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Jewish Agency Ready to Evacuate Jews of Yugoslavia, if Necessary

September 23, 1991
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Contingency plans have been drawn up to transfer the Jewish community of strife-torn Yugoslavia to Israel, according to Uri Gordon, head of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration Department.

“The establishment here is prepared. But it depends on the Jews there,” he said.

Yugoslavia is in the throes of civil war. Fighting has been especially fierce in the secession-minded republic of Croatia, home to about 2,000 Jews, most of whom live in the capital, Zagreb.

Gordon estimated the total Jewish population of Yugoslavia to be about 5,500, of whom 1,500 live in the national capital, Belgrade; 1,200 in Zagreb; and 1,300 in Sarajevo, capital of the province of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

He said Jewish Agency emissaries have gone to Yugoslavia in recent months to observe the condition of the Jewish population. One is at the moment in the area of the fighting, he said.

In New York, Michael Schneider, executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, confirmed that the Jewish Agency has made plans to evacuate the Yugoslav Jewish community, if necessary.

“We understand they will be doing everything they can to get people to Israel,” he said.

He said JDC officials have also made arrangements with Jewish communities in neighboring Hungary, Austria and Italy to temporarily house Jews fleeing unrest in Yugoslavia.

JDC, meanwhile, has allocated emergency funds to provide additional medicine and food to the Yugoslav community if the fighting worsens. Regular aid to the Jewish community of Croatia, which normally goes through Belgrade, is now being provided directly to the Jews of Zagreb, Schneider said.

He also said JDC staff have helped beef up security and otherwise fortify the Jewish Old Age Home in Zagreb, which also houses the local synagogue. Recalling the bombing last month of the Jewish community center in downtown Zagreb, Schneider said, “We’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen” to the Jewish Old Age Home.

Gordon of the Jewish Agency described the Yugoslav Jewish community as middle- and lower-middle-class families who live in an impoverished country on the verge of bankruptcy.

“There are always Jews in any endangered community who hope that things will improve and that there is always time to leave tomorrow, remaining where they are in the meantime to look after their property,” Gordon said.

He said the Jewish Agency and Israel are prepared to help all Jews who wish to leave their countries and come to Israel.

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