The 1920’s started off with the loss of the Milec family’s personal fortune and the death of their oldest son, Ludwig, one of two remaining children of the original eight. The Milec family luck finally began to turn around however, part way through the decade. For a while, only one child survived – Pauline. In 1923, when Pauline was 10, their ninth child, Andrew (Ondrej) , was born. Peter (Peitr) followed in 1924. Miraculously, all three would survive well into adulthood.
Pauline was ecstatic to have siblings again, and was the doting older sister. Her mother was always fearful that the boys would not survive childhood (who could blame her, after the deaths of seven children!), and so Pauline became their second mother when Maria was unable to provide for them. Pauline raced home every day after school to be with them, and later, when they were old enough, she walked them to school and home. Together they tended the garden and looked after the animals – the goats, chickens, pigs, horses and cow.
Up until now, Pauline had lived her entire life in Soljani, a small village in Croatia, which became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918 along with other Balkan regions such as Serbia, Macedonia, and Slovenia after the end of WWI. The multi-ethnic area called Vojvodina (above Serbia in the map below), under great protest from Hungary and Romania (who had been secretly promised this land by the Allies in WWI), also became part of Yugoslavia and formed an autonomous province, after having been part of Austro-Hungarian Empire for over a hundred years.
Through the 1920’s, Yugoslavia borrowed heavily from foreign banks to pay for it’s pre-WWI and war related debt, and for infrastructure projects. The debt would prove to be too much for the Kingdom, and when the Great Depression set in by 1930, Yugoslavia was hard hit.
It was also a time of internal conflict in Yugoslavia amongst the groups of people who spoke different languages. The Croats had supported the Austro-Hungarians during WWI, Serbia had not. Italy had fought Croatia for the Dalmatian Coast, and Serbia had fought alongside Italy. Our relatives were caught in the middle. Of Slovak descent, the 58,000 or so Slovak speaking residents of Vojvodina neither sided with the Austro-Hungarians, the Croats or Serbs. During WWI, Pauline’s father had surrendered his position in the Austro-Hungarian army to fight with the Russians and the Czechoslovak Legion against them. Michael, the father of Jerry Shuster (Pauline’s husband), had been a Major in the Austro-Hungarian army. It was messy and alliances were fragile and uncertain, making Yugoslavia a prime target for German occupation a few years later.
In 1928 or so, Paul and Maria decided it was time to move from Croatia to Pivnica in the Bačka region of Vojvodina (near Srem on the first map above, and the tiny blue dot above Belgrade, in the map above), where things may have looked a little better economically, where there was a relatively strong Slovak presence, and where they had extended family. The Milec and Mihalic families were originally from Pivnica prior to moving to Soljani over 30 years earlier. I suspect the Milecs felt safer, too, amongst Slovaks who felt as they did politically, as opposed to Croatia, where sentiment was on the side of the Germans.
Paul sold the bakery in Soljani, Croatia, and the one in Belina, Bosnia. They packed up the kids, the animals and their possessions, and with a horse and buggy, moved to Pivnica; Pauline was 15. They bought a house in town just one house down from the Slovak Lutheran Church, across the street from the Slovak meeting house, and around the corner from a neat row of several homes owned by the Shuster family, one of the oldest and largest families in town. The two families would soon become forever intertwined.