Albanian Muslims saved Jews from Nazis

While Americans have been massively propagandized to believe that Muslims are virulent anti-Semitics, the fact remains that Albanian Muslims saved at least 2,000 Jews–at peril to their own lives–during the Holocaust. Even more remarkably, they didn’t hand over a single Jew to the killers of the SS and Wehrmacht.

The reality is that we have been misled by the machinery of the Israeli government and their supporters, who find the conflation of anti-Semitism with opposition to the Israeli government a very useful meme to enlist in support of their treatment of Palestinians and their ongoing conflicts with their Islamic neighbors.

Norman Gershman is an American Jewish photographer who has documented the history of Muslims in Albania and the Jews they saved in a remarkable book, Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II. Even King Zog participated in the rescue, ordering the bureaucracy to issue protective papers.

With collaborator Stuart Huck he has also produced a 90-minute documentary about the heroism of Albanian Muslims, which Gershman discusses here:

This 85-minute video, recorded at the annual Vanderbilt University  Holocaust lecture by Huck last October 21, includes an extended excerpt from the film along with photographs of rescuers and the rescued.

A trailer for the documentary is here.


17 responses to “Albanian Muslims saved Jews from Nazis

  1. S. Z. Underwood


    What do you make of this Nazi Muslim division drawn from the Balkans during WWII? Did “Zionists” invent this entire division out of whole cloth? Why don’t you state explicitly how “vast” you think the “Zionist” power reaches, how many sordid tentacles it has?

    The Handschar division was commanded by German officers, and composed of native Germans from Croatia (Volksdeutsche), Croat Christians and Bosniaks (considered ethnic Croats during WWII), who are Muslims from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was the largest of the Muslim-oriented divisions and the SS Divisions with 21,065 men[citation needed], of whom 2,800 were Croat Christians and the remainder Bosnian Muslims.[10] The number of Christians was higher than directed by Himmler, who had allowed a 10% Christian component only after the recruitment of sufficient Muslims proved difficult.[10] The division had a Muslim Imam for each battalion other than the all-German signal battalion.[11] Initially there was a small Albanian component. In 1943 a number of Albanians from Kosovo and the Sandžak region were recruited and teamed up into Battalion I/2 (later I/28). This was perhaps the best trained and equiped Nazi Albanian military formation during the war but, ironicly, was transferred directly from combat in Bosnia to Kosovo via rail on 17 April 1944 following the creation of 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian). The head of Waffen SS recruitment, SS Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger reported to Himmler that the Albanians “…were quite sad about leaving.”[12]

    • Let’s look at Wikipedia some more. Referring to Albanian participation in the SS, it notes:

      The Division was placed under the command of SS-Standartenführer August Schmidthuber, later promoted to SS-Oberführer. It fought against the Communist partisan forces of Enver Hoxha who were on the increase and consolidating their actions, both in Albania and Yugoslavia as the Second World War was drawing to an end. The Division was very poorly led with a serious dearth of instructors, Albanian officers or NCOs.

      The Division was operational for only a few months (February 1944 – November 1944), with a strength of about 6,000 – 6,500 rather than the normal strength of a division (10,000-20,000). Many recruits deserted with their new weapons and boots, and by October 1944 their number had dwindled to around 3500. It appears they often refused to fight or to take orders, and it never became a significant force.[4]

      “The Germans were forced to disarm battalions at Pec and Prizren, arresting the Albanian officers and sending them to the camp at Prishtina.

      But by omitting these highly relevant facts, you omit the critical detail that these weren’t enthusiastic recruits. But that would foil yet another attempt to smear yet another writer who would argue that Muslim attitudes towards Jews are much more nuanced that Zionists would have us believe.

  2. S. Z. Underwood

    With all due respect, my comments added the only “nuance” to this question. Your original post gave a misleading impression that European Muslims were united in their opposition to Nazism and that they were specifically opposed to the persecution of Jews.

