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Yugoslav Jews Reject Offer to Be Evacuated from Strife

Despite Yugoslavia’s raging civil war, Jews in the breakaway republic of Croatia are rejecting offers to be evacuated.

Although the fighting and accompanying tensions have disrupted their spiritual and communal life, and threatened bodily harm and property damage, Jews in Croatia are going to stick it out, according to Srdjan Matic, executive vice president of the Jewish Community in Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

“This kind of mass evacuation is completely unrealistic,” Matic told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by telephone Tuesday.

The offer to evacuate Yugoslavia’s estimated 6,000 Jews to Israel was made last month by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Particularly steadfast are the Jews of Osijek, a Croatian town especially hard-hit by the fighting. Matic reported that the Jews in Osijek are no different than their countrymen, saying, “This is our city. We will stay here and share the fate with our neighbors.”

About 200 Jews live in and around Osijek, a town whose Jews were massacred during the Holocaust. Matic said that the Jewish community leadership knows of no Jews who have been killed or injured to date.

Some Jewish families in the area of Osijek have joined thousands of non-Jews fleeing the war zone into neighboring Hungary, said Matic. But the number of Croatian Jews departing for Israel is lower than usual, he said.

There are about 2,000 Jews in the republic, which has seceded from Yugoslavia and is fighting for independence. The 1,200 Jews who live in Zagreb have suffered severe hardship.

AIR RAIDS ON YOM KIPPUR

“This situation is very difficult,” Matic said. “We could not hold religious services on Yom Kippur and Sukkot in Zagreb because of air raids. Some of the worst raids were on Yom Kippur itself. Our people spent the night in their cellars.”

The Jewish community center in Osijek suffered serious damage from federal army artillery bombardments, he said.

Jewish homes and other private property have also sustained considerable damage from the fighting, he said. “Today, we are trying to call all the localities where Jews live to find out what damage has been done.”

The civil war has severed most contact between the Croatian Jewish community and other Jewish communities in Yugoslavia, particularly with the Federation of Jewish Communities, which is headquartered in the national capital, Belgrade.

In fact, it is too dangerous to hold community meetings in Belgrade. The community’s official meetings have been relocated out of the country, to Vienna.

According to Matic, the international Jewish community can help in two ways. One would be with emergency relief and, eventually, help with the reconstruction of damaged property.

The second way would be to actively work to end the civil war, Matic said.

“Personally, I think the war cannot be stopped without a strong military intervention from abroad,” he said. “The Jewish community can raise its voices to support this. Diplomatic intervention has not done anything.”

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