Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.

Explore the charm of Novi Bečej's historic buildings and vibrant past. From wealthy residents like Giga Jovanović to the legacy of Isidor Slezinger, discover the stories within the town's architecture and people

Humbly and modestly - to us, beautiful and close

Novi Bečej and Vranjevo didn't have many high-rise buildings, but that doesn't mean that only those multi-story houses were beautiful. Many memorable single-story buildings, a good portion of which still exists today, deserve appreciation.

The people of that time, modest in many ways, knew how to appreciate and enjoy all the beauty that surrounded them. Therefore, when wealthier individuals built houses, they didn't just want them to be large and comfortable, displaying the host's wealth, although that was not negligible. It was equally important for them and their families that their houses be beautiful. Less attention was paid to functionality when it came to the beauty of the house.

All works, from construction to carpentry and sheet metal, had to be executed with taste and imagination, so that every detail could captivate the human gaze and evoke a sense of admiration. Perhaps this sounds exaggerated, but the truth is not far from this assertion.

The facades, or as we commonly call them, decorations on the building, had to be lavish, and the sculptural reliefs skillfully crafted. Semi-circular, triangular ornaments above windows and doors, or in the form of garlands, had to be not only impeccably made and imaginative but also different from those of the neighbors.

Our ancestors knew how to appreciate beauty, but unfortunately, their desires were less likely to be fulfilled due to poverty.

Characteristic of Vojvodina towns is that a significant part of them consists of peasant households, so streets with agricultural buildings resembled each other, making the towns indistinguishable from one another in that aspect. Vojvodina towns, except for, to some extent, Novi Sad at that time, had mostly such streets that resembled villages, or rather, did not differ from villages in those parts.

What sets a town apart from a village and distinguishes towns in the Vojvodina plain from each other are their business districts, centers, and a few main streets.

At first glance, the center of Novi Bečej was similar to how it looks today. That is the first impression, which, however, does not even remotely correspond to the state that the center had in the period we want to remember. The main street with all the beautiful and large buildings from that time still exists today, but the appearance of the center has changed. The tallest, and certainly one of the most beautiful buildings, was the Civic School built in 1910. Today, it houses the "Miloje Čiplić" elementary school. At that time, it was not only beautiful but perhaps the largest school building in the entire Banat region. Although it was considered a three-story building, it had only two floors, and only in the forties did people start calling it a two-story building in our speech. This was not just the opinion of us children and others who were not familiar with it; it was also the official treatment of the school. For example, in the Report of the Private Gymnasium in Novi Bečej for the 1929-30 school year, on page 14, it says: "The school, this year as well, operated in a large, three-story government building, where the civic and elementary schools are also located."

Perhaps this understanding was because at that time the building had a well-arranged basement with wide corridors and workshops for manual work and cabinets if needed. The municipality maintained the building very well and cleanly. Probably, at that time, considering it was erected just twenty years earlier, it was neither difficult nor too expensive.

Opposite the Civic School was the building of the Harkov Institute or the Russian girls' gymnasium with a dormitory. Today, it is the building where the high school of Novi Bečej is located.

In addition to these schools, there were several other beautiful multi-story buildings, most of which still exist today, although many have had their purpose changed, except for the "Vojvodina" hotel.

For instance, in the building of the Turkish-Bečej Savings Bank, today there is the Vojvodina Bank and the Social Insurance Institute. The Savings Bank had its offices on the upper floor, and on the ground floor, there were shops where a craft store, the Dobrivoje Pajić haberdashery, and the grain trade of Julije Brandajs were located. The Savings Bank was established with Jewish-Hungarian capital in 1868. The director, at the time we are recalling and also the largest shareholder, was Giga Jovanović, the owner of the printing house and bookstore. In the courtyard, in part of the ground-floor building, was the printing house of Giga Jovanović. It was a small manual printing house that employed three workers. Not only was the typesetting manual, but also the two printing machines were manually operated. Opposite the printing house, in the yard, was a smaller residential building for the officials of the Turkish-Bečej Savings Bank.

Maybe I would be remiss if I didn't say more about the owner of the printing house and the director of the Savings Bank, Giga Jovanović. Giga, excluding large landowners, was the wealthiest man in Novi Bečej. Besides the printing house, he also owned a bookstore and a large two-story house with a vast yard on Petra Drapšina Street, right next to the schoolyard and gymnasium of the "Miloje Čiplić" school. On that plot, after Giga's house was demolished, several beautiful single-story residential buildings were erected, and more recently, a sports center has been built in their place. Giga also had a large garden for growing flowers. The garden with the buildings was located at the beginning of Petefi Šandora Street, from Marshal Tito Street to Petra Drapšina Street and beyond, towards the cemetery, almost to the empty space in front of the electric power plant building. Today, nearly ten beautiful residential buildings stand on the site of his garden. Besides horse-drawn carriages and beautiful horses, Giga was the only one in Bečej who owned a car.

The building housing the Directorate of the "Potisje" Company belonged to the Jewish merchant Isidor Slezinger. As I remember him, he was already an old man in his eighties, and he was succeeded by his sons: Arthur, who took over his father's mixed trade, and Joseph, who ran a fuel business. Old Slezinger was once an apprentice in the trade that was located in the building that was previously on the site of today's. He was very diligent and enterprising, which his employer, the store owner, especially appreciated. When Isidor became an assistant and was about to get married, his employer gave him his only daughter as a wife and handed over both the business and the store to him. This may sound somewhat like a fairy tale, but the old owner was not mistaken. Isidor Slezinger increased the turnover, expanded the store, so that the old house could no longer meet his plans. In the same place, he built a new two-story house, perhaps the most beautiful building in Novi Bečej at that time and even today.

As much as Isidor Slezinger succeeded in life, his sons were unlucky, and both of them, since the onset of the crisis, belonged to the financially modest traders of Novi Bečej.

But let me go back to old Isidor Slezinger. As mentioned earlier, he handed over the store to his sons, but he retained the drying facility for medicinal herbs, which was located behind the orthodox cemetery in the direction of the railway track, where the "Polet" Ceramic Industry is now located. In this drying facility, even in his old age, Slezinger annually dried and exported wagons of chamomile and other medicinal herbs to Germany and other Western countries.

In the period we are recalling, the fields around Novi Bečej, Kumane, Melenci, Taraš, and Beodra were abundant with chamomile, indicating that there was plenty of marshy soil where chamomile thrived exceptionally well. In May, every year, dozens of chamomile pickers could be seen. Many impoverished families eased their difficult financial situation with earnings from selling chamomile, and they involved their children in these activities. Today, unfortunately, due to the use of various weed-killing and other chemical crop protection agents, chamomile has gradually been suppressed and has finally disappeared from our fields. Yugoslavia has transformed from a major exporter to an importer of chamomile.

Across from Slezinger's house was a long multi-story building owned by a man from Belgrade, Saračević. It stretched from the Catholic parish to the corner of Liberation Square. On the upper floor were apartments, as they are today, and on the ground floor, as it is today, were shops with various trade and craft businesses.

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