Omaha, NE, April 1, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Institute for Holocaust Education will honor an Albanian Muslim woman who along with her family risked her life to shelter and save two Yugoslavian Jewish families during the Holocaust.
In recognition of her courage, heroism and selfless acts, the League will present Deshire Kumi-Veseli with its Courage to Care Award. The award, which honors rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era, will be accepted by her granddaughter, Olta Gjoca, during an April 11 ceremony at the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home in Omaha. Kumi-Veseli currently lives in Albania.
Together with her parents and four siblings, Kumi-Veseli offered a hiding place at their home in the Albanian village of Kruja to the Mandil and Ben-Yosef families – Jews who had fled Yugoslavia to Albania.
"Deshire Kumi-Veseli and her family were people of moral courage and conscience," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. "They could easily have looked the other way and let these Jewish families fend for themselves. Instead, at immense personal risk, the Veseli family intervened and put everything on the line to save their friends. We are proud to recognize this incredible act of courage and bravery."
Vesel and Fatime Veseli, from the town of Kruja, Albania were the parents of five children: three sons – Hamit, Refik, Xhemal, and two daughters – Hyrije and Deshire. During World War II, Hamit and Refik were living and working in Tirana, Albania's capital city.
At the time of the Nazi invasion in September 1943, Refik Veseli was working in a photo studio. There, he befriended Mosa Mandil, a Jewish photographer who had fled Yugoslavia with his family. After conferring with his own family, Refik made the courageous decision to offer a hiding place to the Mandils, and later to the Ben-Yosef family, also Jews from Yugoslavia. Xhemal led the group of seven Jews on donkeys from Tirana to Kruja to safe hiding at their home in the village.
During the day, the adults remained hidden in a room above the Veseli family barn. Deshire, the youngest of the five siblings, was only 10 years old at that time, but did her part in helping the Yugoslavian-Jewish families. When the Germans raided her village, she took the children and wives to a small, dark bathroom in the basement, causing tremendous stress to the young girl. The Veseli men helped to hide the others on their property. The Mandil and Ben-Yosef families stayed with the Veselis until liberation in November 1944.
Presentation of the Courage to Care Award will take place during the ADL Tribute to the Rescuers High School Essay Contest awards ceremony. The essay contest asks students to write about an individual or group who have shown moral courage, offering examples from the Holocaust, like the Veseli family.
"To present this important award in our region is a testament to ADL's commitment to Holocaust education and to our impact in the community," said Alan Potash, ADL Plains States Regional Director. "It is humbling to be in the presence of a family who risked their lives to save members of the Jewish community."
"Besa is the Albanian code of honor and morality faithfully followed by Muslim families in Albania," added Beth Seldin Dotan, Director of the Institute for Holocaust Education in Omaha. In 2008, the Veseli family contacted Dotan to share the testimony of Kumi-Veseli. "One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word. Besa is one reason why Albania was the only European country to have more Jews after the war than prior to the war, and it is the reason that the Veseli family placed themselves in constant jeopardy to save these two Jewish families."
Deshire Kumi-Veseli's parents and older siblings were previously recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
In 1987, the ADL created 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 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: Irene Gut Opdyke, Gilberto Bosques Salvidar, Eduardo Propper de Callejon, Khaled Abdelwahhab, Ernst Leitz II, Mefail and Njazi Bicaku, Hiram Bingham IV, Sir Nicholas Winston, 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.