CHICAGO, April 22, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- In the BBC series "My Grandparents' War," now airing on PBS in the U.S., World War II history comes to life as modern-day celebrities, including Helena Bonham Carter, learn about their grandparents' experiences in that turbulent era. Author Elizabeth Vrato has a similar story to share.
Vrato, a Chicago attorney and author of The Counselors: Conversations with 18 Courageous Women Who Have Changed the World (Foreword by Bill Clinton), discovered just last year that her own grandfather, Kadri Cakrani, was also a person who changed the world with incredible acts of humanitarianism and bravery.
Chicago Lawyer magazine's March 2021 issue is the first American publication to spotlight Commandant Kadri Cakrani, who sheltered approximately 600 Jewish people in Albania while serving as the military officer in charge of its Berat region during Nazi occupation.
"I spent four years researching, traveling, and interviewing leaders who changed the world, such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Attorney General Janet Reno," says Vrato. "And, all along there was this dramatic, heroic story within my own family."
Vrato first learned of her grandfather's wartime actions in a Facebook post about the new Solomon Museum of Jewish History in Berat. Shortly afterwards she managed to visit the museum, just as borders closed at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Some of the extraordinary testimony, correspondence, and photos she encountered there, collected by Professor Simon Vrusho, now are viewable on KadriCakrani.org.
"I'm so proud this story can finally be told," Vrato says. "My grandfather shows us the best aspects of humanity and of Europe."
Commandant Cakrani bravely rallied his soldiers and the local citizenry to shelter Jews from the Nazis, even though the penalty for doing so was death. Fluent in German after having gone to school in Vienna, Cakrani lied capably under repeated threats and questioning by Nazi officials, saying he had no information about any Jews in the Berat region. He never turned over a single name. Whenever he got word of Nazi sweeps to find Jews, the sheltered refugees — from Poland, Germany, France and Macedonia — were moved from one part of the city to another, keeping them safe. He also took the enormous personal risk of hiding Jews in his own home.
At the end of WWII, Cakrani himself became a refugee. He put his life on the line once again in opposing Communist dictator Enver Hoxha in his takeover of Albania. Chased by Hoxha's death warrant and aided by British officers Colonel David Smiley and Lieutenant Colonel Billy McLean, Cakrani narrowly escaped to a displaced persons camp in Italy. Cakrani was granted political asylum by President Truman and worked with U.S. Intelligence to try to restore democracy to Albania. Furious at Cakrani's escape and protection by the West, Dictator Hoxha seized all of Cakrani's property and assets.
Kadri Cakrani never spoke publicly against Hoxha or about his work to shelter Jewish people during the Holocaust, in order not to endanger the lives of his fellow soldiers and friends who remained behind the Iron Curtain under Hoxha's regime. His story remained untold for decades.
Today Cakrani's son and daughter, along with his granddaughter Elizabeth Vrato, are available to provide commentary and details or to answer questions.
In addition to being the granddaughter of Kadri Cakrani, Vrato is the great-granddaughter of one of the Founding Fathers of Albania, who signed its Declaration of Independence. She is a graduate of NYU Law School, a Truman Scholar, and has practiced law in the public and private sectors, including with Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The anecdotes and life lessons she shares have broad family appeal for any human-interest audience, including the value of every human life, the importance of combatting antisemitism, and the fragility of democracy.
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SOURCE Elizabeth Vrato