International Press about the Jews in Albania before and during Nazi Times

Monika STAFA


The subject of the salvation of Jews in Albania remained almost undiscovered until lately because of the political stance of Tirana against Israel as “an ally of the Atlantic Superpower”, although in a paradoxal way, the gorvernment of Enver Hoxha was one of the first to formally recognise the new state of Israel in the actual territories, since 1948. this theme was reservedly introduced only in the beginning of the ’80-s, mainly as an evocation of the Albanian tradition of hospitality and the salvation foreigners in times of danger. It was generally treated after the political changes, at the end of the 1980s.
The anti-israelite policy of the Albanian state wasn’t the only barrier to obscure this issue. Albanian sources were completely untapped considering how closed the Albanian society was. The severely firm stance of the former Albanian state against israel’s policies forbade Albanian scholars to study the issue. There is neither any evidence that foreign scholars were interested in exploring Albanian sources about the fate of Jews in Albania during wwii. There is an exception in the case of dr. Straitberg . In 1968, he wrote a letter to former dictator Enver hoxha, asking for permission to use the archives. As may be understood, he took a negative answer.


The salvation of Jews in Albania first became an object of study by Anglo-American scholars, such as Bernd Fischer and Noel Malcolm, then by Italian scholar Michele Sarfatti, and the Memorial Museum of the Holocaust of Yad Vashem. Albania’s participation in the founding meeting of the International Forum on the Holocaust (Stockholm 2000), the declaration of the “day of Remembrance” (2004), the U.S. Congress Approval of the “resolution of Honor” dedicated to Albania’s role in the salvation of Jews (2005), and recently the organisation of the exhibition “besa – a honour code of Albanians” in Tel Aviv (november 2007); promoted a new cycle of researches and studies. One of them is the initiative of Mrs. Claire Lavoine and her collaborators in Albania , for the completion of a dossier with sources and evidence that are indisputable according to some historians. An international conference dedicated to the “albania phenomenon” as na European premodel of protection of human rights is being prepared with a lot of passion and dedication by col. Etienne Bommier and his group of work, with the goodwill of many institutions and French personalities (such as the senator Bernard Fournier, head of the group of the friends of Albania at the French Parliament). In 27 January 2008, at Washington a conference with this subject is preparing under the care of some senators, friends of Albania.


To date, the only sources used are those taken from American and British archives, some Italian sources and a few german ones, the memo-artistic literature of Jews that survived the Holocaust by staying in albania and the Balkans. Albanian sources are published, some scholars have managed to publish their studies inside and outside the country, but there are no foreign scholars who have studied these sources. Furthermore, sources found in Kosovo’s archives, where half of the Jews’ drama was played, are not touched at all. There are a few sources, contradictory ones, about the role of the so-called SS “Skanderbeg” division and its participation at the so-called persecution of Jews in Kosovo, exept for the memoires of the ex-legate of Reich in beograd Neubaher. We may say that part of the studies for this argument are still based on the “pre-data”.


It may be said that archival sources are or are becoming part of scientific circulation. Nevertheless, no study has been conducted on how the Albanian press dealt with the asylum of Jews in Albania during the royalty period and after wwii.
The bibliography of studies about this issue mentions only one article of the Jewish Mandil, published in the “Bashkimi” newspaper, in 1945. the article shows the gratitude for the support of the Albanian people. Some other articles of the same period, at least 3, that were published in the “Bashkimi” newspaper (1945-1946) are not mentioned at all.
The National Library in Tirana possesses no thematic bibliography on the salvation of Jews during the war because of the anti-Semitic policy of the Albanian communist state until 1990. such bibliography does not exist, but that is not due to political or ideological restraints.
In this sense, during the preparation of such a commentary, creating a mini-bibliography became a necessity.


It is a norm that scientific studies first use public sources. In the case of Albania and Albanians’ role in the salvation of Jews, research began the other way round: first the archives and then the press. It may be said that during my researches, it became a duty to fulfil this first contribution to publicize how the press of that time addressed the issue. In this case, the first concern of the scholar is: does the public stance, in a period where demagogy dominated, match the official stance as written in the newspapers, a stance that had reasons to be occult.
Research brought me to the conclusion that the asylum of Jews was treated without contradictions, as the sources indicate. They were protected secretly and openly as well. The public and the official stance match perfectly.
This is so real that the protagonists of Albanian collaborationist cabinets, ministers, writers known as pro-fascist and others who were neutral publicly defended the Jewish personalities of Albania . Writer Ernest Koliqi, also a former minister in the pro-fascist government wrote and published articles in defense of Norbert Jokl, a well known Albanologist who lived in Vienna and was physically threatened after the declaration of the Austrian – German “Anschluss;”. Father gjergj Fishta, a writer who welcomed the arrival of the fascist army to Albania wrote a public letter about Jokl to the vicegerent of the fascist king in Tirana F. jacomoni; Lasgush Poradeci, a poet who followed the trails of Baudelaire and was indifferent toward the war wrote a letter to the king Zog, about Jokl. This letter was written in the form of an article, but the censorship didn’t allow its edition, because it considered the book of Fuhrer “Mein Kampf” as a source of evil.
It should be mentioned that some Albanian collaborationists, such as the former King A. Zog, Musa Juka, Mustafa Merlika and others had personal relations with Jews, sometimes through marriage.


