Amsterdam Publishers Newsletter – AP – Specialist in Holocaust Memories

A must read for Jewish, Albanian, Greek and Israel communities, and anyone interested in the history of the Jews in the Balkans.

Covering the years 1938 through the present, Flower of Vlora is a lively, funny and tense first person account of Dr. Anna Kohen’s Romaniote-Jewish family in Albania, and how they were saved from the Nazis by Muslim Albanians.

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About the Book

Covering the years 1938 through the present, Flower of Vlora is a funny and tense account of Anna Kohen’s Romaniote-Jewish family in Albania and how they were saved from the Nazis by Muslim Albanians. Arriving in picturesque Vlora, Albania, just before WWII, Anna Kohen’s family joined a small, Greek-speaking Romaniote Jewish community of merchants. They sold fabrics and had a dye works. During WWII, they sheltered with Muslim families as they hid from the Nazis, taking on Muslim names and pretending to be Muslim. Her family who remained in Greece, including all of her mother’s family, were murdered in death camps.

Flower of Vlora then focuses on the Romaniote traditions of Dr. Kohen’s family, which they had to celebrate in secret because of the Albanian dictatorship’s repression of religion. Rendered stateless since they did not have any documents and would not join the Communist Party, the family had a bold scheme to leave Albania for the West, right under the eyes of the secret police. Kohen eventually became a dentist in Greece and then in New York City, learning the craft of dental implants from their inventor, and establishing her own thriving practice. Her life came full circle as President of the Albanian American Women’s Organization, helping refugees, women and children, especially during the Kosovo War. Flower of Vlora is a must read for Jewish, Albanian, Greek and Israel communities, and anyone interested in the history of the Jews in the Balkans.

TO BE PUBLISHED ON 15 November 2022

Endorsements

I read Dr. Anna Kohen’s memoir, Flower of Vlora, with rare pleasure. I laughed out loud at times as I read her stories from her childhood in Albania, and I felt pain and sadness for how her family was treated by the communist dictatorship. Her book made me feel such a great range of emotions. Flower of Vlora is a book written with extraordinary sincerity. I recommend this excellent book to anyone who wants to know the story of how the Albanian people saved the Jews during the Holocaust.

– Dr. Shaban Sinani, Author, Albanians and Jews: The Protection and Salvation


From the first page of Flower of Vlora, author Dr. Anna Kohen sweeps the reader into a community of Romaniote Jews living in the repressive, communist country of Albania, who managed to maintain their native Greek language, foods, and Jewish observances despite the government prohibition against all religion. The Kohen family members exemplify resourcefulness, adaptation, and resilience as they manage to thrive in the harshest conditions, emigrate to the United States, and succeed in every endeavor. The book is fast-paced and showcases a truly remarkable family.

– Barbara Gilford, Author, Heart Songs: A Holocaust Memoir


Dr. Anna Kohen’s memoir, Flower of Vlora, tells the story of her family’s miraculous escape from both the Holocaust and communist Albania. She became a renowned dentist and a prominent intellectual in the US, and (as she writes in her wonderful book) has contributed to the Albanian people and the protection of their human rights wherever they live. She especially worked to aid Albanian refugees from Kosovo during the 1990s war. As a president of AAWO – Motrat Qiriazi in New York, she provided much-needed support to female Albanian immigrants and refugees. She regularly engaged with the Albanian-Israeli Friendship Association in Tirana, meeting with the Albanian minister of culture so we could have a small place for a Jewish museum in Tirana’s National Museum. Recounting her family’s experience of the salvation of the Jews in her book, Anna brings a unique and important story to the reading public. As she tells us in Flower of Vlora, the Albanians who saved the Jews had no religious, political, economic, or cultural biases. Her book is a vivid recollection of this special story, and many other parts of her Jewish Albanian life. Anna honors her Jewish, Albanian, and American roots all through her book, never forgetting her unique Albanian experience, and writing about it with culture, education, goodness, and brilliance. Most importantly, Flower of Vlora is the story of people working together to try and make the world a better place.

