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Johanna Neumann, Holocaust Survivor, Tells Story Of Being Saved By A Muslim Family In Albania

A Jewish mother and child in hiding in Albania sit on a wooden ledge together with their rescuer.

A Jewish mother and child in hiding in Albania sit on a wooden ledge together with their rescuer.

Before World War II, Albania had about 200 Jews in the country, after World War II it had over 2,000.

Johanna Neumann, Holocaust Survivor, Tells Story Of Being Saved By A Muslim Family In Albania

by  Antonia Blumberg (Huffington Post)

Johanna Neumann was nine years old when her family escaped from Nazi Germany to seek refuge in Albania. They spent six years there and survived the war thanks to a number of Muslim families who sheltered them along the way.

Neumann’s is one of many stories that demonstrate Albania’s often forgotten efforts to shelter Jews during the Holocaust and which inspired the new documentary, Besa: The Promise.

For Neumann, who was raised Jewish, the predominantly Muslim Albania was a culture shock. She describes the experience in the documentary:

“We heard the muezzin call the faithful to prayer, five times a day, and that sound is so familiar to me that when in this day and age I hear the same it’s very heartening to hear it again. When we went to the mosque, it was interesting how they do things similar to the way Jews do it in Islam.”

Neumann may have been young at the time, but the impact these Muslim families played on her life was not lost on her. One family — the Pilkus — made a particularly strong impression. In an interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Neumann said:

My mother met Mrs. Pilku and it’s the family Pilku who rescued us, saved us, hid us in their home during the German occupation. Mrs. Pilku was a German, and this is actually how she met my mother because I guess somehow or somewhere she heard her speak German and so she introduced herself. And we became very close friends with the Pilku family. Mr. Pilku, he was a Muslim. I do not know whether she did or did not become Muslim—that’s irrelevant. She was German. She certainly was a sympathizer with the regime in Germany. Her father apparently had been one of the early supporters of Nazi Germany. And she had a rather large picture of Hitler, framed in her living room.

Despite Mrs. Pilku’s apparent allegiance to Germany, Neumann said, the Pilkus sheltered her family and repeatedly lied to the German soldiers about who they were. “These are my mother’s cousins from Germany,” the Pilkus would say, “and they are visiting with us.”

The complicatedness of human behavior I think is something that we see probably every day in our lives. I think people have many complications. They have many orientations. And I think this just in some people comes out in different fashions, and in different degrees. But I think we all have conflicts within ourselves. And at a time like this in such an upheaval in the world, I mean that’s really what it was, a total upheaval, this is not a normal life at that point at all.

In 1998, Neumann, who also serves as the Associate for Planned Giving and Endowments at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, honored the Pilkus’ names on the wall in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

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  • Reynardine

    There is a song for every hero, even if our mortal ears never hear it. I believe that.

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    He certainly proved that he is worthy of the name.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Yes, if only they were back.
    Many failed to survive the Holocaust. Others left during and after the war. Not because Muslims / Bosniaks did anything to them but because the situation in Bosnia is so bad.
    Yet the (mostly) Sefardi Jews who came to Bosnia after they were expelled from Spain in 1492, and via Venice in the 17th century, have made a very important contribution to Bosnian culture and society.
    They really should be back.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Yes, that was the most moving part.

    Even more so, at least for me, on reading it, was that his name, Sadik, is another way of (roughly) transliterating Tzadik, or one who is righteous. . It’s similar in meaning to the Arabic siddiq, stemming from the same root. It just struck me as so appropriate as a name for someone who was so righteous.

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    “They were all saved, only my father wasn’t. He was denounced, and
    taken on one of the last transports to Jasenovac where he was executed
    for having saved Jews. The name of our father, Ahmed Sadik, is among
    the Jewish names on a large monument that was erected in the memory of
    the victims and fighters.”

    This was very sad.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Of course, we hope that all people will get along very well with each other.

