ROME (Feb. 6)
Just hours after a mortar killed more than 65 people in the worst atrocity committed in the 22-month siege of Sarajevo, a Jewish-organized, multi-ethnic convoy successfully brought nearly 300 people from the embattled Bosnian city.
The six-bus convoy, organized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in partnership with Sarajevo’s Jewish La Benevolencija organization, brought 296 Jews, Croats, Serbs and Muslims on a tortuous overland journey overnight from Sarajevo to Makarska, on the Croatian coast, where JDC maintains a refugee center, JDC officials said.
The group included men and women of all ages, and a few children. Among the evacuees was an elderly Muslim woman who has been designated a Righteous Gentile and her family, who have been invited to live in Israel.
About one-third of the evacuees were Jewish, leaving about 300 to 350 Jews in the city, the JDC said.
Jewish evacuees who want to go to Israel are being processed in Makarska by the Jewish Agency.
“We are so happy to have been able to bring this convoy out,” JDC President Ambassador Milton Wolf told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by telephone from Makarska.
“The convoy brought out not only Jews but a multi-ethnic group that including Christian Serbs and Croats as well as Muslims,” said Wolf, a former U.S. ambassador who had flown in from New York to supervise the operation and was on hand to meet the evacuees.
“Our joy in bringing out the convoy, however, is tarnished by the terrible tragedy of the shelling Saturday,” he said. “It took place as our convoy was preparing for departure, and people who just got off the buses say it was horrible.”
Wolf extended thanks to the governments of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, to Serbian forces, to the U.N. protection force, and to the Jewish communities of Sarajevo and Zagreb, Croatia, for their help in setting up and making possible the evacuation.
He also thanked the government of France, the European Jewish Congress and the Central British Fund of London for their help.
RAIN AND MUDSLIDES
The first of the six convoy buses was just leaving Sarajevo at 12:30 p.m. Saturday when deathly mortar shells hit Sarajevo’s central market, killing and injuring hundreds.
The last bus left Sarajevo at 4 p.m. Saturday and arrived in Makarska at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, he said.
Torrential rains and mudslides on the narrow winding roads across the mountains slowed the convoy and disrupted radio telephone contact between the buses and Makarska, Wolf said.
In the first bus was Zajniba Hartaga-Susic, 77, along with her daughter, Aida, her son-in-law, Branumir, who suffers from multiple selerosis, and her 10-year-old granddaughter, Stella.
Hartaga-Susic is a Muslim who was designated a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in recognition of her rescue of Jews during World War II.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres personally intervened to help gain permission for Hartaga-Susic and her family to be evacuated, by formally inviting all of them, in the name of the Israeli government, to live in Israel.
The evacuation convoy was the latest in a series of air and land evacuations executed by the JDC, the operational organization for overseas Jewish aid, since the beginning of hostilities in Bosnia. These evacuations have transported about 2,200 residents of Sarajevo of all religions and ethnic groups to safe havens.
Wolf said that because of the difficulty in organizing the convoys, at this time no further evacuation was planned.