NEW YORK (Apr. 10)
The entire Jewish population of Albania, numbering some 300 families, has been successfully moved out of the country under a semi-secret exodus arranged by the Albanian and Israeli governments, according to reports Wednesday evening from Israel.
Most of the families — an estimated 400 people — are already in Israel, but 37 Albanian Jews are in Italy awaiting transfer to the United States under the family reunification program, according to officials involved in the emigration.
The exodus started close to three months ago, just as Albania, Eastern Europe’s last Stalinist regime, began tentative moves toward a more open and democratic system.
The tiny Balkan country, with a population of 3.3 million, has been one of the most closed in the region. Until recently, few people were allowed in, and even fewer were allowed out.
Israel Radio reported that the emigration was conducted with the help of the Jewish Agency, which finances immigration to Israel, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which aids Jewish communities around the world.
According to one official closely connected with the emigration, the Joint has maintained contact with the Albanian Jewish community over the past several years, sending them matzot and kosher wine for Passover.
Before an Albanian Jewish family was allowed to emigrate, the Albanian government required that one family member travel to nearby Rome or Athens and collect Israeli visas for the entire family, officials close to the emigration operation said.
The families then traveled from Tirana, the Albanian capital, to either Rome or Athens, where they were flown to Israel, officials said.
The announcement of the successful end to “Operation Flying Carpet,” as the exodus was called, comes as the Albanian and Israeli governments are discussing establishing diplomatic relations, according to Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
The two countries, which never had diplomatic relations, are expected to make a formal announcement shortly, said Steinberg.
(JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jersualem contributed to this report.)