"METODO“, N. 22/2006

Claire Lavoine
(French correspondent of Neshat Tozaj)
“Ils n’étaient pas frères et pourtant... Albanie 1943-1944” – “Shalom”, original title)

In his work Ils n’étaient pas frères et pourtant... Albanie 1943-1944 (La Société des écrivains, Paris 2004) Neshat Tozaj describes the Jewish community that had been present in Albania for centuries as well as Jews from other countries welcomed during, hidden and protected during the second world war. Shalom, the original title of the work published in Albania has been modified for French readers since we wished to reach them in all their diversity.
The author deals with this period with an approach different to that which one is used to reading, hearing or seeing in most documentaries. The Jewish community is not only depicted as a persecuted community but also as an Albanian community living among other Albanians, united in the same struggle against Nazism and Fascism. A struggle carried on to protect life, human dignity, the property of each person an the cultural heritage. The joint commitment to this fight and friendship taken to the ultimate sacrificed by non-Jewish Albanians to save their brothers and their guests set an example that is almost unique and especially unusual in History.
This book, very largely inspired by actual facts, is an opportunity to pay homage to a little nation often forgotten, which was merely doing its duty in barbarous times.
The publication of this book, apart from the moment of history that it reveals, seems to me to be essential and salutary for many people, starting with the youngest, of all origins, religions or other philosophical allegiances. In fact, in our age in which the problems of racism, anti-Semitism or excessive community loyalty are the order of the day, this work brings a very comforting ray of light. Ils n’étaient pas frères et pourtant... Albanie 1943-1944 is also a message of hope and encouragement.
The book of Neshat Tozaj, intentionally produced in the form of a novel, the man being mainly an author and journalist, is an opportunity to learn about the Albanian resistance and to recognize the particularly warm welcome extended by the Albanian people to the Jewish community in this dramatic period.
I would add that, for a more profound insight into the period described in Neshat Tozaj’s novel, I had access to the remarkable work The Hebrews in Albania During Centuries (Tiranë, 1996, 348 pp.), by Professor Apostol Kotani, a historian and a very young resistance fighter at the time. This work retraces the history of Albanian Jews settled in the country since antiquity and it allows us, above all, to discover that in Albania, the Jewish community was spared during the second world war. During his long years of research, Mr Kotani has gathered the poignant testimony of many Jews of ancient stock or refugees, all of whom express their eternal gratitude to this “little” country that was able to honour its tradition of Besa, the sharing of bread, salt and the heart with anyone who is in distress, a foreigner, a guest of the like, on Albanian soil. Survivors, many of whom emigrated to Israel or the United States after the war, spontaneously collaborated on the work and they all assert in it that no Jews were deported in Albania during Nazi and Fascist occupation.
Nor did Mr Ferit Hoxha, the Albanian Ambassador to France, fail to stress in his speech at the ceremony held on the occasion of the publication in France of Neshat Tozaj’s book that his country was the only state in Europe where the Jewish population had increased at the end of the Second World War.
On the other hand, Mr. Ismaïl Kadare and Mr. Avner Shalev, amid other personalities, often publicly declared that the number of the persons who found refuge in Albania compared with the initial Albanian Jewish population must be multiplied by ten.
Let me state that this information concerns Albania proper as the territory of Kosovo, despite the exemplary attitude of its local population and local authorities, was witness to tragic deportations perpetrated by the Nazis.