The role of Muslims saving Jews during the Holocaust is not well known.
For Xhemal Veseli, a Muslim Albanian who has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, hiding seven Jews during the Holocaust was not even a question for him or his family.
“Muslim religion says, ‘If people are in need of help, no matter who they are, or what they are – whether it’s Muslim, Orthodox Christian or any religion, Islam tells us that we should help these people,” the 89-year-old said. “This was also told to me by the elders, my grandfather, father and mother.”
In a new video released to The Jerusalem Post by From the Depths commemoration group founder Jonny Daniels, Veseli told his remarkable story of why and how he saved the Mandil and Ben Yosef families. The Mandils escaped the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, fleeing to Kosovo province and later Albania, which at the time was occupied by Italy.
“My brother was a photographer in Tirana when he met a group of Jews who arrived from Kavaja to Tirana,” he said. “It was a coincidence that one of them from the group was a photographer, too; he was going to look for a job at a photographer’s shop in Tirana.”
It happened, Veseli explained, that the store where Moshe Mandil was looking for a job was owned by a man named Neshad Prizerini, who was once Mandil’s apprentice.
Prizerini offered Mandil a job and invited him, his wife and two children to stay with his family.
At the time, his apprentice happened to be Veseli’s 17-year-old brother, who was sent from Kruja to learn the trade.
But when the Nazi’s invaded Tirana, “my brother phoned me to come and take them to Kruja,” Veseli recalled, “I went, and I took them in my cattle cart to Kruja – we sheltered them for five months.”
As war continued to rage, Kruja, which was in the mountains, was bombed daily and “we would take shelter in a cave.”
He said that the families they would sheltering would “eat what we ate... we didn’t look much at the religion, we were just trying to stay alive.”
Veseli later brought three members of the Ben Yosef family from Tirana, and both families were hidden in their savior’s barn. They remained with the Veseli family until liberation in November 1944. After the war, the families went back to their hometown of Novi Sad, later bringing Veseli’s brother there, too, to receive further training in photography.
On May 23, 2004, Yad Vashem recognized Veseli as Righteous Among the Nations.
DANIELS TOLD the Post that revealing these stories is very important.
“In today’s fragmented world, there’s so much that divides us as people, there’s so much that separates us,” he explained. “Being able to come together and honor those who honored us all these years later is not just our moral duty, but also continues to spread the light in the world that they brought during the darkest times of modern history.
He made it clear that it is “our turn to step up as millennials to help those that helped us.
“It is no secret that this is a straining and difficult time for the Muslim and Jewish communities, it’s opportunities like this – where we are able to give true thanks and show gratitude – that give us a chance to become closer and appreciate each other,” Daniels stressed.
He added that From The Depths is also run entirely by millennials. “We are the last generation that will have the opportunity to be able to show our gratitude and love to the Righteous.”
Next year, From the Depths hopes to expand its services to the Righteous living in Albania and the surrounding countries.
Part of the plan to help the three Righteous Among the Nations still alive in Albania today is to help them with transport, which includes bringing two of its special Silent Hero Taxis to Albania, and helping them financially.
Daniels pointed out that Veseli’s wife is almost blind, and the medication she needs costs €750 a month, which the family can’t afford.
Speaking about the Silent Hero project, Daniel’s said that they’ve seen how much a difference it has made to the Righteous Among the Nations in Warsaw, just from running it there for the last year.
“It’s a simple idea, but providing one of the most simple of needs, free transportation, has made a huge difference to these people’s lives; wherever and whenever they want to go, we are there to take them for absolutely free,” he said, adding that the use of the London Taxi is also much more than a symbol.
“These cars were built to transport people; and with on board ramps, we are able to take even those in wheelchairs with comfort and ease.”
As of November 1, 2019, there are only 264 Righteous Among the Nations still living worldwide.