | Pécs
After two busy days in the Hungarian countryside, the In Between? team moved to Pécs, the so-called cultural gateway city. They had a short introduction to the history and cultural diversity of the city, and the region, which is now the most important centre of Croatian, German and Romany culture in Hungary. In the past the region was influenced by Latin, Turkish, German and Croatian culture. Today there are local governments of nine nationalities working in Pécs: Bulgarian, Croatian, German, Greek, Polish, Romany, Ruthenian, Serbian and Ukrainian. This fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities is reflected not only in the architecture of the city, but above all in its cultural identity.
19th century regional newspapers for German and Hungarian speaking citizens, Museum of the History of Pécs:
After a short sightseeing tour around Pécs, participants of the In Between? project visited the Synagogue dating from 1868, and saw the permanent exhibition containing documents, photographs, Judaica objects and other artifacts connected to the Jewish culture in Baranya county. Their guide was Mr Tamás Goldmann, leader of the Jewish community in Pécs, who told them the tragic history of the Jews in Pécs and surroundings during the Second World War. This knowledge proved useful during the conversation they had in the afternoon. And it was not an ordinary one. The afternoon interview was conducted via Skype and the interviewee was Dr George Deak, who called from Massachusetts, USA. Mr Deak was born in Pécs in 1948. His parents were secular Jews. When the Second World War broke out, his father was taken into military service. His mother was taken to Auschwitz, along with his brother and other members of the family. Mr Deak’s parents survived by miracle, but everyone else in the family who had been in Hungary at the beginning of the war had perished in the Holocaust. In the 1950s the family decided to move to the US, where George has been living and working since then. Recently, he has begun to translate Ervin Šinko's The Novel of a Novel from Hungarian into English, and to research the interesting story of his life. At the beginning of the interview he shared an excerpt of that book, in his own translation, that humorously touches the topic of the complexed identity: ’But Ervin Isidorovich, you have accumulated the strangest of strange attributes! To be Hungarian is already in itself bad fortune, but one can live with it. To be Hungarian and Jewish is a bit excessive. To be Hungarian, Jewish and a communist Jewish writer this is truly perverse. But at this time to be a Hungarian, a Jew, a communist Hungarian writer and in addition, a Yugoslav citizen -- compared to this the fantasies of the dearly departed Sacher-Masoch are simply innocent lapdogs!’ (Šinko Ervin, Egy regény regénye. Noran Libro Kiadó, p. 326. Print).
Noelia and Evelina speaking with Dr George Deak:
Mr Deak spoke to the participants of the In Between? project about the history of his family and his childhood memories, but also about his view on the personal identity question, which was extremely interesting concerning the complexity of him being an American, but also a Hungarian and a Jew. He admitted that America is a relatively easy place to be ’in between’. He also said that although identity is important, ‘the most important thing is ethics. Learning to be a decent human being and having respect for other people, and listening to other people’s stories and what their feelings are. And then you find out that ultimately we are all the same. We are all born of mothers and fathers, though that may be changing. We all have childhoods, and we all need affection. We have more in common than what really divides us’.
Later that day the In Between? group had another powerful interview with Mrs Maria Zemplényi, former Chairwoman of the Polish National Local Government in Pécs. Mrs Zemplényi, although being born in Poland, spent most of her life in Hungary. Among the unique and personal memories that she shared, one could find some real gems.
Interview with Mrs Maria Zemplényi:
Day 4 | Pécsvárad and Pécs
The next day brought some new interesting encounters. Firstly the In Between? team travelled to Pécsvárad, 20 km northeast of Pécs, where they met Mrs Katalin Dretzky. Her father, Feliks Drecki, came from an old noble Polish family. In September 1939, when the Second World War broke out, he was drafted into the Polish army. Later he found himself in Hungary. After the war his family’s property was nationalised, and he was compelled to stay abroad. Mrs Dretzki, his first daughter, was born in Hungary in 1946, and has lived there since then. She told us many stories from her past – about her father, his patriotism and incredibly strong attachment to Poland and Polish roots, about their visit to Warsaw in 1958 and the first meeting with her grandmother Mrs Halina Wolska (known in the family as ’Babciulka’), and about her childhood in Hungary and holidays in Zakopane, Poland. It was a very special meeting. Very informative, but also very emotional and touching, because it evoked some vivid memories from the past.
