"Shtëpia është and Zotit dhe e mikut - The house is of God and of the guest". There is a list of "Righteous States among the Nations" and Albania is part of it thanks to the people and bodies that during the Second World War saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust even at the risk of their own lives.
Ermal sits in front of me on a summer afternoon, a spritz to refresh the palate and catch his breath, and I am absorbed in listening to his story made up of so many characters, Albanians, Bulgarians, Americans and the plots of their lives from the 40 years to our days.
It is the 1943, on the day of the Feast of Breaking the Fast and Rifat Hoxha goes to his bakery near his home in Tirana early in the morning. A lot of work awaits him, he knows that his desserts are very appreciated in the area and he also knows that it is a day of celebration for him and his family, devoted to the Islamic faith, a special day that can help to forget for a few hours the war in course and the unknown fate of its land.
It is in fact the Italian capitulation period and the witness has already passed to the Nazi occupation. Suddenly a gentleman enters his door accompanied by a young lady and a child around the 6 years.
I come from Bulgaria, my name is Nissim Aladiem, this is my wife Sara and then there is also my little Aron "- says the man with a fearful voice and continues -" we ... we are Jews and we had to take the ship from Kavaje to escape the barbarity that they do in our land, but we have lost the ship and we do not know your language, we do not know anyone and a policeman of the port, I do not remember his name, he told me to come to her, because she speaks Macedonian and maybe he can understand ... "
Come in, come ”are the words that the good Rifat pronounces lowering the shutters of his shop and promising those helpless people that he would find a way to help them.
The same strength of spirit in suppressing the natural fear for the consequences of his act of love spurs him to find a suitable and inconspicuous accommodation for the Aladiem family.
For parents, he finds refuge from some relatives in the village but keeps their child in his home. The small Aron follows Rifat and his wife Fejzie like a son, in the shop, holding hands for 6 months, hand in hand as they reach the store, hand in hand in the streets of Tirana where the child faces the tragic situation Bolster with a serene memory.
After 6 months the time has come for the Aladiem family to try to escape and reach Israel, but it is a must not to attract attention, to look like the locals, to hide their faith and their customs, a last effort before being able to achieve freedom and find again the sense of a normal life.
Strong is the pain of separation, gratitude, affection, none of the emotions felt in the moment of goodbye, can be described in words, felt in skin and a shiver runs through even we spectators. Before the last embrace Nissim entrusts his Jewish Rifts to his friend Rifat for fear of being searched during their journey.
These texts must be passed from father to son on the day of his marriage and the symbolic value is indefinable. Rifat promises to cherish them carefully and will do so for the rest of his life, waiting to be able to keep his word to his friend.
After the '45 in Albania the communist dictatorship is established and the country isolates itself under the fierce control of the regime.
Very few are the letters that the two families are able to exchange, Rifat knows only that they have settled in Israel and that they are fine; no confidence and few truths to avoid falling victim to Party censorship. The years pass, now Rifat is an old and tired man, but the memory of the word given to Nissim is still alive in his memory.
But now it's up to his son Rexhep to keep his promise. La Besa is handed down from father to son as a burden and honor. For many, too many years Rifat has never confided his secret to anyone, not a word to his son who finds himself ambassador of his father's will, uncertain about his success but convinced in keeping his word. The years follow one another.
Rexhep gets married and has a son, Ermal. There is the fall of the communist regime in Albania and an unstable democracy is established. The borders open and the reality of the country changes every hour.
In the meantime Rexhep begins his attempts to search for Aron Aladiem on the internet but he also addresses an association that keeps records of Jewish families in Albania. For many years his initiatives have failed but fate wants 3 or 4 years ago to go to Tirana, American photographer Norman H. Gershman looking for information on families who have welcomed and protected hundreds of Jews on the run.
Norman is immediately sent to Rexhep's house where he learns about the amazing story and touches the religious books very well preserved by the Hoxha family. Norman promises to help them achieve their purpose.
A few days later Rexhep recalls his son Ermal who moved to Italy to study architecture and asks him to accompany him on his trip to Israel in order to personally deliver the Jewish Sacred Texts to Aron Aladiem.
Their incredible and exciting adventure was collected in the documentary "God's House" filmed in Bulgaria, Albania, Israel and the United States with stories and videos of extraordinary experiences and testimonies. To find out if the 3 sacred books have returned to the legitimate owner, we can only wait impatiently for the documentary.
There is a list of "Righteous States among the Nations" and Albania is part of it thanks to the people and bodies that during the Second World War saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust even at the risk of their own lives. Many documents hidden during the communist regime and reappeared only in the 90 years, testify to this profound act of humanity nourished by the Besa, the moral code of the given word and by respect for the values, hospitality and defense of threatened and innocent human life.
These are the reasons that drive 2000 Jews to reach Albania during World War II and to find a safe haven during their escape.
A warm thank you and Ermal Hoxha, Christine Brahmi Romero and Rachel Goslins
The article is also available in Albanian language
Web page: Besa, The Promise
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