On Thursday, Yad Vashem will inaugurate an exhibition of Albanian Muslims who were “Righteous Among Nations.” This designation, the Jewish people’s highest honor, is awarded to those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Albania’s Righteous Actions
When the Axis Powers invaded Albania in 1939, the good people of Albania refused to release the names of their Jewish citizens. They provided false papers and helped their Jewish population hide amidst the general public.
They were so effective in their efforts that Albania became a safe haven for Jews fleeing other regimes.
Albania is one of the very few countries in Europe- and the only one under Nazi dominance- whose Jewish population rose during World War II.
Not a single Jewish life was lost to the Nazis in Albania.
What Made Albania Different?
What made the Albanians refuse to comply with the Nazis when almost everyone else did? Their strong Muslim beliefs.
Here is one man’s explanation:
“Why did my father save a stranger at the risk of his life and the entire village?” asked Enver Alia Sheqer, son of Righteous Among the Nations Ali Sheqer Pashkaj, who is featured in the exhibition. “My father was a devout Muslim. He believed that to save one life is to enter paradise.”
Yad Vashem’s Righteous Gentiles
Of the 22,000 righteous gentiles honored by Yad Vashem, 70 have been Muslims, 63 Muslim Albanians.
Albania is bordered by Montenegro to the north, Serbia to the northeast, Macedonia to the east, Greece to the south, and the Adriatic Sea to the west.
Albania was one of the first countries invaded by the Axis Powers in World War II. Mussolini entered Albania in 1939, using it as a base to attack Greece in 1940.
During this period, the Albanian population both sheltered the Jews among them and welcomed Jews fleeing other European countries.
When the Nazis invaded in 1944, not one Jew was apprehended. Every single life was saved.
Albania became a People’s Republic in 1944 and was closely allied with the Soviet Union and China. Their first democratic elections were held in 1996, transitioning them to a Parliamentary Democracy.
From 1997- 1999, Albania was overrun with refugees from Kosovo from the Balkan wars. In 2006, the Albanian government signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union, moving them toward possible acceptance into NATO in 2008.
(Information sourced from Wikipedia.)
The Righteous Among Nations
From Yad Vashem’s archives:
- Righteous Among Nations Program
- Righteous Among Nations, by country and number rescued
- Account of Albanian Refik Vaseli and his parents, who rescued two families of Yugoslavian Jews
From the Anti-Defamation League:
- Story of Mefail and Njazi Bicaku, recipients of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among Nations award and the Anti-Defamation League’s Courage to Care Award.
Michael Salbert, the ADL’s International Director, honored them with these words:
“Mefail, his son Njazi and their entire family had the courage to care. Through their compassion and valor without regard for religious or ethnic differences they upheld the honor of the human race and the conscience of the world. In the moral void that engulfed the world in those nightmares when the cruelty of the Nazis ran rampant, the Bicaku family was among those few shining stars.”
This story is sourced from the Jerusalem Post.