Some articles of a cognitive character about the problems of the Jewish community in Albania were published during the royal period. There are some articles about demands of Jews in Durres who wanted Sabbath to be a day of rest, the Jews of Vlora asking for support for the restoration of a synagogue damaged by bombings, and to have the right of circumcision. There is no indication of any anti - semitic danger in the press of that period, although the doctrine of the “final solution” was declared in 1932. the articles of that time say that in Albania there is a Jewish community of no more than 200 persons. This community aimed to have its own representatives in the government. This is the case of the jew Matathia (Matthia, fr. Matheu). He was elected a member of the Vlorë Municipal Council.
The independent press, although critical toward the kingdom, emphasizes with kindness that former King Zog and Queen Geraldine had jewish courtiers, such as dr. Weitzman (official photographer) and dr. Ourinovskij (family doctor).
The independent press published some warning articles about the coming war, the racial character of this war, the general danger of the jews and the duty of honor of the Albanian people and government to save the Jews. The article says that the Jews turned their eyes to Albania, that this country is becoming a “second Palestine”, that the international press speaks about the Albanian “Palestinisation” etc. of great importance are those articles, not few in number, that were refused by the magazines and newspapers of that time because of criticism towards the hitlerian doctrine. They prove that there have been many initiatives to invite the public to contribute to this problem.
During the royal period, the problem of the accommodation of the Jews in Albania was an international one, that’s why the foreign press took an active part in treating this issue and Albanian thinkers expressed most of their ideas before the international opinion. In 10 July 1935, the daily “Moment”, a tribune of the Jewish community of Poland issued the article: “The Jews are invited to be settled to Albania. The article say that the Albanian government has made this decision at a special meeting and it appeals to the Jews of Czech and Germany to see this country as their salvation. The newspaper cites the decision of the council of ministers, according to which, “the government of the Albanian monarchy is ready to accept the accommodation of Jews in this country and to offer them possible living conditions. The Albanian consul in London gave such news to the international press. In his comments for the “Jewish Telegraphic Agency” dhe and the “Jewish Cronicle”, he is presented with the attribute of the “government spokesman”. The public declarations of the Albanian consul that were issued even in other tribunes of the jewish community reassure that Albania is an authoritative country that offers success even for the Jews wealth. The London newspapaer “Jewish Daily Post” of 14 July 1935 announces that the diplomatic service of Albania “since one month has announced the decision of Tirana to accommodate the Jewsh in the country”. One of the journalists of that daily newspaper, as written at the press of that time undertook the mediation of the albanian ambassador with the representatives of the jewish international organisations. In that time, the chief of the commissariat for the refugees at the Nations League, James MacDonald interviewed by the american press, was doubtful whether Albania was interested in the Jews or in their capital. He also queries the possibilites of their salvation in the little space of the little balkan monarchy. Tirana didn’t stay neutral in this issue. The Albanian minister of economy replied to the commisat James MacDonald: “to clear some views that are suggested by your interview and to reassure that i am ready to give you all the necessary information”. The albanian consul to Vienna had an intense diplomatic and public communication in the press about the stance of Albanian government (november 1935 and on). It seems that after all, London has been the chief town where the albanian stances were published. In the “Jewish Daily Post” newspaper (july 1935) is published an article of an Albanian minister, where it is precised once more that “the jews could enter Albania to invest their capitals in industry and agriculture” and that “the government wold offer them facilities and would not let them come, earn money and go”. The same newspaper wrote about the way the accommodation of the Jews in Albania was treated by the bulgarian press (1935). In the soviet newspaper “Pravda” in 1935 is announced that the will of the Albanian government to accept the Jews is refused by Italy, which sent her minister of economy and asked to Tirana: 1)To give to Italy the farming land of Myzeqe by concession for 20 years (this region was proposed by the former American ambassador to Tirana, Hermann Bernstein. 2) to give to italy by concession 3 other farming regions that should be populated by italian farmers for 90 years”. A Bulgarian newspaper writes that “the italian mediation is blowing the tentatives of the albanian monarchy for the accommodation of the Jews.
It should be mentioned that, at the time, the editor of british daily “Times” and some journalists of the “Jews Chronicle” visited Albania . The echo of their articles was presented with willingness even by Tirana’s press.
During the royal period, some research studies by Jews who used to work and live in Albania were published. These include Professor Stanislav Zuper, founder of Albanian geology who discovered the Baku oil pond. He was one of the former advisor of Lenin during the first years after the revolution, together with J. Keynes. These studies highlight the geological natural sources of Albania from oil to water, from energy resources to rare minerals.


