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Yugoslavia’s Jews Taking Measures As Precaution Against Civil War

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Yugoslavia’s 6,500-member Jewish community is taking emergency measures as a precaution against the all-out civil war that threatens to tear apart this Balkan nation composed of several ethnic groups.

But while the danger of being caught in the middle of the armed conflict is always possible, the Jews have not been singled out for attack.

“Jewish community members are not in any more danger than any other people here,” said Melita Svob, secretary of the Jewish community in Zagreb, capital of separatist-minded Croatia.

But some Jewish families live in areas where bloody fighting is going on between Croats and Serbs. Emergency services, including a telephone hotline, have been set up in Zagreb to help those people, she said.

More than 1,000 Jews live in Zagreb, which is one of the best organized and most active Jewish communities in Yugoslavia.

Only a handful of Jews live in the breakaway republic of Slovenia. But there are more than 200 in and around Osijek in eastern Croatia, where some of the worst fighting has occurred.

“We have to help them, especially the elderly, the poor, the sick who live alone in small towns and villages. We are trying to organize places in the Jewish old age home in Zagreb where these people can come and stay during hard times,” the community official said.

Not only in Zagreb, but throughout the country, the larger Jewish communities are organizing to help Jews in outlying areas who may be in distress.

“We are always in contact by telephone, discussing what steps we can take,” Luci Petrovic, secretary of the Federation of Jewish Communities, said by telephone from Belgrade.

‘DON’T KNOW WHAT TOMORROW WILL BRING’

Svob in Zagreb said international Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee are active. But she stressed that Jews feel in no greater peril than other citizens as they try to steer clear of ethnic conflict.

Perhaps the worst element is uncertainty, Svob said. “All our activities are based on the fact that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” scholar Eugen Werber said by telephone from Belgrade.

More than 1,500 Jews live in and around Belgrade, which is the capital both of Serbia and of the fragmenting Yugoslav federation. So far, the city has not seen the serious fighting that has taken place in Slovenia and Croatia in recent weeks.

About 80,000 Jews lived in Yugoslavia before World War II and at least 65,000 of them perished in the Holocaust after the Nazi invasion in 1941.

Yugoslavia’s major communications outlets last week broadcast a special appeal for peace from Chief Rabbi Cadik Danon to his countrymen.

The rabbi, a Resistance fighter during the war, said in a statement dated July 12 that he felt “an obligation, being the spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Yugoslavia, to raise my voice with the message to all citizens of our country — to be reasonable and of good will, and to try to solve the mutual disputes and misunderstandings in agreement and peace.”

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