The Installation of History: Holocaust Memory in an Independent Kosovo

By Alissa Boguslaw

The discourse of Holocaust memory—or even the Holocaust as a universal trope for memory, for human suffering, and the ways in which we (the West) have come to understand genocide in the 20th century—is all too familiar.  I often ask myself, has everything been said? Frustrated with the omnipresent “never forget”—in academia, public discourse, and popular culture—I am still drawn to this discursive body, still drawn to the archives, annals and accounts;  the memories, memoirs and multiple  manifestations, all of which have crossed spatial and temporal boundaries.  We are inundated with such knowledge—and the question of what to do with such knowledge obviously lingers.  No one can deny that there was—is—and will be—more “to be said.”  But the question of “how much is too much,” also lingers.  It is as if our current milieu has replaced history with memory.  No doubt are history and memory entangled, but it would seem, at least to me, that the histories (both in and of) the 20th century—and especially in the last thirty or so years—are doubly-marked by memory.  More than just an “entanglement” of history and memory, historical writing encounters and becomes entangled with the discursive body of memory.  As though the 1970s spurred a sort of “commemorative turn,” and the 1990s saw the crystallization of Holocaust memory (pace Novick), this duality is exceedingly clear to scholars of the genocides, the wars, and the human atrocities which occurred in the very same era.  The historicism becomes a priori, as though we cannot divorce Srebrenica from Auschwitz, the Interahamwe from the Nazis, or Pol Pot from Hitler.  While what Churchill referred to as a ‘holocaust’ in Armenia, was not deemed a ‘genocide’ until after Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Jasenovachad all closed, and as the “commemorative turn” meets the “CNN effect”—the images of bodies and the bodies of knowledge—are seemingly forever intertwined, inscribed in the archives of memory and the collections of history. 

The recurrence of human suffering at the cause of human hands, genocide, and “genocidal politics” has proven to keep, Andreas Huyssen points out, the discourse and imagery of Holocaust memory “alive,” contaminating it and extending it past its original reference point. ”  Huyssen, David MacDonald, Barbie Zelizer, Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider, to name only a few—make the ‘case,’ for Kosovo, so to speak.  Huyssen insists that “NATO’s ‘humanitarian’ intervention in Kosovo and its legitimation has […] largely depended on Holocaust memory.” Following MacDonald, Marko Zivkovic, Sabrina Ramet, Laura Silber and Allan Little, and Jovan Byford’s analyses the pervasiveness of Holocaust memory in the context of Kosovo— exceed well beyond the borders of its employment in Western media.  Yes, Huyssen is right to contend that the Kosovo war “confirms the increasing power of memory culture in the late 1990s,” (especially as “it also raises thorny issues about using the Holocaust as a universal trope for historical trauma”).  We watched on television “streams of refugees across borders, women and children packed into trains for deportation, and stories of atrocities, systematic rape, and wanton destruction,” serving to mobilize “politics of guilt in Europe and the United States associated with nonintervention in the 1930s and 1940s and the failure to intervene in the Bosnian war of 1992.”

In the case of Kosovo, Holocaust serves as a “strategic site ”for more than just NATO’s “humanitarian intervention” (pace Noam Chomksy) or as the key reference point in Elie Wiesel’s plea to Bill Clinton to “do something” about Kosovo in 1999. The Holocaust as well as a “Jewish trope” surfaced in Yugoslavia in the late 1980s, beginning with Serbia and ending with—and in—Kosovo.  Somehow, identifying as the “Jew” served “to legitimate the violent re-creation of national space.” In addition to the language of Jewish suffering, is the narrative of Jewish rescue, that is, the rescue of some 2000 Jews by Albanians during the Second World War. This narrative will thus be the focus of my discussion. Reading this “rescue” as both a historical moment and a discursive body, the exhibition itself becomes a tool of history-writing. Current Kosovar-Albanian historiography is, of course, comprised of contested narratives, presupposed by national ideologies.  Emerging are the spectres of evidence, haunting such interconnected narratives which not only share the trope of Holocaust memory—but also serve in the construction and representation of identity.  Thus the memory of Jewish rescue not only serves as an emblem of ethnic and national struggle, but a tool and trope in the construction of a post-sovereign, Kosovar-Albanian identity.

