Rewriting history in the Balkans By Julia Gorin Making the rounds for a fifth year is a traveling exhibit paying tribute to the Righteous of Albania. "BESA: A Code of Honor--Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust," has graced Yad Vashem, the UN, the 92nd St. Y, and is currently at the Ethnic Heritage Center in New Haven. While the righteous of any nation should be acknowledged and commemorated, the problem with this exhibit is its underlying agenda, which is as insidious as it is ironic. Jews, along with the Albanian Righteous of WWII, are being used by today's Albanians to expedite international recognitions for the racially supremacist state of Kosovo. This exhibit is just part of this effort, an attempt to change what we know about the Jews of that era in that land. Consequently, we can add truth in the Balkans as another victim of World War II. Albanians, long time agitators in the Balkans for a greater Albania, have learned from the Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo wars that public relations efforts pay off. They've also learned that co-opting Jews into your version of an ethnic rivalry can give you a decided advantage. Indeed, $70 million paid by Croatians, Bosnians and Albanians to public relations firms who have targeted major Jewish organizations appears to be money well spent. For example, one of the things this effort did was to bring Jewish support to the side of a Nazi rehabilitationist Croatia whose 1990s president, Franjo Tudjman, was the author of a Holocaust-minimizing book implicating the Jews in their own deaths. The PR also won Jewish support for a Bosnian Muslims whose wartime president Alija Izetbegovic was a recruiter for Hitler's "Muslim Youth," wrote the "Islamic Declaration" affirming the incompatibility of Islam and the West, and was trying to turn Bosnia into an Islamic state. In 1993 James Harff, president of Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs, gave a candid interview to French journalist Jacques Merlino, which was reprinted in Midstream magazine. Although Harff would later deny it, in response to Merlino's question, "What achievement were you most proud of," Harff answered: "We outwitted three big Jewish organizations. B'Nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Committee, and the American Jewish Congress. We suggested to them to publish an advertisement in the New York Times and to organize demonstrations outside the U.N. This was a tremendous coup. When the Jewish organizations entered the game on the side of the (Muslim) Bosnians, we could promptly equate the Serbs with the Nazis in the public mind." More recently, aggressive public relations won over Jewish support for the Hezbollah-bin Laden-assisted Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), whose opening salvos in its areas of operations were ambushes of Yugoslav officials and police. As is the norm for terrorist groups, they not only went after and killed their ethnic rivals, but their own people--Albanians who "collaborated" with Serbs, including those who were merely married to Serbs or held government positions in departments like the postal service. The exhibit and other activities (including an image-revamping commercial campaign for Kosovo by an Israeli production company) amount to a rewriting of history and are aimed at getting Jewish support for the Kosovo state--which could then win Israeli recognition of Kosovo. The stark period images in the exhibit work on historically unaware Jews, leading them to betray their World War II co-victims, the Serbs. As if this weren't perverse enough, today's Kosovo, the rewriter of its damnable role in the WWII, is an ethnically purified state, cleansed of almost all its minorities -: Serbs, Roma, Gorani (mountain Muslims,) Croats, and all but 50 Albanized Jews. Indeed, if kicking the Serbs out and taking Serbian land was about "revenge," as our presses repeated ad nauseum, why did even the last 15 Jews in Kosovo's capital of Pristina have to clear out when the KLA stormed their homes in 1999? And amid the destruction and desecration of Orthodox churches, monasteries and cemeteries that has characterized the new Kosovo since NATO served as the KLA's air force, why was the Jewish cemetery adjoining the Serbian one in Velika Hoca also vandalized? Cedomir Prlincevic, former president of Pristina's tiny Jewish community, spoke of two dozen armed men breaking into his family's apartment, forcing them to leave, which Prlincevic did with nothing more than a Talmud in his hands. In a series of interviews in 1999 and 2000, Prlincevic gave a window into "modern" Kosovo, on whose behalf Israel is being asked to advance its own suicide by recognizing the usurped, illegally formed narco-terrorist mafia state: ...