9 thoughts on “Albanian Righteous Muslims Who Saved Jews During Holocaust – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. Unfortunately, some will argue that Besa, “to keep the promise”, pre-dates the introduction of Islam to Albania, and therefore Islam is still an evil religion, and that the Albanians are merely the exception that proves the rule.

    1. Besa has NOTHING to do with religion, but everything to do with Albanian culture. It’s just as strong (if not stronger) among Catholic Albanians as it is among Muslim Albanians. It’s a shame that people take something so purely and uniquely Albanian and use it for their own propaganda purposes.

  2. A report by US intelligence on Albania, entitled “Political and Internal Conditions” stated in July 1944 that “Xhafer Deva, Rexhep Mitrovic[a] and Midhat Frasheri are with the Germans. … Anti-semitic measures are being adopted now.” An SS document “revealed that Deva had been responsible for the deportation of ‘Jews, Communists and partisans’ to extermination camps as well as for punitive raids by the SS Skanderbeg Division. The small mountain territory had few Jews, so relatively few were captured and killed.”


  3. Azure Morning is using cheap serbian milosevic propaganda to discredit the incredibie role played by the albanian peoples in saving the lives of Jews in WWII. Rexhep Deva, the interior minister of Albania (1944) was after 1945 political refugee in USA where he was very active in politics and in different universities. Also he had warm and brotherly relations with the jewish diaspora in the US. How comes that he first deports the jews during the war in the 40-ties and then after the war the jews are his greatest supporters and friends in America.
    Albanians(albanian speaking people in today’s Albania, Kosovo, western Macedonia and Chameria- an ethnic albanian province today under greek occupation) of different religious backgrounds (not only the Muslims, but Catholic and Orthodox alike) saved the jewish people out of pure tradition which was BESA – which in albanian history is more than just a given word, regardless of ideology, religion, political party and so on. That’s the truth. Prior to WWII there were less than 100 jews in Albania. In 1945 there were at least 2000 jews in Albania. That’s a historic fact. The albanian regime during the 1944 was independent from the german troops who were in Albania from september 1943 till november 1944, not as occupants but out of geostrategic interes.
    So, dont mess with this stupid antialbanian propaganda produced from the shauvinistic circles in Belgrad and Athens,mister Azure Morning.

  4. ALBANIANS and Afghans fight for the heirs of
    to Bosnia’s SS past

    (British) Daily Telegraph, 29 December 1993
    By Robert Fox in Fojnica (Bosnia)

    “DOCUMENTS!” shouted a man in a beret with an insignia in green Arabic script outside the UN house in the Bosnian mountain town of Fojnica. He was hostile and demanded our presence at the police station.

    Later the police chief apologised, but made clear that
    authority had passed to the men with the Korani texts hanging from their fatigues.

    Last summer Muslim and Croat leaders in Fojnica asked the WN to declare it a “zone of peace”. Since then war has ravaged the town, bringing murder, mayhem and exile to at least half its original population of 12,000. Different, and alien, forces are now in charge — some of the toughest in the Bosnian Muslim army.

    These are the men of the Handzar division. “We do everything with the knife, and we always fight on the frontline,” a Handzar told one UN officer.

    Up to 6000-strong, the Handzar division glories in a fascist culture. They see themselves as the heirs of the SS Handzar division, formed by Bosnian Muslims in 1943 to fight for the Nazis. Their spiritual model was Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who sided with Hitler.

    According to UN officers, surprisingly few of those in charge of the Handzars in Fojnica seem to speak good Serbo-Croatian.
    “Many of them are (Muslim) ALBANIAN, whether from Kosovo (the Serb province where Albanians are the majority) or from Albania itself.”

    They are trained and led by veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, say UN sources. The strong presence of native Albanians is an ominous sign. It could mean the seeds of war are spreading south via Kosovo and into Albania, thence to the Albanians of Macedonia.

    Pakistani fundamentalists are known to have had a strong hand in providing arms and a small weapons industry for the Bosnian Muslims.

    Hardline elements of the Bosnian army, like the Handzar, appear to have the backing of an increasingly extreme leadership in
    Sarajevo, represented by Mr Ejup Ganic, Foreign Minister, Mr Haris Silajdzic, Prime Minister, and Mr Enver Hadjihasanovic, the new army chief.

    The Handzars are working closely with other units around Fojnica, preparing for the long assault on Kiseljak to the east and Prozor to the west, a campaign likely to last years.

    The first political act in this new operation appears to have been the murder of the two monks in the monastery. Last month Brother Nikola Milicevic, 39, and Brother Mato Migic, 56, were surprised by a four-man squad.