That being said, Albanian identification with the Holocaust is obviously not universal; at this point, I do not know what children learn in school, or what the textbooks say.  At the same time, however—and notwithstanding my own experiences—it certainly seems like “everyone” knows this story.  From Lydig Avenue in the Bronx (“Little Albania”) to tiny towns along the Kosovo-Albanian border, my initial encounters with Albanians (upon informing them of my research or of my own descent)—goes something like this: “did you know that after World War II there were more Jews in Albania than anywhere else in Europe?” Ultimately, such an identification is more than just anecdotal; it is quite visible in dominant discourse.  But in this moment, there is a paradoxical element of identifying with the Holocaust, that is, the “Jewish trope” emerges at the liminal thresholds of victor and victim, of rescuer and rescued. Just after Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, the following passage, written by a prominent, Kosovar intellectual and politician, appeared (in English) in newspapers throughout the state, as well as in regional print and internet publications:

I’m writing from an independent country. The newest state in the world. I’m writing you with a smile on my face and I have a very personal reason to be happy. Now, I have a citizenship.  I was just becoming sick and tired of putting UNMIK acronym each time I would sign my country of residence. I am tired of being called Kosovo resident and having no citizenship. I am tired of being given a furious look each time I would pass a border point on some foreign country, whenever I would show them my UNMIK travel document, instead of a real passport.

And I was celebrating yesterday night. I was celebrating in such a level that I remained in bed today. I had every reason in the world to celebrate! I still remember when back in 1999 me and my family were forced to leave our house, an old one floor house that was totally destroyed few days after. I remember, although I don’t think about it very often, how we were put in a train and left in the middle of nowhere in Kosovo-Macedonian border.  As we were struggling to survive for 5 days in a grave-yard valley between two border points, having no documents to enter Macedonia (as they were taken away from us) and not being allowed to return, I can still remember every single drop of rain that never stopped falling.  A group of people with a drum and an Israeli flag came to visit us, showing their empathy for my people, who just like the Jewish people, were deployed from their country. I envied them to actually have a flag and freedom to use it. The freedom that we, Kosovars, never had before.  The group’s message was clear: Kosovars were expelled and deployed just like Israelis. I understood that one day we would return and create a state with the help of world’s democratic powers just like Israelis did.
—Krenar Gashi

There is a unique—and messy—constellation of political and cultural narratives among Kosovar-Albanians in their new state.  But in this constellation, there is a dominant trope of independence in the building of a Kosovar-Albanian identity—which emerges both internally and internationally.  That is, drawing from Valur Ingimundarson—the internal aspect embodies Albanian ethno-nationalism, which “serves the goal of independence, signifying the intensity of the conquest for power and the struggle against Serbian rule in the 1990s.” The second, “which is targeted at the so-called ‘international community’—entails the desire for an economic and military insurance policy against the return of Kosovo to Serbia.”

Furthermore, this trope of independence, engages narratives of both heroism and victimhood.  It is not simply that this message of heroism targets Kosovar self-recognition, while the latter appeals to international sympathies.  Rather, heroism and victimhood—self-identification, independence, and internationality—are all intertwined, in dialogue, and in constant tension with one another. And it is precisely the Holocaust which emerges among this entanglement.  That is, the Holocaust—more specifically, identification with the Holocaust—entails the understanding of a heroic history of Jewish rescue, and the memory of being victims of the war in 1999, wherein Kosovar-Albanians were viewed through the prism of the “Auschwitz analogy.”

This is indeed a  heady task, but I will attempt to explore these ideas here. I treat this essay as more of a “draft,” or perhaps—an exercise, as this is a field I am only beginning to research and understand.  (And there are not exactly entire schools of thought devoted to this topic).  I will carve out a sphere of discourse, locating heroism, victimhood, and human atrocity within the construction of a newly emerging Kosovar-Albanian identity.  I argue that this newly emerging Kosovar-Albanian identity relies not only on historical writing, but is, in itself, a process of writing history.

