Muslims in Albania rescue Jews during the holocaust. Albanians never gave up one Jew to the Nazis.They kept their Besa which means they kept “the promise”.


During the Holocaust, Albania was the only country in Europe that protected and sheltered its entire Jewish population, both native and foreign. Through the valiant efforts of Muslims and Christians, all of Albania’s Jews survived the Holocaust.  After Hitler came to power, Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and even Poland found refuge in Albania. The Albanian Embassy in Berlin issued visas to all Jews who requested them, when no country dared to do so – remember that Albert Einstein fled Germany in 1935 with Albanian papers. Thus began a remarkable rescue, both at the state level – on the orders of King Zog – who refused to give the German authorities his census lists; than at the level of its predominantly Muslim population who hid the Jewish community at the risk of its life. Only one family was deported. Albania therefore not only rescued 200 local Jews, but also 2,000 foreign Jewish refugees. Albania is thus the only country to have increased its Jewish population tenfold between 1939 and 1945. To date, 69 Albanians have been elevated to the rank of Righteous Among the Nations.

When an Albanian gives you his Besa, he or she stakes his honor to ensure someone else’s safety, protection and their life. An obligation that cannot be broken at any cost. One would rather see his son get killed than any harm come to a guest. This code goes way beyond “do unto others and you would them do unto you” and is more inclusive than any other similar moral code like the Hebrew Tzedakah. It goes back to the Bronze Age and supersedes any religion although all religions in Albania adopted this code. In fact, during the war, Albanians argued with each other about who got to protect the Jews. The competition usually ended up with some families providing shelter while other families who lost would just provide food for their Jewish guests. They didn’t discuss whether they would help Jews or not, discussions were only about the “How”. No one ever in any village or town told the Germans about their Jewish guests, so Jews were able to intermingle, feel safe and not have to hide. Albania was the only country that had more Jews at the end of the war than at the beginning. There were only 200 Jews in 1941 and yet 2,000 Jews in 1945.


The film portrays the linking of two true stories about the liberation of Jews and the Albanian people from Nazi occupation during WWII.

Moshe Mandil was a professional photographer who lived in Yugoslavia. When the Germans invaded in April 1941, Moshe, his wife and their two children make their way to Tirana, Albania.  Once in Albania, Moshe found work in a photography studio where he meets Refik Veseli 17, who came from a devout Muslim family.  Moshe acclimates to Albanian and Muslim customs while Refik learns the photography trade.

After the Germans occupy Albania in September 1943, Refik must hide the Mandil  family in his parent’s villa in Kruja. 

Jusef David Bivas and other Jewish high school students flee Yugoslavia  and join the Albanian partisans fighting the Nazis. After several successful sabotage missions Jusef is promoted to the rank of commander and sent to liberate Kruja by the partisan general.  

Refik falls in love with Moshe’s daughter Irena, despite their religious-differences, and Refik now realizes he must save as many Jews as he can. Refik and other Albanians organize several donkey caravans that trek through the mountains in Albania to rescue Jewish families in  Kosovo.

Meanwhile Albanians in Kruja are refusing to turn over Jews., even after the execution of senior Kruja residents. The Germans occupying Kruja are now getting frustrated and call for reinforcements to destroy the entire village.

Jusef finally arrives in Kruja and supports the people of Kruja including Refik and Moshe; and together they combine their efforts. to stop the Germans.  After many small clashes between partisans and Germans, the film ends with a large battle where the partisans both Jew and Muslim defeat the Nazis  on the streets of Kruja, but not without the loss of lives. Jusef is mortally wounded.


Scene: In Yugoslavia where Moshe Mandil and his family live, we see several scenes. We see the Nazis putting Jews on transports that would eventually go to concentration camps in Poland. We see children taken from the mothers and put on separate transports.

Scene: We see Moshe Mandil tell his daughter Rina to turn and walk the other way and never go home again. The Gestqapo are at our apartment and looking for us.

Scene: Moshe Mandil and his family escape to Pristina, Kosovo by a secret car ride.

Scene: The Mandils are found out as being Jewish by the Italian Army and are inprisoned.

 Scene: Guards in Pristina, Kosovo let Moshe and his family escape to Tirana, Albania. Moshe hides his family in a dirty hotel.

Scene: Moshe walks into a photoshop looking for a job and sees his old friend and one of his former apprentices, Neshad Prizerini, a devout Muslim. Working in the photoshop is a young 17 year old boy, Refik Veseli. Refik takes an interest in Moshe.

Scene: German officers come into the shop to get their pictures taken. Moshe makes sure he stays under the black hood attached to the camera on a tripod so not to be seen. One German officer gets suspicious and walks over to Moshe and uncovers his head and face. The German soldier is satisfied and makes a joke, “Why hide your ugly face?” He insists they change places and that the Nazi officer takes Moshe’s picture. He’s satisfied, thanks Moshe, loses his suspicion, and then leaves.

