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Kosovo remembers Jews who perished in the Holocaust as Pristina unveils commemorative plaque

Pristina, Thursday 23 May 2013 - Tolerance Week in Kosovo - which takes place from 20 to 26 May - today marked the remembrance of Holocaust victims as a permanent commemorative plaque was unveiled in front of the Kosovo Parliament.

The Jewish community in Kosovo has a long history, contributing much to the diversity of the country, as they made Kosovo their home. Many Jews were saved by the old code of honour, known as “besa,” as they fled the Nazi regime through Kosovo to Albania during the Second World War. This code called specifically for taking responsibility for refugees. Sadly, many Jews also perished as the Nazis reached Kosovo towards the end of the war. 

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, who unveiled the plaque at an official ceremony today said: 

"We are unveiling this memorial to remember Kosovo Jews who perished in the Nazi camps during the Holocaust; we must learn from this tragedy of unspeakable proportions. We must never forget Kosovo families who saved the Jewish population during this dark hour and we must also find strength today to move beyond conflict, beyond hate, to reach out to our neighbors, to join the community of free European Nations, whose freedom today was built on the blood spilled during the Second World War.” 

The Prime Minister added:

"Whilst we remember the victims of conflict, to achieve true reconciliation, we must remember also the perpetrators in the process."

Attending the ceremony, His Excellency Mr Yossef Levy, Ambassador of the State of Israel said:

"The State of Israel cherishes and appreciates the efforts to preserve the memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Kosovo. It expresses its gratitude for the renewal of Jewish life in Kosovo, including the maintenance of the cemetery and the erection of the plaque on the site of the destroyed synagogue in Pristina." 

The inscription on the plaque in Albanian, English, Hebrew and Serbian reads:

“This is the place where last Synagogue of Kosovo stood until 1963. This plaque is raised in memory of Kosovo Jews that perished in Nazi camps during Holocaust. People of Kosovo will never forget them”.

The chosen site marks the place where the last synagogue stood. It was destroyed by the communist regime in the 1960s to make way for socialist-realist architecture, as other important cultural heritage sites including the old city bazaar were also torn down.

Mr. Votim Demiri of the Kosovo Jewish Society said:

"Almost 70 years after the Holocaust, we are witnessing today the moment where the past meets the present with a clear message for the future: this is never to be repeated. By placing this commemorative plaque, Kosovo society proves its maturity, showing that building of a multicultural and tolerant society is the right step towards European integration. On behalf of the Jewish Community of Kosovo, and in the name of all Jews throughout the world, thanks to the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo for this event."

Mr. Agron Rezniqi, representative of the Righteous Families of Kosovo said:
"It was our duty to help Jewish refugees fleeing to safety. Kosovar families are proud to have saved as many as they could and today we remember those who sadly did not escape the Nazi terror."

Also taking place this evening is a presentation by Ron Arad Architects on Kosovo Jewish Heritage Projects at the Ethnological Museum. The Minister for Culture, Memli Krasniqi will speak at that event, alongside the Chief-of-Staff of long-time Kosovo supporter Senator Mr Eliot Engel, Jason Steinbaum.

The Kosovo Foreign Ministry will also host a dinner for guests, alongside a keynote speaker Rabbi Levi Matusof from the European Jewish Parliament. 

A photo exhibition from the book “Besa - Muslims who saved Jews in World War II”, by  Norman H Gershman opens as part of the Interfaith Conference, taking place from 24 to 26 May in Peja, which will bring together almost two hundred community representatives, faith leaders and experts from Kosovo, the region and beyond.

For further information on any of these events, please visit the Interfaith Kosovo website on or follow @InterfaithRKS on twitter using #Interfaith #Kosovo or #Interfaithkosovo.