First, I will examine the commemoration of Jewish rescue by looking to two recent projects: the exhibition, Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II, and well as the documentary film, Rescue in Albania. Secondly, I will return to a more theoretical discussion of Kosovar identity, as the spectres of the “Jewish trope” resurface in the recent memory of the Kosovo War.  Ultimately, framed through the lens of Kosovar-Albanian memory and identity, the nature of these memory projects come  to embody underlying historiographical questions and their implications for those who create, consume, produce, and reproduce this particular body of knowledge.  In other words, we can understand the way in which such “sites of memory” serve their ideological and epistemological functions
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Besa: Memories on Display

“My father said that the Germans would have to kill his family before he would let them kill our Jewish guests.” —as told by Merushe Kadiu, daughter of Besim and Aishe Kadiu

In 2006, a photography exhibition, entitled Besa: A Code of Honor; Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust, opened at Yad Vashem.  Featuring the work of Norman Gershman, on display are over 70 photos, narrating Gershman’s travels throughout Albania and Kosovo, and profiling the Albanians who hosted, protected, and otherwise helped Jews during the Second World War.  (Kosovo was then a part of Greater Albania, before it was re-annexed to Yugoslavia in 1944). The exhibition also marked the inauguration of the Albanian individuals as “righteous among the nations”—they are deemed collectively as “Righteous Muslims.” Gershman’s photographs have been published as a collection re-titled Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II.  To date, there are 97 ongoing exhibitions worldwide, including a permanent installation at Yad Vashem, multiple electronic versions—alongside Yad Vashem’s official, digital exhibition.  With the success of the exhibition, its accompanying documentary film, God’s House: Muslims who Saved Jews During World War II, will soon debut as a separate, full-length film.  The forthcoming, Besa: The Promise (now in postproduction) will feature Gershman traveling to Israel with Rexhep Hoxha, a man determined to return a set of Judaic books to the survivor his family sheltered. And just several weeks ago, many of the surviving families had an opportunity to reunite—when the exhibition opened in Prishtina (Kosovo’s capital).  There, it is titled BESA: Albanians Who Saved the Jews During World War II.  I cannot help but notice the varying titles and the different names assigned to the very same exhibit—as it premiers in different spaces. This is not a matter of nuanced translation; Gershman is American—each film, each installation, and each copy of the book in publication is in English.  And next week, I will finally have the opportunity to attend Besa: A Code to Live By in my hometown of St. Louis, co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Islamic Foundation

The term ‘besa,’ does not translate easily into English, but typically refers to ‘promise,’ ‘honor,’ or a ‘sworn oath.’ Besa is a fundamental aspect of the Albanian Kanun—the code of customary law—passed down over the centuries orally; published only in the 20th century. The actual concept besa is caught up with kinship, contracts of blood, personal and military sacrifice.  (In fact, I would assert that in everyday life, for everyday Albanians, besa is used much like the term ‘mitzvah’ for secular Jews.) Gershman remarked that in the onset of his project, he was searching for something “righteous.” Thus he extends the concept of besa to refer to righteousness as well (that is, “the righteous among the nations”).  In what Gershman calls “Besa Stories,” alongside the photographs and personal accounts of living individuals—or memories of their surviving families, he narrates the different ways Albanian risked their lives and the lives of their families to shelter Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Italy, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia. Despite the fact that Albanian Catholics, Orthodox, and Partisan communists also took part in this process, the exhibition is dedicated specifically to those who were Muslim —for, in Gershman’s words, “who ever heard of Muslims saving Jews?” In the print-version, his own commentary is interwoven throughout the book.  He continually refers to besa—redefining it as “keeping the promise”—and because of besa, “the Albanian villagers were motivated to risk their lives by the simple concept of helping one’s neighbor.” In effect, the exhibit makes the case that the Muslim Albanian villagers who sheltered Jews from deportation to concentration camps did so from a sense of religious obligation.  “Besa is a cultural idea,” Gershman tells a reporter, “but for the Muslims in Albania it was ingrained in their faith as well.”

Four times we Albanians opened our doors. First to the Greeks during the famine of the World War I, then to the Italian soldiers stranded in our country after their surrender to the Allies, then the Jews during the German occupation and most recently to the Albanian refugees from Kosovo fleeing the Serbs. Only the Jews showed their gratitude.  —Story as told by Hamid Veseli and Xhemal Veseli

