September 5, 2018

Isuf and Niqi Panariti – Albanian rescuers

The story of a brave Albanian couple – Isuf and Niqi Panariti

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Albania is a singular country. Before the outbreak of WWII, it had a native Jewish population of around 200. By the end of the war, some 2,000 Jews were living in Albania, including hundreds of refugees from neighboring countries, such as Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia, who managed to survive the Nazi persecution thanks to the Albanian spirit of solidarity and hospitality.
No other country under German occupation ended-up with more Jews than it had before the Holocaust. In the beginning of 1944, the Jews in Tirana received the order to register with the Gestapo. Albanians helped them by providing them with false identity documents and hid them in small villages.
Here is one of the many stories of the Albanian Rescuers.
March 1943 marked the beginning of the deportation of the Jews from Thessaloniki.
Mari and Eli Kuonne managed to flee from Greece, together with their daughter Frida. Their other daughter, Medi, was the wife of a well-connected non-Jewish hotel owner, who used his contacts to arrange for his in-laws to extricate themselves from Thessaloniki. He got in touch with Isuf Panariti, an Albanian businessman who was in the city on business and agreed to smuggle the Kuonnes over the border sheltered them in his own residence in Korca.
When the Nazis took over Albania, in the autumn of 1943, the Kuonnes were in hiding at Panariti’s home. Eli Kuonne joined the partisans and his wife and daughter moved to a faraway village where they were hosted by Niqi Panariti’s family.
In the wake of Albania’s liberation from the Nazis, in October 1944, Eli returned from the Partisans and the Kuonne family returned to Thessaloniki.
They found devastation. The Jewish quarter was destroyed and most of their family members were murdered by the Nazis.
In 1954, Frida married a Jewish businessman, Isaac Matalon.
For many years, Frida kept corresponding with the Pannaritis, but any personal encounter was banned due to the restrictions imposed by the Communist regime in Albania.
In 2015, Isuf and Niqi Panariti were posthumously declared Righteous among the Nations. The award was handed over to their son, Mr. Edmond Panariti, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania and incumbent Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
In a joint statement made by Eduardo Eurnekian and Baruch Tenembaum, Chairman and Founder of the Wallenberg Foundation declared: “Due to Albania’s singular collective heroism, the IRWF has resolved to proclaim Albania as a House of Life. The ceremony of proclamation will take place in Tirana, on January 27, 2019, coinciding with the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance”.
 Isuf y Niqi Panariti