Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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​Refik Veseli and his family

Albanians from Kruja

Refik Veseli

Refik Veseli

The Mandils came from Yugoslavia, where Moshe owned a thriving photography shop. When the Germans invaded Yugoslavia, in April 1941, the Mandils escaped to Kosovo, where, under Italian control, Jews were left in relative peace. Towards the end of Summer 1942, fugitives were compelled to move further inside the area controlled by Italy, where the majority of the population was Muslim. Moshe and Ela Mandil with their children Gavra and Irena found shelter in Tirana. While watching the photography shops, Mandil found the one managed by a former apprentice of his, Neshad Prizerini. Not only Prizerini employed Mandil, but he also suggested to host the whole family.

In the shop Mandil met Prizerini’s apprentice, 17-year old Refik Vezeli, who had been sent by his parents from the village of Kruja to Tirana to learn the job. After the German invasion of Albania, the situation became dangerous for the Jews and Veseli suggested the Mandils to take refuge in the mountains, at his parents’ home, where he led them by a long journey on the back of the mule, on the hard rocky soil. They took side roads travelling by night and hiding in caverns in the day to avoid being found by the German soldiers.

In Kruja, Moshe and Ela were hidden in a small room above the stable, while their children mixed with the kids of the Veselis. Short after their arrival, the brother of Refik, Xhemal, took another Jewish family from Tirana: Ruzhhica and Yosef ben Yosef with his sister Finica. Towards the end of the war the military activities and the round-ups of partisans became more intense, the village was bombed and there were inspections in the area, but the refugees were not discovered. Their two families remained with the Veselis in their mountain village until liberation in November 1944.

After the war, the Mandils moved to Novi Sad and Moshe reopened a photography shop. Refik was invited to live with them and continue his internship as photographer. He remained with the Mandils until they emigrated to Israel and he kept in touch also later, despite distance.

In 1987 Refik Veseli and his parents Fatima and Vesel were awarded the honor of “Righteous among the Nations”. In 1992 Refik founded the Association Albania – Israel, which is still working.

Righteous among the Nations in the Holocaust

remembered in Yad Vashem's Garden of the Righteous

In the 50es, the State of Israel established Yad Vashem, Jerusalem's Mausoleum to remember the victims of the "final solution" planned by Hitler. At the beginning of the 60es, the "Righteous Commission" was established, with the task of bestowing the title of "Righteous among the Nations" on the non Jews who rescued Jews during Nazi persecution. Inside Yad Vashem the "Garden of the Righteous" with an avenue in which every tree is dedicated to a different Righteous, was set up. Over the past year, due to a lack of room, the trees were replaced with the carving of the Righteous' names into the walls enclosing the garden.
The Commission, chaired for nearly 30 years by the judge of the Constitutional Court Moshe Bejski, has recognized and documented until now about 20,000 Righteous. Out of them we picked some.
Nonetheless, as Bejski used to recall, the Righteous are many more than that and the duty of the Commission is that of identifying and awarding them before the passing of time makes the pieces of testimony and the other documental evidence of their rescue deeds vanish. The Italian case shows that this concern of Bejsky was well-founded: the high number of Jews who escaped the "final solution" is not compatible with the few Righteous recognized in Jerusalem (nearly 500 at the end of 2011). 

This is why it is important to identify the cases that have remained unknown and activate the proceeding at the Commission to start the inquiry leading to more assignments of the title of "Righteous among the nations".

Tales and testimony

Holocaust stories

other exemplary figures featured by Gariwo