On April 7, 1939, before the outbreak of World War II, Fascist Italy invaded and occupied Albania. Nazi Germany occupied Albania after Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943. Albania was one of only a few countries in Europe that provided visas to Jews through its embassy in Berlin on the eve of World War II. Muslim and Christian Albanians provided European Jews with false identity papers, enabling them to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. As a result, Albanian sources assess that the country was one of the few countries in Europe whose Jewish population at the end of World War II was greater than at the beginning. Estimates consistently report 200 Jews prior to the war, with 600 to 2,000 or more post-war survivors. Yad Vashem has recognized 75 Albanians as “Righteous Among the Nations,” non-Jews who acted along with their families to try to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.
Albanians attribute their protection of Jews during the Holocaust to besa, a cultural code in Albania binding them to help those in need. As of mid-2019, there were only 40 to 50 Jews living in the country.
Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property
Albania endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. The country does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating specifically to Holocaust-era confiscations of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons.
The Albanian government reported no records of property claims submitted by victims of the Holocaust, and the Department is not aware of any claims by the local Jewish community or American citizens regarding real property dating from the Holocaust era. However, the Agency for the Treatment of Property faces thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era, which would compound any challenges for victims of the Holocaust. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, and NGOs noted claimants in general still struggle to obtain due process from the government for property restitution.
Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property
Albania participated in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets and in the 2009 Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague, but the country does not have restitution laws in place to cover movable property, nor do its institutions conduct provenance research. The Department of State has not been made aware of issues regarding movable property.
Access to Archival Documents
The Albanian Archive reported having no property documents for Holocaust victims or their heirs in archival records. Overall availability and integrity of archival documents are inconsistent. In 2009, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum concluded a small archival preservation and copying project, which was supported by and made possible thanks to the cooperation of the Albanian government.
There are no reported immovable, movable, or cultural property claims submitted, though if there were, acquiring supporting archival documents would be difficult. The fear prevalent in Albania during the Communist era caused people to avoid being linked to the ‘wrong’ resistance group, including any groups that might have sheltered Jews, even after the Communist regime collapsed in 1991. The residual culture of silence from the Communist past partly explains why the rescue of Albanian Jews remained relatively unknown for many decades. Some survivors could not overcome the difficulty of grappling with a painful past and did not tell their stories. Albania’s Jewish community is small, and Jewish organizations and their activities are not well known to the general public. Albanian archives and records contain many inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or gaps, making collection of facts difficult.
Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites
Education on the Holocaust is taught within the context of European history.
The Solomon Museum, Albania’s only Jewish history museum, opened in the city of Berat in 2018 and has a dozen framed panels on the walls bearing photos and stories from 500 years of Jewish life in the country. There is an exhibit devoted to Albanian Jewish history in Tirana’s national museum. Additionally, Albania’s current Minister of Culture has discussed establishing a National Museum of Jews in Vlora.
Albania commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 and is an observer country of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In January 2018, the Albanian Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs hosted a conference in Tirana titled “We Remember: Promoting Human Rights through the Lens of Holocaust Education and Remembrance.” During the remembrance event in January 2017, then‑President Bujar Nishani awarded medals to 35 families and individuals who sheltered Jews during World War II. On January 29 of the same year, the Anti‑Defamation League presented the Jan Karski “Courage to Care” award to the Albanian people.
Before World War II, Italy had a population of about 50,000 Jews, of whom approximately 8,000 were killed in the Holocaust. According the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, approximately 28,000 Jews live in the country today. Italian Jews, including those who had converted to Catholicism, experienced two periods of persecution. The first began in 1938 with the adoption of the racial laws under Benito Mussolini. In 1938, Royal Decree 1728 banned marriage between Jewish and non-Jewish Italians; prohibited Jewish books; excluded Jews from public office and other professional positions, including in banks, insurance companies, and schools; and introduced limits on Jewish businesses and property ownership. In March 1939, the government established the Agency for Real Estate Management and Liquidation, responsible for administering confiscated “exceeding assets,” the term it gave to assets the dictatorship determined Jews were not allowed to have.
The second period of persecution started in 1943, when Italian and Nazi German authorities began arresting Jews, seizing their assets, and deporting many to concentration camps north of the Alps. In January 1944, after the king removed Mussolini from power, the Badoglio government adopted two decrees abolishing the racial laws for the central and southern Italian regions liberated by the Allied powers. In the Nazi-occupied northern regions, however, restrictions on Jews became stricter under Mussolini’s puppet state, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica di Salò), until its final defeat by the Allies in April 1945.