Mrs Katalin Dretzki with her father, Warsaw 1958:
From Pécsvárad the participants of the In Between? project went straight to see one of the Hungary’s tallest building – Pécs TV Tower. The 197 m high building is located on one of the peaks of the Mecsek Hills, which has an elevation of 535 m. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t perfect that day, so they couldn’t fully enjoy the breathtaking view from the observation deck, but it was well worth a look.
One more interview took place in the afternoon. The In Between? team visited Mrs Areti Bella. Mrs Bella was born in 1931 in Epirus, Greece. During the Greek Civil War (1946-1949) she escaped from home together with her younger sister. Their parents stayed in Greece. The girls were separated in Albania – Mrs Bella was taken to Budapest and her younger sister went to the Soviet Union.
Mrs Bella grew up in Hungary and has been living there since then. Her husband was a Greek partisan, whom she met in a Hungarian hospital. They have 2 children, 4 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. While Mrs Bella recalled the stories drawn from the memories of her childhood spent in Greece, her daughter Anastasia described her adolescent life in Hungary. They spoke about the ways they preserve the Greek customs and traditions, and... about the ethnicity issues raised in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Interview with Mrs Areti Bella:
Day 5 | Sellye and Drávasztára
On 20 September the In Between? team went to Sellye, small village located 50 km southwest of Pécs. Firstly they had a guided visit in the Kiss Géza Museum. The institution holds an ethnographic collection of everyday objects, artefacts and traditional dress typical for the ethnocultural region called Ormánság, lying around the confluence of the Dráva and the Danube rivers. In the courtyard of the Museum they saw a typical for that region ‘footed’ house (Hungarian: talpas ház) from 1890, constructed of mortar, lime and a wooden frame. They also visited the Draskovich Castle built in 1750, functioning nowadays as a school. Their guide was Mr Gyula Dudás, former member of the Croatian National Local Government in Sellye and a respectable local citizen.
Calvinist Church, Drávaiványi:
After the visit to the Draskovich family mansion and arboretum, the In Between? group travelled to the neighbouring village, Drávasztára, to meet Mr Sándor Matoricz, owner of a small hotel and restaurant, and a current member of the Croatian National Local Government in Sellye. Apart from learning about the traditions and culture of Croats living in the region, the project participants had a chance to taste the traditional Croatian food. On the way back to Pécs they also stopped in Drávaiványi to see a Calvinist church with a beautiful colorful wood-panelled ceiling and choir loft dating from the late 18th century.
Mr Sándor Matoricz presenting the photograph of his parents and himself:
Day 6 | Piskó and Pécs
On Wednesday morning the In Between? group went to Piskó, where they were warmly welcomed by Mrs Margit Orsós, Mayor of the village, and the Mayor’s Office staff. Piskó is located 43 km southwest of Pécs and only 2 km from the river Dráva, which in this area forms a natural border between Hungary and Croatia. According to 2011 census, Piskó had 246 inhabitants out of which 59,5% declared themselves as Roma. Two of them, Mr Sándor Petrovics and Mr György Mester agreed to be interviewed by the project participants. After the very honest and comprehensive interviews, the group had a chance to taste some delicious traditional Roma food, prepared especially for them in the Mayor’s Office courtyard.
Tasting the traditional Roma food, Piskó:
On the way back to Pécs the In Between? group shared experience of reflection and silence near the fence installed alongside the Hungarian-Croatian border. This physical barrier sparked some more discussion about the meaning of concepts like ethnicity, nationality, heritage, culture and identity. It also proved that the issues raised by the In Between? project are not of purely historical interest, but they still matter today.
