Photo Credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem
Jews with their Albanian rescuers.

Albania will host the first-ever Balkans Forum Against Anti-Semitism on Wednesday – on Zoom, naturally, due to the pandemic. The event is organized by the Albanian parliament in collaboration with the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Register here for Wednesday’s 2020 Balkans Forum Against Anti-Semitism, October 28, 2020.

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Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama will host the Speakers of Parliament from Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. Also on hand will be officials from the UN, US, UK, Germany, Israel, and Italy.

The forum’s goal is to create a united Balkan front to combat anti-Semitism.

The Albanian parliament last week unanimously endorsed the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism, which includes attacks on Zionism.

After the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1939, the Jewish community in Greater Albania grew as Jews from Macedonia and northern Serbia, as well as Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and Poland, came to Kosovo, which was under Italian rule, and settled in the towns of Pristina, Prizren, and Uroševac.

As many as 1,000 refugees arrived in Albania between 1939 and 1043. The refugees did not experience persecution at the level that Jews were experiencing in the German-controlled territories, because the Italians treated them better. The population of Albania-proper was very protective of the Jewish refugees. Many were transported to Albanian ports on the Adriatic from where they could travel to Italy. Others hid in remote mountain villages, while some joined resistance movements across the country.

Hundreds of Jews received false documents from the Albanian authorities and were smuggled to Albania to safety. On other occasions, Jews were transferred to Albania-proper under the false pretext that they had typhus and needed hospital treatment.

Opinions differ among scholars regarding the high survival rate of Jews in Albania-proper, as opposed to Kosovo. Some experts have attributed the difference to the besa, a traditional code of honor that was an important part of the culture of the Albanian highlands. The besa obligated Albanians to provide shelter and safe passage for anyone seeking protection, especially if they had sworn to do so. Failure to provide safe passage would result in a loss of prestige. Testimony from Jewish survivors, as well as from Albanian rescuers, has shown that many individual rescuers justified their actions by citing the besa.

Kosovo Albanians tended to be more hostile towards foreigners, largely due to the Albanian–Serbian conflict. As a result, most Kosovo Albanians welcomed the defeat and partitioning of Yugoslavia and were particularly grateful to any power that offered them an opportunity to settle the score with local Serbs.

Last week in parliament, Albanian MPs Taulant Balla and Blerina Gjylameti urged the government to fight the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, defining it as “a certain perception of Jews which can be expressed as hatred of Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed at Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, institutions, and religious sites of the Jewish community.”

Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruci said: “It is good news that we, the Albanians and the peoples of the Western Balkans, a region that has suffered more than any other part of the world, the consequences of ethnocentric and religious-centrist views and attitudes, join this emancipatory action of contemporary civilization: the fight against anti-Semitism.”

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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