JTA — Albania’s prime minister announced plans to open a museum in Tirana dedicated to the stories of its citizens who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
The museum will also honor Jewish history and culture, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama announced while on a state visit to Jerusalem on Wednesday.
The Besa Museum will be named after the strict neighborly honor code that Albanians say motivated them to protect their Jewish neighbors during World War II. Though Albania was occupied by both fascist Italy and later Nazi Germany, its Jewish population grew throughout the war, more than tripling as refugees flocked there from around Europe. Albania’s embassy in Berlin issued false identity papers to Jews, and many locals hid them in their houses. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority, has recognized at least 75 individuals as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews.
“The rescue of the Jews during World War II is one of the most beautiful pages in the history of the Albanians. Christians and Muslims sacrificed everything to protect them,” said Elva Margariti, Albania’s minister of culture. “For Albanians this is BESA; it is a value that we will pass on to our children, telling them this extraordinary story. The Besa Museum will be a bridge of communication between generations; a dialogue space for sharing the best values of our peoples.”
Albania has opened a two-phase competition to find a designer for the space, its ministry of culture said in a statement. The museum will be located in the historic House of Toptans building in downtown Tirana, which the ministry described as an example of “the best of 19th-century Albanian architecture.” A photo provided to press shows it currently in a state of disrepair.
Despite only starting the competition now, the culture ministry told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it hopes to open the museum by the end of the year. Kazakh-Israeli businessman and philanthropist Alexander Machkevitch is funding the competition phase.
“It is another very important moment in Tirana’s history, urban development, and architecture,” Rama said. “And I believe that we will finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief from a long-standing burden of obligation in relation to our children and visitors to our country, which is related to perhaps the most glorious page of Albanian history, the rescue of Jews during WWII.”