Keeping alive a heritage nearly destroyed by war

Plattduetsche Park hosts a festival


Gottschee, a former German-speaking region of Slovenia, in central Europe, might no longer be, but its spirit lives on at the annual Gottscheer Volkfest, hosted for the 71st time on June 4 by the Plattduetsche Park Restaurant in Franklin Square. 

During World War II, many Gottschee residents fled their homeland while others intermarried with Slovenes in order to avoid persecution because they refused to align themselves with Third Reich ideology. Thousands of Gottschee refugees settled in Queens and Ohio during and after the war, before dispersing throughout the United States. The Gottscheer Volkfest serves as an annual reunion for many who were displaced by war, along with their children and grandchildren. 

People come from throughout the greater metropolitan area and across North America for this festival, along with some from as far away as Europe.   

At the festival, Gottscheers swap stories about their homeland, meet up with family members and friends, and enjoy food and drink. Roland Belay is on the board of Gottscheer Central Holding, which runs Gottscheer Hall in Ridgewood, Queens, a catering hall.  "The purpose of [Gottscheer Volkfest] is to get all the people from Gottschee to see each other," Belay said. "Some people are here from Cleveland, Toronto and Europe, so it gives them the opportunity once a year to get everyone in one spot and get to talk to each other."

The close cultural and linguistic connections between Germany and what was Gottschee, and is now the Municipality of Kocevje, were apparent at the Gottscheer Volkfest. On the menu were bratwurst and German potato salad, and German beers were in abundance. The  German-American band Bud Gramer and Linda played. 

A festival highlight is the annual Miss Gottschee competition. The winner must be of Gottschee heritage, write an essay and pass a committee hearing. This year's Miss Gottschee, Christina Popowytsch, said, "It means honestly everything to me to be named Miss Gottschee. It's something I wanted since I was a little girl going to all the picnics and seeing the Miss Gottschee be crowned. It's just something I always wanted in life."

"That's what the Gottscheers are all about - keeping the tradition going, keeping the heritage going," said Joe Morscher, president of the Gottscheer Rod & Gun Club. "We try hard to stay together and to keep together as a community."