Tag Archives: world war 2

ALBANIAN ALBUM: Courage and Compassion in the Holocaust

Author: Jack Goldfarb

(By permission of New Jersey Jewish News, 4/8/99)

The pumpkin-colored bus in the main square of Tirana, capital of Albania, is about to burst from the overload of passengers jammed inside. Two Albanian friends — Refik Veseli, a professional photographer and Sirgen, his English-speaking nephew — have been waiting with me over an hour for this bus. We plead with the driver to let us squeeze aboard. When the scowling busman shakes his head for the third time, Refik and Sirgen shout, “But there’s a foreigner here — an American!” Suddenly the door springs open. The compacted passengers squash each other still tighter as we shoehorn ourselves inside. I hand the driver three 100-lekke fares. He waves the money away and smiles. A small incident but it exemplifies the legendary Albanian regard for foreigners.

The Kanun, the traditional “code of honor,” obliges Albanians not only to be hospitable to “guests,” (read”foreigners”) but to be responsible for their safekeeping. The Kanun largely explains why the Albanian people in anextraordinary demonstration of national courage and compassion provided a safe haven for hundreds of Jewish refugees who fled Jugoslavia, Germany, Austria and Bulgaria to this little Balkan land during the Hitlerian Holocaust. This predominantly Moslem country, where religious differences have always been played down, shielded its own Jewish community so vigilantly that not one single Jew, foreign or Albanian, fell into the hands of the Nazi occupiers.

For fifty years, the story of the rescue of the Jews in Albania, numbering about 1800, was little known because of the country’s total isolation from the world under its xenophobic Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha. According to Michael Berenbaum of the Washington Holocaust Museum Research Institute, “Albania was the only country in Europe to have more Jews at the end of World War II than when the war began.” On the bus with me, Refik Veseli, president of the Albanian-Israel Friendship Society, and Sirgen, acting as interpreter, were taking me to meet some of the Albanian “Righteous Gentiles,” those brave souls who had personally shielded Jews during the Nazi Occupation. A kindly,soft-spoken man in his 60′s, Veseli, as a teenager, had helped his parents hide several Jewish families. “Faleminderit!” I said (the only Albanian word I know), thanking the driver as we got off the bus in a neighborhood of dilapidated houses and streets without names. Refik led the way through potholed alleys to a drab wooden cottage encircled by bright stalky sunflowers.

A white-haired couple, Petro and Magdalena Shkurti, surrounded by younger relatives greeted us with wide-eyed curiosity. Who was I with my interest in the events of so long ago? For my part I already felt a reverent admiration for this elderly pair. Refik had told me they had saved six members of a Jewish family in the southern town of Berat by dressing them in peasant clothing and guiding them to a remote village monastery. Magdalena and Petro, who had been teenage friends then, had remained with the hidden family for weeks on end to “watch over them.” “I loved them too much,” Magdalena said, dabbing her eyes, “to let them stay there alone. Today they are in Israel, and I still worry about them when I hear of a bus bombing in Tel Aviv.”

A few streets away we called on Beqir Qogja, a 70-ish erect man who had provided a hideaway for a Jewish friend in the mountain village where he lived during the War. Avraham Gani gave Qogja a store of gold coins to pay for his expenses and to “hold” for him. When the war ended, Qogja handed back the gold. When Gani insisted Qogja keep some, Qogja was offended. “My help to you was for friendship,” he reprimanded Gani. Sitting around an oval table laden with fruit and Coca-Cola bottles, in a tiny flat across town, 86 year-old, blind Xhemile Budo told us of the two Jewish families she and her late husband had hidden in a Tirana storage basement. Later, the Budos escorted them, disguised as farmers, on horseback to safety in the town of Kruje. The grateful Jews offered money to the Budos, but they too declined to accept any such “rewards.” Refik Veseli explained that under the Code of Honor takingpayment for such acts of rescue was unthinkable. The group of Jugoslavian Jews that his parents had sheltered in the Veseli home in Tirana, sharing rooms and food, had offered payment, but the Veselis had never considered accepting money. “We are still as one family,” he said, his voice choking, “even though they now all live in Israel.”

Refik told us about the family of Qemal Bicaku who had lived in a northern mountain village. The Bicakus had hidden six Jewish families- 26 persons – sharing cornbread, beans and dried meat with them for many months. Everyone in the village knew the Jews were there. When bandits in the area suggested to Grandfather Mefail Bicaku that they turn in the Jews and share the loot, an indignant Mefail made it clear that if anything ever happened to the Jews his children “would be branded with shame for life.” Years later, the saved Jews wrote from Argentina, “the bread you gave us is still in our mouths…”

In the honor roll of countries who resisted the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jewish people, Denmark, Finland and Bulgaria are remembered as defiant beacons of light in the pall of Europe’s genocidal darkness. Albania’s achievement in saving all its Jews is even more remarkable when contrasted with the fate of Jews in neighboring Greece, where 90% of the Jewish community perished. In keeping with the prevailing character of their country in which anti-Semitism was never a problem, Albanian underground fighters issued an order in 1943 that anyone refusing to give refuge to those in need would be subject to execution “for the crime of disgracing the Albanian people.” It is believed no one betrayed this order. Albanians never turned over lists of Jews to the Germans, nor were Jews ever compelled to wear the yellow star.

Even the Italian occupying forces in Albania, whose withdrawal in l943 brought in the Germans, went along with the Albanian protective policy toward the Jews. At Kavaje internment camp near the city of Durres, the Italian commandante, on the night before the Germans were to arrive, assembled the detainees, including hundreds of Jews. He opened the gates, advised all the internees to flee, and told them he would burn the camp’s records.

