December 27, 2018

INFOBAE – The Raoul Wallenberg Foundation will proclaim Albania as “House of Life”

The ceremony will be held in the capital Tirana with the presence of the Albanian president, Mr. Ilir Meta
December 25, 2018

In an unprecedented resolution, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has decided to proclaim the Republic of Albania as the “House of Life.”  This European country was the only one that after being occupied by the Nazis, ended the Second World War with a larger number of Jews than before war.

The Albanian Jewish community had around 200 people when the Second World War began, but in an orchestrated effort that implied a great risk  to the local population, not only the Albanian Jews were saved, but also thousands of refugees from Germany, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Italy that managed to flee to the Albanian territory.

Unlike what happened in other countries that were occupied by the Nazi regime, in Albania there are no known cases of denunciation. All the Jewish refugees were collectively protected, as it was also the case with the Italian soldiers who took refuge in that Southeast European nation.

The population of Albania is mostly Muslim, more precisely from the Sunni branch known as “bektashi”, and the Albanian people are governed by the cultural principle dating from the fifteenth century called BESA, which literally means “commitment of honor.”

During the Holocaust, the BESA concept was manifested through helping those who were in misfortune, offering them hospitality even at the expense of the security of the hosts and their families. This effort was supported by King Zog, Queen Consort Géraldine Margit Virginia Olga Mária Apponyi de Nagy-Appony, and the Albanian government itself.

Among the thousands of rescue stories, that of Isuf and Niqi Panariti, parents of the current Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Albania, Edmond Panariti, stands out.

When the deportation of the Jews from Thessalonica began in March 1943, Mari and Eli Kuonne managed to flee Greece along with their daughter Frida. Their other daughter, Medi, was the wife of a hotel owner. A non-Jew himself and using his connections, the latter managed to help his in-laws flee Thessaloniki. This rescue operation was coordinated with Isuf Panariti, an Albanian businessman who was in the Greek city on business and agreed to smuggle the Kuonnes across the border and lodged them in his own residence in Korca.

When the Nazis occupied Albania in the autumn of 1943, the Kuonne were hiding in Panariti’s house. Eli Kuonne joined the partisans and his wife and daughter moved to a distant village where they were sheltere by the family of Niqi Panariti.

After the liberation of Albania from the Nazis, in October 1944, Eli was reunited with his family, and they returned to Thessaloniki. There they found devastation. The Jewish quarter had been destroyed and most of the members of his family had been killed by the Nazis.

In 2015, Isuf and Niqi Panariti were posthumously declared Righteous among the Nations and the honorary medal and diploma were handed over to their son, Edmond. On September 26, coinciding with the meeting of Heads of State at the UN General Assembly in New York, the president of the Republic of Albania, Ilir Meta, received a delegation from the Wallenberg Foundation, chaired by its founder, Baruch Tenembaum, and his vice president, Albert Levy, to thank the NGO’s decision to recognize Albania as “House of Life.”