By Viktor M. Daragjati/
On August 31, 1943, concerned that the collapse of Italy left Albanians weak and divided opening the doorto a German invasion and considering the fact that Allied forces were liberating Southern Italy, Kol Bib Mirakaj issued a decree that all Jews who requested it, be given a passport so that they could escapel to (Bari) Italy then vacated by the Germans.
This decree did not represent a change in policy. On the contrary it was meant to lend more urgency to the ongoing practice of providing documentation to Jewish refugees who needed it. Allprecedingautonomous Albanian Governments, in fact, had provided asylum to the Jewswho had escaped German persecutionby seeking refuge in Albania. This policydated back to 1939, when Albania was still independently ruled by King Zog. Kol Biba’s effort was part of an ongoing policy based on humanitarian solidarity and was meant to overcome, in real time, procedural and bureaucratic difficulties.
Former Congressman Joe DioGuardi and the late Senator Lantos, based on the selective and biaseddocumentation provided to them in 1990 by Ramiz Alia, then Prime Minister of Albania, had inadvertently painted a distorted picture in which the Albanian Communists could be seen as “having saved the Jews from the Fascists”.It must be said that, none the less, DioGuardi and Lantos did manage to earn creditfor Albania as the only country in Europe where no Jew suffered persecution. This unique acknowledgment was earned, in part, due to Kol Biba’s efforts.
Given that the records of the Albanian National Archives are yet to be opened, we had to wait until September 10, 2012 to obtain the information that allows us to formally reject the false claims of the communist propaganda. We are grateful to the then General Director of the National Archive, Dr. Nevila Nika, for allowing the limited search that produced the documentation that is being partially presented today. The documents clearly show the intense and urgent effort that Kol Bib Mirakaj was exercising and promoting on behalf of the Jews who lived in Albania or sought refugethere. The documentation also and sheds light on the broad based supporting role of local administration officials.
It is for the sake of historical transparency and to rectify the false image created by the Albanian communist propaganda, which is still unfortunately ingrained in many Albanians,even after decades of relentless oppression,that we seek to bring the truth to light. In doing so we not only pay homage to Kol Biba’s image but we also pay tribute to the entire Albanian nation and to the Jewish nation for having struggled to preserve honor and life and for not allowing the Nazioppressors to add to the atrociouscrimes committed against innocent people during the Second World War.
In the summer of 1943,Kol Bibaintensified the Albanian Government efforts on behalf of the Jews using his full authorityas Minister of Interior Affairswhichat the time included ethnic regions outside of today’s Albanian borders, including Kosova and Ethnic and areas of Montenegro and Macedonia, also known as “Greater Albania”.
Documentsuncovered inthe Albanian National Archives give evidence of correspondence between Jews and Albanian authorities in which much support is shown. For example, in a cable dated March 4, 1943 the Prefect of Kavaja requests that the gravely ill Israelite Heskija Al Benari be allowed to go to Tirana to receive surgical treatment.
In addition to discharging his official duties, Kol Biba acted directly on a personal level. Never restrained by considerations for personal safety or interests, he stronglyinterceded with Italian military authorities to free Leon Thuri (Tur) (לאוןטור), hours before he was to be sentenced for allegedly conspiring to support acts of terrorism. KolBib Mirakaj took Mr. Thuri under his personal responsibility saving his life. Herefused any compensation both in Tirana and, years later, in Rome, Italy where he sought refuge from communism, as a political refugee.Supporting documentation is provided by Faik Quku in his book
Qendresa Shqiptare Gjate Luftes se Dyt Botnore (1941-1944) in which he writes:
“Ne veren e vitit 1943, Leon Thuri shkoi ne zyren e Kol Bibe Mirakajt , minister I Puneve te Mbrenshme, dhe i ofroi nji shum napoleonash per perkrahjen qe u bante cifutve, por keto pare ai nuk I pranoi dhe e percolli me nji sjellje bujare”.
A careful reading of the correspondence that followed the decree of August 31 will show that the term“Albanians Jews”notwithstanding,the issuance of passports was extended toJews of foreign extraction, who,according to administrative reports,did not have sufficient documentation.
A broader search of the National Archives and of the Passport office will reveal additional nameswill and provide more evidence of the Jews and the Albanian administrators who were involved in this life saving effort. In the past few days President Nishani urged again that National Archives be opened to allow the full truth to emerge.
Kol Bib Mirakaj’saccelerated passport release effort was aimed at potentially saving as many as 2000 (two thousand) Jews who resided in Albania at that time.