Holocaust survivor wants this story told

Категорија: Jasenovac članci

Bob Jugovic’s fate as a successful Hamilton real estate broker might have been foretold centuries earlier thanks to the heroics of the medieval Serbian warrior he was named after.


The Jugovic name opened many doors for the 76-year-old Serbian immigrant and Holocaust survivor who started out in the Hamilton housing market in the late 1960s. As a Realtor, Jugovic served many post-war Slavic immigrants and their children when the city was still a thriving town known equally for its steel industry as for its ethnic diversity.

Starting his own brokerage in 1970 from his east-end house, Jugovic opened his realty office just two years later on Ottawa Street North, where his business would peak in the mid-1980s with 16 sales reps.  Many of his clients were Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Ukrainian or Slovenian.

His name is what drew them to him. Jugovic was named after Bosko Jugovic, the youngest of nine brothers who with their father died in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Bosko Jugovic is revered in Serbia’s national memory because he carried the Serbian flag in the battle against the Ottomans, which resulted in the obliteration of the Serb army.

“The name Jugovic is like Lincoln in the U.S.,” says the now semi-retired Jugovic, who anglicized his name to Bob. “It helped with my career. That and the fact that I was hard working and honest, too.”

A former employee of Dofasco, Jugovic, who taught himself English by reading the newspaper on his work breaks, drew up a list of pros and cons as to whether he should quit one of the city’s most sought-after, good-paying jobs. His list favoured the pros so he did the unthinkable and after three years of working for the steel mill, called it quits.

“People said, are you cuckoo?” says Jugovic, who has three sons and five grandchildren. “My wife wasn’t so crazy about the idea but I wanted to do something on my own. I wanted freedom.”

He built a business that still employs his eldest son, Stan Jugovic, a broker and appraiser. Stan would win the debate over whether or not to sell his father’s company to a franchise, a move Jugovic has some regrets about not doing. While he thinks he would have enjoyed running a larger practice, the all-important Jugovic name would be lost as would the independence of running your own shop.

After years of keeping detailed notes of his memories of the war, Jugovic decided in 2000 that he would begin winding down his business and devote his time to writing his life story. His memoir, My Journey through the Jasenovac Death Camp was self published in Serbian. In April, Jugovic headed to his hometown in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina to work on translating his story into English.

The book honours the memory of his father, brother and two uncles who were killed in an extermination camp during the Second World War. Jasenovac is considered the most notorious death camp in Croatia and one of the biggest in all of Europe. It is known for practices that were considered savagely cruel and brutal as well as a high number of deaths.

The Yugoslav government did its best to suppress accounts of the Holocaust, says Jugovic. The Communist government tried to keep the deaths of over 1.5 million Serbs, Jews and Roma peoples a secret from the general population.

“This history is not very well known,” says Jugovic. “Whatever time I have left in my life I will devote to the truth about what happened to the Serbs, the Jews and the Roma Gypsies.”

Jugovic is also hoping to fund a Holocaust memorial site in his homeland for the Serbian war victims, especially the 110,000 children who perished.

His father Stevo is remembered at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  He was a Serbian farmer and land owner who worked in the United States during the 1920s and returned to Serbia a wealthy man. In 1941, the Jugovic family, along with other Serbian Orthodox, Jews and Roma Gypsies were taken to a concentration camp run by Croatian fascists.

Just six at the outbreak of the Second World War, Jugovic still recalls his family’s journey across the Una River, the physical frontier between Croatia and Bosnia, and into the Nazi labour camp. His father, brother and two uncles were relocated to a death camp in neighbouring Serbia and were never heard from again. Several weeks later, his mother was granted leave from the camp and returned with him to their native village. His younger sister was adopted by a Croatian family in the interim, while his father and older brother were believed to be gassed or starved to death at the German-run Sajmiste concentration camp in Zemun.

Jugovic’s own survival is marked by guilt, gratitude and wonder. He vividly remembers being hidden under his mother’s skirt as all of the other male children were being rounded up onto a cattle car for transport to Jasenovac. He recalls as a child seeing other children’s bloodied handprints on a church wall and long graves freshly dug in the grounds outside. He also witnessed the burning of his village and the destruction of his school and church.

A self-made man who speaks French, Spanish and several Slavic languages and is currently learning Italian, Jugovic prides himself on his intelligence, his thirst for knowledge and his drive to succeed. And though he lost his father at a too-young age, Jugovic believes it was thanks to his father that he got into real estate because he inherited his understanding and appreciation for owning land.

And despite the torment and atrocities he witnessed and endured in his youth, Jugovic is not bitter.

“I suffered so much but my life was good,” he says. “I made it. I came from hard-working peasant farmers and I’ve done well and now it’s my time to give back.”

Monday the 23rd. UG Jastrebarsko1942