It is believed that Jews first arrived in Albania in Roman times as slaves from conquered Judea en route to Rome. When the Roman ships were blown off course to what was then the ancient Illyrian coast, many captives escaped. The Romans were sure the escapees would be devoured by wild beasts. But even as in recent history, the native Illyrians provided help to the “fleeing refugees.” Historian Flavius Josephus has recorded that several all-Jewish villages existed in the south of the country during that period, most likely founded by the escaped Judean slaves. In the 12th century, Benjamin of Tudela, famed traveler of the ancient world, reported that there were people living in the area who “call each other by Jewish names, and some say that they are Jews.”

The most famous Jew in Albanian history was Shabbetai Zevi, the self-proclaimed “Messiah” of the 17th century. Following his arrest by the Ottoman authorities and his astonishing conversion to Islam, the Grand Vizier of Constantinople hoped to put an end to the controversy surrounding him by exiling him to Albania, then an occupied region of the Ottoman Empire. Shabbetai Zevi spent his last years near the town of Berat where he died suddenly on the Day of Atonement at the age of 50 in 1676.

In his last letter, written six weeks before his death, though outwardly now a Moslem, Zevi asked Jewish friends in Berat to send him a prayer book for Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. Today controversy continues over Shabbetai Zevi, but mostly over the location of his burial place. Several sites are mentioned, one in Dulcigno (now in Montenegro) and one near Berat, where an annual fair is held, it is said, in honor of Shabbetai Zevi.

Recently an Israeli archaeology team has sought to definitively determine the exact gravesite. As to Zevi’s enduring “presence” in Albania, some historians believe his legacy is the social revolutionary ideas and religious motivations that still run strong in southern Albania nowadays. Today there are only 61 Jews left in Albania. For half a century religion was banned in what dictator Hoxha proclaimed “the world’s first atheist state.” But Jews managed to secretly gather in private homes, observing high holidays and sharing Passover matzot sent from Holland. Even circumcision was clandestinely performed by Moslem clerics in lieu of a mohel. When Communist rule collapsed in 1991, about 400 Albanian Jews emigrated to Israel. With sad farewells they left a country where they had maintained strong ties to their Moslem and Christian neighbors. They left a country, small and disadvantaged, but one that proved its eminent greatness in human terms.

Two centuries ago Lord Byron wrote:

“Fierce are Albania’s children,
Yet they lack not virtues…
Their native fastnesses not more secure
Than they in doubtful time of troublous need:
Their wrath how deadly!
But their friendship sure…”

Rebuttal to Carl Savich Review

By Peter R. Prifti

When I first sat down to write this piece, I thought of titling it, “Savage Smear of Sarner by Savich!”  But then I considered that such a title would not be suitable for a serious rebuttal, even if it accurately describes Savich’s review of Harvey Sarner’s book, Rescue In Albania, subtitled, “One Hundred Percent of Jews in Albania Rescued from Holocaust” (1997). I must be calm and courteous with Mr. Carl Savich, I said to myself, regardless of the tone he uses toward Sarner. I shall let him have his day in court, and let his own words damn him or save him, as the case may be. Let the reader, I reflected, be the judge.

Introduction

Harvey Sarner, an American of Jewish-Polish descent, is a lawyer by profession. His book was published in 1997 in Cathedral City, California, and co-published by the Frosina Foundation in Boston, founded by Van Christo. Rescue in Albaniawas preceded by The Jews of Albania, a 1992 paperback by the same author. The second book reflects Sarner’s decision to elaborate on his first book, and enrich it with pertinent new data. 

Sarner writes that, “Albania is the only country in occupied Europe,” during World War II, “where Jews were not victims of the Nazi killing machine” (p. 1). He goes on to say: “The Albanian story is all the more remarkable for the fact that the majority of the Righteous rescuers were Moslems,” who at the time made up 70% of the population of Albania. (“Righteous” is the term applied to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust) “Another remarkable fact,” Sarner notes, “is that no instance was found where an Albanian accepted compensation for hiding Jews.” (p. 45).

Sarner’s book won the endorsement of well-known public figures. Congressmen Tom Lantos of California and Benjamin Gilman of New York, said jointly that “Harvey Sarner has performed an important public service in [telling the story] of the sacrifice and humanity of the Albanian people in preserving the lives of Jews.” Joseph DioGuardi, President of the Albanian American Civic League (AACL), and former U.S. Congressman (N.Y.), expressed his appreciation of Sarner’s accomplishment in these words: “The Albanian people deserve special recognition….for their unique and courageous actions, which saved all Jews who resided in Albania and all who fled the Nazis from other European countries and made it to Albania.” Both of the above statements are to be found in the “front matter” of Sarner’s book.  I might add for my part that I was much impressed by my reading of Rescue in Albania. Its author is commendably forthright in his exposition of the history of the Jews in Albania, and writes with the objectivity of a serious scholar.

Part 1

Enter now Mr. Carl Savich with a rather startling viewpoint on Sarner’s book. In his review, which he put together a year ago (February, 2005), he says: “Rescue in Albania was published in 1997 just in time for the Kosovo conflict and the start of the KLA [Kosova Liberation Army] terrorism campaign sponsored by US/EU [European Union]/NATO….The book was to pave the way for US military intervention in Serbia.”  (Let me first note here that “Kosovo” and “Kosovo-Metohija” is the Serbian spelling for the region the Albanians call “Kosova”.)  He reveals the overall plan of his offensive against Sarner in the opening paragraph of his review, with this initial outburst: “Albanian apologists have falsified the role Albania played in the Holocaust to justify an illegal US/NATO war against Serbia and to allow for the creation of a Greater Albania that would include the Serbian province of Kosovo-Metohija.”  This sentence contains the core of his argument, and is repeated in different guises ad infinitum in his rambling review. 