About 10 articles, except short ones of an informing character were published. It should be mentioned that most of the articles were published in the “Fletorja Zyrtare” (Official Gazette), that was the publication for documents coming from state institutions: the parliament, state council and the prime minister. This has an explanation. During the royal period, Tirana was continuously under the pressure of fascist Rome to approve anti-Semitic acts. This issue was discussed even in the National assembly. The discussions are published in the “Fletorja Zyrtare” together with the final acts. However, Tirana never approved anti-Semitic laws, decrees, rules or acts of a racial character. As may be seen in the articles mentioned above, Albanian authorities reached the climax of accordance with fascist Rome with a directive sent to the council offices. Based on this directive, these offices should allow “Hebrew tourists” to enter Albania with a visa after they had satisfied some conditions such as the declaration of 50 then 100, 250 and then 500 francs, as an available account and the return to the original country. The press says that some Jews who asked for political or professional asylum in Albania gained Albanian citizenship. The newspaper informs also about the liberal politics that the Albanian state should adopt in relation to this. The acts and discussions published in this newspaper, in the worst occasion, inform us about some pressure to slow down and control the fleeing of Jews to Albania , but even in this case to please the “great ally”.


During the war, Albania had a pro-fascist press and an anti-fascist one. It is important that the anti-fascist press had no programmed article about the stance toward Jews, referring to the press in the terminological sense. This issue is mentioned in leaflets, especially those of the local communists’ leaflets. A leaflet of the regional committee of Berat, a city that sheltered about 600 Jews from Kosovo, appealed to people to hide and protect them and the Jews to unite with the anti-fascist movement as the only solution for their salvation. There is no evidence about the public stance, not even in leaflets, by the nationalist organizations such as Balli Kombetar (National Front) or Legaliteti (Legality Movement). It is significant to note that the former exiled king Zog, who was temporarily staying in Britain , pledged during an interview to London Radio to shelter about 25,000 Jewish families to Albania. This declaration was an encouragement even for his relatives and supporters who were organized in the country to act properly.
The official press, especially during the Nazi period, was silent about this subject although time after time it warned that Nazi ideology treated Bolsheviks, Jews, bandits, communists and political opponents as enemies. In fact, this warning should should be seen in the positive sense. It warned Jews to find a secure place to hide, because authorities, as stated in the negotiations Ribentrop – Muller, in October 1943, did not accept to deliver the Jews lists, but they could do nothing to hide them without the help of the people. And that is what happened.
Part of this issue is even the space that the good treatment of the Jews occupied in the foreign press during the royal period and the antifascist war in Albania. The interest of the great and little european and balkan newspapers arose after the declaration of the hitlerian doctrine for the final extinction. In the national archives there is a french article and a letter of the Jew Nathan J. Allalouf, who was a reporter for the foreign press in Thessaloniki. He wrote a letter to the press directorate in Tirana, to demand the opening of the Albanian consulate in Tel Aviv (pg 152; year 1934, D 895, fl.7-8). The same directorate, that was headed by the writer Mihal Sherko, gave (agrement) with no difficulty to Adolf Karcel, a jewish-polish journalist, who visited Albania (but the article in the press of that time is not preserved together with his correspondence. (pg 379; year. 1935; D. 74; fl 1-2). The same authority gave the jewish-german Wilhelm Weitzmann the permission to reside in Albania. He came as a reporter and then became a photographer of the court (F. 380; V. 1939; D. 45; fl. 15-16). There are a series of sources that can be labelled as press rather than as archives, they are official printings, supplements of the “Official Gazette”, that contain official acts used in wide range, such as circulars, manuals, the normative acts of the official attitude towards the Jews etc. in such a form it is preserved the circular with data about the white russian Matrasov, that informs about the situation of the Jews in Albania (pg. 163; year. 1938; D. 158; fl. 1); the circular of the Ministry of domestic affairs for not giving permanent residence to the foreign Jews that had come to Albania (pg. 152; year 1938; D. 1013; fl. 1); the circular of the Ministry of domestic affairs (printing) sent to the prefectures for the application of the laws of the government that the jews should possess 500 Francs, (pg. 177; year 1939; D. 772; fl. 1-2); the circular of the government for the consular rules about giving the Jews the permission to come in Albania (printing) (F. 223/1; V. 1939; D. 49; fl. 1-2) and other similar acts.

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