A story to be told and retold and spread far and wide
When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, Moshe & Ela Mandil fled with their two children, Gavra and Irena.
They reached Tirana in Muslim Albania, where Moshe found a photography store owned by his former apprentice, Neshad Prizerini.
Neshad invited Moshe's family to stay in his home.
When the Nazis invaded Albania, Neshad's 17-year old apprentice Refik Veseli undertook a long and dangerous journey by mule, leading the Mandil family to his parents' house in the mountain town of Kruja.
The Mandils hid during the day while their children mingled with the Veseli kids. Some time later, Refik's brother Xhernal brought another Jewish family from Tirana - Ruzhica and Yosef ben Yosef, and Yosef's sister Finica.
The two families stayed with the Veselis until the liberation in 1944. Toward the end of the Nazi occupation, partisan activity intensified, and the village was often bombed and searched by the German occupiers.
Fortunately, the Veselis and their guests escaped harm.
After the war, the Mandils returned to Yugoslavia, and Moshe reopened his photography shop. Refik continued his training under Moshe's supervison, and their families remained close.
In 1987, Yad Vashem recognized Vesel and Fatima Veseli and their children Refik, Hamid and Xhemal as Righteous Among the Nations - the first Albanians so recognized.
Gavra Mandil wrote, "In those days, when danger and death were all around, the small and brave Albanian people proved their greatness! Without any fuss and without asking anything in return, the Albanian people performed the elementary human duty and saved the lives of their Jewish refugees."
The remarkable assistance afforded by Muslim Albanians to the persecuted Jews was grounded in Besa, a code of honor.
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. It is estimated that 600 to 1800 Jews, as well as many non-Jews were saved under Besa, as a matter of national honor by the brave people of Albania.
Forgotten heroes remembered every Thursday at Accidental Talmudist.
Learn more about the Veselis and the code of Besa:http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/stories/veseli.asp
Image: The Mandil and Veseli families in Kruja