(“A friend in need, is a friend, indeed!” American proverb)/
By Sami Repishti/
(Note: After the devolution of the Soviet Empire, and the fall of the Communist regime in Albania(1990-1991),the secretive activities of the ruling Communist class began to appear, mainly in the daily press and TV programs. We find Memoirs, as well as books researched by Albanian and non-Albanian scholars. The horrific system of the criminal Sigurimi i Shtetit (the political secret Communist police) came out to light especially by the narratives offered to the general public by the victims of the tyranny: tens of thousands of them- arrested, tortured, jailed or interned in the dozens of internal concentration camps, oftentimes for full; 45 years.
An atmosphere of “catharsis” brought a sigh of relief for the victims, their families, and a society kept in darkness for decades by the cruelest political regime of all Europe. Only Cambodia and North Korea could compete with Albania in the field of inhumanity and the utterly criminal treatment of its citizens.
So secretive was the Albanian Communist Government that even acts of bravery and high morality by the local Albanians were kept secret. The subject of this article is to reveal one of those acts., and to bring to the attention of the world public at large a small event of major consequence, which grew in importance especially after the horrific experience of W.W.II Crimes in general and the phenomenon of Holocaust, (better known as Shoah) in particular stunned the world. There, we all saw how low humanity had stooped, and how far man’s cruelty towards man had gone.
Lately, a surge in investigating the biography of Albert Einstein, the world known German scientist of Jewish origin and his Albanian episode has been noted in Albania., too. Among others, there was a detailed article by the journalist Bardhyl Berberi, published in the Albanian newspaper SHEKULLI of January 18,2009 (pp.18,19) and titled: “The physician from Pogradec Who Secured an Albanian Passport for Albert Einstein”.
We thought that an English version of this article written in Albanian could help the reader have a better understanding of a moment, in 1931, of Einstein’s life, the risks he encountered, and the opportunities offered to him.
The central figure here is the late Dr. Jani Basho, the young physician graduate of the University of Vienna (Austria) Medical School, who upon his return to Albania was appointed physician of the Albanian Royal Court. It is in this capacity that he had the chance to do “a good deed” as a righteous person, for an individual who had reached world fame, and had distinguished himself in the forefront of scientific research, Dr.Albert Einstein.
Dr. Basho met Dr. Einstein through an Albanian friend in Vienna, the well-known actor and artist Alexander Moisiu, a longtime friend of Dr. Einstein.
Recently, this episode in the life of the great Dr. Einstein was also reported by the Wikipedia with the following text::
“…In 1935, Einstein transited to the United States via Albania. He stayed in Durres for three days as a guest at the Albanian royal mansion. Equipped with an Albanian passport, he continued his journey to the United States. The gesture of the Albanian royalty of King Zog is said to be part of the traditional Albanian besa (honor) according to which many Jews (including Einstein) were saved from Nazi forces prior to and during W.W II
The text :
“The physician from Pogradec who supplied Albert Einstein with an Albanian passport.”
In one of the narrow streets, characteristic of the town of Pogradec, quarters of Burima, a two-story villa is located, immersed between a flower garden and an orchard of apples and a vineyard, on the right side of the old city church. A national flag flies from the building’s upper floor. It’s the house of the Basho family, presently owned by Dr. Jovan Basho, assistant professor, and chief of medical services at the “Mother Teresa University Medical Center“, in Tirana.
As soon as you enter the house, you find yourself facing a portrait of the great German scientist Albert Einstein, placed in the most visible spot of the house. The attraction the photo commands doesn’t surprise the members of the Basho family. They talk of how Albert Einstein was a good friend of their family; adding that, the great scientist thanks to the contacts he had in Vienna with the renown physician Dr. Jani Basho (who upon his return to Albania was assigned to be the personal physician of King Zog I) came to Albania in April 1931. At that time, Einstein felt threatened by Nazi elements because of his Jewish origins. Later,. He was given an Albanian passport, allowed to leave the country, and eventually to travel to the United States.
What are the fact to corroborate the Albanian “citizenship” of Albert Einstein?
In the Old Register of the year 1931, AKO 31, page 31/1,Municipality of Pogradec,we read this Note:
“Today, April 10,1931, came to the Municipality Offices of Pogradec (Albania) Dr. Jani Basho, born in 1892, in the town quarters of Burima, Pogradec, son of Kozma and Anastasia , personal physician of His Majesty the King Zog I, This Municipality, prov ided Albert Einstein with a confirmation document, and a certificate declaring him a citizen of the town of Pogradec, quarters of Burima.
Municipality Official The Guarantor:
Reis Asllani Dr. Jani Basho
Dr. Jani Basho, after finishing his medical studies with excellent results in Vienna, was appointed to be the personal physician of King Zog I. In his personal notes, collected by his nephew, Dr. Jovan Basho,. the late Dr. Basho wrote in detail about this moment.
It was December 16, 1930. After dinner, King Zog I felt great stomach pains. Dr. Basho checked the patient , and advised him to lie down and take a rest in bed. According to Dr Basho the King was suffering from intestinal problems for two years. It was necessary to make a more definite diagnosis. Two days later, King Zog called Dr. Basho, instructing him to prepare for a trip to Rome, where the King would undergo extensive tests. Dr. Basho responded that it was the right of the King to decide, but at the same time, volunteered his professional advise, that it would be better for the King to go to Vienna, instead. The King approved.
