You Had Me At Ahoj
Pauline remembered the exact moment she first laid eyes on Jaro. She was smitten with the handsome young man who strode confidently into her father’s bakery one spring day, greeted her with a friendly “Ahoj”, and proceeded to order a kifle. Pauline knew immediately that she would marry him. She could tell he was well educated by the way he looked and carried himself; Jaro was tall and thin, and impeccably dressed in a fine suit, unlike other Slovak men in the village. He smiled self assuredly across the counter at her as she admired his stylish haircut: short on the sides and long bangs that swept back and over to the right with a cowlick in front that could not hide ears that stuck out on each side. She thought they were endearing.
Pauline had arrived in the village with her family from Soljany, Croatia, about the same time Jaro had gone off to high school in Bačsky Petrovec. Pauline, on the other hand, had finished elementary school in Croatia, and when they moved to Pivnica she had stayed home to look after her young brothers while her father ran the bakery and her mother cooked and cleaned for their five employees.
Jaro made the half hour commute on dirt roads from Pivnica to Bačsky Petrovec and back daily with other Slovak friends on the Suster family truck. The school was the only secondary school in Vojvodina that was taught in Slovak. It had been built after WWI when it became legal for the first time in hundreds of years to speak, write and teach in the Slovak language. Jaro and his brother Igor were lucky to have the school nearby; when their father Michal wanted to attend high school two decades earlier, he had to move away for four years to Dolny Kubin, several hours away in Slovakia.
For the most part, life was good in the early 1930’s for Pauline and Jaro and their families. After the destruction and hardship brought on by two Balkan Wars and WWI, the citizens of the young country of Yugoslavia enjoyed peace and prosperity for nearly two decades. They had more freedom living under the rule of the King of Serbia than they had under the previous Hapsburg Empire which had attempted to suppress and eradicate Slovaks and Protestants.
Judging from the clothes Pauline, Jaro and their friends wore and the activities they engaged in, their families were relatively well off. Both families belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church where a strong emphasis had been placed on the value of education. In the 1930’s, Pauline’s family ran the popular bakery and Jaro’s family had a large farm out of town; a home in town with a lumberyard that Jaro would soon take over; and his father had been a successful banker (interestingly, only 15% of bankers in Yugoslavia were non-Jewish at the time). For the next few years during their courtship and early marriage, this blissful lifestyle would continue, although a dark shadow was slowly falling.