FYI: In Albanian, Q is pronounced like the CH in “churn,” XH is pronounced like the J in Jupiter, and Y is pronounced like the German Ü, or the I in “girl.”


Going into planning my 2015 theme last year, I knew things would be easiest if I looked among Albanian Righteous Among the Nations for Q and X names. From what little I know about Albanian names and language, I knew Xs and Qs would be much easier to find than among the people of other nations. I did later find some Q surnames in Belgium, France, and The Netherlands, one X surname in Belgium, and three X surnames in Greece, and probably would’ve found some forenames like Xavier and Quirino if I’d looked through all the names from every country. However, I felt it was important to include some Albanian heroes, since most people have no knowledge of what the Shoah or WWII was like in that small, isolated country.

Vlorë coast, Copyright Dori, Dual Licensed under GFDL (v. 1.2 or later), and CC-BY (v. 2.5)

Albania was under Italian occupation until Italy surrendered to the Allies in September 1943. Almost immediately, the Nazis invaded and occupied Albania and the other places formerly under Italian control. Though Albania historically had almost no anti-Semitism, the situation for the Jewish community became very bad with the new occupiers.

Qamil Xhyheri, a wealthy man in Vlorë, invited the Matathia family (husband Mateo, wife Rachel, son Xhon, daughter Eriketa) to live with him. Mateo and Rachel didn’t want to leave their home, but they decided to send their children to live with the Xhyheris. Qamil and his wife Hanume registered Xhon as their own son, as their blood son Tahir had sadly died in a car accident several months ago. Eriketa spent most of her time in the women’s room. Muslim tradition prohibited men from entering this room, and the Nazis respected that. For an entire year, the Matathia children stayed with the Xhyheris and were treated as full members of the family. One day, a Nazi patrol came in by surprise, and Xhon got into bed as the Xhyheris claimed he was ill. Thankfully, no suspicions were aroused.

Vlorë coast in winter, Copyright godo godajCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

In June 1944, cousins Regina Gani and Victor and Eftimia Jakoel moved in with the Xhyheris as well, and stayed for two months. After the Nazis evacuated Vlorë, these three children returned to their parents. All this time, Hanume made the children feel safe, protected, comfortable, and loved. After the war, the families remained in touch.

The Albanians who saved their friends and neighbours, and people they’d never met before, did so because of Besa, a word which translates as “to keep the promise.” It’s an Albanian code of honour, which includes taking care of the less fortunate, helping those in need, and saving the lives of their friends. It’s just something they do, so integrally built into their culture, not even something they have to think about. The people who came to them for help were given Albanian names and Albanian clothes, and taken into their homes as full family members, instead of hidden in secret rooms or cellars.

On 3 June 1992, the Xhyheris were honoured as Righteous Among the Nations.

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