– Dr. Petrit Zorba, Director of the Albanian-Israel Friendship Association

I read with pleasure Dr. Anna Kohen’s Flower of Vlora, an extremely interesting account of her journey through life. The book deals with her personal experiences growing up Jewish in communist Albania, and the life of her Jewish family, who were saved from the Holocaust by the Albanian people during World War II. Later, the book details her studies and accomplishments in Greece and the United States after the family was able to leave the Albanian dictatorship behind. Flower of Vlora is a tale of Anna’s struggle to rise from poverty and lack of freedom to great personal accomplishment and success, which she achieves through the power of her determination, hard work, and relentless ambition. After attaining her educational and professional goals, Anna writes about how she began giving back and assisting others in her community. Flower of Vlora will help readers understand how a young woman from a poor country – armed only with courage, wisdom, and the love of her family – was able to break through the glass ceiling in her profession in a new country, and in a totally new language. Flower of Vlora is an inspirational text filled with practical advice for working and living with passion and purpose.

– Felicita Jakoel, President, Israeli Albanian Friendship Society


In her memoir, Flower of Vlora, Dr. Anna Kohen offers the reader the astonishing story of a Greek Romaniote Jewish family who escaped Ioannina, Greece, moving to Vlora, Albania, right in the nick of time and avoiding the tragic extinction of that ancient community in the Holocaust. It was a Muslim Albanian family in a poor village in the mountains outside Vlora – a family yet to be recognized for their good deeds at Yad Vashem – who saved the Kohens during the height of German occupation in 1944. Later, as little Anna was born and grew up in communist Albania, she courageously embraced in full her Jewish roots, together with the ancient and proud local tradition. Gaining the right to leave Albania as a stateless family during the Cold War was almost an impossible proposition, yet the Kohens managed to do it, unified and fully intact as a family. Anna’s brief return to Greece – and then her new and successful professional and personal life in the US – are fascinating examples of hard work, incredible resolve, and strong character. The author is a true role model for young women of any race, creed, or conviction both in her native, beautiful town of Vlora and across the world. Flower of Vlora is the story of an incredible life journey, offered through a rich, vivid, and versatile narrative style.

– Agron Alibali, Senior Fellow, University of Massachusetts Boston, McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts


Anna Kohen’s detailed and interesting memoir, Flower of Vlora, offers readers a look into the full and complex life of a Jewish person of Greek origin whose family miraculously survived the Holocaust. Only 15 percent of Greek Jewry survived, as most lived in Thessaloniki and from there they were all deported to Eastern European camps, where they were murdered. Anna’s family fortunately moved from Greece to Albania before the war and there, when the country was taken over by Nazi sympathizers, were hidden in mountain villages among Muslim Albanians. Before the war, the Muslims had been customers of Anna’s father, who traveled by donkey village to village selling fabrics. The family belonged to a small ethnic Jewish group, the Romaniotes, considered the oldest Jewish diaspora group with its own history and traditions. Because so few Greek Jews survived, there aren’t many memoirs about them. Flower of Vlora sheds light on one family’s fate during the war. Family life and customs are well described, as well as the difficulty of living under communism in Albania after World War II. The author talks about her desire to be well educated and how, despite many challenges, she eventually became a well-known dentist. The story of the family’s difficult escape from Albania, after many efforts by the father, first to Greece where the few surviving family members lived, and eventually to the United States, is compelling. Life under communism was very difficult, especially for Jews and for those who would not join the Party, and leaving was very difficult. In the United States the family thrived, and the author became an important spokesperson for her communities. One gets to know Dr. Kohen and her life well – the successes she achieved, and the challenges presented by her husband’s health as well as her own. It is truly a unique story of survival against many odds, as well as the triumph of many successes. Flower of Vlora is a full and detailed memoir of the life of one very intelligent and ambitious lady.

