‘Baptism’ in New York/
By Rafaela Prifti/
The screening of the documentary ‘Baptism’ at the Center for Jewish History in New York brought in visitors of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds with an appreciation for history as well as film. Several community and religious leaders were present at the premiere. Vatra was well-represented by Vice Chairman Agim Rexhaj, Treasurer Marjan Cubi etc. The RTK (Radio Television of Kosova) production came to the big screen on May 15. The event was timed well with an historic date for Israel, i.e. May 14 marks the establishment of the state of Israel. According to the US Department of State archives, US. President Harry S. Truman recognized the new nation on the same day. Office of the Historian, US Department of State, 1945-1952) It is note-worthy that Kosova is not recognized by Israel. Yet the cultural and educational ties promoted in joint events that celebrate the human virtues are certainly a step ahead of politics.
While Albania has established its status as the safe haven for the Jews during the Second World War, the survival stories from Kosova are coming to light thanks to such a production by the Public Service Broadcaster, RTK. Representatives of the production team, Mentor Shala and Ridvan Berisha addressed the New York audience promising more future projects with an international impact. The documentary is filmed, produced and directed by Mumin Jashari. Through personal narrative, interviews in Kosova and Jerusalem and some reenacted scenes, the story of survival at the outbreak of World War II is emotional as well as hope inducing. In his interview with Dielli, the Executive Director of the American Sephardi Federation, Jason Guberman said: “Beyond this one case, the documentary speaks to the power of principled, determined individuals to overcome even the most all-encompassing evil. With more than 70 Albanians recognized by Yad VaShem as “Righteous among the Nations” and many more, who may never be identified, but undoubtedly deserving of that title, this legacy of Besa is one that we must honor and share as a model for future generations.” Echoing that sentiment, the Counsel General of the Republic of Kosova in New York, Teuta Sahatqija, spoke of the importance of the message that such survival stories bring to us today. On that note, Mr. Guberman noted that “In marked contrast to the Nazis, Nazi collaborators and indifferent masses, Albanians were rescuers and protectors of their Jewish neighbors and refugees during the Shoah.” (Shoah –destruction- is a respectful Hebrew word chosen by the victims which refers to the character of what happened to them) As Serbia fell under the Nazis, Shaul’s family crossed the border to Skopje, which was soon annexed by Bulgaria. Once again his caretaker passed the border crossing with Macedonia into South East Kosova. There they found shelter and safety in the village of Letnice, which is also known as a pilgrimage site.
Speaking of the partnership with the Center for Jewish History, Jason Guberman stated: “The American Sephardi Federation was honored to partner with the Republic of Kosovo’s Consulate in New York to host the NY premiere screening of the documentary describing how Albanians saved a young Sephardic boy from Belgrade by sheltering him in Kosova for the duration of the war. The Albanian village of Letnica was a rare refuge for Shaul amidst the horrors of the Holocaust, which consumed his family.” When it comes to persecution based on ethnicity, religion and social identity, Kosova’s Albanians have had first-hand experience. Rabbi Bob Kaplan of the Center for Jewish History placed emphasis on “telling these important stories of being accountable and rising up against evil as we move forward.” Shaul Gatenjo is one of the Jews that escaped the Nazi extermination that claimed the lives of his family members. After the war, Saul was reunited with his grandmother’s sister and traveled to Israel in 1948. In 2018, seventy years later, the touching story is narrated by Shaul and documented justly by Mumin Jashari’s camera in the RTK production “The Baptism”. The reception was overwhelmingly positive and eager for more.
Editor’s Note: Yad VaShem – Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.