Between 40 and 50 Jews live in Albania out of an overall population of 2.87 million in 2017. The World Jewish Congress affiliate is the Albanian Jewish Community.
According to one Albania historian, Jews first arrived in Albania as early as the year 70 of the Common Era. Jewish communities were established in Albania by refugees from Spain, Portugal and Sicily at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th. Some settled along the coast, especially in the port city of Durres (Durazzo), but most Jews made their homes in Berat, in central Albania.
The Albanian struggle for independence in 1911 and 1912 saw Albanian Jews accused of collaborating with Turkish authorities against the nationalist uprising, despite the fact that for the most part Jewish sympathies lay with the nationalists. The 1930 census recorded 204 Jews in the country, mainly in Tirana and Vlore (Valora).
In 1937, the Jewish community was granted official recognition by the Albanian government. In 1939, a small number of German and Austrian Jewish refugees seeking refuge from Nazi persecution found sanctuary in the country and were later joined by Jews fleeing Croatia and Serbia. Prior to World War II, there were approximately 600 Jews living in Albania, most of them refugees from Nazi persecution. The Albanian population, as well as the Italian forces occupying the country from 1939, was, for the most part, sympathetic to the Jews. As a result, nearly the entire Jewish community survived intact and Albania is the only country occupied by Axis powers of World War II that that emerged from World War II with more Jews than in 1939.
Until the collapse of Communism in 1990, the community was completely cut off from the Jewish world. All religion had been strictly outlawed, and consequently there was no Jewish communal life. In 1991 nearly the entire Jewish community, numbering some 300 people, was airlifted to Israel.
Albania was occupied by Italy in April of 1939, and the Italian authorities tended not enforce the anti-Jewish racial laws. Many Albanians helped and protected their country’s Jews during the Holocaust years, although after Germany seized the country from Italy in 1943, substantial numbers of Albanian Jews were imprisoned, and some 600 were sent to various Nazi concentration camps. Only around 100 of 600 Albanian Jews who were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp survived. Nevertheless, at the end of World War II, there were 2,000 Jews in Albania, making it the only Nazi-occupied territory whose Jewish population increased during the Holocaust.
The religious affiliation of the population is 56.7% Muslims, 13.79% undeclared, 10.03% Catholics, 6.75% Orthodox believers, 5.49% other, 2.5% Atheists, 2.09% Bektashis and 0.14% other Christians. The Jewish population of Albania is estimated to be in the range of 40 to 50 people.
With the departure of almost the entire Jewish community, there is virtually no organized Jewish life in Albania today. Most of the few remaining Jews live in the capital, Tirana. A Greek based Chabad rabbi operates the Hechal Shlomo Synagogue in Tirana.
Albania recognized Israel as the Jewish State in 1945. Israel and Albania have maintained diplomatic relations since 1991 and there is an Israeli embassy in Tirana.
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