On the eve of January 28, (1931) the official Albanian group, supplied with passports containing false names to keep the holders’ anonymity, left the port of Durres on an Italian warship, arriving at Trieste the next day. The personal train of the (Italian) King Vittorio Emanuele was waiting to bring them to Vienna. King Zog settled at the Imperial Hotel.
In Vienna, Dr. Basho met with his professors and some new friends; among them, the renowned Albanian actor and artist Alexander Moisiu. During these meeting, he was presented with a request. A.Moisiu’s friend, Albert Einstein, was in danger, hunted as a Jew by German Nazi elements, and had to leave Vienna. However, it was not possible since his German passport had been taken away A possible solution was suggested: since he was the personal physician of King Zog, he was asked to intervene with the King and obtain an Albanian passport for Einstein.
After a series of thorough medical tests and analysis done to the King Zog by the best Vienna physicians, especially by Professor Hollznech – who took more than 30 x-rays to properly determine the diagnosis- in a moment of relaxation, as the king was having a cup of tea with the doctor in the halls of the Hotel, Dr. Jani Basho addressed King Zog with the request to provide the scientist Albert Einstein with an Albanian passport, since his life (in Vienna) was in danger. The King listened as his personal physician presented the request in full. The response was positive. Added the King :” Tell him (Einstein) to come to Albania. First, you, Dr. Jani who comes from Pogradec make him a resident of your town of Pogradec; later we will supply him with an Albanian passport”.
In his “Memoirs” Dr. Jani explains that when he made the request, the King was in good mood. That evening, they both went to the Vienna Operahaus to see the performance of Verdi’s. When they left through a side exit, two cars were waiting for them. The first car was for the King, his personal bodyguard, and Mr. Ekrem Libohova.
“As soon as we entered the car” remembers Dr. Jani Basho, “we heard gun shots coming from both right and left. Llesh (Topallaj, the bodyguard) fell to the ground. Ekrem Libohova was wounded in the leg. The King fell into his knees, pulled out his gun from his belt. positioned himself and began to shoot in the direction of the assailants”.
Dr. Jani Basho described how he went to the King right away asking him whether he was hurt. The King responded that he was fine, but instructed the doctor to look after the others.” I went to see Topallaj (the bodyguard) and realized that he was dead, hit by a bullet that cut the cardiac artery in the neck. Then I went and tied Mr. Libohova’s leg to stop hemorrhaging, and together we rushed to the hospital”.
“King Zog,” explained Dr. Basho “kept his promise. One day he reminded me of our conversation, and instructed to tell the scientist (Albert Einstein) to come to Albania, and receive an Albanian passport”.
What other proof confirms this story?
First, Prof. Dr. Jovan Basho who did most of the work in collecting “the memoirs” of his uncle Dr,Jani Basho, said this for the newspaper SHEKULLI:
“ Before coming to Albania, June 2002, Queen Geraldine (of Albania) gave an interview to a British journalist of the STYLE magazine. It was titled :“The Return of the Queen”. There, she indicated that Albert Einstein came to Albania and that King Zog had supplied him with an Albanian passport.
Second, the former official of the National Bank of Albania during the Zogu regime (1925-1939), Mr. Ajet Bega has confirmed to Prof.Dr.Albert Koja, former director of the Institute for Nuclear Physics, that he (Bega) had met personally the scientist Albert Einstein at the offices of the National Bank of Albania, early in 1931, when Einstein went there to do some transactions between the National Bank of Albania and the German banks.. The Bank official was unable to help him. At that moment, Albert Einstein pleaded with the clerk (Bega) to introduce him to the president of the Bank, who happened to be an Italian, in order to clarify a misunderstanding.
Mr. Bega explained that he went to the Bank’s president office informing him that Mr. Albert Einstein wanted to see him. Hearing the name Albert Einstein, the president jumped from his chair asking :”How is it possible that Albert Einstein is asking for me?”
“Who is he?” Bega asked.
“He is the greatest scientist in the world,” explained the Bank president.
Einstein cashed a check of a certain amount of money he had received as a gift from King Zog. According to official documentation, Albert Einstein went to the National Bank of Albania on April 9,1931. One day later, April 10,1931, Dr. Jani Basho received the certificate from the Municipality of Pogradec bearing Einstein’s name.. Later , by King’s direct order, an Albanian passport with Albert Einstein’s name was prepared and delivered to him, by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.. Again, according to official data. Albert Einstein’s passport had taken away by German authorities. He had traveled to the United States in December 1931, and again in 1932 with the Albanian passport supplied by King Zog, since he had no other one. Only by the end of 1932, he obtained another passport from the Swiss Government. In the meantime, the Albanian passport served him well for his needs during the 1931 and 1932 years.
“There is no doubt” stresses Prof. Dr. Jovan Basho, “that our people has the right to feel proud of the fact that it has saved thousands of Jewish lives; among them, the life of the great world scientist Albert Einstein“.