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Saturday, 27 October 2012


The words 'next year in Jerusalem' are recited at the end of every Passover celebration. 

But, what would have happened if Albania had become the Jewish Homeland instead of Palestine?

A far-fetched question, you might exclaim, but read on...

Of all the countries in mainland Europe occupied by the Axis Powers during the Second World War, Albania was unique in at least one respect. The number of Jews in that country was greater in 1945 than in 1939 despite being occupied by the 'Nazis'.   

This is reasonably well-known. However, what is much less well-known (to me, at least) is that once Albania was under consideration as a new homeland for the Jewish People.

Leo Elton (1883-1947), visited Albania in 1935. His niece, Dorothea Shefer-Vanson, wrote as follows: 

"An item in the newspaper ... 

...mentioned a document that had been sent to the president of the Hebrew University in 1945 concerning the possibility of settling some of the Jewish refugees then unable to gain access to Mandate-controlled Palestine in Albania. The idea itself was not so alien to me (it is mentioned in Martin Gilbert’s book Churchill and the Jews), but what made me catch my breath was the author of the document. This was Leo Elton, described as ‘a Zionist British journalist’ and known to me as a cousin of my father....

...From the handwritten letter accompanying the report we learned that Leo Elton had indeed visited Albania in 1935. He did so at his own initiative, prompted by newspaper reports of Albania’s willingness to accept Jewish immigration and the restrictions imposed upon entry into the Land of Israel by the British Mandatory authorities. As Martin pointed out, Uncle Leo, though no journalist, was a businessman and hence travelled extensively.
The report is entitled ‘Impressions of a Visit to Albania with Some Observations upon the Opportunities Open to Jewish Settlers in that Country’. Written in impeccable if somewhat flowery English, the report describes in considerable detail the physical, social and economic conditions of Albania, noting ‘it touches the heart how Albania too withered for so long under the blighting hand of the Turk.’ The comparison with the situation in Mandatory Palestine is very clear, and Uncle Leo points out: ‘Although I judge Albania to possess many great natural advantages over Palestine, it has travelled but a very few steps compared with the latter on the road back to vigour and prosperity....

...The soil of Albania is described as fertile and its population sparse, with only one million inhabitants. Leo Elton found that though the population was Muslim, it was not warlike or extreme in character. As we know today, only one Albanian-Jewish family was deported and killed by the Nazis, despite Mussolini’s occupation of the country. All Albania’s Jews were taken in and protected by their Muslim neighbours... "

The whole article may be read by clicking HERE

More detail about Elton's visit were published recently in Haaretz, a Jewish newspaper: 

"...So he traveled to the tiny country of a million inhabitants, which was completely cut off from industrialized Europe. A government minister told him that "in Albania religious intolerance is quite unknown .... The Albanian Muslims of today are no fanatics."

The minister also emphasized that, in contrast to the rest of Europe, Albania had no history of anti-Semitism. "There is no reason whatsoever to expect that Jewish settlers would not live in complete harmony with the population's diverse elements," Elton wrote...

...The oranges and lemons, Elton enthused, were the best in the world, and Jews' success in raising oranges in pre-state Israel could be replicated in Albania. Other suggestions included growing tobacco and raising silkworms, and building up the textile and olive-oil industries. The less positive side, according to Elton, was that the capital Tirana had no theaters or concert halls...

...As a first stage Elton recommended establishing a Jewish national entity in Albania like the one in Mandatory Palestine, with the cooperation of two Zionist movements. Later Albania might even be turned into a Jewish national home...

The full text of this article may be read by clicking HERE

You can read more about ALBANIA by clicking HERE



This is a brief annotated bibliography containing some of the books on Albania, which I have enhoyed reading. It is by no means comprehensive. I have arranged them in order of date of publication.

Durham, M.E.: “High Albania”, publ. Edward Arnold (London) 1909.
Margaret Durham was an anthropologist who fell in love with the Balkans. This describes in great detail the history and anthropology of the tribes living in the remote mountains of northern Albania. There are modern editions of this beautifully written and illustrated classic available.

Peacock, W.: “Albania: The Foundling State of Europe”, publ. Chapman & Hall (London), 1914.
This is a fascinating, detailed account of life in and around Shkodër during the first years of Albanian independence. The author was attached to the British Consulate in Shkodër. His chapter on the future of Albania makes for interesting reading in the light of what actually happened.

Gordon, J & Gordon, C.: “Two vagabonds in Albania”, publ. John Lane The Bodley Head (London), 1927.
Jan and Cora Gordon wrote a large number of “Two Vagabonds in…” travelogues. This one, which describes their trip to Albania, is beautifully illustrated with the authors’ line drawings and chalk sketches. The text is humorous and informative.