    And since you want to tie this WWII issue in the Balkans incongrously to the present Middle East conflict, why did you selectively overlook this other passage from the same Wikipedia link:

    In Spring 1943, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, (aka Amin al-Husseini), was invited by the Nazis to assist in the organizing and recruiting Bosniaks into the Waffen SS and other units in Yugoslavia. He successfully convinced the Bosniaks to go against the declarations of the Sarajevo, Mostar, and Banja Luka clerics, who in 1941 forbade Bosnian Muslims from collaborating with the Ustaše. Croatian Foreign Minister Dr. Mladen Lorkovic suggested that the Division be named “SS Ustasa Division”, not an SS Division but a Croatian unit raised with SS assistance, and that its regimental names be given regional names such as “Bosna”, “Krajina”, “Una” etc.

    The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust states that “The Germans made a point of publicizing the fact that Husseini had flown from Berlin to Sarajevo for the sole purpose of giving his blessing to the Muslim army and inspecting its arms and training exercises”. According to Aleksa Djilas in The Nation That Wasn’t that al-Husayni : “accepted, visited Bosnia, and convinced some important Muslim leaders that a Muslim SS division would be in the interest of Islam.

    • I’m not going to get into a pissing match with a bigot. The fact remains that Albanian Muslims saved that nation’s Jews. Period. And at the risk of the lives of themselves and heir families. Some were swept up by the SS, but those that were fought reluctantly if at all. Sure, there were some extremists who relished killings, just like there are extremists in the IDF who sported T shirts featuring a pregnant Palestinian woman and the motto “1 Shot 2 Kills.”

      You simply seem to want to refuse to acknowledge any good intentions on the part of Muslims, and to ignore any evidence to the contrary. Sad.

  3. S. Z. Underwood

    We rightly applaud the Albanian Muslims who saved Jewish lives and bravely resisted Nazi terror and aggression. Moreover, there was also extensive protection of Jewish minorities by Arab Muslims in North Africa during the period of German occupation. Quoting from a book on this little known, but important topic:

    At every stage of the Nazi, Vichy, and Fascist persecution of Jews in Arab lands, and in every place that it occurred, Arabs helped Jews. Some Arabs spoke out against the persecution of Jews and took public stands of unity with them. Some Arabs denied the support and assistance that would have made the wheels of the anti-Jewish campaign spin more efficiently. Some Arabs shared the fate of Jews and, through that experience, forged a unique bond of comradeship. And there were occasions when certain Arabs chose to do more than just offer moral support to Jews. They bravely saved Jewish lives, at times risking their own in the process. Those Arabs were true heroes.

    Jews and Muslims have peacefully co-existed for many centuries from the Caliphate, to the Ottoman and Persian Empires. Jews and Arabs currently peacefully co-exist as well in significant numbers within Israel’s own borders (I am referring to its Arab citizens). One hopes that with mutual and reasonable compromise, Israel and Palestine will also peacefully and prosperously co-exist in neighboring states in the near future. I fail to see the “bigotry” in this sentiment? The fact that some Muslim groups or factions also made common cause with the Nazis during WWII is part of the historical record (not only in the Balkans, but also in the Chechen regions) and should also be duly noted.

    On the other hand, the ENTIRE historical record of Jewish minorities in Arab and Muslim lands is also punctured by periods of violence, massacres, expulsions and systematic mistreatment as second class citizens.

    One of the basic, founding premises of a Jewish state is that the safety and security of Jews would never again be left to the transient and fickle charity of the nation state in which they find themselves as a completely defenseless minority.

    We all praise the courageous actions of Denmark, Bulgaria and Albania to largely protect and defend their Jewish citizens during the Holocaust, but all of the lives saved in those countries is a drop in the bucket compared to all of the other Jewish citizens who were rounded up, massacred on the spot or deported to extermination camps, often with the strong collusion of local residents who regarded the Jews as a foreign element and as alien and hostile “settlers” (as in the Czarist limitation of Jews to the so-called “Pale of Settlements”).

    One can argue about whether Jews have any right to set up settlements in the West Bank or anywhere else in the original Palestine Mandate, but, if not, why would Jews have some sort of “natural right” to live in large semi-autonomous shtetls and settlement blocks in Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine etc?

