Besa is Best! How Albania Saved Thousands from the Holocaust

Albanian culture has something it calls “besa”, which is concept that “obligates Albanians to provide shelter and safe passage for anyone seeking protection, particularly if there has been a promise to do so. Failure to act results in a loss of honor and standing. “It involves uncompromising protection of a guest, even at the point of forfeiting one’s own life,” wrote Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi.” Thus, when the Nazis came for their Jewish neighbors and friends, the Albanian Muslims (the majority) and Christians (second largest religion) closed ranks and refused to hand them over. Almost all of Albania’s Jewish population was saved, because even when Jews were captured by the Nazis the non-Jewish Albanians would help their families ransom the victims.

Albanians were content just to heroically save their own Jewish population, however. Nope. The Albanians crossed the boarder and smuggled in Jewish refugees and saved them too.

“Arif Alickaj, was executive secretary of the municipality of Decan and, using popular Muslim names, issued false identifications to allow Jews — many of them refugees from Macedonia and Serbia — to travel to Albania. He too was asked for a list of Jews but insisted there were none … Mr. Alickaj’s friend, Arsllan Rezniqi, a grocer, owned a truck that picked up fruit and vegetables from Macedonia, and over time he transported 400 Jews to Decan. Word had come from ethnic Albanians in Macedonia that their Jewish neighbors were in jeopardy … Mr. Rezniqi even built a house in the garden as a shelter for refugees. Albanian neighbors knew Jews were hiding on the property and never exposed them.”

Almost no one heard of the Albanian heroics because the USSR occupied the country after WWII and there was not so much with the freedom of communication.

After it got out from under Soviet rule it went through several years of anarchy, before finally pulling itself together to become a tourist destination today. Albania has the same beaches and climate as the French Rivera at a 1/10 the price, and it’s hoping tourism will help it build a strong economy. Thus, if you are going on vacation ‘abroad’ this year (and I know my readers in EU countries actually get decent vacations) let me suggest the Albanian Riviera were you can stay a week for a couple hundred Euro/dollars/Pounds. Just look at one of it’s costal resorts, Himara:


There are beach hotels in Himara that are less than $30 a night.

Now I really want to vacation there, too. Anyone know of any really cheap flights to Albania?

2 thoughts on “Besa is Best! How Albania Saved Thousands from the Holocaust

  1. Now I HAVE TO GO to Albania. How can I pass up a place with a concept like ‘Besa”? Thank you Kyra for shedding light on stories of courage and sacrifice for the sake of others.

    1. I am all up in Albania vacations. Basically the French Rivera I can afford! (Once I get to the UK that is.) Also, I want to “vote with my money” by supporting human decency. I’m weird that way 😉

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