Tag Archives: holocaust

BESA THE PROMISE – to be shown at Wayland, MA on March 23, 2014

Frosina is proud to announce that the movie BESA THE PROMISE will be shown in Wayland, Massachusetts on March 23, 2014 at the Islamic Center of Boston.

The movie is one of the documentaries showing the courage and sacrifice of the Albanian people of all religious denominations in saving the Jews of Albania and of other European countries during the terrible and long night of the Holocaust.  Special guest at the event will be Ms. Johanna Gerechter Neumann, a Holocaust survivor and a great friend, who was recently decorated by the President of Albania for being a good will Ambassador for remembrance, reconciliation and peace.

More information on the Weston Wayland Interfaith Group is here:

http://www.wwiag.org/

More information on the event is below:

BESA Wayland poster

Salvation in Albania: Europe’s Holocaust haven emerges from behind the Iron Curtain

Author: Chana Shavelson (Reprinted from The Jewish Advocate, May 21-27, 1999)

BOSTON — As ethnic tensions fuel civil war in the southern province of Kosovo, and the faces of displaced refugees crowd out local media coverage, America is faced more fully with Albania and its history.  Some might have learned that the country has the distinction of being the poorest in Europe, and that its borders were closed until the ousting of the Communist dictatorship in 1990. Others will know that Mother Teresa’s family origins were from that small Balkan nation.

Few if any know that Albania is the only European country to boast a larger Jewish population after World War II than before, or that along with Denmark, Bulgaria, and Finland, it resisted Nazi demands to compile “lists” and hand over its Jews.

In a country that is 70 percent Moslem, Albania’s absolute heroism vis-a-vis its Jews becomes that much more extraordinary.  For not only did the country protect its own — not a single Jew was deported or killed in free Albania — it served as a haven for Austrian, Serb, and Greek Jews during the war as well. Neighboring Greece, by contrast, did comply with its Nazi occupiers and hand over lists — 90 percent of its Jews met their fates in concentration camps and the thriving Sephardic community of Salonika was decimated.

Van Christo, director of the Frosina Information Network, an Albanian immigrant and cultural resource based in Boston, reminds us that Albania’s Moslems are Bektashi, belonging to a liberal form of Islam begun in the 17th century when the Ottomans conquered the country.  The great Turkish kingdom converted Albania’s then Christian population to Islam “through perks, not enforcement,” says Christo, and so “there’s nothing fanatic about it (the Bektashi religion).”

Like religious moderation and tolerance, hospitality has long been part of the country’s make-up.  Together, these traits have created a region in which intermarriage — between Moslems and Christians as well as between Jews and non-Jews — has long been the norm.  According to Christo, people consider themselves “Albanians first and religious second.”

When the country therefore went out of its way to protect its Jews, both foreign and native born, during the Holocaust, in a sense it was protecting its countrymen as well as its guests.

Today, however, Albania’s Jewish community has been depleted, not by ethnic cleansing, but by the end of Communism.  Only 61 Jews remain. The rest left with Joseph Jakoel, “a modern Moses,” says Christo, who took his country’s 400-plus Jews to settle in Israel when the Iron Curtain fell.

Though a few Albanian Jews have resisted emigration, in a country with 35 percent unemployment and a government that still struggles with free-market and democratic reforms, most have chosen to leave for the “promised land.”

In Israel, the names of Albanian Moslem and Christian saviors of Jews join those of their Danish and Dutch counterparts as “Righteous Among the Nations” at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.  In Washington, D.C., many of the same names have been cast upon the “Rescuer’s Wall” at the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

One American Jew, Harvey Sarner of Palm Springs, Calif. and London, England, was so moved to discover the sacrifices and risks of the Albanians during the war, that he made it his business to find out more about the country’s humanitarian deeds, and to write a book about it, entitled “Rescue in Albania.”

In Albania itself, however, apart from those who remember, there are few reminders of the people’s heroism.  Magdalena Shkurti, who with her husband Petro saved six members of a Jewish family in the southern town of Berat, remembers the refugees, now in Israel: “I loved them too much … I still worry about them when I hear of a bus bombing in Tel Aviv.”

Refik Veseli’s family, like most Albanians who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust, never considered taking money from those fleeing persecution.  They were guests, and his people’s code of honor made taking payment for hospitality impossible.  “We are still one family,” he explains, “even though they now all live in Israel.”

