"METODO", N. 22/2006

Pierre Stambul
(Vice-presidente of French Jewish Union for Peace)
About the book of Neshat Tozaj “Ils n’étaient pas frères et pourtant... Albanie 1943-1944”
(La Société des écrivains, Paris 2004)

By means of a novel set in Albania during the thirties and then the war which deals with real events, Neshat Tozajreminds us of an episode of history largely unknown in France and to Jews all around the world. Even during the worst periods of Nazi barbarism and genocide, if there had been people steeped in the most abject racism and collaboration in mass crime, there were also those who were not in the least predisposed to the slightest form of “heroism” but who nevertheless resisted the inhumanity morally and with weapons in their hands.
The attitude of the great majority of the Albanian people during the occupation reminds one a little of the French Protestants peasants of Chambon-sur-Lignon who saved hundreds of Jewish children by hiding them among their own children.
The Albanian Jewish community has never been very large. Although an ancient Jewish presence in Albania seems certain, the Albanian Jews probably descend from the Jews taken in by the Ottoman Empire from the XV th century onwards and dispersed within the Empire. An educated urban population in a very rural Albania, they never suffered persecution. The book describes this meeting between two very different worlds, the little Jewish community and the village communities that were founded on the great traditions of hospitality and mutual aid.
When war broke out, whilst the Communist Party was organising the whole nation’s resistance movement and the self-organisation of the villages, this resistance movement was at the same time organising the saving of the Jewish community. What is more, the Albanian villages welcomed and hid Jews fleeing from Eastern Europe. No deportation ever occurred in this country. The book tells of the real brotherhood that developed. It should also be known that the Albanians welcomed Italian soldiers (although they had invaded them) after the capitulation in 1943.
The Albania of these tragic years shows that anti-Semitism is not inevitable and that a genuine entente is possible between a nation and a minority that lives within it.
Albania has often been given a very negative image: Stalinism dictatorship, economic ruin, the mafia. Neshat Tozaj gives us back a human, hospitable and generous people who are capable of solidarity. Village mutual aid structures allowed the emergence of a national resistance movement which controlled the mountains of the interior throughout the whole war.
Thank you to the author for having reminded us of this edifying history.