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News 27 Jan 17

Albania Honours Families That Sheltered Jews From Holocaust

Albanian families who hosted persecuted Jews in World War II were awarded medals on Holocaust Day on Friday, while other activities were held in Tirana to remember the solidarity people demonstrated under the Nazis.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ditmir Bushati inaugurating the "Righteous amongst the nations" park in Tirana. Photo: Twitter 

Albania held a series of activities on Friday to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the bravery of Albanians in fully protecting their Jewish community from Nazi persecution during World War II.

Albanians take pride in the fact that this overwhelmingly Muslim nation did not hesitate to shelter Jewish families from the Nazis in defiance of Adolf Hitler's directives.

Although Albania was occupied by Fascist Italy and by Nazi Germany during the war, people not only protected the country's small community of 200 Jews but took in others who came from other parts of Europe to escape death and prosecution.

Based on the old tradition of "Besa" - the keeping of a given oath at any cost - many Albanians took Jews into their homes and did all that was needed to protect them until the end of the war.

By the end of the war, Albania counted a population of some 2,000 Jews and strong friendships were built between families.

President Bujar Nishani on Friday handed medals to 35 families and individuals who offered shelter to Jews during World War II.

"Albanians did the impossible that time, the unimaginable, so today these families deserve to be awarded the honour of Albania," President Nishani said during the ceremony.

Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati together with members of the diplomatic corps in Tirana meanwhile gathered to open the "Righteous amongst the nations" park in Tirana, in honour of Holocaust victims.

Conferences and activities to remember the horrors of those times and spread a message of hope were also held in Tirana.

Anila Bega Cohen, director of the Shalom Center Albania, which runs an Israeli school system for children and advocates close collaboration between the two nations, told BIRN that what Albanians had done during World War II was remarkable.

"Albanians protecting Jews from the Holocaust is a wonderful story and we have to refer more to this example in order to build a stronger relationship with Israel today," she said.

She said that despite the current goodwill, more needs to be done in strengthen friendship between the two countries.

"We have so much in common, we are nations that have had to learn to survive and recover from the hardships of earlier times. We share a common resilience and have many other common traditions like the strong ties with the family," she noted.

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