The Besa exhibition is, of course, not the only project or account of Jewish rescue in Albania.  In 2008, two Kosovar university students, Dardan Islami and Alush Gashi, receivedseveral awards at the international documentary film festival, for their short-film, Rescue in Albania (English with Albanian subtitles).  Like Gershman’s Besa, the film is based on personal stories and interviews, but from the perspective of Jewish survivors, who now live in the United States and Israel. That is to say, unlike the exhibition, this is the story of Jews rescued by Albanians, rather than the Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews.  The concept of besa is also invoked, but by the Albanians, describing their memory of the war and the Jews they encountered.  “Besa was the most important factor,” Islami argues, “the Albanians said that they would rather die before anyone harmed a guest.” At the same time, however, little is made of the idea that these Albanians were Muslim (unless, of course, a particular family or individual was religious). In fact, because the filmmakers tell the stories of Jews—to a mainly European audience—much time is devoted to explaining Judaism and Jewish tradition.  There is an entire segment devoted to outlining the events from the Nuremberg Laws to the liberation of Auschwitz. But overall, the reoccurring themes are those of heroism, of valor, of the collective strength and individual will of Albanians—under siege by Axis powers—doing everything they possibly to could rescue  Jewish refugees.  A greater Albania.  “If every country and every nation had done what the Albanians did, the Holocaust may never have happened,” Islami remarks. At the same time, we are reminded by the Albanians interviewed, that they were not trying to be heroic, that to offer shelter to someone in need is nothing extraordinary—but ordinary.

“Wherever you go in Albania, the Albanians are there to protect you” —Isa Muzhaka

Most of the historical writing about the rescue of Jews during the Second World War is based on witness testimony, memoirs of Jewish survivors, letters and photographs, German and Italian wartime records, and correspondences between American minister, Herman Bernstein, serving Albania between 1930 and 1933, whose “principal contribution to the Jewish community in Albania was his negotiations with [King] Zog for the resettlement of Jewish families from Austria and Germany, once the rise of Hitler made it clear to many that Jews were in danger all over Europe.” Only recently, since the end of Enver Hoxh’a totalitarian regime, and the fall communism, have Albanian archival materials begun to surface. As for the rescue of Jews, numbers are exceedingly difficult to verify—as the bulk of sources are, in fact, memory-texts, which circulate from author to author, from one bibliography to another; as with the production of memory, the production of this history relies on its repetition, its reinforcement through word of mouth, and the relatively small group of scholars who continue to reproduce this discursive body. One finds mistakes and contradictions in the very same material—yet it continues to be published, accepted as fact—because it has been written beforeBecause it has been said before. It is safe to assume, for example, that the material provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem’s International Institute of Holocaust Research  would somehow be superior, or better documented.  But as I peruse the online archives, digital collections, and electronic encyclopedias—I find these to be the most poorly documented of all.

Following the fall of Yugoslavia in spring 1941, the Kosovo province was annexed to Italian controlled Albania. The Germans demanded that the Jews of Pristina be handed over to them. The Italians refused, but eventually agreed to hand over […] 60 Jews, who were then murdered.  […] Thus no Jews were turned over to the Germans and the community survived the war, except for one family of six who were discovered by the Germans and sent to Pristina. Only one member of that family survived.

Between 1941 and 1944, nearly 600 Jews from Greater Albania were sent to their deaths in various concentration camps around Europe It is for this reason that many historians disagree over the role of Albanians in the Holocaust. While Albanians may have attempted to rescue the Jews in Albania proper, the government was aware of the roundup and deportation of Jews from the Kosovo region.

How can it be that every Jew survived?  Or every Jew except for one? Or that no Jews were turned over to the Nazis, except for 60—who were then executed?  Was it 60?  Or 600?  As this many discrepancies exist in one paragraph (the paragraph which captions the list of Albanians who are now listed among the “Righteous”), it is difficult for me to even describe the historiographical nightmare of the “numbers” appearing across sources. According to Stephan Schwartz, the documentation provided by Albanian historian, Apostol Kotani, is “impeccable, mainly based on Albanian and Kosovar archival materials, as well as interviews, affidavits, and similar evidence, including many reproductions of documents and photographs.” Although poorly translated (and no longer in circulation), it is true that Kotani offers perhaps the most material of anyone.  But even with my amateur eyes, I am skeptical of his continued assertion that not a single “Hebrew” suffered or was “persecuted in Albania during the Shoah.” Contrary to what is documented at the Wansee Conference (that in 1939, approximately 400 Jewish refugees joined the existing Albanian-Jewish population of 200), Kotani writes:

Even Hebrew individuals themselves, turned their eyes upon Albania, and so during 1938 -39 […]  more than a thousand Hebrews from Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece found hope and life in Albania.