    The statement from Zejneba Hargada at her family’s names being placed on the roll of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad VaShem is moving:

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome. 😉

    I would hope that Bosniaks and Jews would still get along very well with each other.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    It’s because Man is born good. Only society turns him evil. But there are those who refuse to go along.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for reporting that story. I know it very well. Everybody in Bosnia should know it.
    It is just as well that Bosniaks and Jews have for most got along very well with each other.

  • mindy1

    I know, and he became friends with the Afghan man who saved him :)))

  • Reynardine

    It’s essentially the same code. Either it was carried by all these people from their presumed homeland north of the Caspian when the Holocene droughts began, or absorbed from a substrate that had spread earlier, or is adopted independently by those living under harsh, isolated, generally montane conditions. In flat, cold Siberia an ethic of hospitality to any traveller existed, but with less of the conditions relating to tribal strife. The Scottish highlanders observed a similar code. You could not even ask a stranger’s name the first night he sought shelter with you.
    If someone knows if similar strictures exist among the non-IE-speaking peoples of the Caucasus, it might be enlightening.

  • JD

    funny how that is same as “Pashtunwali ” Pashtun code.

    Melmastia (hospitality) – Showing hospitality and profound respect to all visitors,regardless of race, religion, national affiliation or economic status and doing
    so without any hope of remuneration or favour. Pashtuns will go to great
    lengths to show their hospitality.

    Nanawatai (asylum) – Derived from the verb meaning to go in, this refers to the protection given to a personagainst his or her enemies. People are protected at all costs; even those running from the law must be given refuge until the situation can be clarified.Badal (justice)Turah(bravery) Sabat (loyalty) Imandari(righteousness) IsteqamatTrust in God (known as “Allah”
    in Arabic and “Khudai”in Pashto)Ghayrat(respect, honour and courage) Naamus(protection of women) Nang(Honour)

    The code the kept that Taliban from turning over OBL but also saved Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell

  • Tanveer Khan

    DuringWWI, in April 1941, the Germans invaded Yugoslavia. The home of the
    Kavilio family was destroyed, they had fled when the bombing began and
    were left homeless.

    As they ran they met Mustaga Hardaga, a friend of the family who
    offered the Kavilio family to stay at his house. Despite of being
    Muslims and holding traditions such as the women having to wear a veil
    and cover their faces in front of strangers, the family stated that they
    adopted the Kavilio family as part of their own family!

    And to demonstrate this point the women were not obliged to cover their faces!

    Fifty years after the Holocaust, the Kavilio family along with other
    families, was under the attack of Serb forces. Yad Vashem appealed to
    the President of Bosnia to permit them to come to Israel. They sheltered
    with a Jewish family and hence the favor was returned!Remember to always help others; someday you might need their help.

  • Rizwan

    “Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.”

    Read the full article at The Jewish Chronicle website:

  • Nur

    I say, put Pam on the side of a bus with her posters.

  • Nur

    I am not sure if I will get a response here of the people who authorize the screenings. I don’t know how elaborate they have to be, or if you have to pay or buy something, and to be honest, I am of humble means.

    I would like to show this in our little community centre at the Masjid I usually attend. Where I live, there are no Jews, and I don’t know if any ever lived here. We have heard that in the Japanese internment camp, that was near here, there was a Rabbi and his family there, but that is just part of the record.

    Do you think someone can help me, show me how or what to do, or point to me someone who can?

    Thank you ok if you can. 🙂

  • The photo at the top is of Johanna Gerechter Neumann and her mother (2nd and 3rd from left) with Mrs. Pilku and two of her children.

    Thank you for reposting this, and for mentioning our documentary.

  • Reynardine

    My guess is that this is probably a proto- Indo- European code of conduct that persisted even after various tribes separated.

  • Omar_the_Egyptian

    that’s interesting. how did it get from Scotland to the Balkans?

  • mindy1

    Aww great 😀

  • Reynardine

    I have heard of the Besa code. It is similar to an ancient code that obtained from the Scottish Highlands to the Suleiman Hills: honor your host, protect your guest, do no harm to woman, child, unarmed man, or any peaceful traveller on the high road. It’s primal and simple, and, had it been universally observed, few more complex laws would have been needed.

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