In November, I went to exhibit by the photographer Norman Gershman, which told the little known story of Albanian Muslims that had aided and sheltered Albanian Jews and Jews from neighboring European countries during the Second World War. Albanians from top government and religious leaders down to the ordinary citizen felt a double responsibility to protect the Jews from Nazi aggression through their belief in Islam combined with their social code called Besa.
From the introduction to the exhibit:
“Albania, a European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded where other European nations failed. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation– those of Albanian origin and refugees alike– were saved. Following the German occupation in 1943, the Albanian population, in an extraordinary act, refused to comply with the occupier’s orders to tun over lists of Jews residing within the country’s borders. Moreover, various governmental agencies provided many Jewish families with fake documentation that allowed them to intermingle amongst the rest of the population. The Albanians not only protected their Jewish citizens, but also provided sanctuary to Jewish refugees who has arrived in Albania.”
“When post-World War II Europe found itself devastated by the loss of its Jewish population, Albania was the only country to boast a larger number of Jewish people than it had housed prior to the Holocaust. Over 2,000 Jews from Albania, Greece, Austria, and Italy were hidden in the homes of Albanian Muslim families throughout the war. Norman Gershman, an American photographer fascinated by these stories, traveled to Albania and Kosovo to chronicle the tales of the righteous Albanians and their devotion to Besa, an Albanian code of honor, which means ‘to keep the promise’.”
These are some of their stories: Continue reading