We publish only part of the thesis of "The value of the Besa for the Albanian people: ethics, solidarity and the salvation of the Jews during the Second World War" by Chiara Toscano.
The condition of the Jews in Albania in the period of the monarchy of Zogu and during the Italian occupation it is still little known, on their presence there are traces in the Central State Archive of Tirana which was opened for consultation only after the 90 'years, after the collapse of communism: until this regime did not fell the archivists were the only ones to have the possibility to access the documents.
The first sure information regarding the presence of the Jews in Albania dates back to the 18th century, but if there was any presence of it before it is not possible to know, because of the foreign wars and occupations that caused the destruction of the Albanian archives; but during the Ottoman rule there were various Jewish communities and the Jews, called yahudi, were for the most part traders.
It is in this scenario that, around the 80 years, the creation of a catalog began in the form of a filing cabinet having as its theme the Second World War and the Albanian anti-fascist war. During the classification work, the archivists came to know of a large number of documents concerning the years between the 1939 and the 1944.
It was a group of very interesting documents, in most cases unknown to the archivists themselves - and even more so to the public. [...] During the elaboration of the cards we had realized that there were many formations about Jews of different nationalities coming from Austria, Germany, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Czechoslovakia etc.
These were Jews who had managed to enter Albania or who had applied to enter it. This phenomenon, which we gradually learned about, was not at all sporadic. Apparently, in fact, starting from the beginning of the 30 years, a large number of German citizens of different Jewish ages and professions asked to come to Albania.
They did so apparently for "tourist" reasons, to be able to practice their professions, to go to the promised land or to Latin American countries etc. Their attempts eventually turned out to be a smart choice, as they managed to escape certain death.
In fact according to the various censuses, in Albania there were some Jews, albeit in small numbers. According to the May 1930 census, there were 204 divided between Agirocastro, Valona, Tirana and other towns and the first signs of attention towards the Jews occurred in the 1 ° March of the 1937, when the Albanian State was asked to censor the people of origins Jewish, specifying their work and provenance: according to this last census there were Jewish 191.
It was in the 1938 that the conditions of the Jews capitulated due to the extension of the anti-Semitic laws in Italy and Austria, and therefore they automatically extended to the countries that were subjugated to them and were subsequently submitted and it is precisely in this period that the migratory flows towards Albania. While all states tried to ban visas for Jews, in Albania the passports of German Jews were not stamped with the letter "J" which signified the "Jewish race", but they were called "Israelites".
As he summarized the consul of Albania in Bari to the German Jew Julius Stern, forced from the Italian law: The Israelites of any nationality cannot settle in Albania. They can only go to the Kingdom as tourists, provided with a special tourist card, issued free of charge by the diplomatic representatives and the Albanian consular authorities, which set the duration of the stay, which cannot be long, according to the means that the interested party can arrange , on the condition of not working, or exercising any trade or profession.
It is true that the Tirana government applied restrictions to this resolution, but it was in the 1939 that the Albanian ambassador in Rome wrote a letter to the Interior Minister in Tirana in which he expressed his disappointment about the fact that "the Italians do not they welcomed the settlement of the Jews in Albania ", thus testifying that Italy was spreading anti-Jewish politics even abroad.
Over time, as all the states adapted to anti-Semitic policies, King Zogu's Albania also had to close its doors to the legal immigration of Jews, even though there were numerous Jews who illegally entered Albania, crossing the border into clandestine way or with a tourist visa whose deadline was not respected, indeed Albania collaborated with the "American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee" who rented some points of help for the Jews in Tirana and Durazzo, where some women prepared food.
It was with the Italian invasion and the union of Albania with Italy that some laws escalated, although numerous anti-Jewish laws were drafted but never launched in Albania, in fact:
"And the 5 November 1940 the Lieutenancy reported to the Permanent Police Adviser what was communicated to it by the Italian Foreign Ministry:" the Italian Ministry of Interior has made it known that for the moment it does not consider it appropriate to extend to the Kingdom of Albania the racial provisions in force in Italy, without prejudice to the provisions of art. 1 of R.DL 17 November 1938 n. 1728, which prohibits the marriage between the Italian Aryan citizen and a person of Jewish race ”.
So it is also true that it was the will of Italy that not all the racial laws were extended in Albania, but at the same time, however, the question of visas and illegal immigration of Jews to Albania, during the years of the 1938-1939, remained outstanding. : one of the restrictions concerned the 30 visa-free days granted by the Albanian government to Jews as tourists, in this way they had legal access to Albania to then transit and hide illegally.
All this was allowed by many brave Albanians who defended, helped, protected, even at the cost of death and without any kind of compensation, numerous Jews precisely because of their loyalty to their "moral paternity", or Besa.
In this case the Besa corresponds to the meaning of hospitality and protection of those in need, regardless of race or religion: helping confers honor.
When an Albanian gives his word, Besa is sealed. As an oath, Besa is eternal, Besa constitutes the foundation of the Kanun. Besa is a moral code, a norm of social behavior, and an ancient tradition. Besa given to a friend or guest is never sold. Besa is the Golden Rule and it is sacred by the Kanun.
The modern Western concept of "foreigner" does not exist in the Kanun, only the concept of the guest. Hence, there were no Jewish "foreigners" in Albania during World War II — only Jewish "guests", who had to be sheltered and protected even at the risk of Albanian lives.
