Rescure in ALBANIA Rescure in ALBANIA

           ALBANIA

 

 

 

Copyright © 1997 by Brunswick Press.

All rights reserved. No part  of this book may be reproduced, in any form, without the written permission of the publisher.

A paperback booklet entitled "The Jews of Albania" was published in 1992 by the same author and publisher, and some information is repeated.

Library of Congress catalog card number 96-080323

Printed in the United States Of America

Hard bound - ISBN 1-888521-09-0

Paper bound - ISBN 1-888521-11-2

First Edition  1997 - Published by Brunswick Press

P.O. Box 2244 Cathedral City, CA 92235

Co-published by the Frosina Foundation

 

 

 

RESCUE IN ALBANIA

ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF JEWS IN

ALBANIA

RESCUED FROM HOLOCAUST

Haroey Samer

Brunswick Press

 

Cathedral City, California, 1997

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

ALBANIAN AMERICAN CIVIC LEAGUE  

 

Throughout their long history Albanians have desired and promoted peace and cooperation among all peoples. They have welcomed foreign visitors to their shores in a spirit of friendship. And, when Jewish refugees found their way to Albania, often fleeing for their lives, the Albanian peolple gave them shelter and protection.

Under fascist rule in Albania, as in other occupied countries during World War II, the Nazi authorities maintained strict surveillance over the Jewish population, registering both natives and new arrivals, and then herding them into camps. In Albania, Jews were removed from Burresi and Vlora, because these towns were strategic transportation links, and while the Nazis tried to deport all Jews not of Albanian citizenship, the Albanian people helped them escape concentration camps by taking them into their homes, giving them food and shelter, and hiding them.

At first, individual Albanians saved Jews on their own initiative. Later, when it became more dangerous, the task was organized by National Liberation Councils in the towns and villages. There were cases where Jewish families, in great danger of discovery, were moved from family to family and village to village, from town to country and back again. Sometimes Jewish families travelled with false passports given to them by Albanians. Often Jews were disguised as Albanian peasants and covertly relocated. In the process, many Albanians were arrested and shot to death for their heroic activities.

The Albanian American Civic League was founded in January 1989 to express the concerns of 400,000 Albanian Americans about the national identity and well-being of seven million Albanians living side by side in their original Balkan homeland - - in Albania, Kosova, western Macedonia, southern Montenegro, southern Serbia (Presheva), and northern Greece (Chamria). As a Member of the House of Representatives from 1985 to 1989, and as chairman of the Albanian American Civic League since that time, I have repeatedly sounded the alarm about Slobodan Milosevic's brutal treatment of the Albanian people of Kosova and in other parts of the Balkans under his influence.

 

III

During my many trips to Kosova, Macedonia, and Albania, I led delegations of congressmen, human rights activists, and journalists to expose the horrific conditions under which Albanians have been forced to live - under communism in Albania for fifty years since the end of World War II and under hostile Slavic regimes in the former Yugoslavia since the death of Marshall Tito in 1974.

It was my first trip to Albania in June 1990 with Congressman Tom Lantos, himself a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust, that the then Communist Party leader and Albanian President, Ramiz Alia, in order to curry favor with Lantos, handed us a file containing the unpublicized heroic deeds of Albanians in rescuing Jews during World War II. These documents led to the research that resulted in the corroboration by Yad Vashem in Israel that the Albanian people deserved special recognition as a nation 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.

Hon. Joseph J. DioGuardi

Albanian American Civic League

61 Central Ave.

Ossining, NY 10562

Telephone (914) 762-5530

June 1998

 

IV

Albanian population in the province of Kosova and in Macedonia. While these Albanians share the same language, culture, values and commitment to justice of their relatives who live within the boundaries of Albania, they have faced a far different situation in their own lands.

Albanians in Kosova have been denied the most fundamental of human rights. The autonomy, which they enjoyed earlier under the government of the former Yugoslavia, has been systematically restricted and destroyed under an increasingly nationalist Serbian regime over the past ten years. Albanians who seek to exercise their fundamental civil rights have been systematically arrested, beaten, and tortured, and more recently have been subjected to violent military action and ethnic cleansing by Serbian authorities.

Albanians in neighboring Macedonia have also faced discrimination. Attempts to open a university in Tetova with a curriculum taught in Albanian and attempts to raise an Albanian flag alongside the Macedonian flag in Gostivar were prevented by police action.

It is a tragic irony that the children and grandchildren of the Albanians who helped Jews in Albania to escape during World War II now face discrimination and violence in Kosova and Macedonia. It is important to understand the background of these Albanians, and it is for this reason we urge you to take the time to read Rescue in Albania. This is a compelling story, and one that all of us can benefit from reading. At the same time, we must commit ourselves to see that the children and grandchildren of the brave heroes whose story this volume tells do not become victims of the forces of evil and repression that in every age work to suppress human freedom.

Tom Lantos

Member of Congress

(California)

Benjamin A. Gilman

Member of Congress

(New York)

This book is dedicated to

The Memory of  Josef Jakoel

A 20th Century Moses

who took his people to the Promise Land

 

Facts About Albania

Albania on the west and southwest borders on the Adriatic and Ionian seas and on the north and east by Yugoslavia and on the southeast by Greece. Albania is a country with rugged terrain and independent people. After more than four decades of isolation and Communist rule, Albania is moving in the direction of democracy, and a free-market system.

Albania is a mountainous country with a population of 3.3 million and has an abundance of natural resources. It is relatively rich in minerals, especially chrome, and has deposits of oil, natural gas, bitumen, copper, iron, nickel, and salt. Albania today remains the least economically developed country in Europe.

In 1468, Albania became part of the Ottoman Empire. During the years of Ottoman rule most Albanians converted to Islam, and a substantial number immigrated to other Mediterranean regions.

Ethnic Albanians comprise 96 percent of the population. 70 % of the population is of Moslem origin, 20% Eastern Orthodox Christian, and 10% Roman Catholic. The majority of the people are nonreligious. Albania is the only country in Europe with a Moslem* majority. In 1967 all religious institutions were closed by the government.

Higher education is offered by universities, teacher training schools, and agricultural colleges. In addition there are 20 privately run schools, 10 of which are licensed by the government. Several are run by the Roman Catholic church. Illiteracy, has been virtually eliminated in the adult population.

There are approximately 800 hospitals and more than 3,000 outpatient clinics.

 

Viii

Major cities include Tirane, the capital, Durrës (Durazzo), Shkoder (Scutari), Elbasan, Vlore (Valona), and Korçe (Koritza). Other cities or villages of importance to the rescue were Berat, Kavaja and Kruja. The capital is the only city with a population greater than 125,000.

In 1912, in the First Balkan War, the Turks were driven out, and Albania declared its independence.

During World War I, Albania was neutral but it became a battleground for other countries. In 1925 power was seized by Ahmed Zogu, a tribal chief. In 1928 he proclaimed Albania a monarchy and named himself King Zog. In 1939 Italy invaded Albania, forcing the king into exile.

During the 1960s and '70s Albania broke with the other Communist countires. After a dispute with Chinese leaders in 1978, Albania was completely isolated. The chief of the Communist Party, Enver Hoxha, ruled Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985. His successor, Ramiz Alia, slowly began to introduce reforms. Multi-party elections were held in March, 1991, and a coalition government was installed. Bans on religion and foreign travel were ended, and a new democratic constitution was adopted.

