Separated by decades of war, now friends are reunited at last

Jasna Levinger-Goy tracked down a friend of her elderly mother after they had been separated by war


When Sara Levinger was seriously ill in hospital, one person came in to her mind.

She turned to her daughter Jasna Levinger-Goy and asked her to find him. Easy enough, you might think, in this day and age — but less so in the case of Nenad Tuševljak, the young boy she had taken under her wing in Sarajevo more than 60 years ago.

Fearing it was her mother’s dying wish during the illness last year, Dr Levinger-Goy set to work immediately. Within hours she had tracked down her mother’s former pupil and protégé.

Despite having lost touch more than two decades previously, the pair shared an emotional telephone call.

Dr Levinger-Goy told the JC: “While we were waiting for a CT scan I think she was doing a summary of her life. She said ‘could you please try and find Nenad?’ I thought she was going crazy.

“She said ‘I’ve done some good things which makes my life worthwhile’, because she thought she was dying.”

A Google search brought up nothing, but eventually her psychotherapist daughter got hold of a phone number.

Dr Levinger-Goy explained: “He said nobody, not even Dostoevsky, could write about their relationship. He never stopped talking about the bond and the gratitude and said I had to consider him a brother.”

Prior to the Second World War, Sarajevo had been home to some 10,500 Jews but that number dwindled to just 800. Life had been tough for the then Sara Danon. She had survived a spell in an Italian concentration camp and in 1945 married Mirko Levinger.

Two years after Jasna was born her father was arrested by the Communist secret police and sent to a gulag in the northern Adriatic. He was later released and exonerated and life returned to some form of normality in the 1950s, so Mrs Levinger took up teaching French and Serbo-Croat in a middle school.

It was here that she first encountered the young boy who had witnessed his father being murdered by the Nazis.

“My mother sensed he had potential,” said Dr Levinger-Goy.

“But school was only mandatory until 14 so he was due to return to his village to work on the land. My mother went to his mother and suggested further education and she was given two eggs for her kindness.”

Mrs Levinger secured a place for Nenad in a boarding school, which enabled him to graduate from secondary school and eventually move to Ljubljana in Slovenia where he studied electronic engineering, built a successful career, got married and had children. The pair were in regular contact until the early 1990s. When the Communist bloc fell, war broke out in what was then Yugoslavia and raged for several years.

Thanks to the efforts of the international Jewish community, Dr Levinger-Goy and her parents were transported to freedom via Croatia and Hungary to Belgrade — where Mr Levinger later died from cancer.

Then, in 1995, mother and daughter came to Britain as refugees and Mrs Levinger was supported by the Central British Fund (CBF) — now World Jewish Relief — and the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR).

When Dr Levinger-Goy tracked down Mr Tuševljak there were further surprises.

“It was very, very moving,” she said.

“He told me that in 1992 he returned to Sarajevo to get my mother and family out — but couldn’t find us because we had already left.”

Though almost blind and hard of hearing, Mrs Levinger, 95, is now stable and lives at Jewish Care’s Lady Sarah Cohen House in Friern Barnet.

Her daughter, who visits from Cambridge three times each week, said: “She was delighted. They spoke and she said: ‘Tell me all about your life… Are you happy?’”

Though frail, Mrs Levinger spoke briefly to the JC about Mr Tuševljak.

“He was brilliant,” she recalled. “I asked him how he was doing and asked after his wife and children.”

Mr Tuševljak hopes to come to England, but is currently recovering from a heart attack. Speaking via an interpreter, the 80-year-old said: “I was over the moon to learn Sara was alive and had survived so much adversity.

“She was like a second mother to me. She directed me in the right direction at the right time and was the making of me.”

Now a retired grandfather-of-three, Mr Tuševljak spent his career as a leading energy expert.

“Whatever I have achieved, every step of the way, I had her image in front of my eyes,” he added.

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