It is precisely with this statement that one can understand how the Albanians had risked their lives to save around 2000 Jews of different nationalities, unfortunately this argument is still little known, given that the Albanian state archives were accessible only after the 1990, when two influential men in American politics named Tom Lantos and Joe Dioguardi obtained permission from Ramiz Alia, successor of Enver Hoxha, to consult the deeds useful for ascertaining the salvation of the Jews in Albania: the documents were examined by Yad Vashem who considered them valid and Norman Gershman , an American photographer, dedicated an exhibition entitled Besa: Muslims who saved Jews in World War I.
The religion of Albanians is Albanianism Pashko Vasa
The same photographer embarked on a journey to 5 years in Albania, where he gathered from the voice of the saviors and their descendants all these splendid stories that are "told" through their portraits. But the photographer focused on the Albanian Muslims, but it must be emphasized that there was no distinction or privilege of religion for the salvation of the Jews: as he affirmed Pashko Vasa :The religion of Albanians is Albanianism.
As highlighted by the photographer in numerous stories and interviews, it was King Zogu himself who helped many Jews, in March of the 1939, in fact, he allowed 95 Jewish families to settle in Albania, even though a month later he had to flee to Greece after the Italian invasion.
Albania's King Zog personally issued more than 400 visas. 13-year-old Fritzi Weitzman and her family of 11, from Vienna. He helped them to re-establish the family photography business in Albania, and one of their relatives from a concentration camp.
After the German occupation of the 1943, the Italian government was replaced by a regency of four men led by Mehdi Frasheri as Prime Minister; who were asked to provide the list of Jews residing there, but the government refused and helped the Jews by supplying them with false documents, precisely to "confuse" them with the rest of the Albanian population.
There are two versions of the story: according to the first the leader of the Jewish community in Albania, Rafael Jakoel, turned to Mehdi Frasheri to ask for the protection of Xhafer Deva, another of the four members of the Regency who was anti-Semitic but animated by nationalism and to protect his nation he allied himself with the Jews of his land by opposing the Germans; while for the second version of the story it was that Deva himself was opposed and the Germans accepted his request not to supply any list.
In both cases it was thanks to the Albanians that no name was given. In June of 1943 the Albanian partisans killed 60 German soldiers in an attack and the Germans in response killed 107 Albanian women and children.
There were also Jewish doctors who worked under a false name, like the case of Dr. Kalmar, of Hungarian origin, renowned for his treatments for pneumonia and tuberculosis: after the Second World War he continued to work under a false name hiding in the territories near Tirana , but when he was arrested he was released after a short time, thanks to his friendships with men of the Albanian government.
Furthermore, the Albanian population also helped the soldiers left in jeopardy after the armistice: thanks to the help of an Albanian Prince named Kujtim Cakrani, Italian soldiers were rescued around 7500, providing them with accommodation, food and care necessary for their survival.
Another testimony is given by this excerpt from the article:
The Albanian newspaper Panorama published on the following story on 19 January 2011. It depicted a case of Besa towards Italian soldiers to the heartbreaking extreme. The ex-German soldier (Johann Arendt), who later came to Koplik, Shkodra, after 30 years to retrieve his watch left, told the following story: “... It was the end of war in Albania, November 1944. The ex-Italian soldiers were extensively helping partisans.
German soldiers had orders to find Italian soldiers and kill. They went to a house where they were suspected was an Italian soldier. The man (Vehbi Hoti) of the house said: No, there is no Italian inside our house. They took them out of the house, about 10-12 persons. The Italian (Andrea Fabbrizi) was among the family, but not distinguished as he had the same clothes. They are threatened if the Italian soldier does not come out. Then, a boy came out of the group and said: I am the Italian. One of the German soldiers instantly shot him dead. The German soldiers left. The boy on the ground was the son of the house.
This topic is dedicated every year to a conference in Canada entitled: "Holocaust Education Week" in which we tell the stories of those who have been saved and are increasingly being studied in the field, still being a research field in development , as stated by various articles, so much so that the number of Jews saved is not yet accurate:
At least 3240 Jews were saved up to the end of WWII. Not included in this number those Jews who entered Albania with false passports or names, those who entered illegally, those who would be listed on other authors, and those not yet recognized. The research on names of rescued Jews is still going on.
The resolution approved by the US Senate is also very interesting.
In the 1991 that the Jews of Albania finally arrived in their Israel and in the 1993 all the Righteous visited their friends, as guests of Harvey Sarner and received this honor. In the 1992 the Albania-Israel Association was founded with Refik Veseli in person.
The gratitude of the Jews to the Albanians can be summed up in the words of Irene Grunbaum, also escaped death
Farewell Albania, I thought. You have given me so much, hospitality, refuge, friends, and adventures. Farewell Albanian, one day I will tell the world how good, fearless, strong and faithful your sons are, how death and the devil can't frighten them. If necessary, I'll tell you how they are protected and refugee would not allow their lives to be lost. The gates of your small country remained open, Albania. Your eyes closed, when necessary, to give poor persecuted people another chance to survive the most horrible of all wars. Albania, we survived the siege because of your humanity. We thank you.
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