*Turkey is considered Asia.

 

IX

Introduction

This book is not a comprehensive history of Albania or even a comprehensive history of the Jews of Albania. The primary objective in writing this book is to call attention to the wonderful response of the peo le of Albania when foreign and Albanian Jews sought shelter from the Holocaust. The delay in telling the story of the rescue is due to the isolationist dictatorship that ruled Albania from the end of the Second World War until the early 1990s.

Albania is the only country in occupied Europe where Jews were not victims of the Nazi killing machine.¹ To understand the rescue of the Jews it is necessary to understand the general history of the Jews in Albania and a general view of Albania's history. Hopefully readers will find this very generalized history as fascinating as did the author.

Before becoming involved with the Albanian "Righteous Gentiles"(2) my only knowledge of Albania was the note that, at one time, my passport was not usable in 4 countries, Albania being one of the four. I was to learn that Albania is the poorest country in Europe and the only one with a Moslem majority. Moslems constitute about 70% of Albania's population and they sheltered Jews no less than did the Christians.

I was also to team the wonderful fact that Albania was the one occupied country that evaded the Nazi persecution of Jews and had the unique survival rate of 100%. It was the only occupied country to have a larger Jewish population after the Second World War than before.

An American Jew, Herman Bernstein, while serving as the American Ambassador to Albania in the 1930s called this the most non anti-Semitic community in the world.

A second reason for writing this book is to call attention to the heroic efforts of the late Josef Jakoel(3) and his daughter, Felicita, in arranging the emigration of nearly all Albanian Jews to Israel in 1991. Josef Jakoel lived long enough to see the exodus to Israel and spent his last months of life in Eretz Israel, the land of Israel. He truly was a second Moses leading his people to their promised land.

From 1967 through the end of 1990 Albania was an atheistic state and a closed society, so closed, that it was a crime to read foreign literature, and so atheistic that it was a crime to give a child a Biblical name. The changes away from the closed and atheistic society occurred at about the time the Albanian Jews emigrated to Israel.

Jakoel characterized the Albanian Jews as "Romaniots" descendants of an ancient Jewish culture. There is very little in the Jewish encyclopedia about Romaniots, much of which is wrong, according to Jakoel. The Romaniots have some unique customs, but there is no question that they are Jews.

The population figures for time and place are easily confused by the sources as well as by myself. The problem is that we are dealing with estimates, and they are often conflicting. All population figures should be understood as estimates, and it's more important to understand the events and deeds than to be concerned with exact numbers.

And finally, I admit to a great confusion about Albanian names, both personal and place names, and apologize in advance to anyone whose name appears in the wrong time and place or is misspelled. With the assistance of Albanian speaking friends I have attempted to keep these errors to a minimum, but...

  Harvey Sarner

     Palm Springs, California

Footnotes:

1. The Jewish family Ardet was killed by the Nazis but were arrested as the family  of a partisan and not as Jews.

2. The term "Righteous Gentile" applies to persons determined to have risked their lives to shelter Jews during the Holocaust.

3. Josef Rafael Jakoel was born in Vlora, Albania, in 1922 and was educated at the Italian Technical Institute of Commerce and graduated from Tirana State University. For the last ten years of his career he was a lecturer on accounting in the Higher Institute of Agriculture in Tirana. Much that has been written is based on letters and conversations with Josef Jakoel.

 

 

Chapter One

Albania at War

 

On April 7, 1939, Albania was invaded by Italian military forces and a week later the entire country was occupied by Italian soldiers. The Italians arrived at the Albanian ports and met little resistance. The Italian King took the crown of Albania and incorporated Albania into the Italian Empire.

The invasion of Albania was not without risks to the Italians. The mountainous nature of the country and the possibility of the Albanian King Zog arming the populous presented the danger of long guerrilla warfare. This necessitated lightning action. In the first week in April, 1939, the combined air, sea, and land forces of the Italians were too much for the Albanians who were already preparing themselves for guerrilla warfare.

King Zog and most of the "royalty" fled first to Greece and then to England. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to create a government in Exile like those created by other governments of occupied countries.

 

Greece

For the Italians, Albania was the road to Greece and a rocky road it was. On October 28, 1940, the Italians occupying Albania crossed the Albanian-Greco border and attacked Greece. The Greeks defeated the Italians in just 10 days. By November 22, there wasn't a single Italian soldier in Greece.

On two occasions Mussolini came to Albania to conduct the campaign against the Greeks, but he had no more success than his generals.

The Greeks went on the offensive and captured one of the Italian Naval bases, and held the key point of Korça, in Albania, until the Germans entered the conflict in April, 1941. The German invasion caused the withdrawal of Greek forces from Albania.

Neither side was sure about the Albanian army. The Greeks were suspicious of the 3,000 armed Albanians fighting at their side against the Italians and didn't cooperate with them. The Albanian army became part of the Italian army, but these were unreliable troops because of their anti-Italian attitudes.

By 1942 there was a steady increase in Albanian guerrilla activity and by the end of the year the Italians were no longer in complete control of the country.

There is no denying that there were quisling types in Albania as there were every place else and there was a collaborationist Albania Fascist Party. The collaborators were only a handful, while the guerrillas numbered in the tens of thousands. Nothing was found that would indict the collaborators insofar as specific Jewish interests were concerned.

In Albania there were many people who admired German culture and education but had no use for or connection with Nazis, in fact they had a deep antipathy towards them. There were families who sent their children to Germany or Austria (prewar) for their education, but they had no connection with Nazi ideology or Nazis invaders.

There were 33 known families of Albanian Jews on the eve of the invasion. The greater part of the population (15 families) lived in Vlora. The remainder were scattered around the country.

There was also an unknown number of foreign Jews in Albania, mostly in transit. This later group changed in number from day to day but measured in the hundreds.

Jews were not eligible to become members of the Albanian Fascist Party and it's doubtful that any would have joined even if eligible. Jews were not eligible to serve in the Albanian army during these years. That made sense as the Albanian army was part of the Italian army which was allied with the German army.

Albanian Jews served in the guerrilla armies, mostly with the partisans. Pepe Biro Kantos served as a partisan and stayed in the Albanian army after the war and became one of the highest ranking army officers. Dario Zhak Artiti was a partisan, so were David Koen, Ruben Zhak, Josef Bivas, and others.

In August, 1943, the Allies were contemplating the invasion of Albania and and an analysis was prepared of the scene in Albania before and during the Italian occupation. The situation changed rapidly when Italy capitulated. The displaced Italian soldiers were divided, some joining the Germans and some joining the partisans. The invasion plans were canceled.

The Germans arrived in September, 1943, and replaced the Italian puppet government with a Regency of four men headed by Mehdi Frashëri a former Prime Minister.

The Regency abided by an agreement with Nazi Germany that allowed the free movement of the German army across Albania. In return, the Germans were not to interfere with Albanian internal affairs. This phrase "internal affairs " was important when the Germans later asked the Regency to provide a list of the Jews in Albania.

The agreement did not deter Albanian guerrillas from harassing the Germans, sometimes with dire results. In July, 1943, Albanian partisans attacked a German convoy and killed 60 German soldiers. The Germans retaliated by destroying the nearest village and killing 107, including women and children. During the war Albania suffered 28,000 killed and 12,600 wounded.