But it’s fair to ask: How could Sarner “justify” an event that had not occurred when he wrote his book? More exactly, how could he justify in 1997 a war that happened two years later, in 1999? I have to say that this is a peculiar use of the word “justify”. Besides, the record shows that the United States and its NATO allies did everything possible to avoid an armed conflict with Serbia. For more than a year, beginning in 1998, they exhausted all diplomatic means to come to an agreement with Belgrade, so as to avoid war, but to no avail, as the Serbian chief Slobodan Milosevic was not interested in a peaceful resolution of the Kosova problem.  This argument of Savich is so fanciful that one is tempted to just grin and drop it, since it is not deserving of serious consideration. The very fact that Savich entertains such a notion, proves that he misses entirely the object of Sarner’s book, which is simply to tell an inspiring humane story, namely the rescue of Jews in wartime Albania.

“Greater Albania” – One term, above all others, that pervades the Savich review is “Greater Albania”, meaning the union of Kosova with the state of Albania, which would result from granting Kosova independence, and which Savich contends is the object of Albanians, as well as the U.S. and its allies. For Savich the term takes its origin from the three-year period (1941-44), when Albania and Kosova were united, under the aegis of the Italian and German occupation forces. That short three-year period, when Kosova was no longer a part of Serbia, became a nightmare for the Serbs, a nightmare from which Savich has not awakened to this day. The reader gathers quickly that the entire thrust and goal of his review is to prevent that from happening again; i.e., to stop the international community from officially recognizing Kosova as a sovereign state. That is the central argument of his review; all the rest is superfluous matter which serves only to needlessly add several pages to his concoction.

It’s both interesting and amusing how Savich uses the term “Greater Albania”. At first, he tells us that “…a Greater Albania was sponsored by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini” during World War II, when Albania was occupied by Italian and German forces. Afterward, he credits Hitler alone for that accomplishment, saying, “It was Hitler who first created a Greater Albania”. But he does not stop there. Behaving like a man who can’t make up his mind, he later attributes the idea of a Greater Albania to the Albanian League of Prizren, founded in 1878! Prizren is a town in Kosova. But wait; there is more. Further into his review, Savich writes at length about the Albanian Balli Kombetar (National Front), which he calls “an ultra-nationalist group committed to creating a Greater Albania…” By now the reader doesn’t know what to think, and can certainly be excused if he concludes that Savich has lost his bearings.

For the most part, however, it is Hitler who emerges as the “father” of “Greater Albania”, and Sarner’s motive for according Hitler the lion’s share for that deed, is not difficult to discern. He seeks to discredit all those who are calling for an “independent Kosova”, by linking them with the odious name of Hitler. After all, what decent and right-thinking person, would want to associate his name with such a monster? But readers, I believe, are more sophisticated and more perceptive than Savich gives them credit for, and they are not likely to take his bait.

Savich charges that “Hitler’s vision [of a “Greater Albania”] is taken up and revived by the US and NATO….,” and further that “Sarner parrots the Albanian and US Department policy on the Serbian province of Kosovo-Metohija.” Here again his accusation falls flat, for if the United States and NATO favor the creation of an independent Kosova, that should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all to the Serbs, inasmuch as America and its allies fought a war in 1999 to halt Serbia’s genocidal attacks on the Albanian population of Kosova. Is it not strange that Savich does not yet understand the implications of that war?

Attack on Joseph DioGuardi and Van Christo. Turning his guns on DioGuardi, Savich tells his readers that DioGuardi’s Albanian American Civic League (AACL), is the “Albanian Lobby” in Washington, DC, and that he founded the AACL in 1989 “to revive the Greater Albania ideology established by the 1878 League of Prizren”. Here we have another example of Savich’s flight of fancy. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to declare that “DioGuardi’s agenda for the AACL is stated [in the Introduction to Sarner’s book] as follows: ‘to liberate the seven million Albanian people in the Balkans from hostile Slavic domination.’ This is nothing less than a racist, neo-fascist and neo-Nazi ideology ….to create a Greater Albania.” Strong words, indeed, except that DioGuardi says no such thing. Savich’s accusation is a deliberate distortion of DioGuardi’s words. In fact, DioGuardi says that the aim of AACL is “to express the concerns of Albanian Americans about the national identity and well-being of seven million Albanians living side by side in their original Balkan homeland.”  Savich’s misquote here is only one of many misrepresentations. It’s a failing that certifies him as an incompetent reviewer, to put it mildly.

Nor does Van Christo escape the slings and arrows which Savich hurls with abandon at his “foes”. He writes: “Van Christo, the Albanian president of the Frosina Foundation, has used [Sarner’s] book for ‘fund raising purposes’ to obtain money for the separatist camp in Kosovo.”  Mr. Christo has nothing to apologize for promoting Sarner’s book. He is rightfully proud of his association and collaboration with Harvey Sarner and other members of the Jewish American community. He does so because, among other things, he perceives and appreciates the many things that Jews and Albanians have in common and cherish. If I may digress for a moment, this reminds me of a sermon I heard the late Bishop Fan S. Noli deliver in Boston, on the topic of Albania and Israel. Noli was the head of the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America. Noli wanted to draw the attention of his congregation to some interesting similarities between the nations of Israel and Albania. He said: Both Israel and Albania are two small countries. Both of them have ancient roots. Both have a long history of toil and suffering. And both have preserved their respective identities and cultures, in the face of numerous challenges and crises over the centuries. These similarities, he said, form a common bond between the Jews and Albanians.