The Jews of Albania and their salvation during the Holocaust

In her book, Escape Through the Balkans: the Autobiography of Irene Grunbaum (University of Nebraska Press, 1996), translated and edited by Katherine Morris, Irene Grunbaum describes, in the extensive section on Albania, her parting thoughts as a Jew after having been protected and sheltered by Albanian Muslims and Christians during Nazi German WWII occupation of Albania: “Farewell, Albania, I thought. You have given me so much hospitality, refuge, friends, and adventure. Farewell, Albania. One day I will tell the world how brave, fearless, strong, and faithful your sons are; how death and the devil can’t frighten them. If necessary, I’ll tell how they protected a refugee and wouldn’t allow her to be harmed even if it meant losing their lives. The gates of your small country remained open, Albania. Your authorities closed their eyes, when necessary, to give poor, persecuted people another chance to survive the most horrible of all wars. Albania, we survived the seige because of your humanity. We thank you.”

Too little is known worldwide about the fact that only Albania in Europe protected its own Jews during the Holocaust while also offering shelter to other Jews who had escaped into Albania from Serbia, Austria, and Greece. Yet, an American Jew named Harvey Sarner of Palm Springs, California and London, England, who, after finding out that Albanian Muslims and Christians risked their own lives to shelter Jews, made it his personal business to know more about those extraordinary Albanian humanitarian deeds. While much of Europe was willingly giving up its Jews to the Fascists, Sarner was amazed to learn that the Albanians, whose renowned hospitality is deeply steeped in their traditions and culture, went to great lengths and personal risk to shield Jews from Nazi German occupiers of Albania during WWII.

With the advent of democracy in 1991, almost all of Albania’s Jews emigrated to Israel and it was there that Sarner learned of their heroic rescue after reading the names of Albanian Muslim and Christian saviors of Jews listed and commemorated as “Righteous Among the Nations” at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Moved by such humanitarianism, Sarner arranged, at his own expense, a joyful reunion between the Albanian Jews and their Albanian Muslim and Christian rescuers in 1992 in Israel. Again, at his own expense, Sarner also made it possible for an Albanian-Muslim, Ledio Veseli, to attend a university in the USA as his personal expression of gratitude to the Albanian rescuers. And Sarner didn’t stop there: he was so impressed by the obvious warmth between seemingly disparate peoples that he was moved to research the history of the Jews in Albania from Roman times to the present day story of Joseph Jakoel, the Albanian Jew who led his people to from Albania to Israel in 1991. With the help of Jakoel (who passed away in 1995), Sarner assembled a compelling history of Albania’s Jews and their amazing survival in his 1994 limited-edition booklet “The Jews of Albania.”

I first learned about Sarner after reading a short article about him in “Albanian Life” – a mazazine published in London. After contacting the editor who gave me Sarner’s address, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Sarner was an American who divided his time between California and the UK.

After writing to Sarner seeking to purchase copies of “The Jews of Albania”, he generously donated a quantity for fund-raising purposes to Frosina, a non-profit, IRS Section 501(c)(3), humanitarian organization that I formed in 1994 to provide assistance and counsel to Albanian newcomers arriving in the USA and also to help dispel misconceptions that even some educated people have about Albania and the Albanians.

In 1997, Sarner updated his book by publishing “Rescue in Albania: One Hundred Percent of Jews in Albania Rescued from the Holocaust” which more fully described how and why not one single Jew was taken to a Nazi concentration camp in Albania. After turning over my research files on Albania’s Jews to Sarner (having originally intended to write my own article about that little-known subject), he graciously permitted Frosina to serve as co-publisher of the new book.

Sarner, born in New York City, served earlier as an attorney and has a long list of credentials and honors. The author of seven books and countless articles, Sarner has received numerous awards and citations including the Order of Merit Medal from the President of Poland. An Honorary President of the Albanian-Israeli Friendship League, he is also a Board Member of the Jewish Foundation for Christian Rescuers, and co-producer and writer of a documentary “Jews of Albania” with Israeli TV.

On February 1, 1995 during ceremonies unveiling the names of Albanian protectors on its “Rescuer’s Wall” at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, the-then Museum Director, Miles Lerman, gratefully declared “Albania was the only country in Europe which had a larger Jewish population at the end of the war than before it!”

An Israeli-Albanian concert was held in1995 in Tirana, Albania, to commemorate the protection of Jews by Albanians during the Holocaust. Participants were the Kibbutz Orchestra of Israel, the Opera Orchestra of Tirana, the National Choir of Albania, and the Israeli-Albania Society. The idea for the commemoration came from Stephen Moskowitz, a Fulbright Scholar and former English Lecturer at Tirana’s Polytechnic University who, after learning of the little-known Albanian humanitarianism towards the Jews, broached the subject of a joint Albanian-Israeli commemorative concert in Albania with conductor Doron Salomon when he attended a performance of the Kibbutz Orchestra in Macedonia.

