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Jewish Groups Step Up Drive to Halt Atrocities in Bosnia

August 11, 1992
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Jewish groups across North America are continuing to press the Bush administration and international agencies to stop atrocities being perpetrated against innocent civilians in Bosnia-Herzegovina, crimes that remind many of those carried out against Jews by the Third Reich.

Serbians in Bosnia-Herzegovina are reportedly murdering thousands of civilians guilty only of being Croats and Moslems, and are imprisoning, starving and torturing hundreds of thousands more in 94 concentration camps in the former Yugoslav republic, according to Bosnian reports.

The crimes are part of the Serbian drive to “cleanse” the republic of non-Serbs in order to achieve “ethnic purity.”

Approximately 400 Jews remain in Bosnia, mostly in Sarajevo, the republic’s capital. They are not being targeted by any of the ethnic groups competing for control of the territory, according to sources near the scene of the conflict.

Sarajevo’s Jews continue to use their community center and synagogue, said Srdjan Matic of the Jewish community in Zagreb, Croatia. But Sarajevo’s ancient Jewish cemetery, located on a hill above the city, is being used as a base by Serbian irregulars, he said.

In the United States, the Jewish community has been more active than any other in crying out for action on the Bosnia crisis, according to Abraham Bayer, director of international concerns for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

It is the only ethnic group to have had meetings with Bush administration officials, representatives of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the Red Cross, Bayer said.


Jewish leaders urged the officials to use whatever means they have at their disposal to end the crimes against humanity.

Israel has also responded to the crisis. The Rabin government dispatched Knesset member Yossi Sarid to report on the situation. He has been stuck in Zagreb, unable to reach Sarajevo to coordinate the relief effort planned jointly by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency.

Sarid said that travel to the republic’s capital is virtually impossible and that U.N. officials in the area who spent time in war-torn Beirut described the Lebanese civil war as “child’s play” compared to Sarajevo.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is also arranging non-sectarian relief efforts in the capital. Its representatives have brought in five tons of food and medicine over the last few days, which is being distributed by the Jewish community there to all those in need.

Together with Sarid, the Jewish Agency and the JDC are trying to arrange safe bus passage for refugees from Sarajevo to get to Zagreb.

More than 400 Jews from war-torn areas have arrived in Israel since fighting broke out and half the Jews left in Sarajevo are said to want to make aliyah.

Meanwhile, in separate efforts, the JDC and B’nai B’rith International are accepting contributions that will go directly to ease Bosnia’s shortage of food, medicine and clothing.

Leaders of the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and Anti-Defamation League met at the White House last week with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to urge the president to galvanize the international community to take action in the besieged republic.

They asked that Bush make it unmistakably clear that those who are guilty of crimes against humanity will be held individually accountable.


They told Scowcroft that if the president is considering military intervention to enable humanitarian aid to get through, he should consider using that same force to get into the detention camps, according to Henry Siegman, executive director of AJCongress.

In a separate conversation, Scowcroft told Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that the United States is working through the United Nations on the situation.

Cardin, NJCRAC and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, sent separate letters to Bush last week urging him to take action.

On Monday, the United Nations was nearing a resolution, backed by the United States, that would call for taking “all measures necessary,” including force, to enable humanitarian organizations to deliver emergency aid to Bosnia.

At a meeting with a delegation of Jewish representatives on Monday, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross said they have gained access to 10 detention camps with some 4,000 prisoners.

Peter Kaung, the ICRC’s chief representative in the United States, told participants his agency was unable to count the number of camps and that they are being run by all the parties involved in the conflict: Serbs, Croats and Moslems.

“When oil was at stake, the U.S. was very capable of rallying together a coalition of concerned countries. Now we’re talking about the lives of innocent civilians, and it’s hard to understand why we can’t gather together a coalition” just as quickly, said Joan Bronk, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, which organized the meeting.


The Simon Wiesenthal Center has gathered several hundred signatures on a petition urging President Bush to take action.

And Jewish communities around the country are trying to get local Moslem leaders involved in the effort, according to Bayer of NJCRAC. In Los Angeles, Detroit and Dayton, Ohio, joint efforts are under way, he said.

Other Jewish groups that have called for the U.S. and Canadian governments to take action and bring those responsible for the crimes against humanity to trial include: B’nai Brith Canada; Canadian Jewish Congress; National Jewish Democratic Council; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Union of Councils for Soviet Jews; and Zionist Organization of America.

Contributions can be sent to JDC’s Open Mailbox for Bosnia-Herzegovina, 711 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017, or to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund, 1640 Rhode Island Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Ruth E. Gruber in Rome and Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv.)

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