    After an argument, Brother Nikola was shot dead on the spot.His colleague was only wounded, but finished off by a shot in the neck.

    Mysteriously, the police guard disappeared a few minutes before. The murder squad withdrew after the killings.

    The Provincial for the Franciscans of Bosnia, Petar Andjelovic,demanded an explanation. He received condolences from President Alija Izetbegovic and a note from the police in Sarajevo that the matter was under investigation.

    The Provincial is convinced this was a political murder to deepen the division between Croats and Muslims. He also believes it was sanctioned by Sarajevo.

    “I can say that for the moment all responsibility for this killing falls at the door of the Bosnian army,” he told an Italian Catholic magazine last week. “Somebody very powerful must have organised this.”

    The way the Handzars have settled in Fojnica suggests they are playing for a long war. The town is self-sufficient in meat, vegetables and cereals. The terrain is ideal for guerrilla operations.

    More significant is the nature of the Handzars, and the
    influences of the Albanians in their command, and the support from Pakistan. These suggest, politically and militarily, the war in Bosnia has spread – under the dozing eyes of the West.
    (End quote)



      by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi

      On November 1, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, recognized Albanian heroism in saving every Jew who either lived in Albania or sought asylum there during World War II with the opening of “Besa: A Code of Honor/Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust.” This exhibit by fine art photographer, Norman Gershman, an American Jew, documents the courage and compassion of the rescuers and their families—approximately 65 percent of whom were Muslim and 35 percent of whom were Orthodox and Roman Catholic—who saved more than 2,000 Jews from death at the hands of Italian fascists and German Nazis.

      As Yad Vashem exhibition curator Yehudit Shendar said in her opening remarks on November 1, Norman Gershman’s exhibit is unique in a number of respects. His “sensitive photographs combine to highlight a little known, but remarkable aspect of the Holocaust.” In addition, Shendar said that the exhibit brings to light “the extraordinary story of Albania—where an entire nation, both the government and the population—acted to rescue Jews.”

      This is the real significance of the Albanian response to the Holocaust: It is not only that every Jew was saved, making Albania the only European country with a larger Jewish population after the war than before it, but that Albanians everywhere hid and protected Jews. They did so out of the predominant moral code of besa, which was described by Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, at the ceremony on November 1 as “a basic, human value of helping one another, even at the risk of one’s own life.” This value of besa, Shalev said, “goes much further than the culture of higher education that did not stem the cruelty and brutality in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.” Albanians, he concluded, “showed what humanity can be at its finest.”

      The role of Albanians in rescuing Jews is virtually unknown in the West to this day, because it was concealed throughout forty-six years of Enver Hoxha’s Stalinist Communist dictatorship in Albania. The stories of Albanian religious tolerance and heroism were also suppressed under Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia ( Kosova, Montenegro, Macedonia, and the Presheva Valley), where three and a half million Albanians have experienced torture, arrest, expulsion, and genocide for more than a century. Although the Albanian American Civic League and the Albanian American Foundation share Norman Gershman’s principal and important concern of demonstrating, in the aftermath of 9/11, that there are Muslims who have saved Jews, we are equally concerned with the ongoing suppression and distortion of Albanian history, culture and reality that puts the Albanian people at risk.

      The continuing challenge for Albanians is to uncover a buried history, to reveal that Albanians are Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians who have lived side by side in harmony for centuries, and to counter the misrepresentation of Albanians in the Slavic and Western press as a potentially terrorist, fundamentalist, Muslim force in the heart of Europe. Even though this is not his focus, Norman Gershman has made a significant contribution to this Albanian effort through his photographs, which were created through the help of Professors Petrit Zorba and Apostol Kotani in Albania, rescuer Mustafa Rezniqi and Xhangyle Ilijazi in Kosova, and the Albanian American Foundation in New York.

      As the timeline that follows demonstrates, the revelation of Albanian heroism during the Holocaust began with the 1990 visit of Congressman Tom Lantos and former Congressman Joe DioGuardi to Tirana, as the first U.S. officials to enter Albania in fifty years. Seventeen years later, it is fitting that Congressman Lantos commemorated the November 1 ceremony at Yad Vashem on the floor of the House of Representatives. At the conclusion of his remarks, he turned to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and said: “Madam Speaker, as a Holocaust survivor who survived certain death due to the kindness of strangers, I am immensely grateful to the Albanian people for their bravery, selflessness, and generosity in risking their lives to hide and protect so many Jews during one of the world’s darkest hours. I am delighted that this exhibition is finally giving Albania the recognition it deserves for the vitally important role its citizens played during World War II, and I am grateful to my former colleague and friend Joe DioGuardi and the Albanian American Civic League for their efforts in ensuring that this information becomes publicly available.”



