Yad Vashem Honors Albanian Muslims Among Righteous Gentiles

YadVashem

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.

About Albania

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.

MapBalkansDuring 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:

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.”

Credit

This story is sourced from the Jerusalem Post.

21 Responses to Yad Vashem Honors Albanian Muslims Among Righteous Gentiles

  1. […] “Yad Vashem Honors Albanian Muslims Among Righteous Gentiles” […]

  2. […] Recommended reading: “Yad Vashem Recognizes Albanian Muslims Among Righteous Gentiles.” […]

  3. modestine says:

    It’s so important to remember that the way non-Jews behaved during WWII was a choice — and that some people, such as these Albanian Moslems, made the decent choice.

    I wrote about some Polish Catholic people who made a similar decent choice when they helped save the lives of my mother and father. You can read about them in “Return to Poland:”

    http://modestine.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/humane-under-the-circumstances/

  4. thenewjew says:

    For Modestine.

    Hi Barbara,

    I absolutely agree. We should do everything we can to remember the non-Jews who made a point to speak and act on our behalf in one of the darkest times in human history. I was surprised and so grateful to read about the overwhelming support of the Albanian Muslims (much like the Danish people) for the Jews during the Shoa.

    I’ve downloaded “Return to Poland” and plan to read it as soon as time allows (maybe over Shabbat). My family too returned to their European origin town (or whatever we are calling those places that turned small, peaceful towns into hells of ongoing progroms and agony– at least in this case) and found out some interesting information. I look forward to reading your experiences as well. Do you have any plans for the manuscript?

    Chag Chanukkah Sameach, if you are celebrating. Best,

    Maya

  5. modestine says:

    Hi Maya,
    As I write in my essay, a daughter of Holocaust survivors I knew was appalled that I would consider visiting Poland. I told her about the people who had helped my parents, but she was so wounded emotionally that she didn’t even care. She didn’t want to hear another word about my trip. Incidentally, she worked as a psychiatrist in one of the public Bronx hospitals.

    It seems to me that the whole point of honoring the Righteous Gentiles is to remind others, and ourselves, that we can choose to be human beings or beasts. I was so proud of my parents –observant Jews — that they made the trip back to Poland, even though they suffered the entire time we were there. They felt they owed a word of thanks to the Polish people who had helped them. I think this was the most gracious thing they ever did.

    “Return to Poland” was published in a book called Lost on the Map of the World: Jewish American Women’s Quest for Home (Peter Lang Publishers, 2001). I wish I had worked harder to find a better “home” for the essay because I found the other essays in the collection weak. Thank you so much for being interested in it.

    V’gam Chag Chanukkah sameach lakh! — Barbara

  6. modestine says:

    The New Yorker (Dec. 3, 2007) ran a wonderful article by Gerladine Brooks called “The Book of Exodus.”

    It tells the story of a Muslim librarian named Dervis Korkut who saved an Inquisition-era Haggadah from the Nazis. Korkut also ends up saving the life of a Jewish girl named Mira Papo. Many years after the War, she, in turn, asks that Yad Vashem designate Korkut and his wife as Righteous Gentiles.

    In the 1990s, Korkut’s daughter ends up in a Serbian concentration camp, but manages to escape. With the Yad Vashem designation in hand, she asks the Jewish community of Kosovo to protect her. The community spirits Korkut’s daughter and her husband out of the country to Israel — where they are met by Mira’s son.

    This is a story of the ties that bind people throughout time. You can see a synopsis of the article online. It’s worth reading the entire piece.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/12/03/071203fa_fact_brooks

    Barbara

  7. modestine says:

    (I misspelled the author’s name. It is Geraldine Brooks.)
    –Barbara

  8. thenewjew says:

    Barbara, that looks like an amazing read! More importantly, it’s true, removing all doubt that we should run to our local bookstores and libraries to order it.

    I am posting the review below since it’s not so long.

    Thanks and hope you had a nice holiday.