Was it the Albanians, or the Italians who rescued the Jews of Albania? Sarner states that “during the period of the Italian occupation of Albania, many Jews refugees led ordinary lives…without hiding their identity”. The Italians did not persecute the Jews. Moreover, sometimes they “referred to anti-Semitism as the ‘German disease’”. Savich picks up on this phrase of Sarner, and tries to capitalize on it. He says: “This is why Albanian Jews were ‘rescued’ in Albania, not because of anything the Albanians did themselves…. It was the Italian occupation forces…who rescued [the] Jews.”! He goes on to repeat this allegationad nauseam, on the assumption presumably that sheer repetition will induce the reader to finally succumb and accept it as true.

But it won’t do. The claim does not stand, not only in view of what has been affirmed previously by Harvey Sarner, and DioGuardi, and Tom Lantos and Ben Gilman, but because it runs counter to the historical record. For, as Sarner says, “things changed rapidly [for the Jews in Albania] when Italy surrendered and joined the Allies in the autumn of 1943.” (p. 35-36) The Germans took over and were in control of Albania for more than a year, from September, 1943 to November, 1944. During that period, the Jews in Albania were in mortal danger, had they fallen into the hands of the Nazi Gestapo; which is to say, if the Albanians had not protected them, by hiding them and by refusing, at the risk of their lives, to give the Germans a “list” of the Jews residing in the country. The “list” was the first step to rounding them up and transporting them to a concentration camp in Germany or some other country, and liquidating them.

To shore up his tottering tale, Savich comes up with another “argument”. He claims that “Albanian apologists have consciously and methodically falsified the Albanian role in the Holocaust. The way this was done was to totally suppress the fact that Kosovo-Metohija was a part of Albania from 1941 to 1944.”

This is another distortion of the contents of Harvey Sarner’s book, for the author of that volume says plainly: “In April, 1941, the territory of Kosova, then a part of Yugoslavia and inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians, was annexed to Albania.” (p. 37). This fact is stated in clear, plain English, easy to understand. But Savich here has his sight on a different quarry. Knowing that a number of Jews in Kosova, were arrested and killed, or transported to concentration camps in Europe, he wants to make the case that, since Albania and Kosova were at the time one territory and one nation, the Albanians were responsible for their death, and therefore had a “role in the Holocaust”.  Thus, he would have us believe, Sarner deliberately misleads the reader when he affirms that all the Jews in wartime Albania were saved.

A rather clever construction, only it doesn’t hold up. Conditions in Kosova were not the same as those in Albania. In Kosova, the Germans held sway over both the Albanians and the Italians. A number of passages in Sarner’s book make this point clear. I shall cite a few of them here. Sarner writes that in Kosova “the Germans imposed laws for persecuting Jews, the same laws they had instituted in the other occupied countries. These laws were not applicable to Albania proper.” (p. 37) (My emphasis).  In another passage he says: “The Jews in the ‘annexed area’ [read, Kosova] were not as fortunate as the Jews in Albania proper.” (p. 37). Continuing, he says that Jews who had fled to Kosova from other countries “were relatively well treated by the Albanians and Italians, until the Italians began to comply with German demands.” (p. 37) In still another passage, he writes: “There was an unknown number of Jewish refugees held in prison in Prishtina [capital of Kosova]. The Italians turned them over to the Germans who took them to Belgrade where they were killed.” (p.40) (My emphasis). In short, different sets of laws and regulations operated in the two areas, Kosova and Albania, and Savich’s clumsy attempt to erase the distinctions between the two fails badly.

Harvey Sarner neither conceals nor denies that some Jews in Kosova lost their lives. What he maintains, and properly so, is that no Jews in the state of Albania were turned over to the Germans and killed. And nothing that Savich says in his tortuous review can shake or invalidate Sarner’s affirmations and overall position.

In the light of the discussion above, it is both astounding and ludicrous to read in the review authored by Savich that: “The Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Albania are estimated at 591 from 1941 to 1944.” Where and how did he come by that estimation? He doesn’t say.  The allegation is groundless and unworthy of comment. Speaking of statistics of Jewish victims and survivors, Sarner observes that, “The importance of Albania as a sanctuary is demonstrated by the fact that less than 10% of Yugoslavia’s 70,000 Jews survived the Holocaust.” (p. 45) By comparison, the survival rate of Jews in Kosova, Sarner notes, was 60 percent, “one of the highest in [German] occupied Europe.”  Now, there is a topic for Savich to tackle and demonstrate his skills as a researcher on the Holocaust.

Savich quibbles with Sarner also over the number of Jewish inhabitants in wartime Albania. He asserts that “There were only 200 Jews in all of Albania proper during the war.” But how he arrived at this figure, he alone knows, since he does not tell us. Sarner, on the other hand, writes that the best estimate is that there were “800-1000 native [Albanian] and foreign Jews” in wartime Albania. (p. 68). Now, who are we to believe? Savich, who throws a figure at the reader, but makes no effort or is unable to substantiate it, or Sarner who got to know the Albanian Jewish survivors on an intimate basis, after meeting and talking to them at great length? 

Part 2

The Historical context of Kosova issues. Curiously and with hardly any justification, Mr. Savich brings up issues in his review which Harvey Sarner mentions only briefly, or not at all, since they are not relevant to his study. But even a brief reference by Sarner to issues they disagree on, is enough to enrage Savich. For the most part, Savich polemicizes with Sarner on issues in this section without the presence, so to speak, of Sarner. This is what’s called fighting “a straw man”! Some of the more important of these issues are discussed below. Just so the reader is not led astray by Savich, I have decided to debate him on the questions he raises, even when Sarner himself does not come into the picture.