      Part Two


      As the timeline that follows demonstrates, the unique role that Albanians played in saving Jews during the Holocaust was buried for more than forty-five years because this information was suppressed by two Communist dictators, Enver Hoxha in Albania and Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia. The revelation of Albanian religious tolerance and heroism in World War II began in 1990 because of two pivotal developments: The Albanian government gave the archives about Albanians who rescued Jews to Congressman Tom Lantos and former Congressman Joe DioGuardi, when they traveled to Albania as the first U.S. officials to enter the country in fifty years, and Josef Jakoel and his daughter, Felicita, embarked on the secret and dangerous mission that would lead to the exodus of 300 Albanian Jews to Israel in 1991. Seventeen years later, the vast majority of Westerners still do not know about the saving role of Albanians during the Nazi Holocaust and its roots in the Albanian moral code of besa. Because of this, and because the history, culture, and reality of Albanians has been concealed and distorted for more than a century by their oppressors, it is important to document and understand how this story came to light and is still unfolding.

      May 1990

      Congressman Tom Lantos and former Congressman Joe DioGuardi are the first U.S. officials to enter Albania in fifty years. Seeking to ingratiate himself with Tom Lantos, a Jewish American Holocaust survivor, then-dictator Ramiz Alia presents never-before-seen archives containing letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other records of the unpublicized heroic deeds of Albanians who rescued Jews during World War II. Upon returning to the States, DioGuardi sends the files to Israel, where they are authenticated by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.

      Josef Jakoel, a leader of the Jewish community in Albania, and his daughter, Felicita, meet with DioGuardi in Tirana to tell him about their plan to arrange for the exodus of Albanian Jewry to Israel. Felicita subsequently obtains an exit visa to travel to Greece and then, in violation of Albanian law, travels to Jerusalem through the help of the Israeli ambassador to Greece. Felicita gives a secret list of all Jews living in Albania to the Jewish Agency in Israel. The Agency in turn solicits the Israeli and Italian governments and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to prepare for the Albanian exodus.

      January – May 1991

      Josef and Felicita Jakoel lead 300 Albanian Jews out of Albania to begin a new life in Israel.


      Josef Jakoel, who was in ill health before arriving in Israel, dies. The Albanian-Israeli Friendship Association is formed, and Refik Veseli, who was the first Albanian rescuer to be recognized by Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Gentile,” becomes its first president.


      All Albanian Righteous Gentiles are invited to Israel as the guests of Jewish American philanthropist Harvey Sarner and are honored by the State of Israel for their heroism.

      February 1995

      The Albanian American Civic League and Foundation makes the addition of Albania to the “Righteous among Nations” section of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum a reality. Three Jewish Congressmen—Ben Gilman, Tom Lantos, and Jerrold Nadler—cochair and speak at a Civic League-sponsored ceremony and reception commemorating the installation.


      Based on the information authenticated by Yad Vashem in 1990 and extensive text and photographs from Josef and Felicita Jakoel, Harvey Sarner publishes Rescue in Albania to call international attention to the unique role of the Albanian people in saving Jews from the ravages of the Holocaust.


      The Albanian American Foundation begins the distribution of 10,000 copies of Rescue in Albania to publicize the courage and tolerance of the Albanian people during World War II and to bring to the attention of the Jewish people the plight of the Albanians in Kosova living under a brutal occupation at the hands of then Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. (At the request of Harvey Sarner, Congressmen Lantos and Gilman and former Congressman DioGuardi write forewords to the book.)


      Norman Gershman, a resident of Basalt, Colorado, contacts Joe DioGuardi (whom he had known twenty-five years earlier when he was a businessman in New York), after reading Harvey Sarner’s Rescue in Albania and discovering Joe’s introduction and the Albanian American Civic League’s phone number.


      The Albanian American Foundation raises funds to help Jewish American fine art photographer Norman Gershman photograph Albanian families and their descendants, from Albania and Kosova, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. He travels to Albania, where he is assisted in his search for the rescuers and educated about Albanian history by Albanian-Israeli Friendship Association Director Dr. Petrit Zorba and his codirector Professor Apostol Kotani, author of Albania and the Jews (1995) and The Hebrews in Albania throughout the Centuries (1999).

