Prebilovci Are Alive Again
Of the thousand inhabitants of this village, in August 1941, the Croatian army, known as the Ustashe, brutally killed more than eight hundred. It took decades for the village to recover. In the 1990’s, at the beginning of a new war, to prevent new atrocities, the inhabitants of Prebilovci went into exile. In 1992, descendants of the executioners blew up the memorial-ossuary of the martyrs of 1941. (...)In the past few years, with the restoration of the temple, a number of Prebilovci residents have returned home. Now, the parish has more than fifteen baptisms a year. They have been renewing their library, working the land, preparing to open the institute to collect materials about the history of Serbian Herzegovina

By: Aleksandra Glišić
Photo: Radovan Dangubić

Prebilovci have now become a place of joy and resurrection, the place which gives birth to a new life. All cultural and other events are indication that this place has been turning again into a real small town, with all its beauty.
This is how priest Marko Gojačić begins the story of Prebilovci. He has been trying with all his heart to bring back life and liveliness into this village in Herzegovina, built like Phoenix rising again from its ashes. And he has been successful, we must admit. Luckily there are those people from Prebilovci who, despite all the suffering in the last war, decided to return and rebuild their homes, houses, to breathe new air under the sky of Herzegovina.
– In these two and a half years that I have lived in the parish of Čapljina with my family, we have been trying to gather as many young people around the church, which is in the valley of the Neretva literally the main foothold for all returnees – says Gojačić, who has stimulated young people of Prebilovci through a series of social activities.
The village in the south of the land of Herzeg Stefan, on the left bank of the river Bregava, three kilometers from Čapljina, will be remembered for the evil that came and ravaged it during World War One. In that period, the village had almost a thousand inhabitants, and more than eight hundred were killed by Croatian army, known as the Ustashe. It took a long time for the village to recover, decades even, and then in the 1990’s a new war arrived, and the people of Prebilovci, to prevent evil from happening again, went into exile. Some have returned a few years ago, proving that life and youth are stronger than anything.
– The church takes a lot upon itself, all in order to attract young people who, thank God, there are quite numerous. We need to teach them the right values, among other things, to love the Church and the people around them. Those with courage and faith came to the charred remains of their houses, rebuilt them and started a new life, not so easy to them – says the priest who shares his everyday life with the people of Prebilovci.
– In addition to the reconstruction of destroyed churches and other property, work with children and young people is of great importance to me as a priest. All these young people are adorned with goodness and love for the Church. It is up to the priests to give good focus to this love, so that their virtues, with great effort, would give abundant fruit.
They say that a greater crime in World War Two took place only in the village of Ladice in the Czech Republic. The tragedy of Prebilovci is even deeper due to the fact that descendants of the executioners in 1992 blew up the memorial-ossuary holding the remains of the martyrs of Prebilovci killed in 1941.
– In addition to rebuilding the temple in Prebilovci, one of the important projects is the opening of the library, which was named after the teacher Stana, tragically killed with her students that day in August 1941 – says Gojačić. – People came to help open this library with great enthusiasm. A large number of institutions from Serbia, Srpska and abroad, as well as individuals, have contributed to this endeavor. The list is huge and I am afraid that, if I started to enumerate, I would surely accidentally fail to mention someone. The library has a solid collection of books. I would single out especially historical literature and the one connected with the suffering of Serbs in Herzegovina.


The priest announces that they will not stop only at this and they expect more challenges.
– They are also planning other important things, such as the opening of an institute that would focus on collecting materials about the suffering of Serbs in Herzegovina.
As the most important event he singles out the consecration of the temple in Prebilovci and transfer of the martyrs of Prebilovci.
– The temple was built at an incredible speed, above all due to great engagement of the Diocese of Zahumlje and Herzegovina, which was able to connect and unite the good people willing to help. The temple in Prebilovci is a symbol of renewal of Serbian life in the whole valley of the Neretva – says Gojačić.
He notes that this temple, along with the restoration of the monastery Žitomislić and the Orthodox Cathedral in Mostar, is the spiritual stronghold for the Serbian returnees.
– Restoration of the church is an event that marked the recent history of Prebilovci and showed all the wrongness of demolition of temples and re-killing of the bones of martyrs. Despite all this, a new church sprouted on their ashes, becoming a place where people get baptized and married. For the first time since the war of the nineties, and even long before that, we have more than fifteen baptisms per year in the parish, for the second consecutive year. This is a true indicator of the renewal of life in this victimized parish.
The greatest difficulty for returnees is the lack of work.
– Employment opportunities would greatly contribute to more people returning here – says Gojačić. – Of course, this is a problem in many other areas, even more developed than ours. Living here from scarce agriculture, same as a large number of families, is strenuous and uncertain. But these people have mustered the strength to start over, to create new arable land and places from where they will feed their families. Employment changes a lot, gives a security and predictability. I think we should seriously address this issue. This problem is one of the important factors preventing more numerous returns.
The priest Gojačić is mostly proud of the youth of Prebilovci, especially elementary and high school children.
– It is very important that they grow up with the church and the true values. They will soon be the foundation and pillars of our society, good and reliable people who defend their own and respect others around them. These are the bravest children in the world, children who are trying to be good students and to participate in all other supporting activities. Although in the Neretva valley they were denied this by the official curricula, with the church they will learn a lot about the culture and history of the Serbian people, therefore about their being, name and path.


– The Temple of the Resurrection of Christ and the martyrs of Prebilovci were visited by around 5,500 worshipers from May to October was this year. They paid respect to the relics of the martyrs and spread the news of the resurrection of the village and life in it. Thank God that we have such a temple that all of us are proud of and the martyrs who protect and encourage us – says he priest Marko Gojačić.


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