The Italian government is committed to the Terezin Declaration and to complying with its goals and objectives. The Union of Italian Jewish Communities reported that in general most confiscated assets were returned to their owners or next of kin, except in cases when the latter could not be identified. However, governmental institutions have not followed up on the Anselmi Commission’s recommendations to try to identify survivors or their heirs entitled to unclaimed property. (In December 1998, the Italian government created the Anselmi Commission, a technical body whose mandate was to investigate the confiscation and restitution of Jewish assets during the Holocaust. The Commission found evidence of at least 7,847 local and national government decrees expropriating Jewish assets during the Fascist era and analyzed 7,187 of them.) The decrees affected approximately 8,000 individuals and 230 companies.
Assets seized by provincial authorities have not been quantified or returned.
Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property
After World War II, the government approved norms to return seized assets to Jewish victims of persecution or to their heirs. On May 11, 1947, the government adopted the Decree of the Temporary Head of State 364, which established inheritance norms for victims of racial crimes.
The country’s Agency for Real Estate Management and Liquidation (EGELI) had reported in 1939 that properties it seized were worth more than 55 million lira (approximately $53 million in current value). After the war, EGELI was tasked with cataloguing and returning seized property. Property owners criticized the process because legislation (DLLGT 393/1946) required them to pay EGELI for administrative expenses the agency incurred during the war in order to receive their assets. The value of assets confiscated by provincial authorities, pursuant to a November 1943 police order, has not been quantified.
By the end of 1944, the Italian government had confiscated bank accounts worth 75 million lira (approximately $6.9 million), government bonds worth more than 36 million lira ($3.4 million), shares worth almost 731 million lira ($69 million), land worth 855 million lira ($80 million), and 198 million lira ($12.4 million) worth of buildings, according to a March 1945 Ministry of Finance report.
Gold and other valuables taken from Jewish families before the 1943 Nazi deportations from the Rome ghetto have not been found. The Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) has begun working with the Bank of Italy to identify the contents of a number of sacks stored there containing unclaimed miscellaneous coins, assets, and financial instruments (bonds, insurance policies, etc.) recovered in Rome at the end of the war. UCEI understands that the Italian government assembled a commission in early 2019, led by the Ministry of Economy, to examine the items and to provide historians with material shedding light on the economic conditions faced by Jewish families living in Rome during the war. The commission’s goal is to make a catalogue of the items in storage, assign a current value to each item, and attempt to identify the owner(s).
The Anselmi Commission released its final report and recommendations in April 2002. The report’s findings show, in general, that assets were returned to deported survivors who submitted claims, but those survivors or heirs who did not submit claims were not proactively traced and compensated. The Commission recommended that Italian authorities investigate unclaimed assets in order to identify survivors and heirs who may not have filed claims, and highlighted in particular the need to investigate the unclaimed assets stored in the Italian investment bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, which provides financing services for public-sector investments in Italy. Government institutions have not, in most cases, followed up on these recommendations. Furthermore, UCEI was aware of several anecdotal cases where Jews sold their assets at below market value during the Holocaust due to dire and life-threatening circumstances. Post-war trauma and fear caused many Holocaust survivors and heirs not to pursue compensation for many years.
The Italian legal principle of acquisitive prescription, by which citizens rightfully own certain immovable assets not claimed within twenty years, limits the scope of possible restitution at this point.
Communal Real Property
During World War II, Nazis and Italian Fascists confiscated a number of libraries, archives, and other cultural assets belonging to Jewish communities in the country. Most of the libraries and archives were returned after the war. Law DLG 736/1948 extended provisions to the Jewish community that first were provided only to the Catholic community for the repair and reconstruction of buildings of worship and premises of public charities.
Heirless Real Property
Italy adopted heirless property legislation in 1947 (Law DLCPS 364/1947). In the 1950s, however, the government decided to use unclaimed, heirless property still under its possession as a “refund” for the unpaid EGELI administrative expenses, without official forfeiture on the rightful owners’ behalf or consulting the Jewish community. In 1997, the government passed Law 233/1997 providing that any formerly Jewish-owned asset still held by the state not traceable to a rightful owner would be transferred to UCEI for distribution to relevant communities.
Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art
Italy has not instituted specific laws regulating the restitution of movable property, but rather has treated such claims in the same manner as immovable property. UCEI confirmed that it was aware of no outstanding claims of the Jewish community in Italy concerning Nazi-confiscated or looted art. The Ministry of Cultural Assets has established a committee, of which the UCEI president is a member, to identify looted art in Italy’s museums. Previous government attempts to identify stolen art were hampered by the lack of systematic provenance studies and comprehensive catalogs of looted or confiscated art.
In January 1999, the Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Restitution of Artworks Seized During World War II concluded there were no artworks belonging to Jews in Italian museums or institutions, based solely on examination of the “Siviero archives.” Rodolfo Siviero was director of the Ministry of Culture’s office dedicated to recovering the artworks and had created the archive while tracing and helping to return to Italy pieces that had been illegally exported between the 1930s and 1980s. Experts acknowledge that Siviero’s efforts are not complete by modern provenance standards. One expert reported some of the stolen artworks catalogued in a database kept by the Carabinieri (Italian gendarme police) were likely looted from Jewish families; the Ministry of Cultural Assets reportedly plans to work with the Carabinieri to identify which artworks had belonged to Jews.