In November, 1944, the National Liberation Army defeated the Germans and on November 17, Tirana was liberated. On November 28, the liberation of Albania was complete. When the Second World War ended, the Regency was replaced by Communist partisans who took credit for forcing the Germans out of the country.

 

Civil War

There were various political and social philosophies among the anti-fascists which clouded an already complex picture. Two essential points are that the guerrillas of all denominations far out numbered the collaborationists, and the outcome of the inter-denomination conflict was that the Communist partisans became the new political power. The periods of democracy, royalty, and occupation were over. The fascist puppet Regency government was replaced with a home grown dictatorship that was to last for nearly half a century.

There was a three sided civil war; The National Liberation Army, who were known as the partisans (Communist), the National Front, and the Royalists (Legality Party). The National Liberation Army prevailed.

While the Nationalists, Royalists, and Communists (partisans) were concentrating on fighting the Germans, the Communists were also preparing in advance for the postwar period. The Communists had the advantage of support from Tito and his appreciable partisan force in Yugoslavia.

The Communists decided to liquidate the Nationalists, and there was a civil war in southern Albania that lasted about a year. Things got more complicated when some of the Nationalists, perhaps motivated by the massacres and atrocities by the Communists, went over to the German side. After the Nationalist were defeated, the Communists started a civil war with the Royalists in the north, and in a few weeks eliminated them as a military or political force.

 

Chapter Two

The Immigration

 

The First Wave

 

Legend has it that 2,000 years ago, a ship heading for Rome with a cargo of Jewish slaves from Palestine was blown off course and landed on the coast of Albania. The Roman's made no attempt to capture the escaped slaves and assumed they would be killed by wild animals. Apparently, the Roman's decided that the economics of the situation favored ordering a new supply of Jewish slaves rather than attempting to capture the ones who escaped.

According to legend, the beasts didn't get the Jewish slaves. The native people of the area (¹) were fighting the Roman's and helped the Jews. This supposedly occurred in Illyria, a country you won't find on any modern map. Illyria was an old name for Albania. If the name sounds familiar this could be attributed to Shakespeare who uses Illyria as the shipwreck site in two of his plays.

The Encyclopedia Judaica (2) doesn't mention the shipwreck legend, yet it defines the Romaniots as being the descendants of the "First Wave." Except for the legend there is no connection between "Rome" and "Romaniots." It begs the question whether the name is the result of the legend or the legend is the result of the name.

There is no knowledge of the number of Jews in the area during this early period, but there is conclusive evidence of a Jewish presence, according to the Jewish-Roman historian, Flavous Josephus. There were some villages in north Albania which had all Jewish populations in ancient times, and some that have Jewish names, e.g. Palasa-Palestine and Orikum-Jericho.

Archaeologists found remnants of a synagogue in Dardania, an ancient port in Illyria. They date the ruins between the first and second centuries, C. E.

In the 4th century Albania became a part of the Byzantine Empire.

There was a feudal system that lasted until the Ottoman invasion in the 15th century.

 

The Second Wave - From Salonika and Spain

The Romaniot Jews came to Albania from Salonika (Greece) at the end of the 14th century augmented by a small group from Hungary.

The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia states that in the early middle ages Jews came to Albania from Salonika. The "early middle ages" was before the expulsion from Spain which means the Jews coming to Albania from Salonika were unrelated to the Spanish Inquisition. These are the Romaniots that Josef jakoel said arrived in Albania from northern Greece. (See, Romaniots)

There is evidence of a Jewish presence in the port city of Durrës in the early middle ages. There are records for August, 1319, that tell of trading for salt with "a Jewish merchant from Durrës." There is also documentation that on March 24, 1281, the Venetian Nikolai Martini was trading with two Jews of Durrës Leone and Caro Calis.

Another document states that in August, 1366, a Jew from Durrës sold salt to a Raguzian.(3)

The most significant emigration from Spain occurred at the end of the 15th century during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. This is considered the Second Wave. A large number of Jews fleeing the Inquisition went east to the areas controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

At the time of the Spanish Inquisition the Turkish Sultan invited the Jews to live under Moslem rule. Perhaps the Sultan had some compassion for Jews expelled from Spain, as Moslems also suffered under the Inquisition.

Jews living in Albania had many good years, but they weren't all good. For example, during the Turkish-Venetian war of 1685 the Jews had to flee Vlora and went to Berat.

From 1788, and up to 1822, there was a hard period in Albanian history when Jews suffered under the Ottoman Sultan, and tyrant, Ai Pasha. Most of the bad years were associated with independence movements when the revolutionaries, mostly Greek-Albanians, equated Jews with Moslems and accused them of being loyal to the Ottoman rulers.

 

The Third Wave - From Janina to Vlora

Comparatively little is known about the Jews during the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, a period during which there were few Jews living in Albania. The Third Wave reestablished the Jewish presence in Albania.

The Third Wave were "Romaniots" who first arrived in Vlora in the 1850s. They came from Janina and Preveza, both now in Greece. In the 1850s Janina and Vlora were in the same district in the Greater Albania portion of the Ottoman Empire (until 1878) so there was free movement between the two cities. The colony was started with men who came without their families, but there were exceptions.

The first doctor to serve the Jewish community in the Vlora area was Dr. Solomon Menahem Jomtov who brought his wife with him in 1850.

When the settlement grew and prospered the married men sent for their families and the unmarried men returned to Janina to seek brides. At that time Janina had the largest Romaniot community.

The majority of the Romaniots who emigrated to Albania during the second half of the 19th century settled in Vlora (Valona), a sea port in the south which gave them access to the Adriatic Sea. When the first Jews came to Vlora it was a small closed community and everyone knew everybody else.

One of the first to make the move from Janina to Vlora was Josef Jakoel's grandfather. In time the Jews spread out from Vlora with settlements in Delvina and Gjirokastra. For a time there were 150 Jews in a town south of Vlora.

The Jewish community on the island of Corfu was started by Jews from Venice in the 14th century, although there is evidence of Jews living on Corfu as early as the 9th century. They spoke the Venetian dialect of Italian and this limited their relation with other Jewish communities. In Vlora most Jews spoke Albanian and Greek.

By the end of the 19th century the ties between Janina and the Romaniot community in Albania were strong, but had weaken from what they had been. At the same time the ties between the Albanian Romaniots and the island of Corfu became stronger. One has only to look at a map to see the reason. Corfu is so near and Janina is so far away.

The Jews of Albania maintained contact with the Jews of Janina and Corfu until the Second World War. Most of them had relatives in these two places and relied on the Jews of Janina and Corfu to periodically supply them with visits by a rabbi, a cantor, and a moel (the later is the person who does ritual circumcisions). Sadly, the Jewish community of Corfu disappeared during the Holocaust and only a few Jewish families survived in Janina.

The Third Wave was the last, although in 1894 a delegation of Russian Jews visited Albania to talk about .settling there. (4) The Albanian Government indicated no objection if they weren't destitute and recommended that they settle on the coast "since the interior still contains some warlike races who are not friendly to foreigners." Thirty to forty Jewish families were expected. Nothing was found to indicate they arrived in Albania. They would have constituted the Fourth Wave.

There was another suggestion of a new wave of Jews coming to Albania, although as a practical matter this was never a real possibility. King Zog, in exile in Great Britain during the Second World War, proposed to the BritishJewish leadership a plan for settling 50,000 Jewish families in his country. He described Albania as a rich country with poor people and said that the population of one million was in a country that could easily absorb a population of five million. He proposed that each of the 50,000 families be given a small farm from lands owned by the state.

