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First to the Front

April 15, 2011

Officer Jaro "Shultzie" Suster, Paulines husband, 1936 in the Yugoslav Royal Army. He served in the Cavalry Unit - wonder what the pitchfork was for!?

There were three reasons why Jaro decided to move to Canada in 1938.  First was because of family.  His Uncle Jan Suster had moved to Alberta in 1935, with his wife Ana and their 4 year old son, Milan.  A farmer, Jan hoped to find a better life in Canada.*  Jaro was a risk taker and very ambitious, and he thought Jan’s cross-Atlantic adventure sounded like a grand plan.

Second was because of his boss.   Jaro was conscripted to the Royal Yugoslav Army as an officer, had gone off to Officer Candidate School in Novi Sad, and was stationed in Skoplje, located in northern Macedonia in Yugoslavia as part of the Third Yugoslav Army Group.

Officer Jaro Suster and his fellow soldiers in the Royal Yugoslav Armys Third Army Group, 3rd Army, Skoplje, 1936. Jaro is in the second row, standing second from left. Jaro was in the Cavalry Odred. By the time the Nazis invaded in 1941, the Army was suffering from a severe lack of basics - only enough food, uniforms, shoes, and livestock feed for 2/3 of the soldiers and horses.

Jaro was an independent thinker, smart as a whip, and not inclined to take orders from anyone.  Hence, he continually clashed with his captain, and when the very real threat of an invasion by the Nazis looked likely, the captain told him, “’Shultzie’, when the war breaks out, you will be the first one sent to the front.”  At that point, Jaro decided it might be best to leave.

Partial map of the German invasion of Yugoslavia, dubbed Operation 25, on April 6, 1941. Blue arrow shows where the 3rd Army was stationed.

The third reason Jaro decided to move to Canada was because he could not move to the US, as his in-laws, Paul and Maria Milec, had done three decades earlier.  In an attempt to cleanse American society of the obviously inferior “Alpines”, the US Government had passed the breathtakingly racist Immigration Act of 1924, barring from entry, among others, “the short statured, brown haired, brown eyed, roundheaded Slavics, who were known to be good natured, honest and hard working, but otherwise lacking in creativity and leadership skills.” ( War Against the Weak, by Edwin Black). Never mind that Jaro was a well educated 6 ft tall, blond haired and blue eyed; he was still a Slovak.

Officer Jaro Suster, right, 1936, in Skoplje on the old stone bridge over the Vardar River.

Those same discriminatory views of Slavs, Asians and Jews that formed the basis of the American Eugenics movement in the first half of the 20th century became the foundation of an even more grandiose cleansing plan: Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Xenophobia had forced Jaro and his family to flee their home and family in Europe, had shut tight the door to the United States, and had landed them in Canada, a country that did not exactly welcome them with open arms either.

A 1937 Royal Yugoslav Army Skoda anti-tank gun. The army was full of a hodge podge of equipment inherited from other armies around the world. I took this picture last spring at the Belgrade Military Museum.

*Unfortunately, he did not. Instead, Jan found low paying jobs in farming and mining, and by the eve of WWII, discouraged, the family returned to Pivnica.  Jan continued to farm until retirement, and his wife Ana worked in the dairy.  Their son Milan grew up and moved to Pula, Croatia near the Italian border where he became a ship’s captain and sailed the world. Jan and his wife retired to Pula, where he died in 1988.

What Officer Jaro Susters Royal Yugoslav uniform looked like in color

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2011 10:43 am


  2. Phil permalink
    July 23, 2011 7:10 am

    I am doing some research into Jugoslav cavalry uniforms and found your piece interesting. Its a shame none of the pictures showed helmets though as the only photo I have shows Yugoslavian cavalry wearing Czech helmets and I am not sure this was correct .


    • July 23, 2011 11:58 pm

      Phil, I checked around today to see if we had any pictures with the helmets, but no luck. I do know that the army was quite destitute, and that they inherited most of their equipment from other countries, so it would not surprise me if they inherited helmets from Czechoslovakia. Many Slovaks lived in northern Yugoslavia, including my relatives, and they were close to people in the Czechoslovak government.


      • Gabesz permalink
        January 20, 2015 10:00 am

        Just a little interesting remark:

        The soldier in the first picture wearing a field cap of the Royal Hungarian Army, with light cornflowers-blue colored “topán”. (Topán > the textile triangle of the left hand side of the cap). This was the branch color of the cavalry in the Royal Hungarian Army.
        Is it possible He served in the Royal Hungarian Army too?



      • January 20, 2015 3:52 pm

        Hi Gabesz, My great grandfather did serve in that army. They were captured by the Russians, and then formed the Czech and Slovak Legion there. Good eye! How do you know about the RHA?


      • Gabesz permalink
        January 21, 2015 2:57 am

        Hi Tonya, What an interesting information! Do you have any information about this period? He was officer or private in the RHA? Which was his unit in the RHA? When did he captured by the Red Army? etc-etc If you can give me some personal data about your family member, than I try to find something from the hungarian side.
        I’m an amatuer collector and researcher of the hungarian cavalry in the 20th century, so if you need help in this theme, I try to help you.



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