      Norman Gershman holds the first exhibition of his photographs of Muslim Albanians who saved Jews during the Holocaust at Aspen Art Museum in Aspen, Colorado. Joe and Shirley DioGuardi attend. (Although Albanians rescuers were Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Catholics, Gershman’s focus is on Muslims saving Jews.)

      May 2005

      The Albanian American Foundation and Civic League host “A Salute to Albanian Tolerance, Resistance, and Hope: Remembering Besa and the Holocaust,” on the occasion of the 60 th anniversary of the Nazi death camps. Congressman Tom Lantos and Senator Charles Schumer are the keynote speakers, and Harvey Sarner, Local 32BJ President Mike Fishman, and Norman Gershman are the honorees. Then House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Henry Hyde and former Chairman Ben Gilman also address the 800-person event, along with Rabbi Arthur Schneier and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the head of the New York Board of Rabbis. Gershman shows for the first time a 22-minute film of his work with the rescuers in Albania. The Civic League brings Petrit Zorba and Apostol Kotani from Tirana and the late Roman Catholic Bishop Mark Sopi, Fr. Shan Zefi, and Fr. Lush Gjergji from Kosova to Manhattan to participate as honored guests.

      Gershman travels to Kosova and investigates the role that Albanians played there in saving Jews during the Holocaust with the help of Kosova-Israeli Friendship Association codirectors Mustafa Rezniqi and Xhangyle Ilijazi.

      September 2005

      Local 32BJ Service Employees International Union, under the leadership of its president, Mike Fishman, sponsors a poster commemorating the strong bridge between Jewish and Albanian peoples and distributes it to thousands of Albanians who are members of the union for placement in the buildings and restaurants where they work.

      October 2005

      AACL Balkan Affairs Adviser Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi gives a presentation, including a showing of Norman Gershman’s short film, to the Oral History Association’s annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island, about the role that Albanians played in saving Jews from the Holocaust.

      The Civic League begins work with the American Jewish Congress in preparation for international recognition of the unique saving role of Albanians in World War II.

      The Albanian Canadian Community in Toronto, led by Civic League board member Saimir Lolja, hosts a public meeting with leading Jewish organizations and distributes in advance 500 copies of Harvey Sarner’s Rescue in Albania to Canadian politicians, members of the media, Jewish groups, schools, and museums.

      January/February 2006

      Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi publishes “Jewish Survival in Albania & the Ethics of ‘Besa’” in Congress Monthly, the magazine of the American Jewish Congress.

      Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi gives a speech to the Rotary Club in Manhattan about besa as the source of Albanian religious tolerance and response to the Holocaust.

      Harvey Sarner gives the Albanian American Foundation permission to reprint 20,000 copies of Rescue in Albania, which the AAF distributes to synagogues.

      June 2006

      U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and John McCain introduce S.Res. 521, “commending the people of Albania on the 61 st anniversary of the liberation of the Jews from the Nazi death camps, for protecting and saving the lives of all Jews who lived in Albania, or sought asylum there during the Holocaust.”

      July 2006

      Joe and Shirley DioGuardi travel from Prishtina to Tirana, at the request of the Albanian government, to discuss with Prime Minister Sali Berisha and Deputy Foreign Minister Edith Harxhi plans for increasing international awareness of Albanian heroism during the Holocaust.

      September 2006

      The Albanian American Civic League gives Senators Schumer and McCain their annual Balkans Peace Award for their Congressional efforts to recognize Albanians who saved Jews. Edith Harxhi and American Jewish Congress Executive Director Neil Goldstein attend the ceremony in the U.S. Capitol. The Civic League brings Harxhi to meet members of Congress with responsibility for foreign policy.

      February 2007

      Harvey Sarner dies at the age of 73 in Palm Springs, California, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. His body is buried in Jersualem.

      November 1, 2007

      Norman Gershman’s traveling exhibit, “Besa: A Code of Honor,” opens at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. In a reception and ceremony, Albanians are recognized for their unique role in saving Jews during the Holocaust. Joe and Shirley DioGuardi, Xhangyle Ilijazi, Felicita Jakoel, Apostol Kotani, Mustafa Rezniqi, and Petrit Zorba attend this historic event.

      January 27, 2008

      Norman Gershman’s exhibition travels to New York City and opens at the United Nations Headquarters on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

  5. Democratization and liberalization – the greatest enemy of serbo-greek schuvinistic cheap propaganda and lies. Robert Fox was paid with blood money from the convicted war criminals now residing in the Hague like Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and their master Slobodan Milosevic – the lider of Serbia and the only president of a european country since 1945 to be penalised by international justice. Shame shame azure..

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