A historical reconstruction.
The great flow of Jews from central Europe to Albania was in the 1933, to then move on to America, South Africa, Turkey and other destinations. As soon as they arrived, they were helped by the Jewish Community of Albania which was officially recognized in April of the year 1937. Immediately they were granted residence permits so that they could work regularly. Following Zog's tolerance policies, members of the Jewish community in Albania defined the period of the monarchy as "the golden age of the Jews".
During World War II the Albanians hid the Jews in their territory, either by private initiative, or by the choice of the authorities who refused to hand over to the Italian fascists who arrived in Albania in the 1939, and to the Nazi Germans who arrived in 1943, the lists with the names of the Jews present in the territory. The danger of retaliation, especially during the Nazi occupation, was very high.
The Nazis sought the lists at all costs both from the Jewish community in Albania and from the "puppet regime" of Mehdi Frashëri, who ruled after King Zog's escape to England. The citizens and the Albanian authorities defended all the Jews, hiding them in their homes, procuring false documents for them, disguising them as Albanian peasants, moving them from one place to another to escape death.
There is no case of delivery of a Jew to the Nazis. Families opened the doors of their homes, being aware of the risk that this entailed, meanwhile other countries, as documented, took part in inhuman crimes against Jews.
If you think that outside of Albania, on 70.000 only Jews in danger, only 10% could survive the Holocaust, the extraordinary importance of Albania in those years is even more evident. Indeed, Albania has an exceptional record: it is the only country that can boast of having saved all the Jews present in its territory.
Jewish presences in the Albanian territory have been witnessed since Roman times. Before the Second World War the Jews in Albania were about 200, at the end of the war they were beyond 2000. Even the Albanians of Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia contributed to the salvation of many Jews, helping them to take refuge in Albania which was, precisely, during the Second World War, the safest place in Europe.
The reason why all the Jews were saved in Albania was, first of all, because of the isolation that this country enjoyed, in a European context instead strongly influenced by the fascist and Nazi ideology, but in my opinion above all thanks to the Albanian culture based on a moral code called Kanun and in particular on a part of it called Besa (word of honor, loyalty), which considers it an imperative duty to defend the human life of anyone, even at the cost of their own safety. The Kanun code, which in various aspects still determines the Albanian culture, prescribes a series of rules of behavior which, during the successive foreign invasions in Albania, represented the identity of the Albanian people.
Being Albanian meant, even before living in Albanian territory or obeying political power in that territory, respecting the Kanun code. A positive and extraordinary aspect of this code is the one that led to the salvation of all Jews. The code provides for the obligation to defend threatened human life, anyone in danger, Albanian or foreign. Indeed the Kanun code does not use the word 'foreigner', there exist but not 'foreigners'. Albania was in fact the only country involved in the second world war in which there were no Jewish deportations.
The 1 Novembre 2007 an exhibition dedicated to the Jews saved by the Albanians during World War II was opened in New York: "Besa: A Code of Honor / Albanians who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust"
The fact is little known because the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, in the almost 50 years of dictatorship after World War II, kept these and many other documents hidden, then reappeared in 1990, an American delegation that went to Albania was shown the archives of the years of Hoxha dictatorship.
Joe Dioguardi, representative of the Congress arrived in Tirana, sent the testimonies concerning the saved Jews and the documents were confirmed and considered authentic. Now Albania has also been added to the list of 'Righteous Among the Nations', that is, those people or bodies that have saved Jews from the Holocaust. Thanks to an exceptional documentation preserved in the central Albanian Archives, inaccessible for over 50 years, whose study was started thanks to the support of the Puglia Region which published last year a repertoire of archival sources in the research of the CDEC that in the January 26 seminar 2010 presented the first results of the work done.
Historiographical research, which had not focused its attention on the exceptional nature of events related to the Albanian situation, can now make use of a valuable work tool. The catalog of documents held in the Central State Archives of Tirana allows further and important insights into the anti-Semitic policy of the fascist regime in Albania, the conduct of Italian and German soldiers during the war and the contribution of Jews of different nationalities to the Albanian resistance against Nazism.
Today in Albania the number of Jews revolves around the 180-200 individuals, who are mainly located in Tirana. An important synagogue exists in Vlora, but is not very popular.
This article was originally published on 29 in March 2011
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