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A Great Albanian Literary Web Site

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A web discovery that I am pleased to share with my readers is that of Dr. Robert Elsie. He is a renowned scholar in the field of Albanian studies. This site contains the largest collection of Albanian poetry and literature translated into English available in the world today. It also contains scholarly articles on various aspects of Albanian language and culture.

Why does Albania fascinate me? For years it was a hermit nation. The only American citizens allowed to visit were those of Albanian ancestry. It was deeply distrustful even of other communist nations, considering both the USSR and China to be heretics from communist orthodoxy. It actually outlawed all religions (except communism).

In Jewish history, Albania proper was extraordinarily kind to Jews. (Kosova was different in its implementation of the Final Solution. Jews did not do as well there.) Albanians considered it to be a violation of the besa honour code to hand Jews over to the Nazis. So hospitable was Albania to Jews that Albania was the only country in Nazi occupied Europe in which the Jewish population increased between 1939 and 1945.

Sabbatai Zvi, the infamous false messiah was exiled to Albania, where he lived until his death in 1676. There were reports even in the 20th century of some of his followers remaining in the country.

Albania proper is estimated to be 70% Muslim and 30% Christian. They have managed to create a national identity that transcends religious divisions. Even when the Arab world poured military aid into Kosova, the local inhabitants kept the non Albanian forms of Islam at arms length. They did not want local customs and social structures disrupted. The Arabs got a disappointing return for their money.

As a Jew of Croatian ancestry, I have an interest in all of the nationalities of the Balkans. My own family was divided on religious matters. Despite this, we maintained unity. When I look back in the history of Yugoslavia, it is easy for me to visualise families that were of varied faiths sitting down at one table. I find myself wondering in which generation distant cousins took up arms against each other. How many Bosnian Muslims share common DNA with Serbs and Croats?

Albanians managed to endure a religious split that did not fracture their sense of common peoplehood. Even the Albanians remaining in Greece after the brutal attempts to purge them from that country maintain a sense of common peoplehood that transcends dialectal differences. Is it possible for people to study Albania's success in this area and to duplicate it themselves?

I feel a strong loyalty to my Croatian grandparents. They were decent people who worked hard, sacrificed much and suffered a great deal. I am proud to be descended from them. Although I maintain an interest in Croatian art, music and linguistics, the brutality of Croatia to Jews and Serbs during World War Two has estranged me from any feelings of affinity with them. It is similar to my feelings about my German Jewish ancestry.

To the Albanians, I feel only gratitude for their kindness to the Jewish people during World War Two. I wish them well in their effort to enter the 21st Century and the European Community. They are one Muslim nation in which the Christian minority has been well treated. In many ways, I feel closer to them that I do to the Croats with whom I share blood ties.

There is an Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare who walked a tight rope during the bleak communist years, maintaining his integrity as a writer by veiling his criticism in allegorical terms. Dr. Elsie includes some of his prose and some of his poetry. Two of my favourites read as follows.

Childhood

My childhood - ink-stained fingers,
Bells in the morning,
The muezzin at dusk,
Collections of cigar boxes and old stamps,
Trading one Ceylon
For two Luxembourg.
Thus they passed,
Childhood days,
Chasing after a rag ball, raising dust and cries,
A rag ball,
Made of grey Albanian rags.
[Fëminia, from the volume Shekulli im, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1961, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 77]

And when my memory

And when my fading memory,
Like the after-midnight trams,
Stops only at the main stations,
I will not forget you.

I will remember
That quiet evening, endless in your eyes,
The stifled sob upon my shoulder,
Like snow that cannot be brushed off.

The separation came
And I departed, far from you.
Nothing unusual,
But some night
Someone's fingers will weave themselves into your hair,
My distant fingers, stretching across the miles.

[Edhe kur kujtesa, from the volume Shekulli im, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1961, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 78]


Other poems I enjoyed were some by Fatos Arapi

Life

Life is a railway station of partings and meetings.
We are constant travellers,
Holding in our hands our inseparable baggage,
A little suitcase
Of struggles, onslaughts and memories.
[Jeta, from the volume Poema dhe vjersha, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1966, p. 59. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books, 1993, p. 40. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



Sultan Murat and the Albanian

Sultan Murat sat astride his steed
And observed the prisoner bound hand and foot:
His advanced age, his wounds, his chains...
‘Albanian,’ he inquired, ‘Why do you fight
When you could live differently?’
‘Because, Padishah,’ replied the prisoner,
‘Every man has a piece of the sky in his breast,
And in it flies a swallow.’
[Sulltan Murati dhe Shqiptari, from the volume Poezi, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1983, p. 207. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books, 1993, p. 44. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

I hope my readers will visit the Dr. Robert Elsie. site. He sheds much light on one of the least understood nations of Europe. For this he deserves our thanks.


