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The Jewish Community of Albania

Albania

Republic of Albania / Republika e Shqipërisë
A Balkan republic on the eastern shores of the Adriatic sea.

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: less than 50 out of 2,900,000. 

Albanian Jewish Community
Phone: 355 69 20 78 790
Email: info@ajc.al  or   albaniajewishcommunity@gmail.com


HISTORY

Between 1478-1912 Albania was a part of the Turkish empire. Since then - an independent republic and later a monarchy until its annexation by Italy at the outbreak of the second world war in 1939. From the end of the second world war (1939-1945) until 1991 it was an isolated communist republic.

It is believed that Jews were living at the port of Durazzo already in Roman times. The Jews of Durazzo are mentioned in rabbinical responsa of the 13th century and by an English traveler in 1322 and also later in the period when Albania was under the rule of Venice in the 15th century.

A small number of Jewish refugees from Spain founded communities and synagogues in the ports of Albania at the beginning of the 16th century. Prior to this Benjamin of Tudela visited this part of the world during his travels in 1170, finding some Jews there. Already in the 16th century small Jewish commercial communities existed in Berat, Durazzo, Elbassan, as well as Valona, with Castilian, Catalonian, Sicilian, Portuguese and Apulian synagogues.

The false Messiah Shabbetai Zevi was exiled by the Turkish sultan from Constantinople to Albania in 1673 together with some family members. He became very sick in the small Albanian town of Dulcigno and died in 1676.

During the Turkish-Venetian war of 1685 the Jewish community members of Valona fled to Berat. Those staying behind were taken prisoner, among them the kabbalist Nehemia Hayon. During the years 1788-1822 the local Jews were in the arbitrary hands of the governor Ali Pasha. The spoken dialect of the Albanian Jews was Greek supplemented with Latin and Turkish. In certain parts of greater Albania there lived in the past Jewish inhabitants, but these parts were annexed by Greece and Yugoslavia after the Balkan war.

After the first world war only a small number of Jews continued to live in Albania. According to the population census there were 204 Jews living there in 1930. However the Albanian Jewish community was officially recognized by the authorities on April 2, 1937. On the eve of the second world war in 1939 a restricted number of Jewish families from Austria and Germany found refuge in Albania. (60 families in the capital Tirana and some 40 in the town of Durazzo.) 95 additional German Jews arrived in Tirana in march 1939.


The Holocaust Period

Until the summer of 1944 the Jews of Albania remained unharmed by the German invasion in the summer of 1943. A German-Italian agreement transferred Yugoslav territory to Albanian control. Many Serbian and Croatian Jews looked for refuge in these annexed territories and were given decent treatment by the local population and the Italian occupying forces.

Some of the Jews were placed in the Kavaja transit camp, and from there sent to Italy. However the Italians handed over to the Germans the Jewish refugees who were kept in the Pristina prison in the Yugoslav annexed territory. These refugees were shipped to Belgrade and put to death.

After the Italian surrender to the allies in September 1943 the Germans took control over the entire area and in April 1944 some 300 Jews were imprisoned in Pristina and others followed them later. Out of a shipment of some 400 Jews sent by the Germans to Bergen-Belsen only about 100 survived at the end of the war.


In 1969 there were some 200 Jews, mostly of Sephardic descent, living in the capital Tirana. They had no communal organization, no rabbis and no facilities for Jewish education. However there was no sign of discrimination or persecution under the communist rule, since the end of World War II.

Following changes in the political climate of eastern Europe in the 1990’s the process reached at last isolated Albania too, and almost all the Jews of Albania managed to emigrate to Israel in the spring of 1991.

In 1996 there were only a small number of Jews in the whole of Albania, of whom the majority, 25, lives in the capital Tirana. They do not have an organized community, but the Albania-Israel friendship society does some work. Joseph Jakoel of Tirana documented and wrote at the beginning of the 1990s the history of the Jews of Albania. There was a synagogue in the town of Valona, but it was no longer in use. Only 10 Jews were registered in Albania in the World Jewish Congress records of 1997.

Place Type:
Country
ID Number:
120376
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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