The British Board of Deputies, the organization representing British Jews, took this proposal seriously enough to contact the British Foreign Office to see what they thought. The Foreign Office didn't take this proposal seriously, and doubted that King Zog would be able to reestablish the monarchy in Albania after the Second World War. Nothing ever came of this offer and King Zog died in exile.(5)

 

The Romaniots

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, the term "Romaniot" refers to the original Jews of the Byzantine Empire. The Encyclopedia refers to Romaniots in only Janina, Kastor, and Chalcis, all in Greece, and ignores the Albanian Romaniots, who were the largest group in Europe until they emigrated to Israel in 1991.

The Romaniots are neither Askenaze (Yiddish speaking) nor Sephardic (Ladino speaking). The Jews of Albania are "Romaniot Greek Speaking Jews," although in recent years they would be better described as Albanian speaking. Jakoel commented that many of the Jews who came to Israel don't know they are Romaniots because of the lack of Jewish education in the past decades. Many have little knowledge of Jewish history or of their own backgrounds.

The Romaniots insist that they are not descendants of the Sephardic Jews who came from Spain. They claim to be descendants of Jews who lived in northern Greece since the destruction of the Second Temple in the first century. The Encyclopedia Judaica (6) describe the Romaniots as being the descendants of the "First Wave." The Romaniots are proud of their ancient history.

For a short period there was a joining together of the Sephardic and Romaniot Jews, but they separated probably due to the fact that the Romaniots were more strict in following their religious rules. The Jews from Spain called the Romaniots "Grego," which in Spanish could mean a Greek, but it was also used as a pejorative against a Romaniot Jew. Each group was sincerely confident of its superiority over the other.

 

Vlora

The arrival of the Romaniots was not the first time there was an identifiable Jewish community in Vlora. In 1507 there were 97 Jewish households in Vlora, which increased to 609 households in 1520; most were refugees from Spain during the "Second Wave."

Jews of Vlora were killed during the revolts against the Ottoman in the 16th century. The remaining Jews fled from the coast to the mountainous town of Berat during the Turkish-Venician war in the 17th century.

The city of Vlora has always been an important port and at times it had a large Jewish population. Old people tell of a synagogue in operation until 1915 which the Italians used as an armory, but we could find no trace of the synagogue. The legend is that the Italians, who occupied parts of Albania during the First World War, burned the -synagogue and other buildings to widen the street so their artillery could pass.

We were too late to find the Jewish cemetery of Vlora. It had been destroyed and a private residence is to be built on the site. We did a little diggin on the vacant construction site and found evidence that I this had been a Jewish cemetery. We found a tombstone, chiseled on it was a Star of David, a name, Saba Marine, and date of death,

There is currently no organized Jewish life in Vlora and Mr. J. Matattia's home is used as the gathering place for the holidays.

There were only 60 Jews in Vlora, in 1990. According to Mr. Matattia, there was a large Jewish population about a hundred years ago that is said to have left Vlora overnight. Mr. J. Matattia's father, Mateo Matattia, was probably the most prominent Jew in Vlora, a member of the city council and a merchant.

The first modern Jewish settlement was in Vlora but the center of Jewish life later moved to Tirana, the capitol and largest city. Jakoel made the move in 1950, as did many others looking for opportunities, including the chance to attend Albania's university.

It's symbolic that when the first flag of Albanian independence was raised on November 28,1912, it was in Vlora.

 

Footnotes:

1. Albanians consider themselves descendants of the llyrian people who settled here in 1200 B.C.E. The roots of the language are Indo-European.

2. Vol. 4, p.231.

3. A native of Sicily.

4. Jewish Chronicle, March 9,1894, p.9.

5. UK PRO FO 371/37138.

 

Chapter Three

Ambassador Herman Bernstein

 

And the False Messiah

In the 1930s the American Ambassador to Albania was a Jew, Herman Bernstein. Ambassador Bernstein took an interest in Jewish history and did some exploring to find traces of early Jewish life in Albania. He was especially interested in finding information about Sabbatai Zvi, the False Messiah. He knew that old records indicate Zvi had been in the town of Ulqin, but he was not able to find Zvi's tomb or traces of Jewish life in that town.

But Ambassador Bernstein did find evidence of a large Jewish community in Albania in the 15th and 16th centuries. He quotes from a German document published in 1611, "...many of these places are inhabited by Jews who had gone to Albania from Ancona (Italy) during the period of Pope Paul IV, who intensified the inquisition."

Ambassador Bernstein wrote that the Patriarch of the Albanian Orthodox Church told him that in a section of Elbasan known even today as the Jewish Quarter, a Star of David can be seen on the upper part of a building. The concrete Star was subsequently removed from the building and the pieces can now be seen in the small museum in -Elbasan.

The Ambassador conducted his own research in the Elbasan archives and found a record of a Turkish judge (1730s) trying Jewish merchants for violating Turkish law.(1)

Bernstein prophesied that Albania may soon again offer asylum to the new Jewish wanderers who find closed doors elsewhere.(2) This prediction was made in 1936.(3)

 

The False Messiah.

In the middle of the 17th century a soothsayer born in Ismir, Turkey, known as "Sabbatai Zvi"(4) proclaimed he was the Messiah and convinced thousands of Jews to sell their belongings and go with him to the promised land. (5)

Jewish mysticism would seem far away from the Albanian scene, but there was a connection when the Turkish Sultan had to contend with Sabbatai Zvi. In Turkey, Zvi boasted that his army of followers would conquer Istanbul.

The Ottoman Empire was at its peak when the Sultan first had Zvi arrested for creating unrest in the Empire. The Sultan offered Zvi a choice between death or conversion to Islam, Zvi elected conversion.

When he converted, Nathan of Gaza, a famous Jewish traveler of that period, rationalized, "it was to penetrate into the depth of realm of evil in order to free the sparks imprisoned there." Several thousand of Zvi's followers also converted to Islam and two decades later other Jews converted to a Jewish-Moslem sect called "Donmeh." However, the majority of his followers remained Jews.

The Grand Vizir, in the year 1647, banished Zvi to Ulqin, a city on the Dalmatian coast. This was in spite of the fact Zvi had converted to Islam and had taken the name Aziz Mehmed Effendi.

At some point Zvi must have left Ulqin because in 1673 the Sultan exiled him to Albania a second time. This time he stayed in Albania and lived out his last days in Berat, dying in 1676. All that is known for sure about his tomb is that it was buried on the side of the river Osum, in central Albania.

His assumed burial place, near Berat, is treated as a holy place for all religions, and an annual fair is held on the site. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia says Zvi's followers established themselves in Berat, and stayed for 30 years with a Salonika rabbi as the head of the community.

Zvi's assumed tomb became a shrine for an Islamic sect known as "Bektashi." Until 1965 it was common for Bektashi Moslems to make pilgrimages to this tomb.

