By Ermira Babamusta, Ph.D./
The Albanian people stood up against the extermination of Jews by the Nazis and rescued every single one of the Jews that lived in Albania and Kosovo or sought refuge there. Albania experienced similar oppression and witnessed a long decade of brutal oppression, expulsion, persecution and extermination of Kosovar Albanians by the Yugoslav regime. Today the Albanian struggle for self-determination continues, as Kosovo seeks from the world the recognition of its independence.
New York – On December 8, 2013 The Albanian American Foundation and the Albanian American Civic League (AACL) hosted “A Celebration and discussion of the unique role that Albanians played in saving Jews during the holocaust and how it applies to genocide prevention in our time” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. The event was organized by the honorable Joe J. DioGuardi, former member of the U.S. Congress and founding President of the AACL, Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, Balkan Affairs Adviser of AACL and Ronald and Karen Rettner.
The significance of this event is that it recognized a nation and people that led by example in the rescue of every single Jew in its borders during Holocaust, setting itself apart from the world – the Albanians of Albania and Kosovo. “There is one country in Europe where at the end of WWII there were more Jewish people than at the beginning of WWII, and that was Albania,” said the honorable Charles Schumer, New York senior Senator. “First, I want to thank the Albanian community for showing such faith in New York. You are the future, this is a hard working community, an industrious community, a community that comes to America, like so many in the past, with very little, and builds, creates and grows. The second thing I want to thank you is this. What a durable community the Albanian community has been in Europe. Set in the midst of the Balkans with so many different people trying to wipe out the community, to exterminate the community, to push it away. And you survived. The Albanian community is one of the oldest communities in Europe. What is so beautiful and why I am so honored to speak here tonight is this, because you know what is was like to be oppressed, you understood what it was like to help others that would be oppressed. And that is what this community did during WWII. Despite the ravages of WWII, despite the dangers that were faced you provided a refuge for the Jewish people. Thank you for what you have done. We share many things the Albanian and the Jewish people: the understanding about hard work, a devotion to family and community, and the love of America and New York. And we will not forget just as you helped us in our time of need, we are here to help you in your time of need. And the two communities will stand shoulder to shoulder together,” senator Schumer added.
The dinner included keynote speeches from Agim Alickaj, who played a key role in the saving of Jews during the Holocaust in Decan, Kosovo, H.E. Herit Hoxha, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Albania to UN, Felicita Jakoel, an Albanian Jew, whose late father survived the Holocaust, Kimberly Mann, manager of the Holocaust and the UN Outreach Programme, Dr. Colette Mazucelli, NYU professor, the honorable Jerrold Nadler, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Leka Rezniqi of the Kosova-Israeli Friendship Association, the honorable Dana Rohrabacher, the honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the honorable Charles Schumer, Dr. Robert Skloot, Robert Sugarman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, with special guest Rabbi Leonard Guttman and honoree the honorable Benjamin Gilman, a strong advocate of Kosovo’s independence and education of Albanians in Tetova, Macedonia.
“While many countries under Nazi occupation helped deport fellow Jewish countryman, Albania was one of a handful of places in Europe that sheltered and protected their Jewish neighbors, saving them from almost certain death,” said the honorable Ilena Ros-Lehtinen. “I commend the great courage of the Albanian people who risked their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, to help not only their countrymen but Jews from all across Europe survive the Holocaust in Albania and Kosovo.”
Ronald Rettner, president of Rettner Management Corporation thanked the Albanians for setting an example of tolerance and understanding. “The Albanian rescue of Jews is a message to the world to stand up for justice. Albania should be honored for national heroism and individual courage,” said Mr. Ronald Rettner. “I am hopeful that the Albanian message resonates with the world today and suppresses the needless hatred resulting in genocide.” (Read full newspaper printed)