1. The four “Vilayets” of Albania. In the 19th Century, when Albania was under the occupation of the Ottoman Turks, the country was divided into four “Vilayets” (Turkish, for “Provinces”), namely: Janina, now a city in Greece; Manastir, now called Bitolje, in Macedonia; Kosova; and Shkodra, now a town in Albania. In 1999, a writer by the name of Sam Vaknin, published an article titled, “The Myth of Greater Albania”, in which he argues that “Historically, there was never a ‘Greater Albania’ to hark back to.” The article infuriated Savich, and he rails at it in his review of Sarner’s book, calling it “patently false”.

But, in fact, Vaknin is on solid ground. The term “Greater Albania” is an invention of the Serbian mind. What the Serbs choose to call Greater Albania is a gross misnomer for Ethnic Albania, meaning the historical borders of compact and contiguous lands, inhabited mostly by Albanians, which defined Albania under the Ottoman Empire. At the time, the country included present-day Albania, plus Kosova, southern Serbia, a part of Montenegro, western Macedonia and a good slice of northwestern Greece. The four Vilayets of Ethnic Albania are clearly indicated on a map in Sarner’s book (p. 30) which, not surprisingly, Savich ignores. Strangely enough, by a curious moment of inattention, Savich unwittingly admits the reality of Ethnic Albania, when he says that Sarner “doesn’t tell us that Kosovo-Metohija, parts of Montenegro, southern Serbia, and western Macedonia were all parts of a Greater Albania [read, Ethnic Albania]”.

Savich claims, furthermore, that “…the so-called Albanian Vilayets have non-Albanian majorities and were never part of Albania.” Wrong again, on both counts. An objective reading of the history of 19th Century Balkans leaves no doubt that the Vilayets delineated the true borders of Albania at the time. Savich is correct on one point. The cities of Janina and Manastir did not have a majority of Albanians in their populations. But the fact remains that Vilayet-wise, the Albanians constituted a solid majority in all four of them, including Janina and Manastir. Numerically, they had a 67 percent majority, country-wide. (See, for example, the standard History of Albania, vol. II, p. 37, Tirana, 1984).

2. The Albanian League of Prizren. Concerning the League of Prizren, it suits Savich to remark that “the sole raison d’ê tre of the League of Prizren “was to create a Greater Albania”. My answer to that is a resounding, “Not true!” I refer the reader to Noel Malcolm, the widely respected author of Kosovo: A short History (New York, 1988). Malcolm notes that the League of Prizren was founded in 1878 for “the Defense of the Rights of the Albanian Nation”, in order to “stop the carving-off of Albanian lands” by the Congress of Berlin (1878) (p. 220). There is not a word in his widely-acclaimed book that the League was formed to create a “Greater Albania”. Even so, the Congress of Berlin gave some parts of Albania to Serbia and Montenegro, while 35 years later, in 1913, the Conference of Ambassadors, representing the six major powers of Europe (England, France, Germany, Russia, Austro-Hungary, and Italy), detached all of Kosova from Albania and awarded it to Serbia.

3. The Balli Kombetar  or “National Front”. Without question, the number one nemesis of Savich in his wearisome review is the Balli Kombetar (National Front) or BK for short. He asks: “Why does Sarner omit any discussion of the BK?” Elsewhere he says: “Sarner suppresses and covers up any information on the BK.”  Once again, Savich is caught prevaricating, because Sarner does in fact mention the BK or National Front. He notes that during the civil war in Albania, from September, 1943 to November, 1944, “some of the Nationalists, perhaps motivated by the massacres and atrocities by the Communists, went over to the German side.” (p. 7). One might, however, turn around and ask Savich why he writes so little about the Communist Partisans of Enver Hoxha (pronounced HO-dja), the late Albanian dictator, who was Tito’s closest wartime ally? The alliance proved almost fatal to Albania a few years later (in 1948), when the tiny country barely escaped being “swallowed up” by Yugoslavia, to use Stalin’s famous phrase. One may reasonably surmise that Savich makes such accusations against Sarner, so as to raise doubts in the minds of his readers regarding Sarner’s scholarship and integrity, hoping at the same time that they are not going to take the trouble to read Sarner’s book, and expose Savich as a brazen dissembler.

Savich lashes out with fury against the Balli Kombetar, as if he has a vendetta against it, and is constitutionally unable to let go. He keeps saying that the BK was “an ultra-nationalist group committed to creating a Greater Albania that would include Kosovo”, and “a Nazi/fascist collaborationist group”, and so forth. Judging by the invective he uses against the Nationalists (as well as against Moslem Albanians, as will be shown later on), the reader may well get the impression that he nourishes a hatred for them that borders on the pathological. One might wonder, too, why he expends so much energy, and devotes so much space in his review to denounce the National Front, a resistance movement and political party that was defeated by the Communist Partisans, in the struggle for power in Albania, and which furthermore never regained its former strength, and has not made a dent in post-Communist Albanian politics? The reason is not difficult to find. The Balli Kombetar, from the time of its founding in 1942, embraced the goal of an ethnic Albania, meaning the restoration of Albania’s historic borders, namely the borders it had under the Ottoman Empire. Specifically, this meant the reunion with Albania proper of all the lands lost to her neighbors in 1878 and 1913, including Kosova. The lost lands constituted one-half of Albania’s area and population. This platform of the Nationalists earned instantly the lasting enmity of the Serbs, and as a consequence Balli Kombetarbecame synonymous in the Serb mind with “Greater Albania”. It is baffling as well as astonishing that, to this day, the Serbs have not been able to free themselves of the shadow of Balli Kombetar.

