30 April 2015
Today, Albanian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Edmond Panariti visited Yad Vashem. His visit was especially meaningful to him because his relatives were honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Yad Vashem posthumously honored Isuf and Niqi Panariti from Albania, as Righteous Among the Nations in October 2014. Edmond Panariti, along with his relative, Dr. Agron Panariti, son of the Righteous, toured the Holocaust History Museum, participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, and visited the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations where their family members names are inscribed on the wall. Panariti was very grateful and expressed how proud he is of his family and their "small contribution" to humanity. It was very exciting for the Panaritis to see their family members names inscribed on the wall of honor. He said that he was also very impressed by his visit here at Yad Vashem and hopes to help continue to spread the importance of remembering the past and the Holocaust.
When the deportations of Jews from Thessaloniki began in March 1943, Mari and Eli Kuonne managed to escape with their daughter Frida, born 1931. Their other daughter, Medi, was married to a non-Jewish hotel owner, who used his connections to arrange for his in-laws to leave the city. (His wife stayed behind and was under the protection of her husband, a non-Jew). He contacted an Albanian businessman, Isuf Panariti, who was in Thessaloniki on business, and who smuggled the family of three over the border and then hosted them in his home in Korca. When the Germans occupied Albania in September 1943, the Kuonnes first hid at the home of Panariti, and then Eli Kuonne joined the partisans, and his wife and daughter moved to a remote village where they stayed with Niqi Panariti’s family.
When Albania was liberated in October 1944, Eli Kuonne returned from the partisans and the family returned to Thessaloniki. The Jewish quarter had been completely destroyed and their families had been murdered. The Kuonnes rebuilt their lives in Thessalonki, and in 1954 Frida married Jewish businessman Isaac Matalon. Throughout the years Frida maintained a correspondence with the Panaritis, but meetings were impossible because of the isolationist policy of the communist dictatorship. Despite all requests to meet, in 1980, after Isuf Panariti passed away, Isaac Matalon petitioned the Albanian Foreign Ministry, asking that his wife be permitted to visit Isuf’s widow, Niqi Panariti “who had saved her during World War II”. The request was turned down, and Niqi, who passed away in 1992, and Frida never met again.
A ceremony honoring the Panaratis will take place in Tirana, Albania in July 2015. The Panaritis are one among 75 Righteous honored as Righteous Among the Nations from Albania.