But, then again, why should we be any more skeptical of this data than what was documented by officials in Axis-Occupied Greater Albania? Regardless, these are all very small numbers. And while it all may seem like “small potatoes,” so to speak—in light of the “6 million”—there is something to this.  Be it the unfamiliar stories of rescue, the mysterious nature of Albania, which according to Fischer, is “one of these forgotten theaters”—tiny numbers and unreliable data should not deter the student of memory and history from these accounts.  For no matter how small the struggle was in comparison to the rest of Europe, “it did not seem that way to the Albanians,” Fischer remarks:

The struggle was long and intense, and for the Albanians it was disturbingly familiar. The Albanians have known more than their share of war, often invaded but perhaps never fully conquered. In World War I alone, the newly created state of Albania was invaded and occupied by no fewer than six different foreign armies. Enver Hoxha— Albania’s Stalinist dictator until his death in 1985— was fond of repeating the often quoted adage that Albanians have hacked their way through history with a sword in hand in order to build socialism with a pickax and a knife. The reference may be overly colorful, but there is a certain truth to the assertion, particularly in the context of World War II. Although not as dramatic as it was elsewhere, the war began earlier and lasted longer in Albania. The Italians invaded and occupied Albania in April 1939, well before the German invasion of Poland and before World War II officially began, though it did not seem that way to many Albanians.

Historical Rites: Rescuing a National Identity

It becomes clear that the exhibition, the film—and the overall story of Jewish rescue are appreciated by many as a sort of ‘untold tale of Muslim heroism’—especially in Israel and the United States.  But it simultaneously serves as a source of great pride for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.  It is a widely told tale.  What is more, the rescue can be understood as a fixture of Albanian historical identification.  For a newly emerging state, striving to build national consciousness, to draw on such a narrative helps achieve and construct a national memory, a national history, and a national identity.  This narrative locates issues of authenticity, of ownership, and of historiography.  Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers points out that “contemporary Albanian high school history textbooks discuss the lessons of the Second World War in the nation-centered terms of an ‘antic-fascist liberation war’ rather than providing any material for critically debating universal lessons from the systematic mass extinction of humans on nationalist and racist grounds.

As for Kosovar-Albanians, the need to prove national existence also can be read in context of the repeated “denial of territory and a national identity”—that is, “the repeated experiences of the denial of the right to live ”[emphasis added].  And looking to Kosovar-Albanian textbooks from the 1990s—as students were taught at home, due to Milošević’s discriminatory policies, she notes:

Kosovo’s ‘house-schools’ during the 1990s not only served as a vehicle for the transmission of national-Albanian history but also became a vehicle of national cohesion and resistance themselves in an evolving parallel society.

In fact, since 1999, there are multiple ways in which Kosovars have used collective memory as “a tool to stake their claim to majority rule and to develop a state identity.”  That is, as Ingimundarson argues, “the refusal of the ‘international community’ to address Kosovo’s status—from 1999 to 2005—made it inevitable that the Albanians would focus more on the past than on the future.

Thus, we see on one hand, a nineteenth-century style ethno-nationalist discourse, alongside a “postmodern,” cosmopolitan “civic vision based on the idea that an independent Kosovo should be firmly anchored in supranational collective bodies—dubbed ‘Euro-Atlantic structures’” (that is, the European Union, the European Community, NATO, and an entire slew of international NGOs and institutions). But what is clear in both instances, independence for Kosovars involves the reproduction of distant histories and more recent memories—that of a heroic past, the continued struggle for self-determination, the ideal of a liberal-democratic, world state, the stories of great sacrifice, and the realities of victimhood, violence and trauma.

A decade has passed since the war in Kosovo ceased, and nearly three since Kosovo’s unilateral secession from Serbia. But given the gross atrocities Kosovars faced at the hands of Milošević and their neighbors, they are largely perceived by the international community as victims.  Holocaust victims-by proxy.  Levy and Snzaider are quick to point out that the debate about American intervention was largely framed by the Holocaust, giving moral clarity under the auspice of “never forget.”  In effect, Serbian treatment Kosovar Albanians was likened to Nazi treatment of Jews. “Holocaust iconography,” they assert, is universally invoked, creating out of the Kosovo War a “globally televised morality play.” Yet, MacDonald remarks, “the barrage of Holocaust imagery from all sides served to confuse and obscure the true identities of the perpetrators.” This “Auschwitz analogy” did not play out merely on the international stage; it played a significant role internally for Kosovar Albanians. That is, “viewing the self through the lens of a persecuted victim became crucial during the disintegration of Yugoslavia.” “While Serbs,” David MacDonald contends, may have been “the first to use Holocaust imagery in the Yugoslav conflict,” Western politicians, media and its audiences—“we”—recognize the conflict through the “prism of the Holocaust.” Or perhaps, we see through these conflicts, recognizing in them, the always-recognizable Holocaust.

