“Honoring Countries that Saved Jewish Lives”—Congress Monthly

SHIRLEY CLOYES DIOGUARDI responds:


I respond to Professor Lieberthal’s letter with great reluctance, because I do not want to compare heroisms or to create a hierarchy of heroisms and sufferings in response to the extermination of the Jewish people during the Nazi Holocaust.  Nothing can diminish Bulgaria’s saving of its 50,000 Jewish citizens, while it had a pact with the Axis powers.  Bulgarians throughout the world are to be applauded for what they did to rescue Jews during World War II, and also for working hard for many years as a nation to inform the international community about their role.

In any case, the assertion that Albania is the “only nation that can claim that every Jew within its borders was rescued from the Holocaust” is based on the fact that not one Jew living in Albania before World War II, or who made it there during the war was handed over to the Nazis.  As Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, director of the Department for the Righteous at Yad Vashem, has stated, central to the uniqueness of the Albanian story is the fact that, “the persons saved were mostly not Albanian citizens, but Jews who had fled to that country when it was ruled by the Italians, and now found themselves in danger of deportation to concentration camps when the Germans took over, in September 1943.”  Paldiel and other scholars attribute this to the uniquely Albanian moral code of “besa” (about which I have written at length), which caused Albanians to even risk their own lives to save Jews.  As a result, there were more Jews living in Albania after the war than there were before the war.

 

The records show that Bulgaria did not receive the distinction of saving every Jew because, while Bulgaria did not deport Bulgarian Jews, it did deport to the Nazi death camps 11,000 non-Bulgarian Jews in territory that it had annexed from Macedonia and Greece.  In addition, Jews inside of Bulgaria were discriminated against, and after 1941 all Bulgarian Jewish men between the ages of twenty and forty were rounded up and sent into forced labor.

 

Nevertheless, the primary purpose of my article was not to establish Albanian “exceptionalism” during the Holocaust, but to uncover a buried history.  The role of Albanians in rescuing Jews is virtually unknown in the West to this day, because it was was concealed throughout fifty years of Enver Hoxha’s Stalinist Communist dictatorship in Albania.  The stories of Albanian heroism were also suppressed in the former Yugoslavia, where three and a half million Albanians have experienced torture, arrest, expulsion, and genocide for more than a century.  My article was an attempt to correct a gap in the Holocaust literature and, in the process, to help garner support for protecting the lives of an ethnic group that is still in danger.

 

Ossining, New York

 

Milferd Lieberthal, Emeritus Professor of Labor Education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, wrote a thoughtful response to Cloyes DioGuardi’s “Jewish Survival in Albania & the Ethics of ‘Besa’,” in which he praised her article, but questioned whether Albania could lay claim to being the only nation that saved every Jew within its borders in light of the Bulgarian rescue.  Congress Monthly printed Lieberthal’s letter and her response in its May/June 2006 issue.

 

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