In a remote village, in southern Albania, there is evidence of Jewish life dating from 500 years ago. It's possible Sabbatai Zvi spent his exile there, and it's possible that the people of the village of Ftera are descendants of his followers. In 1956 an Israeli researcher found a letter written by Zvi, about six weeks before his death, asking the Jews of Berat to send him a prayer book for the high Jewish holidays. The letter is on exhibit at the Museum of Jerusalem. This is the only letter of Zvi ever found and it may be the only letter he ever wrote. According to an Israeli historian, the letter was found among pages of a book which belonged to a sect of his disciples living in Salonika, who publicly practiced the Islamic religion but actually practiced an illegal heretic form of Judaism.

Sabbatai Zvi had the distinction of being the most famous non-Albanian Jew to live in Albania, but he was not the only one.  

250 years later, hundreds, if not thousands, of non-Albanian Jews would seek sanctuary in Albania.(6)

 

Footnotes:

1. In a travel book, published in 1934 (Albanian journey, Bernard Newman, Pitman & Sons, London,) the writer refers to Spanish speaking Jewish merchants in Tirana. They probably were speaking Ladino. This has to be the exception that proves the rule. Few Albanian Jews know Ladino, a lang uage spoken mostly in Turkey and Greece. The vast majority of Albanian Jews were living in Vlora and not Tirana at this time.

2. According to Edward Mantus, Bernstein had made arrangements with King Zog to have Jews from Austria and Germany settle in Albania. Letter to Editor, Jewish Chronicle, June 8, 1973.

3. See, Bernstein, Herman "Jews in Albania," Jewish Daily Bulletin, April 17 and 18, 1934.

4. Xre is no fixed way to spell his name.

5. Albanian Catholic Bulletin 1994, vol. XV, p.154.

6. Jacob Frank, a Sabbatai follower, claimed to be the reincarnation of Zvi. His followers were the Frankists. He was outcast from Judaism and responded by converting into the Roman Catholic church. This was the only time in history that a Jewish group claimed the blood libel was true.

Note: The Encyclopaedia Judaica devotes 14 pages to Sabbatai and Sabbataism.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

In Moslem Albania During the Ottoman Period

 

Albania was a part of the Ottoman Empire for more than 400 years ending with Albanian Independence in 1912. From before the Second Wave and before the expulsion from Spain the Jews were under Moslem rule. The result is not what might have been expected.

Anyone who professed a belief in one God and was willing to accept the political supremacy of the Moslems was known as a 'Dhimmi" and was afforded the protection of the Ottoman Empire and was not subject to persecution. This didn't mean, however, that the Christian, Armenian or Jew was equal to the Moslem under the law, far from it.

The Moslem had a higher status, paid lower taxes, and had greater opportunities than the non-Moslem. The Dhimmi, be he Jew or Christian, was subject to minor humiliations, but he did not have to fear pogroms or forced conversions.

The status of the Jew was on a par with the Christian and it doesn't appear that there was a distinction made between the various Dhimmi. In Christian Spain, Jews had been categorized with the Moslem minority. Now in Moslem Albania, and in the great Ottoman Empire the Jew was categorized with the Christian minority. A Jew was in a safer position as a Dhimmi under the Moslem Empire than he was under Christian rule during most of the four hundred years of the Ottoman Empire.

There is little mention of Jews in Albanian Government, military, or politics, although there is a record of a Jewish judge in 1903. During the Ottoman period this was consistent with the Jew's status as a Dhimmi which didn't change after the Ottoman period. Whether this was intentional or whether it was just the fact they were so few, the Jews of Albania maintained a very low profile. There is very little mention of Jews in the usual histories of the country.

hat there were poor Jews and rich Jews, educated Jews and uneducated Jews, may have contributed to the low profile. The only clustering related to housing, and even there the numbers weren't large enough to cause envy or resentment.

Independence Movements

The Greek aspirations for independence from Ottoman rule was a noble objective, but as in many other independence movements, the Jews got caught in the middle. The Greeks, in their anti-Turk, anti-Moslem movements, often equated Jews with Moslems with the Jews experiencing murder and mayhem. We can speculate on the reasons.

This could be attributed to the Jews' close association with the Moslems, a negative feeling towards all non-Greeks, traditional anti-Semitism, or all of the above. In Moslem-Christian confrontations in this part of the world Jews fared better under Moslem than under Christian rule. The best example is that during the two centuries of crusades Jews were murdered by the crusaders without reason.

Except for one or two bad periods, and during rebellions that were movements for independence from the Turks, Jews were safe from pogroms. It is paradoxical that it was the periods during which the Albanians were attempting to attain their political freedom from the Ottoman that we find massacre of Jews. Whether or not Jews merely wanted the preservation of the status quo or were loyal to the Ottoman, they were perceived as being pro-Ottoman and therefore was considered the enemy of the national independence movements.

For example, when the Albanians (Greeks) revolted against the Turks in 1911 there were accusations that the Jews sided with the Turks, resulting in the murder of Jews by "Patriots."

istorically it has been the Jewish practice to accept the political force in power. Jews weren't revolutionaries by nature, at least not until the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. This could be attributed to an attitude of "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know" or to Jewish experience that the Jew remains a persecuted minority regardless of the political administration, so why get involved in something that doesn't directly concern him? This may have been an attitude of "let the gentiles fight among themselves, the Jew is a Jew regardless of who wins the political fight." Years of revolutions and changes of government and extreme nationalism have not been good years for Jews.

Jews had been loyal to the Ottoman and appreciated that their status and freedom from fear was greater under the Turk than under most other European governments. The Jews suffered for their support of Ottoman rule. In their unsuccessful rebellions against the Turks the Greeks would often take their frustrations out against the Jews.

The Millet System

Albania was a part of the Ottoman Empire for four hundred years. The full occupation was complete by 1501 and lasted until 1912. The Ottoman used what they called the "Millet System" to administer its far reaching territorial empire.

he Millet was a self governing organization based on religion with the religious leaders having both secular and religious authority. Everything was controlled by the rabbis in Jewish Millet except economics, which was controlled by the merchant and craft guilds.

Within the Millet, Jews could worship in their own way and speak their own language and pretty much control their own lives as long as they kept the peace and paid their taxes. There is the argument that the Millet system fostered hostility among the ethnic groups isolating them to keep them from joining together against the ruling Turks. That's probably true, which made Millits even more desirable from the Ottoman point of view.

The Millet system was used throughout the Ottoman Empire for non-Moslems. The most important minorities under this system were Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and Jews (Palestine). The Millet was an expression of Turk tolerance, but it was also an expedient way to administer a large empire. The system didn't break up until the end of the Second World War, although it ended in Albania in 1912.

Jews in the Ottoman Army

In the period from 1855 onward Jews paid a "Military Substitution Tax" instead of serving in the Ottoman army. The tax was abolished in 1910 and Jews became subject to the draft. Most Jews served willingly in the Albanian army although some fled to Greece to avoid military service. The army provided kosher food and permitted the Jewish soldiers to observe their holidays.

We know of at least one Albanian Jewish doctor who served in the Ottoman army. Dr. Solomon Efendi was a military doctor who began his career in 1896-97.

 

Corfu

Iberian and Italian Jews have lived on the island of Corfu since the 12th century, under the Venetians and Ottoman. Jewish life had evolved into separate Italian and Greek Jewish communities. Jews lived in peace and prosperity on Corfu in these two rival communities until the Greek revolutions.

It was only when the Greeks, during their anti-Turk revolutions, threatened the entire Jewish population that the two groups of Jews banded together out of absolute necessity.

