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High Holidays in Croatia Perilous As Fighting Rages

For the approximately 2,000 Jews in the beleaguered Yugoslav republic of Croatia, the High Holidays this year arrived amid fear and peril.

In Zagreb, the separatist republic’s capital and home to most Croatian Jews, Yom Kippur services were to be held at the Jewish Old Age Home.

There have been problems getting medications to the home because of the fighting. Trips must be made over long distances, via Sarajevo, to obtain the necessities.

Fighting in Croatia increased in intensity this week as European Community negotiators hammered out another cease-fire agreement.

“People are very upset and frightened. Last night there was an air raid alarm in Zagreb. Fighter jets flew over the city all night long,” Srdjan Matic, executive secretary of the Croatian Jewish Community, said Monday in a telephoned update to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“If there are no air raid alarms, I think people will come” to the holiday services, he said. “The problem with the Old Age Home is that it is some distance from the city center, and if there is the danger of air raid alarms, people may be afraid to come so far.”

Matic said, “As far as we know, there have been no deaths, injuries or damage to Jewish property” since the civil war began.

However, that did not take into account the bombing last month of the Jewish Community Center in downtown Zagreb by unknown perpetrators, which severely damaged the building. There were no casualties in that attack.

Because of the intensive damage there, Matic spoke from provisional offices. The cost of repairs to the community building is estimated at about $800,000.

NO STRANGERS TO FIGHTING

Since the bombing, the authorities have provided tight security around Jewish institutions.

Jews are no strangers to fighting in Yugoslavia. Throughout the latest episode in internecine violence, communities in Croatia where Jews live have been the scene of bloody battles.

For instance, scores of Jews live in Osijek, in eastern Croatia, where the fighting has been particularly heavy.

Matic observed that older members of the community who lived through World War II remember air raids and fighting well. He reported that Jewish leaders from Croatia and Serbia met with representatives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee last week in Vienna.

The meeting was held outside the country because the war has cut roads and rail connections in Yugoslavia. “Vienna was the only place we could reach by car and the people from Belgrade could reach by plane,” he said.

The goal of Yugoslav Jewish leaders is to preserve the unity of the Jewish community, but under the circumstances it will be hard, he said. “Everyone is sensitive to the fact that the unity of the community is in danger.”

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