Historical Background

Following the Wannsee Conference, which was convened in January 1942 to coordinate the "Final Solution", a protocol was produced with a table of the numbers of Jews that were to be murdered in each country. The number given for Albania – the small country in the Balkans, whose population is mostly Muslim – was 200. However in reality the number of Jews was higher – around one thousand Jews had fled to Albania, hoping to be able to emigrate from there. In April 1939 Albania was occupied by Italy. Although the Jews were forbidden to leave the country and some of the refugees were put in a camp in Kavaje, the Italians refused to comply with Germany's demand to hand the Jews over. In September 1943, when the regime in Italy changed, Albania came under German control. In the beginning of 1944 the Germans ordered the Jews to register, but Albanians, including government officials, helped the Jews to flee from Tirana. They found refuge with Albanian families and with partisans. We know only of two cases where Jews were captured and deported. Mrs. Bachar and her children were deported to Bergen Belsen, but survived. Yitzhak Arditi was deported with his wife and four children – only the father survived. All the other Jews survived the war. The assistance afforded to the Jews may have been grounded in an Albanian code of honor – “Besa”. Besa literally means “to keep the promise”; its significance was that once a family was hosted by Albanians, they could trust them with their lives.