Scene: After a year of working together, Refik realised the Mandils were in trouble. Increasing numbers of German troops were arriving in Albania, and the danger for the Jews living there was increasing. Refik suggested that the family move to his parents’ home in the mountains, where they could hide. He travelled home and had a meeting with his parents and siblings. They plan their first donkey caravan and move the Mandil family to Kruja using three donkeys. The journey took several nights, travelling over hazardous rocky terrain.

Scene: Refik’s younger brother Xhemal (pronounced Jeh-Mahl) brought another Jewish family who needed somewhere to hide – Ruzhica and Yosef Ben Yosef, and his sister Finica. Refik’s brother Hamid had Joseph Ben-Yosif working at his clothing shop. Hamid was inspired by Refik’s rescue of the Mandil’s and created a plan with his youngest brother Xhemal to smuggle Joseph, his wife, and children to safety at the Veseli family’s home in the mountains.Hiding two families was a big undertaking, but the Veseli family didn’t question their duty to do their best to offer protection.

Scene: Xhemal moves the Ben Yosef family to the Kruja by donkeys. On one trip a caravan reaches a German checkpoint with a wooden crossbar, German soldiers order the caravan to stop. The soldiers approach a Ruzhica dressed as a Muslim with a veil over her face. They order her to pull down her veil so they can check her face against her documents. She refuses and says, “As a Muslim woman, I am not allowed to show my face to a compete stranger”. She got away with this trick and the caravan proceeds unharmed.

Scene: Together they (Muslims and Jew) plan a series of trips to rescue of hundreds of Jews from Yugoslavia to Kosovo and then on to Tirana Albania. Once in Albania they run donkey caravans that transport dozens of Jewish families from Tirana to villages in the mountains of Albania like Kruja.

Scene: in Kruja, the father, Vesel Veseli and his wife Fatima set the table for a family dinner, both Veseli and Mandil families are at the dinner table. He quotes the Albanian proverb, “Our house is our quest’s house, then our house above all, it is a Besa: The Promise.” “Germans will have to kill my family before I would let them kill our Jewish guests.”

Scene: We see several other Albanian families cook for the Mandil and Ben Yosef families. The entire town participated in helping the Jews. Dozens of Albanians help the Mandil family and no one told the Nazis that others were hiding Jews. We see Mandils move around outside freely without fear. We see daily chores being conducted by Muslim and Jews, together they help each other feeling safe and comfortable.

Scene: Back in Kruja, Jews instructed their children to dress as Muslim villagers, allowing them to live openly in the village. They are taught by Muslim children how to follow Albanian and Muslim customs.

Scene: The Hoti family is the second family rescuing Jews. Hamid helps his neighbor Hasan Hoti help hide Jews. The Hoti’s property consists of a larger courtyard area with several attached villas. The Lazar family from Prestina came to live with Hoti’s family.

Scene: Rashela Lazar makes friends with Hoti’s daughter Cela. The Hoti daughter picks a new name for Rashela (Shpresa). She shows Shpresa how to wear Muslim clothes and teaches Shpresa how to pray using a prayer rug and when to listen for “the call to prayer” called the muezzin.

Scene: One day, Shpresa does not want to eat and Hoti’s wife says ,”Poor thing, can’t eat.” But the daughter explains, “Mom Shpresa is practicing Ramadan.” The woman looks surprised and smiles.

Scene: German vehicles enter the Hoti courtyard looking for Jews. A required list of family names posted on the front door as demanded by the Germans. They look to the list and find Shpresa’s name and other Jews (with Muslim names) on the list, they seemed satisfied but a bit suspicious. So, they still enter the Vila.

Shpresa and Cela look through cracks (plank separations) in the second floor down to German soldiers on the first floor of the house, the soldiers come looking for possible Jews. The girls come down with their Muslim prayer rugs and start praying in front of the German soldiers, the soldiers are amused, satisfied and leave, “OK No Jews here”

Scene: A German transport rolled up again on another day but this time they had ten prisoners and one of them in the truck, was one Jewish boy about 15 years old. Hasan Hoti saw the boy and decided to rescue him by giving him a note that was hidden inside a piece of melon. The note said run and had a map where to hide in the woods until Hasan could come get him. Hasan then invites the German soldiers into his Vila and gets them drunk. The boy then runs away. When the Germans uncovered this scheme, they brought Hasan into the village and lined him up against a wall to extract information about where the Jew was hiding. Four times they put a gun to his head. They came back and threatened to burn down the village, but Hasan didn’t confess. The Germans torture Hasan. He held out, and finally they left.