As for the accusation that the BK was a “collaborationist group” from day one, that is only partially true. The fact is that, in the first phase of Albanian resistance to the Italian occupation forces, from late 1942 to mid-1943, the Nationalists fought the Italians alongside the Communist Partisans. They were allies. It was only in autumn of 1943, when the Communists turned their guns on the Nationalists, to eliminate them as a potential rival for political power in postwar Albania, that the hard-pressed BK sought help from the Germans, in order to survive.

It will no doubt come as a shock to Mr. Savich to be told that the politics and fortunes of Balli Kombetar , were very similar to those of the Serbian Chetniks in wartime Yugoslavia. Both of them started as resistance movements against the Nazi/Fascist occupiers; both were nationalists in their orientation and political platforms; both were opposed to Communism (the BK against Enver Hoxha’s Partisans; the Chetniks against Marshal Tito’s Partisans); and in the end, elements of both the Balli Kombetar and the Chetniks collaborated with the Germans, so as to withstand relentless pressure from the Communists. In short, when looked at closely, Savich’s case against the National Front collapses like a house of cards.

4. The Albanian Skanderbeg Division in Kosova. During World War II, conservative Albanian nationalists in Kosova organized an army division, which they named Skanderbeg, in honor of Albania’s national hero, George (Gjergj, in Albanian) Castrioti Skanderbeg. But that does not sit well with Savich; not at all. He calls the division “the Nazi 21st Waffen SS Division Skanderbeg”, and then, to drive the point home, he tells us that   “The Kosovar Albanian Muslim Skanderbeg Nazi SS Division was created to establish a Greater Albania”. At this point, the reader is likely to have a déjà vu experience, as he asks himself: “Where have I heard that before? Seems to me like Greater Albania has already had three or four godfathers!”

As for the Skanderbeg Division, Savitch’s contention does not hold water. The Skanderbeg Division was not a Nazi detachment, but a military formation of anti-Communist and anti-Serb Albanian nationalists, who were fighting to keep Kosova free of Communist and Slavic domination. It was not organized to advance the Nazi cause, but to defend and promote the national interests of Kosovar Albanians, as envisioned by the conservative wing or element of the population.

5. The Serbs and Moslem Albanians in Kosova. A prime target of Savich in his vitriolic review of Sarner’s study, are the Albanian Moslems in Kosova. As he vilifies the Skanderbeg Division, he keeps reiterating in one way or another that the division “was made up mostly of Kosovar Muslim Albanians”, not just Albanians, mind you, but “Muslim Albanians”. It soon becomes clear to the reader that Savich has a fixation on Moslems, in this case, the Albanian Moslems in Kosova.

It is not hard to see why he keeps hammering away at this point. He does this, first of all, to identify Albanians as a mostly Moslem people, and by extension link them (in the mind of the reader) with Moslem radicals, extremists, and terrorists, trusting that this will alienate them from the American people, who are at war with Moslem terrorists. Secondly, by pointing his finger at Moslem Albanians, he hopes to exploit latent anti-Moslem sentiments in Christian Europe. At bottom, his fixation on Moslems is an expression of deeply-rooted Serbian hatred of Moslems, bred and nourished over several centuries, when Serbia languished under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. But the ploy will not work, for Albanian Moslems, whether in Kosova or Albania, or anywhere else on the globe, are far more Western in their aspirations and world outlook than the Christian Serbs.

6. Serbs, Albanians, and Edith Durham. Toward the end of his diatribe – for that is truly what his review is – Savich seeks to bolster his feeble position by enlisting the aid of a number of respected writers on the Balkans. One of these is the renowned English author and traveler, Edith Mary Durham, who spent many years in the Balkans at the turn of the last century. He quotes Durham as saying that “the Albanian persecutes the Slav Christian, and this is the old, old race hatred”. Savich then goes on to observe that “the Kosovo conflict is all about ‘race hatred’”.

Assuming that Savich quotes Durham accurately, I can only say that it is not only ironic, but hard to believe that she could make such a remark about the Albanians, when one takes into account her subsequent writings about the Serbs and Albanians. The record shows that after first becoming acquainted with the Serbs, and afterward with the Albanians, Edith Durham promptly abandoned the Serbs and embraced the Albanians. She formed such a warm bond with the Albanian mountaineers, that they called her “The Queen of the Highlanders”.

Durham was opposed to the annexation of Kosova by Serbia in 1913. In March, 1920, she wrote to her British colleague, Seton-Watson, that “the Serbs have burnt and pillaged Albanian villages.” She became so disenchanted with the Serbs that in another letter to Seton-Watson (in December, 1924), she referred to the Serb as “a savage”. As time passed, she became more and more anti-Serb, and was convinced that the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, established after World War I, was nothing more than a façade for Greater Serbia. In the light of these data, Ms. Durhams’s negative remark about the Albanians, quoted above, makes no sense, and as a consequence, Durham, whom Savich hoped to enlist as an ally in his feverish onslaught against the Albanians, turns out to be a lethal adversary.

As for his observation that the Kosova conflict is all about “race hatred”, he is quite right about that, provided the positions of the two players, Serbs and Albanians, are reversed. For the Albanians harbor no hatred for the Serbs, despite all the hurts and wounds they have suffered, on account of the Serbs. It is the Serbs who are infected with hatred of Albanians, and the best evidence of that in recent history is the 1999 war in Kosova, when Milosevic tried to drive all the Kosovar Albanians out of their homeland.

