ALBANIA, Balkan state (bordering Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Republic of Yugoslavia), Macedonia, and Greece) on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea; from 1478 to 1913 under the sovereignty of Turkey.
*Benjamin of Tudela heard of people living in the region, evidently Wallachians, toward the end of the 12th century: "They are not strong in the faith of the Nazarenes and call each other by Jewish names, and some say that they are Jews." Jewish settlements were founded at the beginning of the 16th century in the Albanian seaports by exiles from Spain, who were joined by refugees from other areas. There were sizeable trading communities at Berat, Durazzo, Elbassan, and Valona: here there were Castilian, Catalonian, Sicilian, Portuguese, and Apulian synagogues.
In 1673 Shabbetai Ẓevi was exiled by the sultan to Albania, dying in Dulcigno. In 1685, during the Turkish-Venetian War, members of the Valona community fled to Berat. Those who remained were taken prisoner, including Nehemiah *Ḥayon. Between 1788 and 1822 Jews suffered from the extortions of Ali Pasha. The Jewish minorities were accused of collaborating to suppress the rebels during the Albanian revolt in 1911.
After World War I only a small number of Jews were living in Albania, in Koritsa (1927). According to a 1930 census, there were 204 Jewish inhabitants in Albania. The Albanian community was granted official recognition on April 2, 1937. In 1939, some families from Austria and Germany took refuge in Tirana and Durazzo.
The Holocaust Period
In July 1940 all Jews were ordered to transfer to Berat, Lushnje, and Fier. Nine months later, during the battle between Greece and Italy in April 1941, when part of Yugoslavia was annexed to Albania, an additional 120 Jewish refugees from Serbia, Croatia, and Macedonia arrived there. In addition, 350 Jewish prisoners of war were brought in from Montenegro. Jewish refugees were well treated by the native population. The local community in Kavaje assisted 200 Jewish refugees. In 1942 refugees from Pristina were transferred to Berat and protected there.
In September 1943 after the change in the Italian government and the German domination of Italy, Albania came under German control and the situation of the Jews deteriorated dramatically. Some Jews fled to the partisans. Others obtained false papers. Albanian bureaucrats gave identity papers to
many Jews of Kavaje so they could go to Tirana and hide there and in 1944 the governors of Albania refused to cooperate in submitting a list to the Germans of all the Jews.
In all, 600 Jews were saved from the Holocaust. Only six Jews from Shkoder were arrested and sent to a camp in Pristina. No Jews were turned over to the Germans.
After World War II until the collapse of Communism in 1990, the community, numbering 200–300, was completely cut off from the Jewish world. All religion was strictly outlawed and there was no communal life, no rabbi, and no Jewish educational facilities. In 1991 almost the entire community was airlifted to Israel. Relations between Albania and Israel were subsequently normalized, with an agricultural cooperation agreement signed in 1999 and Israeli aid accepted for the Kosavar refugees there. Efforts were made by the Joint to revive community life among the few dozen remaining Jews, nearly all in the capital, Tirana. A synagogue still existed in Valona (Vlore) but was no longer in use.
G. Scholem, in: Zion, 17 (1952), 79–83; Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, 2 (1957), 787–90; Bernstein, in: Jewish Daily Bulletin (April 17–18, 1934); A. Milano, Storia degli Ebrei italiani nel Levante (1949), 63–66; J. Starr, Romania… (Eng., 1949), 65, 81–83. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: PK; M. Arbell, "The Jewish Community of Vlor–Valona–Avilona and Its Role in the Adriatic," in: Los Muestros, 50 (2003), 16–20.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.