[A] large part of the ethnic Albanians wanted to return to the situation that existed a hundred years ago, under the Ottoman Empire, and again during World War II, when Kosovo was under Nazi-Albanian control...many Albanians believed that during World War II the German Nazis had set Albanians free...Albanian nationalists ruled Kosovo under the German Nazis and terrorized the Serbs, Roma ['Gypsies'] and Jews. During World War II, besides the Jews, the Serbs were, proportionally, the people most targeted for elimination. Jews and Serbs died together in large numbers in Croatia's notorious but little mentioned Jasenovac concentration camp complex, while Albanians and Bosnians formed their own volunteer SS units to serve the Nazi regime. In his forthcoming book, Balkans observer Andy Wilcoxson notes, "Several Albanians joined the [Bosnian] 13th Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Handschar...In the spring of 1944 Heinrich Himmler established the 21st Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Skanderbeg. This division numbered more than 9,000 men and was made up primarily of Albanian volunteers from Kosovo. "The Skanderbeg division's first operation was a raid on May 14, 1944, against the Jewish community in Pristina. Kosovo-Albanian SS troops raided apartments and homes belonging to Jews, looting their possessions and rounding them up for deportation to Nazi death camps. The SS Skanderbeg Division apprehended 281 Kosovo Jews, which included men, women, and children. From May to June 1944 they apprehended a total of 519 Jews and Serbs from Kosovo." During the 1998-99 war, there were KLA units named for these Skanderbeg "heroes," and today land has been set aside in Pristina for a monument and memorial park to be built in their honor. While it's important to celebrate past acts of selfless righteousness by Albanians, one cannot dismiss what today's Albanians are doing to the historical record that flies in the face of Yad Vashem's very mission. That the Holocaust would be used to further a supremacist agenda defies all decency. Nor do the inversions end there. The exhibit repeats the catchy statistic that Albania was the only European country to have more Jews after the war than at the beginning. Not only did Spain, Sweden and Finland all have more Jews after the war than at its outset, but the Albanian spin is careful not to mention Kosovo, where Albanians helped round up its Jews for its Nazi masters. More Jews were rounded up in Kosovo than existed in Albania before the war. There were righteous among all the nations of Europe. Germans and other nationalities also saved many Jews. By that standard there is nothing distinct about the Albanian character although the exhibit would have us believe otherwise. Further, the propaganda of the exhibit wants one to assume that individual Albanian efforts were somehow unique in Yugoslavia, implying a contrast to Serbs. However, not only were Serbs the only Balkan people to be consistently anti-Nazi, but thousands of Serbian families risked all to save Jews. There are only about 150 Serbs documented among the Righteous at Yad Vashem, mainly because Serbs didn't promote their good deeds after the war. Even so, 150 Serbs are still more than the 60-some Albanian Righteous documented at Yad Vashem and getting all the attention. In a July 1997 letter to the Washington Times, retired Air Force Colonel George Jatras wrote, "Serbian families took in Jewish children as their own in order to protect them from the horrors of Croatia's death camps. Upon being discovered protecting these children, entire Serbian families were executed... 'In the Serbian mountains Jews were welcomed by the Serbian partisans with open arms.'" The Serbs did not foresee that an expansionist rival would use its own Jew-saves as a weapon against them to advance a political objective. When dealing with questions of Albanian righteous and Serb righteous there must be a historical context. Jews and Serbs were both targeted in World War II, and both are targeted today. Albanians were not targeted then, and are not imperiled today. On the contrary, they are expanding - and getting a second state. While the righteous are best remembered as individuals, the stigma of what different societies did during the war remains. In more recent history, when Jews lined up with Albania's carve-out of Kosovo from Serbian territory, John Ranz, chairman of Survivors of Buchenwald, USA, called what the west's historically shallow Jews helped do to Serbia "our greatest shame." Almost as great a shame is the cynical use of the Holocaust and the Albanian righteous to create a new version of official history. Julia Gorin is a writer, humorist, and political commentator and is a member of the Advisory Board of the American Council for Kosovo. Her articles have appeared in National Review, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and FoxNews.