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War raises old anxieties for Croatian Jews
Reprinted from The Independent (London)
October 21, 1991
Phil Davison in Kragujevac, Serbia

[posted 15 May 2001; reposted, 4 April 2006]


FOR the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, the Israeli flag flew and the Israeli anthem was sung in public here yesterday as a small group of Yugoslavian Jews gathered to remember a Nazi massacre 50 years ago to the day.

Jewish leaders were also holding a crisis meeting in Belgrade last night to discuss the situation of the Jewish community. They expressed particular concern for 1,500 Jews in the breakaway republic of Croatia, most of whom have not been in contact for two months or more as a result of a cut in communications with the rest of Yugoslavia.

Coincidence yesterday's events may have been, but Jewish leaders were unanimous in saying they saw worrying parallels between the Nazi and pro-Nazi massacres of 50 years ago and the unease of Jews in Croatia under the strongly nationalist regime in the breakaway republic today.

A Jewish community centre and cemetery were damaged by explosives two months ago in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and local Jews there have been subjected to death threats and other intimidation. Jewish sources revealed last night that several hundred Jews, mostly young to middle-aged, have recently fled Croatia to Israel, via Budapest.

As Yugoslavia's 6,500 Jews constantly remind visitors, Hitler set up a puppet regime of local Nazis in Croatia in 1941. That regime's forces, known as the Ustashe, executed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs, gypsies and other ''undesirables'' in Croatia while German troops carried out parallel massacres in Serbia itself.

''What worries us is that those in power in Croatia now are largely the same as during the Nazi era,'' said Dr Klara Mandic, a senior Jewish community leader at yesterday's ceremony. ''In some cases, they are exactly the same people, now in their seventies and back from exile under the Communists. In other cases, they are the children of the Ustashe.

''They wear the same black shirts, the same black trousers, many carry the same ''Serbo-seks'' knives for the Serbs . Tudjman the Croatian President would not dare touch Jews now that we have our own state to protect us. But he has prepared an atmosphere similar to that at the start of the Second World War and the fact is that many of the Croatian groups are out of his control.

''We are extremely worried about Jews in Croatia. They are afraid to get in touch with us. We have had messages reaching us underground from them, saying 'It is safer that we don't try to call or write. The police are watching and listening and we know we could be killed'.''

The Israeli symbols at yesterday's memorial ceremony were made possible by an agreement earlier this month between Israel and Yugoslavia's crumbling federal government to restore diplomatic ties. Relations had been broken off by the Communist leader, Tito, after the 1967 Israeli- Arab war. As things stand, with the Yugoslav government now little more than a ghost, the two countries are unlikely to get a chance to exchange ambassadors.

About a dozen Jews gathered in heavy drizzle to see a monument unveiled to 37 Jews gunned down by the Wehrmacht on October 20, 1941, on a grassy slope in the Bagremar district of this town south of Belgrade. A similar number of Jews were killed elsewhere in the town later the same day, wiping out almost the entire Jewish population of the small industrial town. Only one Jewish family now remains in Kragujevac.

But yesterday's Jewish visitors were joined by more than a hundred local Serbs and the memorial service was led by both the Chief Rabbi of Yugoslavia and a regional Christian orthodox priest.

The local Serbs will today hold a much larger memorial service for 7,000 townspeople, including 300 schoolchildren, executed in a single day by the Nazis on the Sumarice slopes here on 21 October 1941. The Germans ordered the massacre in reprisal for the killing of 50 German soldiers in the previous two weeks by the Yugoslav resistance.

- BELGRADE (AP) - A 13-hour convoy from the besieged town of Vukovar braved mortars and minefields to bring 109 wounded people to safety as fighting continued in Croatia. The convoy of doctors and nurses from Medecins Sans Frontieres and European Community monitors arrived back early yesterday. However, one truck carrying aid workers and several wounded hit a landmine outside Vukovar, seriously injuring two nurses.

--War raises old anxieties for Croatian Jews, The Independent (London), October 21, 1991, Monday, FOREIGN NEWS PAGE; Page 10 , 725 words, From Phil Davison in Kragujevac, Serbia

Copyright 1991 Newspaper Publishing PLC * Posted here for Fair Use Only


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