– Michlean Lowry Amir, Volunteer, Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


Within the pages of Dr. Anna Kohen’s memoir, Flower of Vlora, resides real-life drama. The book is a personal account of her family’s escape from the Holocaust during World War II (due to the generosity of the Albanian people), as well as Anna’s struggles as a child growing up under the communist dictatorship her family endured after the war. Communicated with honesty and courage, Flower of Vlora tells the story of Anna’s family and of her own well-lived life, when all of it could have gone so very wrong many times. It’s the story of a brave and remarkable woman, her incredible passage from war-torn, poverty stricken, and deprived Albania, to the rich and opportunity-filled West – steadily guided by her own goals and by her Jewish family’s values. This is an inspirational narrative with many layers, a true tale of a modern-day Scheherazade that unfolds over three continents and spans more than 80 years. It’s a Balkan story of survival, an American tale of success, and a story of international Jewry. More than anything, Flower of Vlora is a life lesson on the merits of living according to your principles, of generously giving back when you can, and of truly caring and loving unconditionally.

– Zanet Battinou, Director, The Jewish Museum of Greece


About the Author

Anna Kohen

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Dr. Anna Kohen, DDS, was born in Vlora, Albania, just after the end of World War II and grew up in a small community of Romaniote Jews that Muslim Albanians had saved from the Nazis. Her family then experienced the hardships of the communist dictatorship. Managing to leave Albania with her family in 1966 through careful planning and trickery, she first settled in Greece, where she completed her dentistry studies at the Ethnikon and Kapodistriakon University of Athens Dental School. Emigrating to the United States in 1971, she continued her studies at New York University’s Dental School and received a DDS Dental Degree in 1976. After graduation she was appointed as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Restorative Dentistry at NYU Dental School and taught there for ten years. She practiced general dentistry at her office in Manhattan until her retirement to Sarasota, Florida in 2013.
In 1990, with the help of several Jewish organizations, Dr. Kohen brought 37 of her Jewish-Albanian relatives to the US, and assisted them in the process of integration. In 1991, she was invited to Albania to celebrate the formation of the Albanian Israeli Society, of which she is an elected an Honorary Member. In 2004, the President of the Albanian Republic, Alfred Moisiu, recognized Dr. Kohen with the Special Civil Merits medal for, “Valuable contributions helping Albanians during the Kosovar humanitarian crisis; for precious aid given to the new Albanian emigrants in the United States of America.” In 2006, Dr. Kohen was given the title Honored Citizen of Vlora by the Major of Vlora. On that same day, Dr. Kohen witnessed the renaming of a street where her Jewish community had lived to “The Jewish Street,” the results of her efforts to have Albania’s Jewish community recognized. In 2013, the New York Chapter of American Albanian National Organization gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award. Another Albanian President, Bujar Nishani, honored Dr. Kohen during his official visit to Washington, DC, in 2014.

Dr. Kohen’s nonprofit work includes assisting the Fresh Air Fund in sending numerous underprivileged children to summer camp, aiding Allen Healthcare provide free classes Albanian immigrants to become home attendants for Albanian elderly, and in partnership with the Italian Cancer Society, helping provide free mammograms to Albanian women without insurance at the Bronx House. She has assisted the Domenick Scaglione Children’s Foundation in Tirana, the Little Baby Face Foundation, and partnered with Gift Of Life International to provide Albanian children with lifesaving heart surgeries.
Dr. Kohen frequently visits Albanian schools in the Bronx, teaching children how to take care of their teeth and maintain good oral hygiene. She has participated in countless community events and contributed moral, emotional and financial support to members of the Albanian community. For nearly two decades, she was elected and served as President of the Albanian American Women’s Organization—“Motrat Qiriazi”—the most active organization in the Albanian community. She founded and is president of AAWO’s Florida chapter. In 2016, Dr. Kohen accepted a Golden Eagle Award at the Diaspora Summit in Albania on behalf of AAWO. In 2018, she was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from AAWO in New York on International Women’s Day and Teachers’ Day. In 2019, she was honored by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, where she is the founding chair of its International Holocaust Remembrance Day. She has spoken before the United Nations, is an Honorary Member of the Albanian Medical Society, and was honored with a Proclamation from New York City Hall. Dr. Kohen is married to a Holocaust survivor from Poland and has two children and three grandchildren.

Amsterdam Publishers Newsletter – AP – Specialist in Holocaust Memories

Flower of Vlora