    So, Richard, you brand me a bigot for supposedly never recognizing any positive aspects of Jewish Muslim co-existence over the centuries and during WWII. If that’s your standard of “bigotry”, please point us to any place on your blog or in any other piece of writing of yours available on the internet in which you either praise Israel in any fashion (there must be at least one complimentary point to make unless half of the world’s Jewish population are all acting like neo-Nazis?) or condemn any aspect of the often violent Arab/Muslim response to Zionism?

    It seems to me that if you are unable to supply any such pro-Israel statements (even in some larger negative critique of Zionism), then you fulfill your own criteria for being a “bigot”. Sad, don’t you agree?

    • Ah, so you finally offer some acknowledgment that Arabs saved Jews in the Holocaust. Both of your previous comments refused any recognition of the basic truth of my post. Now you say I’m a bigot because I don’t write favorably of Israel.

      The creation of Israel, the imposition by the collective acts of Western nations which did little or nothing to save Jews from the Holocaust, was a means of appearing to assuage that guilt by seizing the lands already by another people in a political maneuver designed to provoke bitterness and violence. The imposition of Israel on the Palestinians, as Einstein recognized, was a tragic mistake.

      You allow as how the West Bank settlement policy is perhaps open to question, though you don’t explicitly disavow it. What about the blockade of Gaza? What about the denial of human rights? What about the use of white phosphorous on civilians? What about the destruction of farms and ancient groves? And what about the internationalization of Jerusalem specified in the Mandate you invoke?

      Do I deplore violence that takes the lives of innocents? Yes, whether carried out by a young man with a bomb belt or a helicopter pilot blasting away with depleted uranium rounds or “willie pete.”When people with little power do it, it’s branded as terrorism; When armies do it, it’s called war.

      I don’t equate Israel with Judaism, and I’m quite willing to laud the remarkable achievements folks who live there. It’s the state and it’s policies I question. Just as I question the state and policies of this nation where I live.

      Your arguments seem to follow a lot of the talking points stressed in guides I’ve seen for Zionist advocates to stress. I also note that both the Israeli government and the IDF are sponsoring programs to post comments on blogs that raise issues critical of Israeli policies. Given the fervor of your effort to counter anything critical of the Israeli government, I can’t help but wonder if you’re part of that effort.

      You’re also getting close to raising the ultimate argument, equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism. For the record, both my daughters are Jewish, as have been four of loves of my life. If anything, I’m philosemitic.

      Israel was a bad idea, the creation of deep politics that led to an American ally in the heart of Petrolia. But it was a provocative move, preceded by acts of terrorism committed by people who would later become leaders of state. In light of the ongoing dispossession of the land’s inhabitants and their increasing marginalization, violent response becomes inevitable, leading to further repression, more violence and mounting outrage on the part of the great masses of adjacent states and the Islamic world.

      And now, with the U.S. assuming the role of Globocop, the Israeli government aligns with some of the very people most Jews would’ve deplored six decades ago [e.g., the Rev. Hagee of Christians United For Israel] whose pro-Zionist policies are based on the premise that Christ can’t come back until all Jews arrive in Israel, after which all but the 144,000 who convert to Christianity are consumed in a second and final Holocaust.

      Israel, backed by a nuclear arsenal and the military might of the world’s last superpower, faces an increasingly angry Arab world. No wonder Hagee and CUFI are hopeful the end times are near.

      I don’t know what’s the right solution, but it’s certainly not the one currently being pursued by the Israeli or the American governments.

  4. S. Z. Underwood


    Many thanks for all of your thoughtful comments. We are comforted to learn that you are such a philosemite and that you are an equal opportunity America and Israel basher. We understand your “moral equivalency” argument about so-called terrorists. After all, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s “terrorist.

    But, even if it’s true that Zionism as a political movement (a state founded by “Jewish terrorists”) is just a mirror image of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the question still remains why you feel so much more motivated to castigate the ills of Israel, its manifold missteps and crimes, but never findthe same moral imperative to excoriate Israel’s adversaries.

