July 24, 1997

Croatian Jews want their gold tracked down too

By Zoran Radosavljevic

ZAGREB, July 24 (Reuter) - Croatia's Jewish community said on Thursday the country's own World War Two fascist regime systematically stole gold from Jews in the same way as the Nazis whose victims were named this week by Swiss banks.

The money was used to buy the lives of Jews who had been arrested by the fascists, though many were nevertheless killed. Its whereabouts is not known and Jews in Zagreb say it should now be tracked down and returned to its rightful owners in the same way as the money in Swiss banks has been.

A previously-classified American document, dated October 1946 and made public on Monday by an American cable network, said the pro-Nazi Croatian Ustashe regime removed about 350 million Swiss francs from Yugoslavia at the end of the war.

The Vatican on Tuesday denied a report that it had stored 200 million Swiss francs ($130 million), mostly in gold coins, for the Ustashe to keep the money out of Allied hands.

``With the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia (Ustashe-run NDH) a large-scale arrest of Jews began. It started with the arrest of the most prominent and richest families,'' the Jewish community said in a statement.

``Zagreb police asked the Zagreb Jewish community for 1000 kg in gold in return for their freedom. The Jewish community gathered 1004 kg of gold and handed it over to the NDH authorities.

``Unfortunately this contribution did not mean their lives were saved...Only 20 percent of the Jewish community members survived. We want to remind you that the NDH authorities systematically robbed Jewish valuables and property. We have no information about the whereabouts of the gold but if the location is tracked down we expect it to be returned to the owners or their legal heirs.''

A Jewish activist said the community in Zagreb has a book of contributions, ``which contains every payment in gold as a kind of guarantee for their life. The gold was taken and people were killed. Where the gold ended up I don't know.''

Croatia's Jewish community said the list, including 14 people from Croatia, was incomplete and it would act in accordance with its umbrella body, The World Jewish Congress, to claim the return of property to its lawful owners.

Croatian daily Vjesnik published the names of account owners from former Yugoslavia on Thursday. Fourteen accounts were in the name of residents and one in the name of a company from Croatia. One named owner was from Bosnia, three from Slovenia and 12 from Serbia and Montenegro.