Ancient Scroll

Elizabeth Vrato spent four years researching, traveling, and conducting interviews to author a book about the stories and advice of leaders who have changed the world. The Counselors: Conversations with 18 Courageous Women Who Have Changed the World (2002) features a foreword by President Bill Clinton and includes interviews with Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as well as Attorney General Janet Reno. It took until 2020, however, for Elizabeth to learn that her own grandfather, Kadri Cakrani, was a person who changed the world significantly with acts of bravery that place him among the most courageous and humanitarian figures in modern history....

The Untold True Story of a Holocaust Hero  

Commandant Cakrani (center) with fellow soldiers, Berat, Albania, 1944

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Kadri's "Under the Bullet" letter of September 1943

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Kadri Cakrani (Philadelphia, 1951)

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Commandant Cakrani (center) with fellow soldiers, Berat, Albania, 1944

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Commandant Kadri Cakrani and soldiers, Albania, 1944.

The Jerusalem Post: Kadri Cakrani - Unknown Albanian Hero of the Holocaust

Kadri Cakrani, (KAH-dree suh-KRON-ee) WWII General and personal enemy of the rising Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, saved over 600 Jewish refugees from the Nazis in Nazi-occupied Albania. Now, more than 70 years later, the story can finally be shared...

 

Risking Death, Cakrani Rallied Soldiers and Citizens to Save Lives

Cakrani served as Commandant-General in the Albanian army in the region of Berat, the hub of the Albanian effort in WWII. In 1942, he bravely rallied his soldiers and the local citizenry to protect over 600 Jews from the Nazis, even though the penalty for lying to the Nazis was death.

 

Under repeated threats and questioning, Cakrani lied to Nazi officials, saying he had no information about Jews in the Berat region, and refused to turn over a single name. Thanks in part to Cakrani’s tireless work, Albania was the only country in Europe to end World War II with more Jewish residents than before the war.

 

Whenever he got word of Nazi sweeps to find Jews sheltered in Berat—including refugees from Poland, Germany, France, Macedonia—Cakrani moved them from one part of the city to another, sheltering them and keeping them alive and one step ahead of the patrols. He took the enormous personal risk of hiding Jews in his own home—feeding them, providing for them, and keeping them safe. Again, the penalty for doing so was death.

 

Commandant Cakrani's courage extends further and reads like a WWII superhero graphic novel:

  • Cakrani heroically assisted three American Army nurses who were stranded in Nazi-occupied Albania after a crash landing in November 1943. He sheltered them for several months, gave them fake IDs and travel documents with his last name, and arranged their safe return to the Allies on the Albanian coast.

  • Despite the Nazi's requirement that every retreating Italian soldier be turned over to them, Cakrani and his men facilitated the safe retreat of more than 7000 Italian soldiers, helping them evade Nazi capture.

  • Despite vigorous interrogation and investigation by the Nazis, Cakrani buried and guarded the Codices of Berat, priceless 6th-century books that the Nazis sought as part of their cultural looting of occupied countries.

 

Hiding His Own Heroism Saved Even More Lives

Anti-Semitism flourished during the totalitarian rule of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha (1945–1991). Under Hoxha, religion itself was outlawed and Albania had no diplomatic relations with the United States, Israel, or Western Europe. To keep their families safe in the face of frequent police raids, Albanians actively destroyed documents proving how they had helped Jews.

 

If Cakrani had spoken of his deeds during his lifetime, innocent people living in Hoxha’s Communist Albania would have been in peril. Hoxha had a hostage dynamic with Cakrani: a single misstep by Cakrani in America would mean more of his family could be imprisoned and his two brothers already imprisoned by Hoxha might be killed, as his uncle and brother had been. 

 

A True Hero to the End

At the end of WWII, as Albania fell to Communism, Cakrani escaped to Italy and then Syria, in exile from the homeland his family helped create and finance. His father had signed the 1912 Albanian Declaration of Independence from the Ottoman Empire, and his uncle served as the first Minister of the Treasury and funded the fledgling independent nation with Cakrani family assets.

 

President Harry Truman granted Kadri Cakrani political asylum. He arrived in the United States in 1951 and worked with U.S. Intelligence for the rest of his life, trying to bring democracy back to Albania. Dictator Hoxha tried to extradite him for a treason trial but to no avail. Furious at Cakrani's escape and protection by the West, dictator Hoxha stole all of Kadri Cakrani's property and assets by seizing them illegally.

Albania’s Own Oskar Schindler

Hidden for decades, Cakrani’s story can now safely be shared. “What was done will be in history books,” Cakrani told his daughter cryptically. He was right. Kadri Cakrani is Albania's own Oskar Schindler; both men heroically used their position, finances, and influence to keep hundreds of Jews from deportation by the Nazis. Cakrani’s story, suppressed by an evil Communist dictator and then given oxygen and sunlight by the testimony of witnesses, survivors, and age-stained letters and photographs, will be added to history books and celebrated. 

 

Fuller examination of Cakrani’s life provides lessons on the fragility of democracy, the impact of principled leadership, and the value of each human life. SEE THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE.

"September 23, 1943. Berat, Albania"

“They will all be put under the bullet.”

“...shouldn’t fall into the hands of the Nazi army.”

“Jews . . . in the hundreds here.”

“We know what the Nazis will do to them.”

“I cannot trust anyone.”