It is appropriate, in this connection, to conclude this section with a citation from the world-famous Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare. According to Kadare, “Next to the Nazi genocide of the Jews, the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosova by sick Serbian nationalism, is the darkest page in the history of Europe in the 20th Century.”

(My emphasis).

 7. A note on Savich’s bibliography. It is noteworthy that in his bibliography of ten items, Savich does not include Noel Malcolm’s, Kosovo: a Short History(N.Y., 1998), the most authoritative work on Kosova in our time. Why? someone may ask. The answer is that, by and large, Malcolm’s research does not support Serbian theses or positions on Kosova. For example, he writes that in antiquity Kosova was the “land of the Dardanians”, who were Illyrians, whom the Albanians regard as their ancestors. He also notes that “Kosovo was conquered in 1912-13” by the Serbs and its territory was “annexed” to Serbia, thus corroborating what Edith Durham said earlier. Elaborating on this point, Malcolm has this to say: “The truth is that Kosova was not legally incorporated into Serbia by the standards of international law.” (p. 265) (My emphasis).

Part 3

Getting back to Harvey Sarner’s book.

After this substantial detour from Sarner’s book in Part 2, which was imposed on me by Savich, it is time to return and examine a few other subjects in his work that invite attention.

Emigration of Jews from Albania.  At the end of World War II, Sarner writes, about half of the Jewish population in Albania migrated to Israel, Yugoslavia and other places. But approximately 300 Jews remained in Albania, “a small number, but nearly double the number in the prewar period.” (p. 82-83). In 1991, those Jews, too, left Albania and settled in Israel, except for 35 who immigrated to America. As a result, the 2000-year-old Jewish community in Albania ceased to exist. Savich is in agreement concerning the number that immigrated, but he is wrong when he says that all of them went to Israel. This is another instance of his slipshod reading of Sarner’s study.

Albanian vs. Serbian “Righteous Gentiles”.   As noted previously, “Righteous Gentile” is the term applied to persons who risked their lives to shelter Jews during the Holocaust. They are recognized as such by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. In 1993, seventeen Albanians, called “Righteous among the Nations”, traveled to Israel as guests of Harvey Sarner, “to be honored by the State of Israel and the Jewish people”.

Desiring apparently to upstage the Albanians, Savich affirms that “Yad Vashem has listed 118 Serbs as ‘Righteous Gentiles’….while only 61 Albanians have been so honored”, thus implying that Serbians are more deserving of recognition than the Albanians. It turns out, however, that the figure of 118 Serb “Righteous” is quite small compared to Albania’s 61, when viewed in its proper context. One must remember that at the time, Albania’s population was only one million, while Serbia’s population was several times that number. Hence, the number of Serb “Righteous”, in proportion to Serbia’s population, should have been several times the number of Albanian “Righteous”, or in the neighborhood of 440. It’s obvious that Savich didn’t do the math, when he served those statistics to the unwary reader.

Does Sarner admit Albanian atrocities against the Jews? After vehemently denouncing Sarner in page after page in his review, for giving the Albanians a perfect score in rescuing the Jews in their country, Carl Savich finally thinks he has dealt Sarner the coup de grace. He would have us believe that Sarner makes a 180 degree turn, and “admits” that Albanians committed atrocities against the Jews! Here are his words: “Sarner finally grudgingly admits that the Albanian Government and people played a major role in the Holocaust and Final Solution. ‘In April, 1944, the Germans shipped 400 Jews from the annexed territories [read, Kosova] to Bergen-Belsen; 100 survived the war.’ Sarner …admitted that the Albanians participated in the murder of at least 300 Albanian Jews, Jews who lived in Greater Albania.”

To that I say, “Slow down, Mr. Savich. You are shouting ‘Victory’ a bit prematurely.”

Sarner admits no such thing, nor could any reader – other than Savich and his cohorts – come to such a conclusion from perusing his book. What we have here is a crude attempt by Savich to put words in Sarner’s mouth. True enough, Sarner says that in April of 1944, the Germans shipped 400 Jews from the annexed territories to Bergen-Belsen, and that only 100 of them survived. But he does not say that the Albanians were responsible for their death. That is the inference Savich draws, by an unacceptable leap of logic, because it suits his purpose, which is to implicate the Albanians and discredit Sarner. And he does this by purposely ignoring what Sarner says, just prior to the sentence he has lifted out of context. Here is what Sarner writes:

            Not every Jew in the annexed territories was lucky enough to be

            relocated to Albania proper. There was an unknown number of Jewish

            refugees held in the prison of Prishtina [capital of Kosova]. The Italians

            turned them over to the Germans who took them to Belgrade where

            they were killed. (p. 40) (My emphasis)

Sarner then continues with the sentence quoted by Mr. Savich. There is no mention in the two citations of Albanians committing atrocities, but there is mention of Italian complicity in the killing of Jews. These are the Italians who Savich would have us believe rescued the Jews in Albania.

In this instance, as on many previous occasions, we see in operation the fatal flaw in Savich’s review, which I pointed out earlier. And that is that he deliberately erases the distinction between Albania proper, which is the subject of Sarner’s book, and Kosova, and lumps the two together. He then takes the next step and lays at the doorstep of Albania the atrocities against the Jews committed by the Nazis in Kosova. Is there any way to interpret this scheme other than a lame attempt to confuse and mislead the reader?

Propaganda and vilification. A few paragraphs into his meandering review, Carl Savich presumes to instruct the reader about propaganda. He writes: “Propaganda is meticulously coordinated” and “written for a specific purpose and goal”, namely “to convince the masses, to persuade key target audiences.” Elsewhere he says, “A fundamental aspect of propaganda is that it is one-sided, subjective, and tells only half the story.”

