The first group of hostages released yesterday by the Air France hijackers in Uganda arrived at Orly Airport late last night and described their ordeal which was more chilling in its psychological aspects than for any physical discomforts suffered by the victims.
Most of the 47 returnees were Jewish, including 33 French citizens, two Americans, two Canadians and several stateless Jews. They were greeted in the airport’s VIP lounge by French Foreign Minister Jean Sauvagnargues. Hundreds of their relatives and relatives of hostages still in Uganda waited outside for news. A 48th freed hostage, Blind Zuckerhorn, 80, an Israeli, was admitted to a hospital at Kampala.
A TERRIBLE MOMENT
The freed hostages said the Air France “air bus” was taken over shortly after leaving Athens Sunday by two Germans–a man and a woman–and two Arabs. Mrs. Julie Aquizerat, an Algerian-born French Jewish grandmother of 62, described to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency how the 83 Israeli passengers were separated Tuesday evening from the other hostages who were to be released. It reminded her of Nazi concentration camps where Jews were singled out for the gas chambers.
“It was a terrible moment” Mrs. Aquizerat said. “One of the hijackers started reading off a list of names. As he rolled off the first four or five names, we realized from the Hebrew consonants of the first names that these were Israelis.
“The fact that the hijacker was one of the two Germans aboard the plane and that he read off the names with a heavy German accent further increased the early feeling. We all felt as if we were reliving a nightmare which was taking us back to the concentration camps of the second World War as people, at the call of their names, picked up their luggage and walked out. We were all pale-faced. Some women and children wept.”
About 100 more hostages were freed today and are due in Paris tonight. That leaves only the 83 Israelis in the hijackers’ hands, apart from the flight crew of the hijacked Air France jet.
Mrs. Aquizerat said the hostages were apprehensive when the hijacked plane first landed at Benghazi, Libya Sunday, the country ruled by Israel’s implacable foe Muammar el Qaddafi, Even greater fear was felt when the aircraft landed in Uganda at dawn Monday. “For many of us, Idi Amin’s name was synonymous practically with that of Hitler,” she said, referring to the bitterly anti-Israel bias of Uganda’s President.
AMIN’S ROLE SURPRISED MANY
Amin’s benevolent attitude toward the hostages and especially the Israelis, came as a surprise, she and other returned hostages said. “He came to see us smiling and wishing us well.” Mrs. Aquizerat reported. “He said he regretted what was happening and would try to make our stay as comfortable as possible. He also promised to try and arrange with the hijackers for the release of the sick, the old, the women and children. When he walked out he was given a standing ovation.”
Mrs. Aquizerat said that as soon as Amin left, Ugandan women brought armchairs, blankets and towels to the hostages and served them breakfast of tea or coffee, buttered bread, eggs and bananas. A local doctor and nurse, both described as highly efficient, were posted with the hostages and examined the old and the sick.
The hostages reported that Amin returned later and made a point of talking to the Israelis. When the latter were removed to a separate room, he joined them. “We could not hear all he said but we caught a word here and there. He said ‘shalom’ several times. At the end, the Israelis applauded loudly.” Mrs. Aquizerat said.
Marius Michel, a 72-year-old retired businessman, described to the JTA how the four hijackers seized the plane, forced the passengers and crew to lie on the floor and confiscated their passports and other documents. He said they were armed with pistols and hand grenades. “One man kept shouting at us but it was in German and I only managed to pick up a few words such as ‘revolution’ and the name of ‘Che Guevara.’ ” the Cuban revolutionary slain in Bolivia some years ago.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.