The exhibition “Children in War: Serbian Refugee Homes in Mataruška Banja 1942-1944” was opened in the Gallery of the National Museum Kraljevo, on Tuesday, October 17th, 2023, starting at 6 p.m. At the beginning of the evening, the audience had the opportunity to hear the song “Oj, Srbijo, mila mati” performed by the Children’s Choir “Aria” with the conductor Dragan Milićević, while the opening protocol of the exhibition was led by Nemanja Trifunović, curator of the National Museum Kraljevo.
The audience and guests were first greeted by Darko Gučanin, director of the National Museum Kraljevo, and pointed out that this exhibition is valuable because it deals not only with war but, which is rare, with the position of children in war. During 1942 and 1943, the Convalescent Home for the children of the Serbian Refugee Home Mataruška Banja worked in the Studenica monastery. On this occasion, Archimandrite Tikhon (Rakićević), abbot of the Studenica Monastery, addressed the audience. Looking back on the war years, he pointed out that the Monastery narrowly avoided a total disaster during the penetration of the Bulgarian army. With the arrival of the children in the monastery, peace prevailed, which lasted until the end of the war, and it is a special blessing and great joy that Mr. Ćebić, one of the cadets from Studenica, is present here.
Ljubinka Škodrić, PhD, senior research associate of the Institute for Contemporary History in Belgrade and the author of the exhibition, expressed her satisfaction that after many years of cooperation with the National Museum Kaljevo and her colleague Mirjana Savić, she is seeing the results of their joint work. The living word was very important in that work – the testimonies of former wards of the Refugee Home in Mataruška Banja, such as Milorad Ćebić and Dragan Žikić, who are now present at the exhibition. Their testimony about the suffering and shelter provided in the Home, after so many years, says so much about this institution. During the research, we came to the conclusion that care for refugees was neither a political nor an ideological issue, but a problem related to social care, so all domestic warring parties in occupied Serbia tried to provide support and give their help and contribution. This is especially important, because refugee affects children very differently than adults: they become preoccupied with difficult problems inappropriate for their age. In that process, they grow up quickly and prematurely, and those fates and memories later follow them throughout their lives.
Mirjana Savić, museum advisor of the National Museum Kraljevo and the author of the exhibition, emphasized that this is an exhibition about children and their complete care in the conditions of the Second World War, which would indeed be an undertaking in peacetime conditions. In the period from June 3rd, 1942, to December 10th, 1944, 3,445 children passed through, and probably more, given that the homes worked until the end of 1944. The author points out that with this exhibition she wants to show how dedicated our nation is to caring for the weak and children, because of the total number, 56 died, but over 3,400 children survived the Second World War.
The exhibition was opened by Bojan Dimitrijević, PhD, scientific advisor of the Institute for Contemporary History in Belgrade, who pointed out that in the exhibition “Children in War” we see a delicate, human tragedy – refugee children. The mass influx of children began in 1942 when the Ustasha offensive began. Such centers would not have been formed if it were not for Nedić’s government, which accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Independent State of Croatia, as well as from occupied Macedonia and Kosovo, about which not much has been written in historiography.