    Surely, you cannot deny that point in good conscience? Insofar as Richard Brenneman takes an interest in foreign nations, your interest seems delimited to demonizing Zionism. Again, please direct us to one blog post or anything else you have written in fourty years as a distinguished and award winning journalist in which you have taken Israel’s adversaries to task for any of their violent tactics and actions.

    After all, if they are no better or worse than Israel’s, and you seem to deeply abhor the actions of successive Zionist governments, there must be at least a drop of invective left in your pen for the other half of this conflict? If not, why not?

    I appreciated the inference that I may be part of some cooridinated “Zionist plot” to sabotage your critiques of Zionism, but with all due respect, since (so far at least) there seem to be painfully few comments added to your blog in general, I doubt you are yet on the radar screen of any Zionist CO-INTEL propaganda program.

    The whole idea of “Zionist plots”, “sabotage”, “media manipulation” and so forth have a very long and ugly history, but since you are such a philosemite and the proud father of two Jewish daughters, I am assured that you have no such malignant motives in raising such a poisonous specter.

    Lastly, since you seem to appreciate a droll cartoon or two and since you seem to think that the United States and Israel are the two chief forces for evil and villany in the world today, I thought you might appreciate this Dry Bones offering all the more!

  5. Of course we Albanians saved Jews. Jews never did something bad to us.

    In 1999 Jews helped us to survive the horror that Serbia was giving us.

    If in the future there is a war against jews I will save as much as I can. These people need to exist because they are worth having them alive. Not like the Gypsis or Kurds. I don’t think you can compare jews with those poeple.

    Israel should exist and will exist.

  6. Do not give to this story religius colors , it is all abaut Albanians honor it is in our genes , we are muslims , christians, ortodox ,only by the name , because all religions was given to as with violence , christianity from Romans , Islam from Otomans , it is in our consciousness that we have acept all enemys religions jus for survive bur never with a heart . So now every Albanian belives that “Albanian religion is Albanism” . So the world mos learn from us that Humans religion mus be Humanism .


  8. Albanian religion is Albanism forever.

  9. Thats not actually true. Let me start that I am a wholehearted supporter of Palestine and I hate Israel. That said there may have been a few Albanians that helped save Jews but the majority of Albanians supported the Nazis and the pro Nazi militias of the “Greater Albania” puppet state slaughtered many thousands of Jews Romany and Serbs. It was Serbs who really deserve the honor of sacrificing the most to defend victims of the holocaust

    • When I saw your name, Beznik with a “z” instead of an Albanian “s”, I immediately thought half way through reading your post that this is probably a serbian writing this. Then I read, “It was Serbs who really deserve the honor”. I have to wonder if there is anything besides racial hatred could motivate you to make up something like “the majority of the Albanians supported the Nazis and the pro Nazi militia.” The group of Albanians that sided with the Nazi Germans were the anti-communist who are called today “Ballist” or “Bali kombetare” and they were a small group of people compared to the rest of the population. Albanians all over Albania are proud of their “Partizane”, the freedom fighters who like the majority of the Albanians, children included, bravely resisted the German occupiers until they regained their independance on Nov. 29, 1944.

  10. I agree with the post you have written wholeheartedly. I am an Albanian from Kosovo and I have heard countless of stories about Albanians saving Jewish people during the holocaust from family… Although Kosovar Albanians are Muslim, their actions in regards to saving Jews during WW2 had a lot to do with Albanian culture and Albanian hospitality which stemmed from the “Kanun of Leke Dukagjini” which was a 15th century text that was written by the very powerful Dukagjini clan… As written in the Kanun, a guest is to be shown the highest level of respect and loyalty. Albanians are not only Muslim, but many different religions and the ability for us to coexist peacefully with each other regardless of this fact is what has allowed us to coexist with others who are of different religions all around the world.

  11. Everyone has the right to live regardless of race&religion..
    Albanians have a big heart that’s why the majority of jews were saved.


  12. Pingback: The Cham Issue: Past, present and solutions | JusticeForGreece

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