Holocaust recognizability is not limited or reduced to recent arguments of “industrialization” (pace Finkelstein) or media-generated witnessing, but closely bound up in and with the historical event itself.  We are constantly reminded of the powerful role of imagery. Documentation has been such a dominant, ubiquitous and pervasive practice since the moment the Reichstag went up into flames.  Victims, victors, perpetrators—all have been “immortalized” through the images and imagery.  As Marianne Hirsch puts it, these images do not only present us with “denotative” or connotative” information about the Holocaust, but they are pervasively “incorporated into the visual discourse” of memory and identity, and, at the same time, the repetition also underscores their metaphoric role.” Always recognizable to us as audiences, witnesses, publics and crowds; the ‘Balkanization’ of Holocaust memory proves even more Huyssen’s point, that while “the fault line between mythic past and real past is not always that easy to draw,”  memory of a traumatic past “has become a cultural obsession of monumental proportions across the globe.”

The Jewish rescue is a narrative which replaces the status of “victim” with a discourse of heroism and victory.  The memory Jewish rescue—(re)produced in the Besa exhibit and the documentary Rescue in Albania—involves the transformation of a distant, nationalist past into a near, international narrative.  Creating “a usable myth of origins for a post-independence Kosovar Albanian state, ” this history not only serves as an international site of memory, but is crucial for the formation of a national consciousness.  Through the remembering of a past that simultaneously identifies heroism and victimhood, we witness the codification of a Kosovar-Albanian nationalidentity, amidst an internationalpresence.  But at the same time, as Ingimundarson rightly points out, “while its symbolic impact should not be discounted, the narrative of heroism and victimhood is marked by ambiguities, contradictions and selective memories”:

The Kosovo War was fought in a distinctly unheroic fashion; relying solely on air power, NATO did not want to sacrifice the life of a single soldier, even if “ethnic cleansing” was taking place on the ground. The war had little to do with masculine military values, such as risk taking, sacrifice and martyrdom. On the contrary, it was conducted with laser-guided bombs and precision guided weapons used to minimize “collateral damage” and to avert a ground offensive.

Yet the memory of Jewish rescue serves as a unit of cohesion, of stability—as Kosovar-Albanians struggle to come to terms with the realities of their own, traumatic past, and demonstrate to the American and European communities their capability of autonomy and self-rule.  Through identification with the Holocaust, Kosovar-Albanians are able to simultaneously “legitimize” and displace the memory of trauma.  That is, the “Auschwitz analogy” emerges (whether realized or not) as a strategy to obtain Western sympathy, erase any crime committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA),  while simultaneously  serving as a coping device—a defense mechanism—through which Kosovar-Albanians can reconcile unspeakable suffering by disinheriting it.  The Jewish Holocaust emerges as “the icon for therapeutic history” and “the language associated with Holocaust discourse—particularly the image of the [traumatized] survivor—has been appropriated by numerous activists determined to state a claim to the status associated with emotional suffering.” That is, like scar tissue, identification with Jewish suffering displaces their wounds of a traumatic past, and becomes a metonymic vocabulary— to describe and commemorate the experience of war and ethnic cleansing.  The Holocaust becomes, in this case, an interlocutory medium, which, according to Paul Frosh and Amit Pinchevski, “bears out the traumatic process with the survivor, allowing him or her to bear witness—possibly for the first time—to his or her experience. ” We see in this moment both an internalization and internationalization of memory.  It is the inheritance of a heroic, historiographical tradition, coupled with the memory of the recent experience of victimhood.

Ultimately, the narrative of Jewish rescue is just one element in the construction of a Kosovar-Albanian national consciousness.  The recurring themes of heroism, of rescue—and of besa—are crucial to this ethno-nationalist current of independence.  The memory of a heroic past—of rescuing Hitler’s Jewish victims, of giving them shelter, and of having a larger Jewish population at the end of the war—in fact engenders the imagination of an independent, Kosovar-Albanian identity. This imagination is pervaded by another aspect of the Holocaust: as Kosovars became the “Jews” of the former Yugoslavia; they not only identified with—but were identified as—another group of victims who Europe and the United States could again, “never forget.”  ❉