Watch: Albania – The Jews’ Safe Haven

Israeli Ambassador in Albania Noah Gal Gendler speaks during the inauguration of a memorial to the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and for the Albanians who protected them, in Tirana on July 9, 2020.(Xhulio Hajdari /Tirana City Hall via AP)

December 21, 2020

Elise Nake, a high school student and member of the American-Albanian community, addresses the heroic efforts of Albania in saving its Jewish population during the Holocaust, in a documentary film she produced for a school project.

For her project, Elise visited Israel where much of the documentary was filmed. She features the testimony of the representatives of the Albanian-Jewish Community in Israel and interviews them to learn their personal histories.

These community members share the story of the Albanian Jewish journey going back to the 19th century. In addition to saving its own Jewish community during the Holocaust, Albania sheltered Jewish refugees from other European countries. By the end of the Second World War, Albania was the only country in Europe that saw an increase in its Jewish population during the war. Not a single Jew in Albania was killed during the Holocaust.

Albania’s actions during World War II can be attributed to its national ethos, “Besa,” a traditional cultural precept, or code of honor that literally means “oath” or “faith.” Albanian Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust, did so out of a sense of “Besa.”

For her project, Elise not only tells the story of Albania rescuing its Jewish community, but also of this communities “return” to the Land of Israel. Elise interviewed many Jewish families in Albania and Israel to learn more about these families, and their love for Albania and Israel. These Albania Jews tell stories of tolerance and coexistence with their neighbors and reflect fondly upon their country of origin.

Elise aims to raise awareness about this little known chapter in human history through her documentary and hopes that more people will learn about Albania’s actions during the Holocaust. To her surprise, she learned that Holocaust Museums in the United States don’t currently feature the story of Albanian Jewish community. Her goal is to work with organizations around the United States and abroad to encourage Holocaust Museums to feature the story of Albania saving its Jews during the Holocaust through educational exhibits.

Holocaust education is a critical tool for combatting anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry for future generations. By teaching the history of Muslim-majority Albania saving its Jewish community, surely more and more students will understand the powerful and important lessons of tolerance and peaceful coexistence that Albania has to offer the world.

Watch Elise’s documentary below.