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Jews in Yugoslavia Secure, Head of Community Says

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The 6,500 Jews who comprise Yugoslavia’s Jewish community today lead a secure existence in a country whose respect they earned in wartime struggles, Dr. Albert Vajs, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia said here today. Dr. Vajs, who is Professor of Legal History at Belgrade University, served as special legal advisor to the Yugoslav Embassy in the United States in its efforts to extradite Andreja Artukovic, wanted for war crimes, including complicity in the murder of 30,000 Jews in Croatia.

Dr. Vajs said that the Jewish community of his country is now fairly well settled down following two great post-war upheavals–the period of reconstruction with the aid of the Joint Distribution Committee and the period of mass emigration to Israel after 1948, in which some 10.000 Jews left for the new state. He added that it was now particularly concerned with the question of Jewish education for its youth, as the primary task of a reconstructed community.

The educational system at the present time consists of Jewish kindergartens in Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo, Jewish youth clubs, Jewish university student groups, and summer camping facilities. The community has sponsored scholarships to Israel for a number of girls for teacher training there. In addition, Hebrew courses for older interested students have been arranged, which are taught by various members of the community.

The Federation, of which Dr. Vajs is chief officer, is the central organization of Jews in Yugoslavia. It embraces all aspects of Jewish life–religious and secular. It is financed from its own contributions, from the sale of property which it holds as a result of being named–by the government–legal heir of Jewish communities which disappeared, some direct help by government subventions which go to all religious groups, and outside help such as that provided by the JDC and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Dr. Vajs paid tribute to the aid which Marshal Tito afforded those who wanted to emigrate to Israel. He quoted Tito as having said to him that the Jews would be given the right to choose freely whether they would stay or go, and that they had the same right to build up their own state as did other peoples. While there is no Zionist organization in his country, Dr. Vajs said there was no anti-Israel sentiment of any kind there and in that sense all Yugoslav Jews were united. He also pointed out that anti-Semitism is a crime, and said there were absolutely no public manifestations of any kind of anti-Jewish feeling in Yugoslavia.

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