July 28th 2011 01:28:32 AM
I’ve written repeatedly about Jews being duped by the Albanian PR that’s been making the rounds since 2005 — about Albanians in Albania (though not in Kosovo) not turning in Jews during WWII. Earlier this year the Albanian PR machine pulled the same dog-and-pony show on the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and last year it got a St. Louis synagogue to host and promote the Jew-saving exhibit, not long after the New Haven Register did its part to promote the PR that the Southern Connecticut State University’s Ethnic Heritage Center along with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven, Congregation Mishkan Israel and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven all fell for. These join Yad Vashem, the 92nd St. Y, the UN, the Holocaust Museum of Houston, and the Jewish sucker press which includes the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, The Forward, NY Jewish Week and others who dutifully printed the Jew-saving PR since 2006. (Again, this is a Yad Vashem-sponsored traveling exhibit by a Jewish photographer named Norman Gershman who thought it would be a good idea in the middle of Jihad to divert attention to the good things that some Muslims did over half a century ago. An effort that is of course approved by caliphate enablers (“We must strive to highlight these [commonalities] as Gershman has done…”) in the same spirit as all those “bridge-building” and “interfaith” events that have sought to inure Islam to the West (but not vice versa) at breakneck speed since its real intentions were revealed 10 years ago.)
Again, while there is nothing inherently wrong with recognizing the Righteous — they should be recognized — there is a supremacist Albanian agenda underlying the timing of this, and hyping the Muslimness of the rescuers as Gershman has been doing serves to confuse an already easily confused public that doesn’t get the bigger Islamic picture. I’ve written repeatedly what’s problematic about the timing and motivation of this new round of Albanian PR which aims to secure Kosovo’s illegal secession, and therefore what’s problematic about facilitating it. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
So now the latest successful target — of related Albanian PR — is “Jewish Heritage Europe,” an “online resource guide for Jewish heritage tourism in Europe,” as well as the publication “Jewish Ideas Daily” which ran this otherwise decent piece last month by Alex Joffe, research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research:
The Tourist’s Dilemma (June 20)
On the southwest coast of Albania on the Ionian Sea, opposite the Greek island of Corfu, beneath the modern town of Saranda, lies the ancient city of Onchesmos.
That ancient city had a synagogue, the remains of which can be seen from the modern street as a large hole filled with stumps of walls, columns, and young palm trees. Built in the 2nd or 3rd century CE and enlarged in the 5th and 6th, it bears a unique mosaic floor depicting a menorah flanked by a shofar and an etrog, as well as geometric designs and fish.
The site was noted by Albanian archaeologists decades ago but was excavated in 2003 and 2004 by a unique joint team from the Albanian Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University. Unfortunately only two seasons of excavations took place.
An ancient synagogue on the Mediterranean is not in itself unique. But the story of Jews in Albania and the synagogue of Saranda are distinctive and point to a larger question of Jewish responsibility to the past — and, by extension, to the present.
Small numbers of Jews arrived in Illyria (as Albania was then known) during the Roman period and many more after the expulsion from Spain. But enough Jews were present in those early years to build the synagogue at Onchesmos, and to keep it in use for several centuries.
Much later, in 1939, Albania was occupied by Italy. Albanian Jews, numbering only a few hundred and supplemented by refugees from elsewhere, were removed to the country’s interior. But the Italians and Albanians refused to turn them over to the Nazis. When Albania was occupied by the Germans in 1943, Christian and Muslim Albanians sheltered Jews and provided many with false papers. Although some were eventually sent to their deaths, it appears that Albania actually ended the war with more Jews than when it started. [The ubiquitous catch-phrase that has been successfully circulated by Albanian PR masters.]
The Albanian relationship with Jews during the Holocaust was defined not by religion but by Besa, a local code of honor that literally means “to keep a promise.” Having lived alongside Jews, and received them as refugees, this sense of honor kept Albanians from turning them over to the Nazis. Albanians are justifiably proud of their role saving Jews during the Holocaust, a story that took decades to be recognized due to the Communist isolationist regime that virtually cut Albania off from the world.