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I am also very fond of Albanian musicOne of my recent discoveries in that genre is Labinot Taheri
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COMMENTS
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
New York, NY
59 months ago: Dear Mr. Stettner,

I have a comment regarding the following statement of yours: "In Jewish history, Albania proper was extraordinarily kind to Jews. (Kosova was different in its implementation of the Final Solution. Jews did not do as well there.)"
Firstly, I think you should provide necessary official and reliable statistics in order to back up this claim, because to my knowledge there were no suffering of Jews in Kosova during the Second World War. However, even if there were such cases you have to point out that during the Second World War Kosova was under the total Serbian rule. Kosovar Albanians didn't have any executive and legislative powers over it, therefore Kosova of 1939-1945 and the today's one are two completely different entities in the political respect.

"Besa" honour code is equally respected in all Albanian inhabited places, so there cannot be a difference between Albanians in Albania and those in Kosova regarding this issue. This means that if there were any cases of Jewish suffering, Kosovar Albanians should not be held responsible because they didn't have any decision-making powers at that time.


Best,
Michel Foucault
NY
59 months ago: You raise legitimate points. There are a lot of variables beyond the control of local Albanians such as the degree of control of local citizens such as the degree of totalitarian control and mixing with other groups. Albania is the only country in Europe that experienced an increase in Jewish population during World War Two. There were about 500 Jews in Kosovo who were well treated until 1943, when the Germans assumed direct control of Kosovo. The Skanderbeg division of the SS was formed at that time from local Nazi collaborators. The collaborationist activities of the Skanderbeg SS were stopped in 1944 when the partisans expelled the German invaders. This puts Albanians in the same class as the Italians, who could boast of the survival of 70% of their Jewish population. I cite the article below, which vindicates my generally positive opinion of Albanians. At a time when there is a lot of criticism of radical Islam, I like to stress the decency of some Muslim communities and to remember times in Jewish history when Muslim Jewish relations were quite positive. Your point is well taken that all variables need to be considered in interpreting history.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Kosovo
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
New York, NY
59 months ago: I agree with you on the necessity of reminding people about the humane deeds of the members of a small European nation in those extremely difficult times.

I did not accept the aforementioned statement of yours ("Jews did not do as well there"), becauase to me it sounded as if this was because of the will of the local population, which couldn't be the case. I'm glad we are clear on that.

One last thing about the "Skanderbeg division".

"The division was operational for a few months (February 1944 – November 1944), with a strength of about 6,000 - 6,500 rather than the normal strength of a division (10,000-20,0000). Given that most of the recruits deserted, it was declared a failure and disbanded. By October 1944, their number had dwindled to 3500, they refused to fight or to take orders, and it never became a significant force."

I also like Robert Elsie. He is a great translator and a wonderful man.


All the best,
MF
59 months ago: Michel states that "during the Second World War Kosova was under . . . total Serbian rule." I do not believe this to be accurate. The area was, to my knowldge, annexed by the Italian Fascist rule Albania in 1941. I do not know the particulars - of what happened after the Italian capitulation in September 1943 other than that German troops were present. The Nedic regime based in Belgrade had, to my knowledge, no presence in Kosova during World War II.

John Kraljic
59 months ago: I am fascinated by your information about the Skenderbeg batallion. The Nazis were very skilled at exploiting local national aspirations. The Ukrainians, Bretons and Croats all had a desire for independence that was exploited by the Germans with great skill. I would like to know more about their attempt to play the Albanians. What sort of people joined the Skenderbeg batallion? Why did they desert? Were they reintegrated into Albanian society? In every generation there are new tests. It is wise to study those of past generations in order to better face our future.
59 months ago: Excellent selections from Kadare's vast collection of poetry and fiction [If you haven't yet, "The Three Arched Bridge" is a must-read]. He's my favourite writer - I gave a friend of mine his "Chronicle in Stone" when I saw him for Seder. The man is a genius (nominated twice or three times for the Nobel) for mastering the interweaving of history with fiction.