    Maya

  9. thenewjew says:

    Geraldine Brooks, Chronicles, “The Book of Exodus,” The New Yorker, December 3, 2007, p. 74
    December 3, 2007 Issue

    Keywords– MAYA’S NOTE: I’ve kept this intact for your reference.
    Korkut, Dervis;
    Rescues;
    Sarajevo;
    Jews;
    Second World War (World War II);
    British National Museum;
    Librarians

    CHRONICLES about Muslim librarian Dervis Korkut’s heroism in Sarajevo during World War II. When Yugoslavia was divided, in 1941, Sarajevo did not fare well. Hitler’s ally, Ante Pavelic, proclaimed that his new state must be “cleansed” of Jews and Serbs.

    Jews, Gypsies, and Serbian resisters turned frantically to Muslim or Croat neighbors to hide them. The Bosnian National Museum’s chief librarian, Dervis Korkut, was an unlikely figure of resistance, but he’d already made his anti-Fascist feelings clear, in an article defending Sarajevo’s Jews.

    In 1942, when Nazi commander Johann Fortner arrived at the museum, Korkut rescued the museum’s greatest literary treasure, a masterpiece of medieval Judaica known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. Korkut was the scion of a prosperous family of Muslim intellectuals. He was born in 1888 and he studied theology at the University of Istanbul and Near Eastern languages at the Sorbonne. His abiding interest was the culture of Bosnia’s minority communities. Describes the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, which probably left Spain in 1492, then found its way to Venice, before being acquired by the Bosnian museum in 1894.

    The writer spoke to Dervis’s widow, Servet Korkut, who was sixteen when she wed fifty-three-year-old Dervis, in 1940. Servet told the writer about how Dervis rescued a young Jewish girl named Mira Papo, in April of 1942, by bringing her home and passing her off as a Muslim servant.

    Mira had been a member of the Young Guardians, a socialist Zionist youth movement. After the war, Mira returned to Sarajevo and was commissioned as an officer in Tito’s Army medical corps. In 1946, she ran into Servet, who begged her to testify at Dervis’s war-crimes trial; Dervis was being charged with aiding the Fascists. But Mira never testified because her fiancé feared the Party would turn against her. She assumed that Dervis had been executed, but, in 1994, she read a newspaper article which revealed that Dervis had died an elderly man, from natural causes, in 1969.

    Now aged seventy-two, Mira wrote a three-page letter to the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial center, which testified to Dervis’s heroic actions. She died in 1998. Mentions Dervis’s son, Munib, and his daughter, Lamija. In 1999, Kosovo started to slide toward war, and Lamija evacuated her children, but was unable to escape herself. She and her husband were herded by the Serbs into a camp with thousands of other refugees, but they escaped and soon tracked down the head of the local Jewish community in Kosovo, producing a photocopy of Mira’s testimony.

    Four days later, Lamija and her husband were flown to Tel Aviv and told their children would soon join them there. The story of how Dervis, a Muslim, had saved Mira, a Jew, and how Mira had then saved Dervis’s child proved irresistible to the Israeli media. When Lamija and her husband arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, they were greeted by Davor Bakovic, Mira’s son.

  10. Gidget says:

    Seems like something Abinajjad, Bin-Laden & all other hate mongers of today should read & comprehend if it’s possible for them to comprehend the truth about anything involving human decency.

  11. Dienek says:

    One correction, Derviš Korkut who saved sacred Haggadah from Nazi general and little jewish Mira Papo (i think that was her name) from collaborationist Ustashas and kept her in his house for almost two years was not Albanian. He was Bosnian Muslim – Bosniak, born in Travnik. He worked in a museum in Sarajevo.

  12. […] “Yad Vashem Honors Albanian Muslims Among Righteous Gentiles” […]

  13. […] to the genocide in Rwanda, it was very interesting to read about Yad Vashem’s honor of Albanian Muslims as “Righteous Among Nations.” This designation, the Jewish people’s highest honor, is […]

  14. Shqip says:

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