Large numbers of Jews on Corfu and elsewhere were massacred by the Greeks in their revolution of 1821, even though Jews had no significant part in Turkish rule and were bystanders in Moslem-Christian confrontations. The records of the massacres read like the 20th century Holocaust: 5,000 Jews were murdered in Morea, hundreds were killed in Wallachia, 1200 Jews were murdered in Tripoliza. The Jews living on the Islands of Sparta, Patras, Corinthos, Mistra, and Argos were wiped out. The same was true of the Jews of Thebes, Vrachori, Attica, and Epirus.

At first Corfu was the objective for Jews fleeing from the bands of Greek rebels, but this island proved to be anything except a safe haven. Gangs of Greeks massacred large numbers of Jews on Corfu. The sanctuary for the Jews was Izmir in Turkey where a new Jewish community was formed.

Only in northern Greece, in the areas of Janina and Salonika, were Jews and Turks able to resist the Greeks and avoid the massacres.

At this time (1820) Janina was the capitol of the Vilayet of Janina, one of the four provinces created by the Turks that constituted Greater Albania.

In 1891 the "Blood Libel" raised its ugly head in Corfu and there were anti-Jewish riots, so many Jews moved to Janina.(1)

During the Greek-Turkish war of 1897 the Jews of Corfu and the Greek mainland were subject to persecutions and murder, causing additional migrations to Ottoman controlled Salonika and Izmir. It didn't help the Jews in their relation with the Greeks that in the prior year there was a newspaper report that the Sultan honored the chief rabbi of Janina.

In 1909, a band of Greek-Albanians killed four Jews and wounded several others. They cut off the ears of their victims and sent them to the synagogue. (2) This was said to be revenge for Jews carrying out espionage against the Greek revolutionaries.

In the 1911 Albanian revolt, the Jews were accused of collaborating with the Turks to suppress the revolution which ultimately brought independence to Albania.

In 1912 the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. The Balkans were a series of small nations, each suspicious of the others. The Serbs wanted access to the sea, something which Austria opposed. The Austrians felt that an independent Albania was preferable as it would block Serbia from the sea. From this was born a liberated Albania. Independence served the Albanians well, as they were able to remain neutral during the First World War, even though a portion of the country was occupied by Italian, Austro-Hungarian, and French troops.

Footnotes:

1. Jewish Chronicle, May 29,1891, p.7. The "Blood Libel" is an ancient fiction that the Jews killed gentile children to get their blood for some religious purposes.    

2. Jewish ch ronicle, January 29, 1909, p.8

 

 

Chapter Five

The Inter War Period

 

Albania was proclaimed an independent state in 1912 and was able to remain neutral during the First World War, but it was a battlefield for the warring nations.(¹) By secret agreement in 1915 the Allies carved up the territory of Albania putting some areas occupied almost totally by Albanians outside the country's borders. It wasn't until 1920 that the Albanians were able to force the Italians from their land.

In 1923, the great powers drew new boundaries and separated half the country and half its people from Albania.

In June, 1924, the Government was run by the first democratic statesman of Albania, Bishop Fan S. Noli, and Albania was admitted to the League of Nations the same year. Noli's government lasted only six months. In December, 1924, the country was taken over by a dictator, A. B. Zogolli, who was known as Zog. He proclaimed himself President in 1924, and in 1928, named himself King.

The period between the World Wars was one of great prosperity for Albanian Jews, but it was also a period of weakening of Jewish traditions. The only synagogue was destroyed and was never rebuilt. The matriarch of the Levi family was going to pay for the rebuilding of the synagogue but died before it could be built. The last Jewish school closed during this period.

Jakoel called the period from 1925 until 1939, the period of rule by King Zog, "A golden age for Jews in Albania," even though the Jewish community wasn't officially recognized by the Albanian Government until April 2, 1937.

 

In the 1930s the municipality of Vlora adopted an ordinance requiring that Jewish owned stores be open on Saturday and closed on Sunday. (2) Heavy fines were imposed for violation of this law. The first Saturday after the law was enacted the Jewish shops stayed closed and the fines were imposed. The fine was increased the second week. The decision among those store owners who had limited resources was to remain open on Saturdays but not to sell anything. The more prosperous merchants kept their stores closed and paid the fines.

The Jewish store keepers sued the municipality of Vlora and the Albanian courts agreed with the Jews that they could close on Saturdays, and the courts made the municipality return the collected fines.

In 1927 the "small number" of Albanian Jews lived primarily in Korça, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica. There is a difference of opinion as to the location of the main portion of the Jewish community during the interwar period. Jakoel challenged this and said the majority of the Jews were living in Vlora. In the 1930 census there were 204 Jews living in Albania. According to official records the Jewish population of Albania in 1937 was 120, residing mostly in Vlora and Delvina.

In 1928, the Albanian constitution was amended to include a statement of religious freedom. It stated: "All religions and faiths are honored and their liberty of practice assured. Religion can in no way form judicial barriers. Religion cannot be used for political purposes."

The Albanian state has no official religion. All religions and faiths were honored, and their liberty of practice was assured. Religion was not permitted to form jurisdictional barriers and religious proselytizing was forbidden. The 1939 Revised Constitution stated that all religions are to be respected and their external practices guaranteed by law.

Janina (Ioanina)

Although Janina and nearby Preveza (3) are currently within Greece, their place in Albanian-Jewish history is assured. Janina remained under Ottoman rule from October 9, 1430, until 1913, when the Janina District, which had been a part of Albania, became a part of Greece.

Most Romaniot Jews can trace their family history to Janina. The Greek spoken by the Jews in this area was so archaic that it suggests there is truth to the claim that there was a Jewish community in Janina as far back as the nth century. Janina was capital of its region and a wealthy town in which Jews and others prospered.

There were golden days in Janina but there were also pogroms. For example, there is a newspaper account of large numbers of Jews murdered in Janina on January 29, 1909.

Calculating the size of the Jewish population of Janina is difficult because it varied in size during various periods. The calculation is further complicated by the fact that sometimes the census is reported in terms of families and other times in terms of individuals.

The years of the biggest growth were the years when the Ottoman welcomed the refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, who were asimilated into the Romaniot population. The years of the greatest shrinkage of population were during the period between 1912 and 1920, when many Albanians emigrated to the United States, and of course the black day in March, 1944, when the Holocaust arrived in Janina.

In 1831, there was a community of 212 families which increased to 343 families by 1856. With an average of six per family this amounted to 1200 and 2056 respectively. In 1870, there was a shrinkage to 250 families (1500 people) which may be explained by the large number who migrated to Vlora. In the next six years (1876) there was a doubling of population to 3,000. The Jewish population remained at the 3,000 level until the years of great migration to the United States mentioned earlier.

On the eve of the Holocaust there were 1950 Jews living in Janina. In one day, in 1944 (March 24), 1860 Jews were sent to Auschwitz. In 1948, their number was 170. There are less than 100 Jews in Janina today.

The Jews of Janina possessed an old torah claimed to be at least 1500 years old known as the "Safer (book) of Vlora" formerly belonging to the Jews of Vlora. Inscriptions on the torah would indicate there were Jews in that area more than 1500 years earlier.

In 1936, the Albanians requested the return of the torah, but the Jews of Janina kept postponing the return. The old torah was burned by the Nazis with the other torahs found in Janina.

The Four Vilayets

To understand the relation of Janina to Albania in general, and to Vlora in particular, it's necessary to understand the four Vilayets during the period of the Ottoman Empire.