Interview with Mr György Mester, Piskó:
In the afternoon the group split into two. Half of the group went to conduct an interview with Mrs Eleonóra Matkovits-Kretz, President of the National Circle from Pécs-Baranya of the Germans of Hungary. Mrs Matkovits-Kretz spoke about the mission and activities of the Circle, but also about the history of German community in Hungary, giving examples of her own life. The other half of the group visited the KHETANIPE Romano Centro, the association which main objective is ‘educating Roma children and youth, supporting their identity, cultivating their culture, enhancing their social life, improving the living conditions and protecting their rights’. The project participants had an opportunity to speak with Dr Szilvia Lakatos, Head of the Association and Ms Kata Nagy, Project Manager, who shared their extensive knowledge and experience in the field of organizing the skills development and employability projects for Roma people in Pécs. It was a profundly informative meeting, which helped the group to clarify various concerns regarding the situation of Roma people in Hungary.
Day 7-8 | Pécs
The last days of the study visit were really active. On Thursday morning the project participants visited the Koch Valeria School Centre, where they conducted two interviews with the pupils of the school, Adél Hann and Attila Nadrai. Both of them are of Hungarian-German descent, and both spoke about the ways the German customs and traditions are cultivated in their homes. Over lunch the In Between? group talked to Dr Robert Wołosz, Director of the Institute of Slavic Studies at the University of Pécs. It was a very entertaining meeting, full of personal stories and anecdotes about being ’in-between’ cultures, languages and identities. In the early afternoon the In Between? team had a guided tour around the Museum of the History of Pécs. The characteristic building of the Museum, dating from the 18th century, used to be a tanner house, and now holds a rich collection of objects, maps, documents and photographs from 17th cetury up till now. Thursday evening was devoted to the last two interviews. The first interlocutor was Mr Milan Erić, Priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Pécs, who gave an account of the life of Serbian community in the region. The second interviewee was Mrs Klára Horváth, librarian at the University of Pécs, who is a Hungarian, but her ancestors were of many other nationalities, ie. Italian, Austrian, Croatian and Slovenian. These two conversations were the perfect ending to the study visit.
After the interview with Mr Milan Erić:
On Friday the In Between? group visited the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter and finally had some rest. After seven busy days, a few hours spent in one of the most beautiful parts of the city was something that everybody needed. Zsolnay Cultural Quarter, renovated on the occasion of Pécs becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2010, is a place where the Zsolnay family, known of porcelain production, used to live and have their factories in the 19th and 20th century. Now it is a unique cultural quarter creating the vibrant, dynamic and cultural heart to the city. This was the perfect place to switch off, slow down and unwind. And to start the summary.
Petra, Orsolya and Máté, Zsolnay Cultural Quarter:
It was an exhausting week, full of inspiring discussions, intense emotional experiences, but also hard work. Participants of the In Between? project managed to form a solid team composed of great, extremely talented individuals, who although sometimes do not agree with each other’ opinions, still can work together, share reflections and learn from each other. For each participant the In Between? project ment something else. Some of them underlined the importance of practical skills they gained or developed (photography, video and sound recording, conducting interviews). For the others the discussions and reflections they shared were the most valuable part of the project. Lets hope this experience will have an impact on their both personal and professional development, and will contribute to strengthening the historical awareness and understanding of the values of critical reflection, dialogue and tolerance.
Special thanks to:
Dr Zsuzsanna Agora, Local coordinator
Mr Tamás Goldmann, Leader of the Jewish community in Pécs
Ms Melitta Hengl, President of the German-Hungarian Friendship Association in Erdősmecske
Mrs Hengl Jánosné, Leader of the Pensioners Club in Erdősmecske
Dr Szilvia Lakatos, Head of the KHETANIPE Romano Centro Association
Ms Kata Nagy, Project Manager at the KHETANIPE Romano Centro Association
Mrs Margit Orsós, Mayor of Piskó
Dr Virág Rab, Local coordinator
Mrs Maria Zemplényi