After plans and preparations were finalized, the Israeli-Albanian concert was performed on November 4, 1995, in Tirana’s Pyramid Center where the Kibbutz Orchestra was joined by members of the Opera Orchestra of Tirana and its leader, Bujar Llapaj, who conducted the national anthems of Israel and Albania before handing the baton to Maestro Salomon who led the orchestra and the National Choir in Mozart’s Requiem.

An Albanian, Apostal Kotani, also wrote a book about Albania’s Jews titled “The Hebrews in Albania During Centuries” that was published in Tirana, Albania, in 1996 wherein he cites case-histories and lists the names of some 98 Albanian Muslims and Christians who protected Jews during the Holocaust. As further evidence of legendary Albanian hospitality and religious tolerance, it may be interesting to note that the majority of the Albanian rescuers of Jews were Muslims.

Note: Copies of “Rescue in Albania” can be obtained by a donation of $29.00 plus $4.00 P&H (Hardcover) or $15.00 plus $4.00 P&H (Softcover) to the Frosina Information Network, 162 Boylston Street, #930, Boston, MA 02116. A portion of the donation will be tax-deductible for income-tax purposes.

Make checks payable to the “Frosina Information Network.”

The Righteous Ones

Author: Linda Bachrack

 For Van Christo, president of the Frosina Foundation, an organization dedicated to the needs of Albanian-Americans, a casual comment led to extensive research of Albanian history. In 1975, Christo hosted a National Public Radio program titled “The Albanians.” A panelist on the show remarked that “Albania saved its Jews during World War II.”

“It was an astonishing statement,” says Christo, “but details were rather sketchy because of the uncommunicative posture of the Albanian communist government.”

Christo subsequently met American author and attorney Harvey Sarner, who had written a booklet titled The Jews of Albania. After finding out that Albanian Muslims and Christians risked their own lives to shelter Jews during Nazi German occupation of Albania, Sarner made it his life’s work to know more about their extraordinary humanitarian deeds.

With the advent of democracy in 1991, almost all of Albania’s Jews emigrated to Israel, and it was there that Sarner learned of their heroic rescue. In 1992 in Israel, Sarner arranged a reunion between the Albanian Jews and their rescuers (the Albanian Righteous). He also sponsored an Albanian-Muslim, Ledio Veseli, to attend a university in the United States.

But he didn’t stop there. Sarner was so impressed by the obvious warmth between seemingly disparate peoples that he was compelled to write a chronicle, Rescue in Albania (Brunswick Press, $15).

During ceremonies unveiling the names of Albanian protectors on its “Rescuer’s Wall” at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., Museum Director Miles Lerman declared, “Albania was the only country in Europe which had a larger Jewish population at the end of the war than before it.”

Why did the Albanians risk their lives for the Jews? Sarner says, “It was their moral code, the Code of Leke Dukagjini, which is not based on religion. It’s based on the golden rule that you die first before you hand over a houseguest. All of the people knew that the Jews were being hidden, but not one told the Germans about them.

“For them, it was their duty,” he says. “In fact, after the war, the Albanians sought out the Jews to give them back their valuables and property.”

Sarner’s book is dedicated to the memory of Josef Jakoel, the head of the Jewish community in Albania whom he calls “a 20th-century Moses who took his people to the Promised Land.”

More about how Albania saved Jews during the holocaust

Author: Irene Grunbaum

Little is known worldwide about the fact that only Albania saved its own Jews from Nazi occupiers of Albania during WWII while also offering refuge to other Jews who had escaped into Albania from Serbia, Austria, and Greece. An American, Harvey Samer, brought this to light in 1994 in his booklet, The Jews of Albania — the first publication in the English language describing Albania’s heroic rescue of Jews during the Holocaust. The names of the courageous Muslim and Christian Albanians who saved the Jews are honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and are inscribed on the Rescuers Wall at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. where, during dedication ceremonies, its Director, Miles Lerman, gratefully stated, “Albania was the only country in Europe which had a larger Jewish population at the end of the war than before it! ” 

Now, in a recently-published book, Escape through the Balkans, the Autobiography of Irene Grunbaum, translated and edited by Katherine Morris, Irene Grunbaum describes, in the extensive section on Albania, her parting thoughts as a Jew after being protected and sheltered by the Albanian Muslims and Christians:

“Farewell, Albania, I thought. You have given me so much hospitality, refuge, friends and adventure. Farewell, Albania. One day I will tell the world how brave, fearless, strong, and faithful your sons are; how death and the devil can’t frighten them. If necessary, I’ll tell how they protected a refugee and wouldn’t allow her to be harmed even if it meant loosing their lives. The gates of your small country remain open, Albania. Your authorities closed their eyes, 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”.

Page 130
Escape through the Balkans
The Autobiography of Irene Grunbaum
University of Nebraska Press
Lincoln And London
1996