By Julia Gorin
Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday, the UN put on display an exhibit paying tribute to the Righteous of Albania who risked all to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. The exhibit arrived at the UN from Yad Vashem, where it was on display for two months. While the Righteous of any nation indeed should be acknowledged and commemorated, the problem with the exhibit is its underlying agenda. Jews, along with the Albanian Righteous of WWII, are being used by the Albanians of today to advance a racially supremacist end game in the Balkans, where world wars start-and cost principally Jewish and Serbian lives.
The timing on this exhibit is very specific. An independent Kosovo is within Albanian grasp, and the Albanians learned early on-starting with the Bosnian and Croatian wars followed by the Kosovo war-that selling the Jews on your version of an ethnic rivalry can open doors. Indeed, 70 million Croatian, Bosnian and Albanian dollars spent on PR firms targeting major Jewish organizations managed to bring Jewish support on the side of an openly Nazi-nostalgist Croatia of the 1990s whose president (Franjo Tudjman) had written a Holocaust-denying book implicating the Jews themselves in Holocaust deaths. The PR also succeeded in bringing Jewish support to the side of a Muslim Bosnia whose president (Alija Izetbegovic) had written the Islamic Declaration (affirming the incompatibility of a Muslim state and Western values). And it brought Jewish support on board a Hezbollah-assisted, bin Laden-financed and -trained Kosovo Liberation Army-against the Serbs, who were killed together with Jews in concentration camps.
Behind the Jews, the Serbs were also targeted people for elimination during WWII, and while Jews and Serbs died together in Axis power Croatia's Jasenovac camp complex, Albanians and Bosnians formed their own volunteer SS units.
Albanians are in the midst of completing their land grab from Serbia, a country whose people ousted Slobodan Milosevic almost a decade ago in favor of Westward-looking leaders. The acquisition of Kosovo was the goal from the start, when the Kosovo Liberation Army first began killing Serbs, along with Albanians and gypsies (Roma) who worked even as postmen for the Yugoslav government or simply had inter-ethnic friendships or marriages with Serbs. As if getting the Jews to betray their historical ally and co-victim weren't perverse enough, today's Kosovo is an ethnically purified state, cleansed of almost all of its minorities: Serbs, Roma, Gorani (mountain Muslims), Bosnian Muslims, Croats-and Jews.
Before Yad Vashem agreed to feature the exhibit and became an unwitting enabler of the ill-begotten new "Kosova," it should have asked why even the last 15 Jews in Kosovo's capital had to clear out, with just the clothes on their backs, when the KLA stormed their homes in 1999. At the time, the president of Pristina's tiny Jewish community, Cedomir Prlincevic, spoke of two dozen armed men breaking into his family's apartment: "My mother, who is 80 years old, suffered a heart attack because it reminded her of 1943 when Hitler's SS units broke into her apartment in the same way."
Indeed, in the destruction and desecration of Orthodox churches, monasteries and cemeteries that has continued apace since NATO gifted Kosovo to the Albanians, the Jewish cemetery that adjoins the Serbian one in the village of Velika Hoca has also been vandalized, according to the book Hiding Genocide in Kosovo.
That the Holocaust would be used to further a supremacist agenda defies all decency. Nor do the inversions end there. The exhibit repeats the catchy statistic which this renewed Jewish-focused Albanian campaign has been circulating for almost three years: Albania was the only European country to end up with more Jews after the war than it had at the beginning. Never mind that this was also the case with Spain, Sweden and Finland-all of which had vastly more Jews than Albania's 200-but note that the Albanian spin is careful to not mention Kosovo, whose independence Albanians are eager to secure, where Albanians helped round up 600 Jews, most of whom died at Bergen-Belsen. In other words, more Jews were rounded up in Kosovo than ever existed in Albania before the war.
There were Righteous among all the nations of Europe; more Germans saved Jews than did Albanians. At the other end of the spectrum, more Serbs saved Jews than did Albanians. But it apparently never occurred to Serbian saviors to come forward for credit or to flaunt their Jew-saves in the event that an expansionist rival would use its own Jew-saves as a weapon against them.
And so Jewish good will has been co-opted by a nationalist movement which in WWII formed the fascist Balli Kombetar organization-still active in Kosovo today. Similarly, the arm patch of the Albanian Nazi SS Division Skanderbeg, which shows the national flag of Albania, is worn today by the Kosovo Protection Corps. Jewish gratitude, at this sensitive time, to the Albanian Righteous is being used to help create a new state whose founders were partly trained by the son of the Nazi Luftwaffe general in charge of Hitler's 1941 bombing of Belgrade; a land where a "Hitler Diner" operates without much controversy; a land which is run by "former" KLA whose leadership and membership, as NY Times writer Chris Hedges wrote for Foreign Affairs Magazine in 1999:
splits down a bizarre ideological divide, with hints of fascism on one side and whiffs of communism on the other. The former faction is led by the sons and grandsons of rightist Albanian fighters - either the heirs of those who fought in the World War II fascist militias and the Skanderbeg volunteer SS division raised by the Nazis, or the descendants of the rightist Albanian kacak rebels who rose up against the Serbs 80 years ago. Although never much of a fighting force, the Skanderbeg division took part in the shameful roundup and deportation of the province's few hundred Jews during the Holocaust.