Bridge, A.: “Singing Waters”, publ. Macmillan (New York), 1946.
Not quite as good as Bridge’s “Illyrian Spring”, her superb novel set in the Balkans, “Singing Waters” is set largely in Albania.

Muggeridge, M. (ed.): “Ciano’s Diary: 1939 -1943”, publ. William Heinemann (London), 1947.
                This is a translation of Count Ciano’s secret diary, which was smuggled out of Italy by Ciano’s wife at the end of WW2. According to Mosely, who wrote a biography of Ciano, this is a largely accurate account of the events described in the diary. The first chapter of the diary describes the vents leading up to the Italian invasion of Albania.

Buda, A., Cun, J., Rrok, Z., & Skënder, A.: Guide d’Albanie”, publ. by Editions “Albturist” (Tirana), 1958.
Difficult to obtain, this guide produced whilst the Albanians were still allies of the Soviet Union is remarkably detailed. The historical section ends with an affirmation of the country’s alliance with the Soviet Union, ‘… le grand sauveur et défenseur de notre people.

Hamm, H.:  Albania - China’s beachhead in Europe”, publ. Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London), 1963.
Harry Hamm was a German journalist who was allowed to visit Albania in 1962. He was the first western journalist to visit the country since 1957. He arrived just after the Albanians had divorced themselves from the Soviet Union. He describes this break up between former allies in great detail. He also foretells the alliance of Albania and the People’s Republic of China, which began soon after his visit. Hard to find, this is a fascinating book.

Logoreci, A.: “The Albanians”, publ. Westview Press (Colorado), 1977.
Published just after the death of Mao Tse Tung, this scholarly but readable book gives many interesting insights about the political, social, and economic conditions prevailing in Hoxha’s Albania. He predicts the rift that developed between China and Albania not long after Mao’s death. The book ends with a comprehensive reading list over five pages in length.

Kadare, I.: “Broken April”. First published in 1978, numerous editions are available. 
This haunting tale, which revolves around the Law of Lek, the codification of feuding in traditional Albania, is a brief but brilliant story about the last days of a young man expecting to be killed in an inter-familial vendetta. As in his other works, Ismail Kadare captures a great deal with a few words.

Ward, P.: “Albania”, publ. Oleander Press (Cambridge), 1983.
The author describes his trip to Albania and uses it as the framework for his informative illustrated guidebook. It is the most interesting guidebook to the country that I have come across.

Halliday, J.: “The Artful Albanian”, publ. Chatto & Windus, 1986.
                This book contains a number of extracts from the voluminous writings of Enver Hoxha and interesting commentaries about them. I lent my copy to one of the people with whom I travelled to Albania, and she never returned it. If she is reading this now, I ask her to return it immediately.

Robyns, G.: “Geraldine of the Albanians: The Authorised Biography”, publ. Frederick Muller Ltd, 1987.
This true-life Mills and Boon tale, a biography of King Zog’s Hungarian wife, was written by Barbara Cartland’s biographer. It includes a description of Geraldine whimpering into her pillow on being deflowered.

Jones, L.: “Biografi”, publ. André Deutsch, 1993.
                This curious tale about the fate of one of Enver Hoxha’s doubles in post-communist Albania contains good descriptions of conditions in the country soon after the end of communist rule.

Pettifer, J.: “Blue Guide: Albania”, publ. A&C Black (London), 1994.
 Published soon after Albania shed its communist regime, this detailed guidebook does its best in his section on ‘Personal Security’ to portray Albania as a lawless place, to which only the foolhardy visitor should stray. This book provides an encyclopaedic account of Albania and her people.

Mosely, R.: Mussolini’s Shadow”, publ. Yale University Press (New Haven), 1999.
This detailed biography of Count Ciano, Mussolini’s foreign minister and son-in-law contains a chapter on the Italian involvement in in Albania during WW2.

Kadare, I.: “The Successor”, published in 2003.
This chilling tale, which explores the mysterious death of the successor to a political leader, is most probably based on the sudden death of Enver Hoxha’s right hand man and probable successor Mehmet Shehu.

Tomes, J.: “King Zog: Self-made monarch of Albania”, publ. Sutton (Stroud, Gloucestershire), 2003.
This well-written, interestingly detailed account of Zog’s life in Albania, and then later in exile, includes a chapter about the Western Allies attempts to wrest Albania from the Communists in the 1950s.

Kadare, I.: The Accident: a novel”, first published in 2009.
This recent novel by world famous author Ismail Kadare concerns the investigation of a mysterious traffic accident near to Vienna’s airport. This story does not make for easy reading. It is deliberately confusing. I suspect that it gives the reader a good insight into the tortuous thought processes that were needed to survive in the oppressive atmosphere that was inspired by Albania's long serving dictator Enver Hoxha.  


