May 7, 2015

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation paid tribute to the Albanian rescuers

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) bestowed the Raoul Wallenberg Medal upon the President of Albania, H.E. Bujar Nishani, on behalf of his brave compatriots who reached-out to the victims of the Holocaust.  The medal award was followed by the screening of the compelling documentary “Besa, the promise” that tells the story of the Albanian rescuers.

The event took place at the JJC Manhattan on May 5th 2015. After a short reception, Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director of the JCC warmly welcomed the Albanian president and his staff as well the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, the Eye Contact Foundation and the numerous audience. She thanked the foundation for the opportunity given to the JCC Manhattan to host such a special event.

During the award  ceremony H.E. President of Albania Bujar Nishani was awarded the Raoul Wallenberg medal as representative of his compatriots, the people of Albania who following their moral value of ‘besa’ hosted Jews during the Shoah welcoming them into their families.

In representation of the IRWF, Dr. Mordecai Paldiel delivered a speech about the work of the Wallenberg Foundation and spoke about the significance of the Muslim Albanian rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. Following his address, Dr. Paldiel and Mr. Zvi Kichel handed over the medal to President Nishani on behalf of the IRWF.

President Nishani made a few remarks explaining the culture and values of his people and the friendly relationship he has with the small Jewish community in Tirana. “… our common scope and aim is to build a better reality and world for ourselves, our children, future generations because this represents our primary responsibility, especially that of the heads of state, governments and of leaders of various political and social organizations.”

He acknowledged with appreciation the ‘unalienable’ mission of the IRWF and concluded by saying “I am accepting this appreciation which is bestowed upon me on behalf of the entire Albanian people, on behalf of all those Righteous Albanian among the Nations as a merit and recognition of their noble spirit defending the human values and life, which is the most precious thing in the world, regardless wherever it belongs to a Jew, to a Muslim or to a Christian.”

Following the award ceremony  ‘Besa, the promise’  film featured the journey of Norman Gershman, founder of the Eye Contact Foundation and renowned Jewish photographer who travelled to Albania willing to document  the Albanian Muslims who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The film took seven years in the making and focuses on the experience of Muslim- Albanian Rexhep Hoxha who promised his father to return a set of Hebrew prayer books that the family he saved left behind.

Albania had about 200 Jews at the beginning of the war. It subsequently became a safe haven for several hundred Jewish refugees from other countries. Jews in Albania remained protected by the local Muslim population. This protection continued during the occupation of Albania by Nazi forces, after the capitulation of Italy on September 8, 1943. At the end of the war Albania had a population of 2,000 Jews. Thus, Albanian families honored the value of Besa, the promise to protect and shelter any person in need.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) is a global-reach NGO with a mission to preserve and spread around the courageous legacy of Raoul Wallenberg and his likes, namely, women and men who reached-out to the victims of persecution, regarding of religion, ethnicity or nationality.

More than 300 heads of state (former and incumbent), Nobel Prize laureates and distinguished personalities from all creeds and walks of life are members of the IRWF. One of the first to join the IRWF was the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergolio, better known nowadays as Pope Francis.

The IRWF focuses on research and education, striving to find hitherto unknown rescuers and instilling their feats of solidarity in the hearts and minds of the young generations.

Mr. Eduardo Eurnekian, Chairman of the IRWF, underscored the role played by the brave Albanian rescuers and congratulated President Nishani and the Albanian people for this well-merited recognition.