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In Zagreb, Jewish Refugees Worry About Community Left in Sarajevo

November 9, 1992
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Sondra Raguz, 22, is one of the lucky ones. Five months ago, she and her mother fled war-racked Sarajevo with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Today, having found refuge in the peaceful capital of Croatia, their thoughts are with the loved ones they left behind.

This weekend, for the first time in a year, the refugees were able to establish radio contact with the 200 to 500 Jews believed to remain in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The feat was accomplished after a team of experts from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee flew to Sarajevo as part of a U.N. relief operation and erected a radio transmitter, under heavy sniper fire.

Radio contact was established with the Jewish community center in Zagreb, and loved ones here were patched through by telephone to family members in Sarajevo.

The head of the Jewish community there, Ivica Ceresnjes, even managed to speak, via a telephone hookup, to the JDC’s executive vice president, Michael Schneider, in New York.

But highlighting the precarious situation that all residents of the Bosnian capital face, the broadcast was cut short when the community received word of an imminent bombardment.

While the restored communications are undoubtedly of some comfort to the Jewish refugees here, they remain deeply concerned about the fate of the community in Sarajevo, particularly as winter sends temperatures plunging.

“The Zagreb Jewish community has been wonderful to us, but we are still worried sick about my father and brother,” said Raguz, sitting in the Zagreb Jewish Community Center.

“My mother takes sedatives to help her sleep. My father is caught in the Serb- occupied part of the city, and my brother, who is serving in the Bosnian army, is in an even more dangerous situation.

“There is no heat in Sarajevo, and all the windows have been bombed out,” she continued, her eyes wide with fear. “How are they going to survive this winter?”

This concern is shared by Iso Papo, 70, who escaped from Sarajevo in early September. “The temperature there is below freezing, and there are no windows left to keep out the cold. There is no coal, no oil, no wood to burn.”

Papo recalled that city residents began gathering firewood in August. “People stripped the forests of every tree and branch, and now they are pulling up the wood from their floors,” he said.

“They are burning everything they can get their hands on, including books and furniture. The situation is getting desperate.”

While the JDC and other relief organizations are trying to alleviate the situation, getting food, medicine and supplies through military roadblocks has been a difficult and dangerous affair.

The JDC has purchased 120,000 sq. feet of Israeli-made plastic sheeting designed to replace shattered windows and keep out the cold.

“We need to send it to a secure place so that it will reach the people who need it,” said a JDC official in Zagreb. He added that the sheeting, which was shipped from Israel, will be distributed on a non-sectarian basis.

In the meantime, the refugees think about home, and of the day they will be able to return.

“I’m too old to start over elsewhere,” said Papo. “I’m just too old.”

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