Until 1878 Greater Albania was divided into four "Vilayets" or provinces or districts: Janina, Shkodra, Kosova and Manastir.

Janina was the capital of the Vilayet of janina.(4) Not only was Janina in Albania, but it was in the same district as Berat and Vlora. This facilitated movement between Janina and Vlora and ultimately to the emigration which constituted the Third Wave.

By the end of the 19th century the ties between Vlora and Janina were still strong but were weakened from what they had been. The Vilayets had been abolished and Janina was now Greek, even though it was still not completely free of the Ottoman Empire.

At the same time there was a strengthening of the ties between the Jews of Corfu and Vlora. Corfu is very close to Vlora and the ties would have been stronger except for the language difficulty. The Jews of Corfu tended to speak an Italianized version of Greek.

Hebrew wasn't a common language during this period, as the great revival of Hebrew as a spoken language hadn't yet occurred.

There was a post World War II link between the Jews of Albania and Janina but it was a weak one. Only 10% of the Jews of Janina survived and Hoxha's isolationist policies contributed, but the final break in the link was when the Jews of Albania emigrated to Israel.

As devastated as they were in Janina, the Janina Relief Fund sent 1,500 pounds of Matzo flour to the Albanians, in 1945. In March, 1953, the Janina Relief Fund provided aid to what they call the "Janina Jews living in Albania."

After the First World War there was a war between Greece and Turkey. Many Jews from Janina went to Albania to avoid being drafted into the Greek army.

Footnotes:

1. Albania was the last Balkan state to become independent of Turkey.

2. At the same time there were similar court cases in Poland and New York. Those cases went one step further and involved Jewish owned stores opening on Sunday. The Albanian court held that all stores must be closed on Sunday, even though the sabbath for the majority of the population was Friday, the Moslem sabbath.

3. Much of what is written about Janina has application to Preveza, but to a lesser extent.

4. After the defeat of Turkey by Russia in 1878, Albania, still a part of the Ottoman Empire, was fragmented and substantially reduced in size. Part of each Vilayet was ceded to a neighboring country. For our interests the most important change is that Janina was no longer in Albania, and Vlora remained the center of Jewish life in Albania.


 

Chapter Six

Jewish Refugees

 

The first Jewish refugees in modem times came to Albania in 1933, mostly from Germany and Austria en-route to the United States, South America, Turkey and elsewhere. Few, if any, planned to stay. Albania was a convenient way station on the road to someplace else.

As more and more German and Austrian Jews became apprehensive of their future under the Nazis regime the numbers attempting to escape from Europe steadily increased. During the first months of 1939 the Albanian consulates were flooded with Jews seeking visas. At first the applicants for visas were mainly from German and Austrian Jews but by the end of 1938, and the start of 1939, they were joined by others from Central Europe.

Getting a visa to enter Albania as a transit point out of Europe wasn't difficult as the Albanian Government was very liberal in granting and extending transit visas. The problem wasn't in getting into Albania, it was finding a place beyond.

As the numbers of Jews entering Albania increased the available destinations decreased. There were international conferences attended by representatives of the United States, Italy and Albania, looking for places for the Jewish refugees. Even Italy offered to take 5,000 Jewish refugees in their African colonies. In the winter of 1938-39 the United State quota system made it impossible for more Jews to gain entry. The conferences ended after achieving very little.

At the start of 1938 there were 300 Albanian Jews living in the country.(1) During 1938 and 1939 the Jewish population increased substantially.

There was an increase in the numbers entering Albania at a time when there was a decrease in the numbers leaving. By the end of 1938 the number of Jews had officially increased to 350, but there were many more Jews in the country, mostly with expired "tourist" or "transit" visas.

Ambassador Bernstein arranged for Austrian and German Jews to settle in Albania. For example, in February, 1939, 100 Jews who came from Vienna were allowed to legally settle in Albania, 60 in Tirana and 40 in Durrës

An additional 95 Jewish families arrived in March, 1939. King Zog allowed the Jews to settle in his country, but he fled for his own life to Greece less than a month later, after the Italians invaded Albania on April 7th, Good Friday.

With the Italian invasion of Albania, in April, and the start of the global war in September, 1939, the refugees had to accept the fact they were in Albania for the duration of the War. Things were so good for the Albanian Jews and they felt so secure, that little attention was paid to the admonitions of the emigrants about the growing horrors in Central Europe.

Things became very confused about where Jews were safe. At one time the escape route was from Albania to Italy and beyond. After the war started there were German Jews who were able to get to Italy, and from there illegally to Albania.

he number of Jewish refugees stranded in Albania was measured in the hundreds, if not thousands. But they were stranded in a country of which Ambassador Bernstein had written, "There is no trace of any discrimination against them (Jews) in Albania because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist."

 

Albanian Government

The Albanian Government adopted various anti-Jewish regulations in the 1938-39 period, even before the Italian invasion. But the Albanian Government had neither the will nor the time to enforce these regulations. The ostensible reason for the regulations was to appease the Italians, who were aware of the Jews in Albania and the fact that they were virtually unrestricted.

The restrictions imposed on Jews included a limitation of tourist visas to 30 days. The tourist visas were "tourist" in name only. That was the way the Jews entered Albania, and once they entered, they sought a way to leave. When it became impossible to leave, the "tourist" became an illegal resident of Albania.

The Albanian counsels abroad were instructed to refrain from issuing tourist visas to Jews but they continued to do so until the start of the World War. Many counsels simply ignored the restrictions. After the World War started some Jews were still able to get visas too enter Albania, although bribes were necessary in some cases.

Financial and Other Support

Although they were stranded in Albania, the Jewish refugees were relatively safe. But most soon saw their available funds dissipated.

The local Jewish communities came to their aide through the good efforts of some wealthy Jewish merchants, Isaac Kohan, in Durrës and Rafael Levi, and Rafael Jakoel, in Vlora. The majority of -the funds were provided by Jewish welfare organizations including the American joint Distribution Committee There was even a small amount of aid to the needy refugees from the Albanian Government.

Jews who had been in Albania for several months were permitted to work at their trades and professions and were given residency permits. The official policy was that the refugees must leave Albania when their visas expired, but this rule was honored by its breach. Meanwhile the

Albanian counsels were facilitating the movement of Jews into Albania. In spite of official policy the counsels continued to issue visas.

After the invasion the Italians put pressure on the Albanian Government to expel the foreign Jews and to initiate additional restrictions on Jews. The Albanians resisted this pressure and not a single Jew was expelled.

Italy and the Italian Occupation

Italy was the only country with which Albania had treaty and it was Italy that invaded Albania in April, 1939. This may explain Albania's reluctance to enter into a treaty since the World War.

The Italians sometimes referred to anti-Semitism as the "German disease" and even when they did the Germans bidding, they did it halfheartedly. In Italy, the Jews were relatively secure until Italy capitulated in November, 1943, and the central and northern parts of the country (including Rome) came under German occupation.

Tragically, these were the areas of the greatest concentration of Italian Jews.

The Italians were rarely willing tools of the Germans with respect to the Jewish question. We know from the testimony of people who were there that life in the Italian administered camps in Yugoslavia was bearable and that Italian soldiers assisted Yugoslavian Jews in escaping to Albania. This was at a time when large numbers of Jews from all over Europe were being transported to Poland to the German death camps.

