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Berlin school honors Muslim Holocaust hero

Albanian Muslim photographer Refik Veseli was only 17 when he led Yugoslavian Gavra Mandil and his family to safety

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Students, faculty and parents at an elementary school in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood renamed their institute after a Muslim man who saved a Jewish photographer and his family during the Holocaust, Israel’s the Haaretz reported.

Albanian Muslim photographer Refik Veseli was only 17 when he led Yugoslavian Moshe Mandil and his family through Albania’s mountains and into the safety of his parents’ home.

The two families maintained close ties and in 2004, with Refik naming his son Ron after Moshe’s grandson.

Refik Veseli poses in this unddated picture. (Photo courtesy: yadvashem.org)
Refik Veseli poses in this unddated picture. (Photo courtesy: yadvashem.org)

The Veselis were branded as members of the “Righteous Among the Nations,” a title awarded by Israel-based Holocaust research center Yad Vashem, the Israeli daily said.

The students had been learning about the Holocaust at their school, which included a visit to Israel where they visited Yad Vashem.

The children also learnt about the other Muslims who saved Jews from the Nazis.

Ruti Mandil, who now heads a Tel Aviv photography studio, received an email from the school six months ago informing her of its new name.

The Mandils, natives to Yugoslavia, owned a photography studio there. With the German invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, he attempted to flee with false papers but were stopped by Germany soldiers at a railway station who asked them to prove they were not Jewish.

The family of four were then detained in a prison in Yugoslavia’s Pristina, where Moshe forged friendships with his German captives after taking their portraits.

Gavra Mandil with his father in the Pristina prison. (Photo courtesy: yadvashem.org)
Gavra Mandil with his father in the Pristina prison. (Photo courtesy: yadvashem.org)

After escpaping the detention center in Pristina, the family made its way to Albania where Moshe opened a photography studio photographing, on occasion Nazi soldiers, throughout the war.

Fleeing the German invasion of Albania, the Yugoslavian family relocated to another city where the father worked at an apprentice’s photography studio, the Haaretz said.

There, he met 17-year-old Muslim Refik Veseli who came from his village of Kruje to learn the photography trade.

As the Germans advanced, Veseli invited the Jewish family to move to his parents’ house in the mountains.

They rode on mules through mountain paths and hid in caves in a long journey to the refuge, where they stayed there until 1944.

The Mandils survived Nazi bombings and raids on the village with the help of their hosts.

Moshe Mandil (second from right) and Refik Veseli (second from left). (Photo courtesy: yadvashem.org)
Moshe Mandil (second from right) and Refik Veseli (second from left). (Photo courtesy: yadvashem.org)

After Moshe’s son Gavra wrote to Yad Vashem about Veseli and Veselis, the institute recognized the Muslim family as members of the Righteous Among the Nations.

“They may not have been educated on the heritage of Goethe and Schiller, but they attached the greatest importance to human life, in a most natural and understandable way,” Mandil wrote on Yad Vashem’s website.

Earlier this year, a 91-year-old Dutch man returned a Righteous Among the Nations medal he received from Israel for sheltering a Jew from the Nazis after six relatives were killed in an airstrike during Israel’s mi;itary operation in the Gaza conflict in July and August.

An Israeli F-16 shelled Henk Zanoli’s great niece’s home in Gaza, killing everyone inside.

Zanoli, a retired lawyer, returned medal along with a letter addressed to the Israeli ambassador in the Hague.

“It is with great sorrow that I am herewith returning the medal I received as an honor and a token of appreciation from the State of Israel for the efforts and risks taken by my mother and her family in saving the life of a Jewish boy during the German occupation," Zanoli said in the letter.