Dicing with debt, Jakob Klein struggles to support his growing family. He'll stop at nothing to achieve this. His dubious business ethics inevitably lead him into trouble with the law. He is imprisoned. His family have to flee from the small town in the Orange Free State, where they have lived. 

What wll become of them, and of Jakob? Will they ever be reunited? 

Read all about it in Adam Yamey's historical novel "ROGUE OF ROUXVILLE", available on AMAZON (Click HERE FOR KINDLE)  and also on www.lulu.com (Click HERE FOR PAPERBACK ) .

For more details, click HERE

Saturday, 13 October 2012


Last night we dined at  'Mr Kong', one of the numerous chinese restaurants in Soho's Lisle Street.  It is located near to a gabled building, which was until recently. the St Johns Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. Now it houses the 'Slug and lettuce' pub.

We ate a good meal. It consisted of: crispy seaweed, razor clam, hot and sour soup, roast pork with garlic shoots (these look like thin green beans), fried mussels in black bean sauce, and deep fried salted aubergine and tofu. The latter, a vegetarian dish, was as delicately fried as the best Japanese tempura. It is one of the dishes on Mr Kong's special vegetarian menu. I could not decide which I enjoyed more - the mussels or the 'veg' dish. In any case, this restaurant has been one of the best in London's China Town since it opened in 1984.

A short lane leads from Lisle Street to Leicester Square. Almost next door to the Prince Charles cinema and surmounted by the flags of the francophone nations is the main entrance to Notre Dame de France, a French Roman Catholic church. After climbing a few stairs, the circular church opens up in front of you.

On the left side of the high altar, at ninety degrees to it, there is a side chapel that contains a wonderful surprise.

The walls surrounding the altar, whose front is decorated with a mosaic by Boris Anrep (1883-1969), are covered with a mural depicting the Crucifixion. This was drawn on the wall by Jean Cocteau in 1960. It is an unusual crucifixion because the only parts of Christ that have been drawn are his nailed feet and the lower part of his legs.

Now, why not read  "ROGUE OF ROUXVILLE" ?

Dicing with debt, Jakob Klein struggles to support his growing family. He'll stop at nothing to achieve this. His dubious business ethics inevitably lead him into trouble with the law. He is imprisoned. His family have to flee from the small town in the Orange Free State, where they have lived. 

What wll become of them, and of Jakob? Will they ever be reunited? 

Read all about it in Adam Yamey's historical novel "ROGUE OF ROUXVILLE", available on AMAZON (Click HERE FOR KINDLE)  and also on www.lulu.com (Click HERE FOR PAPERBACK ) .

For more details, click HERE

Saturday, 6 October 2012


It was a long drive from Korçë back to Tirana. We passed countless domed concrete bunkers and a stream of political slogans. Some of these, which were as widely distributed throughout the country as were the bunkers, were on hoardings by the roadside. Others were spelled out in enormous letters on hillsides and mountain tops and could be seen for miles around. The letters forming these gigantic propaganda messages were made up of innumerable white pebbles painstakingly gathered together by children and other ‘volunteers’. This is well illustrated in “Slogans”, a film by an Albanian director made in 2001.

The film depicts a school in a small Albanian village during the late 1970s. The director has had news that an important party member is planning to visit the area. The teachers take their young pupils out onto a mountainside and day after day they collect stones and frantically prepare a giant political slogan. Meanwhile, other preparations are being made to welcome the dignitary. The great day finally arrives, and the villagers line up along the village street, waiting excitedly. The car carrying the celebrity roars right through the village at high speed without stopping. The party member being transported does not even look up from the papers that he was perusing as he was driven past the people so eagerly awaiting his visit.

The roadside propaganda was so successful that a number of the messages remained firmly etched in my brain. There were many slogans plastered all over the country, but little variety in the messages that they conveyed. “Work, Disciple, Vigilance” written in Albanian, was a common roadside exhortation. Many a mountainside was adorned with “Parti Enver” (‘Party of Enver’) or “Laudi PPSH”, which those who have learnt Latin will recognise as meaning ‘Praise the PPSH’ (PPSH being an abbreviation for ‘Partia e Punës e Shqipërisë’ - the Albanian Workers' Party. And, the words “Rroftë shoku Enver!” that translate as ‘Long live Comrade Enver’ praised the country’s only party’s leader.

In 2001, long after my trip to Albania, I began working in a dental practice in west London. Many of my patients were and still are refugees from the places in the world, which are stricken by military and political conflicts. Algerians, Iraqis, Afghans, Kurds, Palestinians, Eritreans, and many other others who have fled their far-off disturbed homes sit in my surgery and reveal the ravages that life has inflicted on their teeth. During the terrible conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, many of my patients hailed from Kosovo, and usually spoke poor English in addition to their native Albanian. Many was the smile I elicited from them when I quoted the old party slogans, and wished them ‘Mir u pafshim’ instead of ‘Goodbye’.

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