Remarks at a UN Civil Society Meeting “A Matter of Humanity: The Rescue of Jews in Albania During the Holocaust”

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
January 31, 2019


Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Smale. Thanks to the Albanian mission and Ambassador Kadare for hosting this event today, and thanks for the invitation to address you all. Especially, thank you to the distinguished speakers and to the UN Department of Global Communications for making today possible.

Excellencies and distinguished guests, this week we honor the memory of millions of people – victims and survivors of the Holovaust. The stories of survivors and those who offered them safe haven remind us to confront persecution wherever it arises. And we have a moral obligation; we must not remain silent, we must not remain passive.

Albanians stand out among the courageous people who made an extraordinary impact in protecting many of the thousands in the Balkans, ensuring that they escaped the horrors of the Holocaust. We acknowledge and admire Albania’s tradition of religious tolerance and humanity which resulted in Jews finding in Albania a safe haven from the Nazis. And we commend Albania’s humanity toward the Jews and its concept of “Besa.”

As we’ve heard this morning, Albania’s history of Besa during World War II is a remarkable story of thousands of Albanian families who risked their lives to protect a persecuted people. This acceptance and courage is an example for us all.

Complicity and silence perpetuates intolerance, bigotry, and evil. In far too many places around the world today, the international community has failed in this regard – regarding oppression in Burma, in Syria, in Venezuela, and elsewhere. As I’ve said in the General Assembly earlier this week, far too many governments choose to be silent. Or worse, they defend the perpetrators and attempt to stop the members of the United Nations from taking steps to help.

Today we acknowledge the noble sacrifices that spared thousands of lives. Learning from the tragic lessons of history, and the remarkable stories of courage that emerge in humanity’s darkest periods, the international community should refocus on preventing atrocities, responding to atrocities when they occur, and ensuring perpetrators are held to account.

We thank and commend Albania for its admirable example protecting and rescuing Jews in the face of Nazi evil. The United States reaffirms our commitment to continue to work with Albania and other countries and partners around the globe to stand up for human rights and to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms.

Thank you.