Rebuilding itself after this regime, Albanians saw this synagogue as a potential tourist attraction, a boon to a struggling domestic industry. After all, heritage tourism — even the smaller subset of Jewish heritage tourism — is big business these days…But tourism is not just a recreational and aesthetic experience for the tourist. It is a business, and as such it poses moral questions as to the specific experiences that are bought and sold…Do Jewish tourists have a special responsibility toward living Jewish communities?
Even among the dead, the ethical questions are real, and the ironies are evident. While Albanians had hoped to use their commendable historical story to draw tourists, their synagogue now languishes and decays. Meanwhile, Nazi concentration and death camps, above all Auschwitz, are sites of pilgrimage and remembrance — and a source of significant tourism revenues to Germany and Poland…
You can see that parts of this 2008 Jerusalem Post article by Albania’s ambassador to Israel seem to have made their way into that piece above. In it, Ambassador Gjuraj tries to entice Israeli visitors with the dilapidated synagogue in Saranda:
Albania - a new Israeli destination (Oct. 21, 2008)
TONIN GJURAJ , THE JERUSALEM POST
…Albania is a country well worth visiting for Israelis, and well worth investing in.
Hospitality for guests in Albania is exceptional. There is no concept of “stranger” or “foreigner” in the case of Albanians. This is strongly based on Albanian customs, as well as on today’s democratic values. This may also explain the development of strong feelings for Jews both in the past and present.
The visa exemption agreement between the Republic of Albania and the State of Israel, which came into effect on July 27, has marked a significant achievement, which is expected to further bolster bilateral relations.
Our countries belong to different regions and face different kind[s] of problems. But this agreement will certainly strengthen economic and cultural ties, especially in the light of the commitment of the Albanian government and its citizens to a free and open society.
In fact, economic ties are already growing. Israeli companies are looking to invest in Albania - in real estate, the energy sector, construction, the fishing industry, etc.
Albania’s 450 kilometers of coastline offers a unique example of tourism development. Israeli tourists may also want to visit the synagogue in Saranda (in the south), and see how this country shines a light on Jewish history and how it respects human dignity.
It is in the tradition of Jews to look for new destinations. Albania is now a new European destination, a new passion for visitors and investors.
Israeli tourists will visit the country that saved the lives of every Jew during World War II, a strong advocate of the interests of Israel in various international organizations, a multi-religious society that represents a model of religious harmony and ecumenical relations, a would-be NATO member (in April next year), and an EU [aspirant]. Come see for yourselves.
Perhaps my favorite was the part about Albania respecting human dignity. I guess that explains why organ-harvesting victims still lie in mass graves in Albania and international authorities are denied the right to excavate them and are blocked from investigating.
But to stick to the point, I’ll quote my friend Ricky, who sent me the “Tourist’s Dilemma” item and who publishes a Jewish paper on the East Coast: “Albania is used as a metaphor for all the wrong things.”
One aspect that has gone unmentioned even in all of my repeated contextualization of the Albanian PR about Jews during WWII is that among the Jews saved via Albania — which exclusively Albanians are given credit for at the intended expense of their hated Serbian neighbors — are Jews who got to Albania because Serbian families risked their lives hiding them. Below is one example:
BELGRADE — Israel’s Ambassador to Serbia has presented Righteous among the Nations awards to the children and grandchildren of Serbs who helped Jews during World War II.
The award is the highest honor given by the state of Israel to non-Jews around the world over the last 55 years, and the medals were awarded today to the relatives of Borivoj and Grozdan Bondžić, Ljubica Mandušić-Gazikalović and Jelica Ranković.
The awards are given to people who helped save and protect Jews during the Holocaust in occupied Serbia, risking the safety of their families and their own lives.
German racial laws were very rigorous and anyone discovered offering refuge to Jews faced extreme punishment.
“With great respect, we are fulfilling our duty today to confer medals to the children and grandchildren of the righteous Borivoj and Grozdan Bondžić, Ljubica Mandušić-Gazikalović and Jelica Ranković. Their courage and selflessness will stay in our memories forever,” [Ambassador Arthur] Koll said.
The Bodžić, Knežević and Zdravković families helped the Dajč family, which had to leave their jobs and then homes in Aleksandrovac due to German race laws.
Julija Dajč hid with the Bodžić family for three years, and gave birth to her son in the family home. Both now live in Israel.
Ljubica Mandušić-Gazikalović and Jelica Ranković saved Josef Levi and his family, who later fled to Albania.