This once-popular vacation spot on the Adriatic Coast has become both a rehabilitation center for those wounded in the seemingly endless civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and a transit station for refugees from its once beautiful capital, Sarajevo.
The lobby of a hotel here, once crowded with tourists, is now filled with people on crutches and wheelchairs.
One has little trouble spotting the refugees from Sarajevo. From the looks on their faces it is clear they have hardly recovered from the shock of transition from the hell of war-torn Sarajevo to the coastal paradise of Makarska.
The most recent group of refugees from Sarajevo arrived in a six-bus convoy organized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Amid all the horrors of war in the former Yugoslavia, the refugees had a particularly gruesome sendoff from Sarajevo: The convoy left the Bosnian capital last weekend just hours after a mortar shell exploded in a crowded open-air market, killing 68 people and wounding more than 200. It was the deadliest attack in the almost two years of war.
"This is heaven," Srdjan Gorniakovic said at the end of the 16-hour trip that brought the convoy here. "It’s so quiet here, I could hardly sleep."
Gorniakovic, 30, a Serb, practiced medicine in Sarajevo’s Jewish community.
He was one of the 296 people who left Sarajevo on the convoy.
Although the convoy was organized under Jewish auspices, only one-third of the refugees were Jewish. In the tradition of its relief work, JDC rescued people of all three communities – Muslims and Christians as well as Jews.
One of the non-Jews in the convoy was Zajniba Hartaga-Susic, who risked her life to hide her Jewish neighbors during World War II. Seven years ago she was designated a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Now, the wheels of history have turned, and a Jewish organization rescued her and three family members from Sarajevo.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres intervened on her family’s behalf by formally inviting them to live in Israel.
Hartaga-Susic has a son in Mexico City, but she intends to go to Israel. "That’s where the future of my granddaughter is secure," she said.
Jewish Agency officials here worked extra hours to ensure the safe entry to Israel of Dennis Karolic, 11. He had left Sarajevo without his parents, traveling with his best friend, Ridoslav Bozovic, and Ridoslav’s mother, who has been like a mother to him in recent years.
Dennis’ mother had left two years ago and is living in Germany. His father stayed in Sarajevo.
Difficulties arose in arranging his entry into Israel because Dennis’ grandmother was Jewish, but his mother is not. According to halacha, or Orthodox Jewish law, Dennis is not Jewish and not entitled to enter Israel under the Law of Return.
But Dennis, along with Ridoslav, have both been wards of the Jewish community in Sarajevo, spending the months of the war in the Jewish community offices there, helping out.
To make sure that Dennis would be able to go to Israel, Jewish Agency officials were on the phone with Jerusalem until shortly before a group of Jews were going to make their departure from here.
The officials finally achieved success, and Tuvia Raviv, the Jewish Agency representative here, emerged from a hotel telephone booth weary-eyed but flashing a smile that communicated the good news.
Dennis had no doubts about going to Israel, perhaps because there was nowhere else for him to go.
"Israel is where I want to start my life anew," he said.
Only 11, and he must start his life anew.