Albanian Independence Day : Showing Our Gratitude

I eagerly await the celebration of Albanian Independence Day here in The Bronx. This year, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj will be hosting this event on Sunday, November 30 at Maestro’s starting at 2:00 PM. Details will be forthcoming.

As a Jew I am most appreciative of the Albanian community for all they did not only for Albanian Jews during Holocaust but for Jews who were able to escape from other parts of Europe and flee to Albania. I am also grateful to how the Jews now living in Albania are treated with dignity and with respect. During the days of the Holocaust, which included the invasion and occupation of Albania, not one Albanian Jew was killed, incarcerated or mistreated. Albania was the only nation in Europe to protect and save its entire Jewish population not by hiding them in attics, but by making them part of their families to all who asked. Albania saved over 2000 humans from annihilation. By the end of the war Albania was home to about 2,000 Jews due to the bravery of Albanian citizens in risking their own lives to provide a haven for the fleeing Jews from neighboring countries.

One example of the understanding and commitment to what Albanians believe in is the act of Ali Alia, a general store owner, who was visited by Nazi soldiers transporting Albanian prisoners to hard labor and one Jew to his death. After plying the soldiers with wine and convincing them that he should give food to the prisoners, Alia handed the Jew a melon in which he concealed a message telling him to flee to the woods and wait at a designated location. When the Nazis finally discovered that the Jew was missing, they pinned Alia against a wall. Four times, the Nazis put a gun to his head and threatened him with death. Nevertheless, he continued to deny what he had done. When they finally left, he retrieved the Jew in the woods and hid him for two years.

Albania was the only Nazi-occupied territory to experience an increase in Jewish population during the Holocaust. Besa, which is part of the Kanun, means taking care of those in need and protecting them. Besa means to honor all and treat them as family. Imagine how the world would be if all nations were like that. There is an Albanian saying, “Shqiptaret vdesin dhe besen nuk e shkelin (Albanians would die rather than break honor).” We should all commit ourselves to the Albanian credo of Besa. As was the case last year it thrills me to celebrate with those who stand for equality and are against hate and bigotry. Faleminderit.

I am thrilled to see how our Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj is presently serving and assisting all communities in his Assembly District and beyond. The credo of Besa has been transplanted to the 80th Assembly District and beyond.

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