New York, NY, January 18, 2007
A Muslim family who saved 26 Jews from the Nazis and led them to safety in the mountains of Central Albania was honored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) with its Courage to Care Award.
The award was presented posthumously to Mefail and Njazi Biçaku on International Rescuer's Day, January 17, in New York City. Accepting the award on their behalf were family members Muhamet Biçaku, Elida Hazbiu and Qemal Biçaku, two of whom came from Albania.
Michael Salberg, ADL Director of International Affairs, who presented the award said: "Mefail, his son Njazi and their entire family had the courage to care. Through their compassion and valor without regard for religious or ethnic differences they upheld the honor of the human race and the conscience of the world. In the moral void that engulfed the world in those nightmare days when the cruelty of the Nazis ran rampant, the Biçaku family was among those few shining stars."
H.E. Adrian Neritani, Ambassador of the Republic of Albania to the United Nations spoke at the award ceremony as did Dr. Anna Kohen, President of Motrat Qiriazi, the Albanian American Women's Organization and Myriam Abramowicz, filmmaker and originator of the Hidden Child Movement.
On September 1943, as the Nazis began searching for Jews in the region, word reached Mefail Biçaku that a number of people were in great need. Mefail, a man well-known for his bravery and honesty, gave his "besa"- his word of honor- that he would protect, feed and shelter them. Njazi, his son, guarded their charges constantly, and when bandits in the area suggested Mefail turn the Jews in and claim their wealth, he refused.
In February 1944, when the Nazis descended upon the mountain hiding place, not a single Jew fell into their hands. 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.
Mefail and Njazi Biçaku have both been recognized by the State of Israel and Yad Vashem by being selected to receive its highest honor, the Righteous Among the Nations Award.
In 1987, ADL initiated a unique award to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era. The ADL Courage to Care Award is a plaque with bas-reliefs depicting the backdrop of the rescuers' exceptional deeds the Nazis' persecution, deportation and murder of millions of Jews. The Courage to Care program is sponsored by Eileen Ludwig Greenland. Past recipients of the ADL Courage to Care Award include: Hiram Bingham IV, Sir Nicholas Winton, Konstantin Koslovsky, Jan and Miep Gies, Aristides De Sousa Mendes, Jan Karski, Selahattin Ulkumen, Chiune Sugihara, the French town of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, Emilie and Oskar Schindler, The Partisans of Riccione, Italy and Johanna Vos.