On April 7, 1939, before the outbreak of World War II, Fascist Italy invaded and occupied Albania. Nazi Germany occupied Albania after Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943. Albania was one of only a few countries in Europe that provided visas to Jews through its embassy in Berlin on the eve of World War II. Muslim and Christian Albanians provided European Jews with false identity papers, enabling them to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. As a result, Albanian sources assess that the country was one of the few countries in Europe whose Jewish population at the end of World War II was greater than at the beginning. Estimates consistently report 200 Jews prior to the war, with 600 to 2,000 or more post-war survivors. Yad Vashem has recognized 75 Albanians as “Righteous Among the Nations,” non-Jews who acted along with their families to try to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.
Albanians attribute their protection of Jews during the Holocaust to besa, a cultural code in Albania binding them to help those in need. As of mid-2019, there were only 40 to 50 Jews living in the country.
Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property
Albania endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. The country does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating specifically to Holocaust-era confiscations of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons.
The Albanian government reported no records of property claims submitted by victims of the Holocaust, and the Department is not aware of any claims by the local Jewish community or American citizens regarding real property dating from the Holocaust era. However, the Agency for the Treatment of Property faces thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era, which would compound any challenges for victims of the Holocaust. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, and NGOs noted claimants in general still struggle to obtain due process from the government for property restitution.
Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property
Albania participated in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets and in the 2009 Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague, but the country does not have restitution laws in place to cover movable property, nor do its institutions conduct provenance research. The Department of State has not been made aware of issues regarding movable property.
Access to Archival Documents
The Albanian Archive reported having no property documents for Holocaust victims or their heirs in archival records. Overall availability and integrity of archival documents are inconsistent. In 2009, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum concluded a small archival preservation and copying project, which was supported by and made possible thanks to the cooperation of the Albanian government.
There are no reported immovable, movable, or cultural property claims submitted, though if there were, acquiring supporting archival documents would be difficult. The fear prevalent in Albania during the Communist era caused people to avoid being linked to the ‘wrong’ resistance group, including any groups that might have sheltered Jews, even after the Communist regime collapsed in 1991. The residual culture of silence from the Communist past partly explains why the rescue of Albanian Jews remained relatively unknown for many decades. Some survivors could not overcome the difficulty of grappling with a painful past and did not tell their stories. Albania’s Jewish community is small, and Jewish organizations and their activities are not well known to the general public. Albanian archives and records contain many inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or gaps, making collection of facts difficult.
Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites
Education on the Holocaust is taught within the context of European history.
The Solomon Museum, Albania’s only Jewish history museum, opened in the city of Berat in 2018 and has a dozen framed panels on the walls bearing photos and stories from 500 years of Jewish life in the country. There is an exhibit devoted to Albanian Jewish history in Tirana’s national museum. Additionally, Albania’s current Minister of Culture has discussed establishing a National Museum of Jews in Vlora.
Albania commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 and is an observer country of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In January 2018, the Albanian Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs hosted a conference in Tirana titled “We Remember: Promoting Human Rights through the Lens of Holocaust Education and Remembrance.” During the remembrance event in January 2017, then‑President Bujar Nishani awarded medals to 35 families and individuals who sheltered Jews during World War II. On January 29 of the same year, the Anti‑Defamation League presented the Jan Karski “Courage to Care” award to the Albanian people.