Most of Italy’s activity in this area has been at the federal level, but much of the looting was done at the city and communal levels. Recent research concerning the latter has improved, partly due to Italy’s participation in the EU-sponsored project “TransCultAA-Transfer of Cultural Objects in the Alpe Adria Region in the 20th Century.”
Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property
In 1943 and 1944, Nazi German and Fascist Italian officers burned or destroyed archives of many local Jewish communities, which made it all the more difficult to track cultural property and its ownership. In Turin and Alessandria, both the archives and the libraries were vandalized or destroyed. In Turin, parts of the confiscated Jewish library were returned after the war.
The Jewish community in Rome, which comprised almost half of the country’s Jewish population before the war, successfully hid many historical artifacts, but some items in the community’s archive were confiscated or destroyed. In 1943, the Nazis seized the contents of two libraries located in Rome in the same building: the library of Rome’s Jewish community (4,728 books, 28 incunabula, and 183 books printed in the 16th century) and the library of the Italian Rabbinical College, a collection originally from Florence but later transferred to Rome (comprising 6,580 books and 1,760 booklets). The libraries contained prayer books, documents, prints, and manuscripts from all periods of Jewish history in Italy. The rabbinical library’s collection was recovered in Germany after the war, but the majority of the contents of the Rome community library disappeared. In 2003, the Italian government established a committee of inquiry. It was unable to determine the fate of most of the contents, although it identified some manuscripts held in the collections of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati as having come from the Rome libraries. UCEI representatives noted that there was little hope of recovering the books, as they did not contain permanent markings identifying them as part of the libraries and were most likely dispersed worldwide. The UCEI representatives also stated that the majority of movable property taken during the Holocaust era was believed to have been taken at the local level, without administrative orders from national fascist authorities, and therefore was difficult to trace systematically.
Access to Archival Documents
In general, public archives are fully accessible, although some researchers reported to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance that they had experienced occasional obstacles accessing Holocaust-era records at some state archives. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports good and consistent cooperation with Italian governmental archives.
Banks such as Intesa San Paolo and Monte dei Paschi di Siena have reorganized and preserved some of the EGELI archives, but researchers note the lack of digitalization, the redress of which would facilitate their work and asset restitution.
Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites
In 2000, parliament established International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, and each year, a series of ceremonies – including one presided over by the President of the Republic – commemorates the Holocaust. In December 2017, a law established March 6 as Memorial Day for the Righteous of Humanity, commemorating those who “in whatever time and whatever place have done good by human lives, have fought for human rights during genocides and have defended the dignity of the human person.” The Ministry of Education and the City of Rome organize two fully paid trips annually for high school students to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi concentration and death camps. The government also holds an essay competition and other projects for high school students to cultivate Holocaust knowledge and remembrance. Every spring, Italian authorities commemorate the March 24, 1944 Ardeatine massacre, in which Nazi German soldiers murdered 335 people, including 65 Jews, outside of Rome.
As part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the tradition of remembrance, the City of Milan allotted €500,000 ($550,825) for the construction of a Shoah Memorial. The Ministry for Cultural Assets provided about €180,000 (about $198,297) to the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan, and the government provided €49 million (approximately $54 million) for the Museum of Italian Jews in Ferrara. Rome’s city government has allotted more than €13 million (approximately $14.3 million), plus the land, for the construction of a new site for the Shoah Rome Museum, although construction has been delayed.
The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution
In 1955, parliament approved law number 96, extending benefits originally granted to victims of political persecution to victims of racial crimes and their heirs. In 1980, Parliament passed Law 791 to provide a monthly stipend (equivalent to €500 or about $545) for Holocaust victims or their children. Currently, 1,500 Jews are said to receive the stipend. In 1998, the Court of Cassation ruled victims of “moral violence” (i.e., psychological trauma and extreme hardship) were eligible for the same benefits as victims of political persecution and racial crimes, and in 2003, the Court of Cassation specified that Jews expelled from schools under Fascism, as well as their spouses and children, were eligible for these benefits. In 2015, the Prime Minister’s Office extended benefits to Jews who had been living in Libya under Italian occupation, many of whom were prohibited from attending public schools, dismissed from work, and subjected to forced labor and forced migration. The Union of Italian Jewish Communities believes that interpretation of these laws has become more restrictive over the last five years, preventing new applicants from obtaining the benefits if they do not have documentation, eyewitness accounts, or were too young to attend school during the adoption of the 1938 racial laws.
U.S. Citizen Claims
U.S. citizens were not subject to any special requirements. UCEI stated it is unaware of any outstanding Holocaust era restitution claims from U.S. citizens.