Glad to hear you like listening to Labi [his nickname]. Check out Eliza Hoxha, Ermal Fejzullahu and Adelina Thaqi - They sing Kosovar pop, but I like their take on it. Here's an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnOmbVAKWBM.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qanMLX7ye8 [ignore the ridiculous videos :P]
Don Dardani
Don Dardani
Pasadena, CA
59 months ago: Rudi,

I read a book written from one of the Jew survivors in Albania that provides a lot of details on this subject matter. Actually, it was one of those "collaborators" Xhafer Deva (Kosovar-Albanian born in the city of Mitrovica) who was a Minister of the Internal Affairs of the United Albania (because at that time Albania was united with Kosova, Cameria which is the northern part of Greece populated by Albanians, and West Macedonia which is populated by Albanians, and all other ethnic Albanian areas)that saved Jews during the World War II. Some Albanians collaborated because Italy and Germany freed them from brutal, genocidal, ethnic cleansing regimes of the neighbouring countries but none of them was a loyal collaborationist. They tried to used them for national freedom and unity. Deva for example collaborated later with alliance forces, too.

The Jew author of that book describes in details how Jews were saved, meeting with Deva, fears, Besa, etc. I recommend you read it since you are interested in the topic. I don't know the title of the book and the author because the book was not mine but its related to Jews Saved in Albania and not hard to find, I would guess lol.
Don Dardani
Don Dardani
Pasadena, CA
59 months ago: Italians and Germans united albanians because it was easier to rule them.
50 months ago: Hi everybody! Playing with letters and numbers leads to anywhere and nowhere. Depends where do you want to go in (anti)propaganda. I do like Albanians but I like the truth much more.

Albanians murdered 7% of the Jews in Albania proper and 40% of the Jews in Kosovo. The Holocaust Chronicle, researched by prominent Holocaust historians and scholars, documents that 10 to 12 Jews from Albania proper were sent to the Nazi death camp at Bergen-Belsen. Just for a example, Harvey Sarner reported that the Ardel family, an Albanian Jewish family, was killed by the Nazis in Albania proper, although he qualified this by saying they were killed because they were partisans, not because they were Jews.

In short, Albanians murdered 7% of the Jews in Albania proper and 40% of the Jews in Kosovo.
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
New York, NY
49 months ago: To Jarilo,

I agree completely with you that "Playing with letters and numbers leads to anywhere and nowhere" however this rule has to be applied to you too.

It is truly unfair from your side to say that "Albanians murdered 7% of the Jews in Albania proper and 40% of the Jews in Kosovo" without giving a more detailed explanation.

Nowhere in "The Holocaust Chronicle" it does not say that the Albanians where the ones to kill the Jews. Why? Very simply - because that didn't do it!

The following quotation was taken from "The Holocaust Chronicle" and it proves that the killing was an official plan of the German Nazis. Albania was under German occupation, so it not logical to accuse Albanians for the killing of the Jews.

"January 20, 1942: The Wannsee Conference of top Nazi leaders is held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee; attending are Heydrich, Meyer, Leibbrandt, Stuckart, Neumann, Freisler, Bühler, Luther, Klopfer, Kritzinger, Hofmann, Müller, Eichmann, Schöngarth, and Lange. Discussion pertains to the number of European Jews still to be dealt with, the future of slave labor, the separation of Jewish men from Jewish women, mass deportations, and extermination: the "Final Solution." According to the protocol of the meeting, five million Jews in the USSR are marked for death (including nearly three million in the Ukraine), 700,000 in the Unoccupied Zone of France, 5600 in Denmark, and 200 in Albania. Figures also are given for nations not yet under Nazi control, including England (330,000), Spain (6000), Switzerland (18,000), Sweden (18,000), and Turkey (55,500). The total meeting time is less than 90 minutes."

Regarding Kosovo - it was under Italian fascists' rule. What more can I say?
And this is the first time I hear about this percentage. I am very eager to know about the data sources and the methodology pursued in acquiring this figure.

MF


Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
New York, NY
49 months ago: You mentioned Harvey Sarner. He has published two books on the issue of Jews in Albania: "Rescue in Albania" (1997), and "The Jews of Albania" (1992).

In "Rescue in Albania", Sarner writes:

"Albania is the only country in occupied Europe," during World War II, "where Jews were not victims of the Nazi killing machine" (p. 1).

"The Albanian story is all the more remarkable for the fact that the majority of the Righteous rescuers were Muslims," who at the time made up 70% of the population of Albania.

"Another remarkable fact is that no instance was found where an Albanian accepted compensation for hiding Jews." (p. 45)."

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