Precisely! One can see from these citations that Mr. Savich is keenly conscious of propaganda and well versed on the subject. The point he wants to make, of course, is that Harvey Sarner is guilty of indulging in propaganda in his book. Ironically, however, his learned description of propaganda fits perfectly, not Sarner’s book, but his own review of it. The propaganda label he tries to attach to Sarner’s study does not stick, but only boomerangs on his own ill-starred piece.

Unable to deal with the historical evidence in Sarner’s study, Savich lashes out in a way that is unbecoming of a writer; namely, by hurling epithets at him. I shall list here only the more “colorful” ones. “Sarner,” he says, “plays dumb”. He is “a pettifogger” (a slur on Sarner’s profession as a lawyer), who is in “blissful ignorance” of the true history of Kosova. Sarner’s book is “falsified history”, a “hack job”, and “a thinly veiled propaganda tract”. But the epithet that tops them all is the contention that the book is the offspring of “Sarner’s madness” to support the creation of an independent Kosova!

In my book of etiquette, such language is called malicious slander. The review that Savich cobbled together may win a prize for invective, incendiary language, frivolity and sophistry, but it is certain to get “thumbs down” from readers who value rigorous logic, scholarly restraint and a civil tongue.

Testimonials from Jewish survivors in Albania. For some twenty pages in his book, Harvey Sarner tells some touching stories about Albanians who sheltered the Jews during the occupation of Albania by German forces. He notes that they did so because they saw the Jews as fellow human beings in need of help, and because the traditional Albanian Code of Honor left them no choice but to shield them from danger, even at the risk of their own lives. Savich, of course, dismisses as propaganda Sarner’s praise of Albanians.  Unfortunately for him, Sarner has the backing not only of figures like J. DioGuardi, Tom Lantos, Ben Gilman, and Van Christo, but the powerful testimony of Jewish survivors in Albania, as the documentation below makes clear: 

            “We survived due to the courage, friendship, and hospitality of the

            Albanian people.” – Johanna Jutta Newman (p. 59)

            “They [the Albanians] protected a refugee and woudn’t allow [them] to be

            harmed even if it meant losing their lives.” – Irene Brunbaum (p. 59)

            At the inauguration of the Albanian-Israeli Society in Tirana, April 21, 1991,

            visiting Israeli official, Leon Taman, said: “While in Europe, 6 million of my

            Jewish countrymen were exterminated, in the poverty-stricken Albania

            not one of them was handed over to the Germans. This is genuine

            humanism, and the world should know about it.” Illyria weekly, N.Y.,

            May 9, 1992, p. 7, as reported by Dr. Sami Repishti (All emphasis, mine)

In the light of these testimonials, to say nothing of the other arguments in this rebuttal,  the protestations of Savich in his overlong review, turn out to be an exercise in futility, or more concretely, a waste of time!

A dire prediction and a veiled threat. Convinced apparently that he has lost his case, Mr. Savich comes forth with a dire prediction. He writes: “When Kosovo is 100% ethnically pure Albanian and all the Kosovo Serbs and Roma [Gypsies] and Jews have been killed or driven out and Serbian Orthodox churches destroyed….Kosovo will, for all intents and purposes, be part of a Greater Albania.”

A prediction such as this, is not only groundless and irresponsible, but incendiary as well. It is pure speculation. It has never been the policy of the Kosovars to make Kosova an ethnically pure Albanian region. As for Savich’s dire warning about the fate of Serbian churches in an independent Kosova, that is nothing but scare talk to alarm the uninformed reader. The record shows that historically the Albanians of Kosova, not only have posed no danger to Serbian churches and monasteries, but have protected them from harm. This is a fact that is acknowledged even by some Serbs.

Before wrapping up his review, Mr. Savich decided to fire a parting shot, with a view to derailing the momentum to make Kosova an independent state, free of Serbian jurisdiction and control. He says: “Yugoslavia has a right and duty to protect its own internationally recognized borders.”

This is obviously a veiled threat to use force to keep Kosova bound to Serbia. But does he really believe that he can scare Washington and NATO with such talk? Such arrogance by Serbian nationalist extremists brought about the 1999 war in Kosova, and the separation of Kosova from Serbia. They stand to lose even more, if they are rash enough to invite another armed conflict with the international community.

Epilogue. Somewhere in his tirade against Harvey Sarner, in a reference to Albanians, Mr. Savich states: “Greater Albania is…the primary focus of their national being and identity.” I answer, “Not so!” “Greater Albania” is the primary focus of Serbs with the mind-set of Savich, not Albanians. Their top priority is for Albania to gain membership in the European Union, for they identify with Western Civilization and feel themselves to be a part of Western Europe, unlike the Serbs who historically have looked eastward (and still do) for allies and support to achieve their national goals.

 This rebuttal turned out to be much longer than I expected or wished. For this, I apologize to the reader, although I must say in self-defense that I had no choice in the matter, for it was imposed on me by “my opponent”. Even so, many points in the Savich review went unanswered, as I did not want to drag the reader through his quarrel with Sarner beyond reason or propriety. If here and there in my debate with Savich, I was subjective, emotional, or discourteous to him, I regret it, as I harbor no resentment or hostility toward him, as a person.

As for Harvey Sarner, his little book is a gift that the Albanian people treasure in their homes, and in their hearts. It is also a tribute to truth and the nobility of the human spirit.

The great Jewish philosopher, Benedict Spinoza, has said that “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” In my considered opinion, Sarner’sRescue in Albania, too, is one of those things that are both rare and excellent.

                                                            F I N I S

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.”

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