In the early 90s, Albanians helped to revive the Bosnian version of the SS Skanderbeg division, the SS Handzar:
Up to 6000 strong, the Handzar division glories in a fascist culture. They see themselves as the heirs of the SS Handzar division, formed by Bosnian Muslims in 1943 to fight for the Nazis. Their spiritual model was Mohammed Amin al-Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who sided with Hitler. According to U.N. officers, surprisingly few of those in charge of the Handzars in Fojnica seem to speak good Serbo-Croatian. "Many of them are Albanian, whether from Kosovo.or from Albania itself," [reveals a UN officer].
The name of the exhibit is BESA: A Code of Honor-Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The Yad Vashem page for the exhibit describes Besa thus: "The remarkable assistance afforded to the Jews was grounded in Besa, a code of honor, which still today serves as the highest ethical code in the country. Besa means literally 'to keep the promise.' One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one's life and the lives of one's family. Apparently, this code sprouted from the Muslim faith as interpreted by the Albanians."
The emphasis on the Muslimness of Albanians is heavy, in stark contrast to the de-emphasis on this fact when Jewish and Western support was being mobilized to beat down the Serbs on behalf of Albanians. What's missing from the definition of Besa is its most frequent application-a promise to not kill a person in the midst of a blood feud such as those that have been sweeping Albania and now Kosovo and Macedonia for the past several years in a resurgence of this ancient barbarism.
The Yad Vashem page also reads:
In 1934, Herman Bernstein, the United States Ambassador to Albania, wrote: "There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania, because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians themselves are divided into three faiths."
One supposes it's debatable whether pulling out by hand crosses from Serbian-Orthodox churches that harbored Albanians and Serbs alike during NATO's bombing, then burning them and urinating on them is religious, or racial, hatred, but according to Andy Wilcoxson, an American expert on the Milosevic trial: "On September 9, 1901, a British diplomatic cable sent to the Marquess of Lansdowne said: "Old Serbia [Kosovo] is still a restive region because of the Albanians' lawlessness, vengeance and racial hatred."
More than a century later, it would appear that little has changed.
While it's important to celebrate past acts of selflessness and righteousness by Albanians, one cannot dismiss what these people are doing now, which flies in the face of Yad Vashem's very mission. If Serbs were the "justifiable" target of Albanian animosity in 1999, why did the Jews, Roma, Gorani, Bosnians and Croats also have to be gone in order for the new "Kosova" to take seed? Perhaps because the animosity was a means to an end from the beginning?
But this is all apparently lost on the Jews involved in, or endorsing, the exhibit, which features the work of Colorado-based photographer Norman Gershman, a 75 year-old Wall Street veteran who recently described himself to Vail Daily as equal parts Jewish and Sufi, and who says a Muslim prayer in Arabic before a flight. Gershman's ongoing mission during this jihad has been to seek out Muslims throughout the world who saved Jews during WWII.
The Jewish Muslim Gershman is aware of the present Kosovo imbroglio, his position made clear when he describes Kosovo as "struggling" to gain independence from Serbia, and repeats one of the Albanian lobby's ubiquitous buzz phrases, recently also repeated by the Albanian ambassador to Israel in the pages of Jerusalem Post: "All Albanians saved Jews"--which of course omits the realities of WWII Kosovo. Gershman reveals that Elie Wiesel-who, in a moment of historical lucidity, in hindsight reversed himself a few years ago on supporting NATO's anti-humanitarian intervention in Kosovo-is backing the efforts of the foundation Gershman works through. The "Eye Contact Foundation" is headed by another Colorado Jew, Steve Kaufman, according to the Vail Daily, which adds that this project "already has spawned a book and a DVD that tell the stories of Albanian citizens. who sheltered and aided Jews fleeing from the Nazis in Germany," as well as a documentary film by an Emmy-winning production house. So this exhibit has been just an early stage of what we're in for.
If Yad Vashem had more historical savvy, it would have agreed to host the exhibit in, say, six months-once the hotly contested land grab has been resolved, whether by peaceful or violent means. Instead, it has effectively taken a position, one that turns history on its head as the museum inadvertently advances the end result: a return to Albania's Hitler-delineated borders (which included annexing of Kosovo to Albania) and the realization of Albania's agenda of a Greater Albania "under the same [flag] now being flourished in Kosovo," as a recent letter in the Financial Times pointed out. Armed with Yad Vashem's stamp of approval, the UN now proudly duplicates the gross historical error.
Like Elie Wiesel, John Ranz is a Holocaust survivor, and he has called what the West's historically shallow Jews helped do to Serbia on behalf of Albania-which until last week didn't allow Israeli airlines to operate commercial flights from its limits-our "greatest shame."
01 February 2008
By Julia Gorin