Mandil's letter to Yad Vashem, June 1987
After many years of hesitation and delay due to my lack of knowledge about what needed to be done and how I was to deal with the matter – it is only now that I am taking upon myself to write to you and tell you an important story of the Holocaust time. I am doing it for two reasons:
A. because I want to inform you about a story of the Second World War that is not so well known in Israel in order for it to be registered, documented and kept in your archives.
B. Because I want to nominate a man for the title of Righteous Among the Nations, who during the Holocaust saved my family and other Jewish families. He lives in Albania and we have kept in touch until these very days.
I was born in Belgrade Yugoslavia in 1936. When the Germans invaded, I was four and a half years old. My father refused to register his family with the Germans as the law required and as many other Jews did, and with the help of Serb friends we escaped with forged papers to southern Yugoslavia, to the area under Italian rule. Shortly afterwards Jews were being arrested and put in the town jail of Pristina, that in part became a concentration camp for Jews. My father, mother, my young sister (two and half a years my junior) and I were one of some one hundred Jewish families that were incarcerated in that camp. During the time we stayed there – for almost a year – groups of Jewish families were taken to be killed, allegedly to alleviate the crowded conditions. In June 1942 at the initiative and under the leadership of my father and with the help of the Italians in charge of the camp, but without the knowledge of the Germans and contrary to their instructions, a group of 120 Jews was exiled to Albania, which was also under Italian occupation… In Albania the Jewish families from Yugoslavia were dispersed in different towns. There was an obligation to present oneself every day to the authorities, but there was relative freedom of movement within the town – what was called 'confino libro' by the Italians. Thus we lived in relative comfort until Italy's surrender in the middle of the Second World War in autumn 1943.
Then the Germans came to Albania the Jews had to escape to the mountains, to the forests and remote Albanian villages. In those difficult times the Albanian people revealed themselves in their full glory and greatness. There was not one Jewish family that failed to find shelter within the Albanian local population, whether with poor villagers or with owners of estates and manor houses. No Jew remained without the protection of an Albanian. In many cases, like our own, the hiding of Jews involved the danger of death and required colossal self-sacrifice! Our family of four and another Jewish family of three was saved thanks to the shelter we found at the home of the Veseli family in a small village called Kruja in Albania. Like us all the Jewish refugee families from Yugoslavia who were in Albania in those years were saved. Most of Albania's survivors emigrated to Israel and live here today.
The Albanians are simple people, but very kindhearted, warm and humane. They may not have been educated on the heritage of Goethe and Schiller, but they attached the greatest importance to human life, in a most natural and unquestioning way. In those dark days, when Jewish life in Europe didn't count much, the Albanians protected the Jews with love, dedication and sacrifice….