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.