When the Italians arrived in Albania they announced some anti-Jewish rules. Jews were cut off from cultural, social and political activities. In comparison to other occupied countries the restrictions were rather insignificant.

During the period of the Italian occupation of Albania many Jewish refugees led ordinary lives without hiding their identity. They celebrated the Jewish Holy Days and worked for their living at what they could, but things changed rapidly when Italy surrendered and joined the Allies in the autumn of 1943. The Germans came to Albania. Some 800 Jewish refugees from Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland and Austria living in Albania once again faced fear and the need to find a hiding place.

In the last days of the Italian occupation the Italians were ordered to round up the Jews in Albania to concentrate them all in one place, an American agricultural school in Kavaja. We know what usually followed.

The Italian soldiers guarding the Jews were to be replaced by German soldiers. The Italian Commandant, ostensibly, opened the gates of the school and told the Jews to scatter. What makes this story plausible, is the fact that nothing has been found which would indicate there was anything approaching a concentration camp in Albania and we know there was no "transportation" of Jews from Albania to the death camps.

Jakoel said that sometimes he finds it difficult to know how to judge the Italians. When they came they instituted restrictions on the Jews and seemed to want to humiliate them, but they didn't stop Jews from having gainful employment. The Italians who came in contact with Jews generally treated them without discrimination.

When Rafael Jakoel was arrested for helping guerrillas, local Italians testified on his behalf even though they knew the charges were true.

When Italy surrendered the Albanian partisans had a windfall, as several hundred Italian soldiers joined them, bringing a large amount of arms and military equipment. An unknown, but smaller number of Italian soldiers joined the German forces.

 

The Annexed Territories

In April, 1941, the territory of Kosova,(2) then a part of Yugoslavia and inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians, was annexed to Albania and put under "Albanian control," which was really Italian control.

First the Germans imposed laws for persecuting Jews, the same laws they had instituted in the other occupied countries. These were not applicable to Albania proper. For example, Jews in the annexed territories were required to wear a "J" or "Jew" on their clothes. These laws were unknown in Albania proper.

The Jews in the "annexed area" were not as fortunate as the Jews in Albania proper. Life in the annexed territories was not as secure and there were unfortunate incidents of Jews being abused by the local people.

Jews from Serbia and Croatia had fled to this area and these refugees were relatively well treated by the Albanians and Italians, until the Italians began to comply with German demands regarding the Jews. This compares unfavorably with the experience in Albania proper where the Albanians refused to provide lists of Jews and didn't cooperate in arresting Jews.

In Prishtina, capital city of the annexed territories, the local authorities complied with German demands and jailed 60 Jewish men. A sympathetic doctor, Spiro Lit, convinced the mayor that they must not let the Germans take the 60 Jews to Poland for extermination. He also convinced the German authorities that the Jewish prisoners had typhus and it was necessary to send the Jews to hospitals in Albania to avoid an epidemic. The Jews were taken to Berat, given false documents and spread around Albania, mostly to the friends of Dr. Lito in the cities of Lushnja, Shijak, Kavaja, and Kruja.

The Albanian Minister of Interior gave some instructions to the Prefect of Police of the annexed territories that tells a story with a partial happy ending. The motivation isn't dear, but some lives were saved.

An order from the Minister dated March 20, 1942, directed: "All the Jews that have been in your region before the separation of Yugoslavia should be transferred within 3 days to Berat. They should not be stopped on their way. If they do not firmly follow the instructions, they should be told they will be deported. The Jews who came after the war started should be kept in prison and you should make a list of their names."

The Minister apparently changed his mind because 10 days later (April 1, 1942) he revised his instructions: 'The Jews who came after the war started should not be imprisoned but should be gathered on a field of concentration, because there may be women and children among them. You should coordinate with the military authorities to find a common Ian for the whole of Kosova. For those who have been here before the war, you should stop deporting to Berat until further orders."

The Prefect of Police didn't work very fast and on May 20, he notified the Minister: 'The Jews are gathered in a field of concentration in the central part of our prefecture being always under observation."

Two days later the Minister again revised his instructions: "About the Jews who were in that region before the war, the men should be sent to Berat. Women and children should be free to stay where they are or go to Berat. If anyone who is supposed to be sent to Berat is ill, wait until his recovery."

On July 5, some Jews must still have been in prison because the Minister directed: 'The Jews who are in your prison should be separated into four groups and sent to Kavaja, Kruja, Burrel and Shijak, where they will live under close observation by the police.

Every person or family is free to chose who he wants in his group, except that each group should have about the same number of people."

The order doesn't say "Jews who came after the war started" it just says "Jews who are in prisons." But in 1942, it was probable that the Jews in prison were those who arrived after the war started and were in the country illegally.

It's paradoxical that there was concern for the sick, an appreciation of the need to keep families together, and a concern for women and children at the same time they are talking about the field of concentration, and eventually complied with German demands for Jewish prisoners. The' good result was that those who went to Berat and the four towns mentioned (Kavaja, Kruja Burrel, and Shijak) were in Albania and Albania meant life but not everyone was so fortunate.

There was inconsistencies and a lack of formality that was confusing to the "inmates" of these fields of concentration and to those trying to understand the situation half a century later.

There were barbed wire fences surrounding these fields of concentration and there were Italian guards, yet there was testimony of Jews going to Kavaja to a cinema or a football match or to celebrate Jewish holidays. This inconsistent pattern suggests two things. First, the guards and camp officials either didn't have firm instructions or were unwilling to carry them out. Second, we can't generalize from the few reports of experience in these camps as the conditions varied substantially from place to place and from time to time.

In June, 1943, while still under Italian control, the Albanian police chief suggested the jailing of certain Jews: "According to our investigation the Jews listed below are dangerous because they are propaganderizing against the Axis (Rome-Berlin) and they want to organize actions and hold meetings. We think these people should be taken away from here as soon as possible to one of the concentration fields, because their staying here could be dangerous to the regime."

The order doesn't say "Jews who came after the war started" it just says "Jews who are in prisons." But in 1942, it was probable that the Jews in prison were those who arrived after the war started and were in the country illegally.

It's paradoxical that there was concern for the sick, an appreciation of the need to keep families together, and a concern for women and children at the same time they are talking about the field of concentration, and eventually complied with German demands for Jewish prisoners. The' good result was that those who went to Berat and the four towns mentioned (Kavaja, Kruja Burrel, and Shijak) were in Albania and Albania meant life but not everyone was so fortunate.

There was inconsistencies and a lack of formality that was confusing to the "inmates" of these fields of concentration and to those trying to understand the situation half a century later.

There were barbed wire fences surrounding these fields of concentration and there were Italian guards, yet there was testimony of Jews going to Kavaja to a cinema or a football match or to celebrate Jewish holidays. This inconsistent pattern suggests two things. First, the guards and camp officials either didn't have firm instructions or were unwilling to carry them out. Second, we can't generalize from the few reports of experience in these camps as the conditions varied substantially from place to place and from time to time.

In June, 1943, while still under Italian control, the Albanian police chief suggested the jailing of certain Jews: "According to our investigation the Jews listed below are dangerous because they are propaganderizing against the Axis (Rome-Berlin) and they want to organize actions and hold meetings. We think these people should be taken away from here as soon as possible to one of the concentration fields, because their staying here could be dangerous to the regime."