When Muslims Saved Jews

Posted on August 31, 2009


Dina Rabie, Islamonline.net

They came in as guests. They were given Muslim names, they were living with Muslim families,” Gershman told IOL.

CAIRO — Norman Gershman has become accustomed to the reactions from people who see his photos and read his stories about Muslims sheltering Jews and saving their lives during the Holocaust. “I had people say ‘Muslims save Jews! How is that?'” the American Jewish fine art photographer told IslamOnline.net in a telephone interview.

Gershman has been engaged in a 5-year project that honors stories of Albanian Muslims’ heroism in saving thousands of Jews, who either lived in Albania or sought refugee there, during World War II. The “BESA… a code of honor” project began when he was seeking out photographs of righteous, non-Jews who helped Jews during the Holocaust, in New York.

Gershman was amazed to find among them Muslim names that he was told belongs to Albanians.

His quest then took him to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem, where he found more Albanian names.

“I traveled all through Albania and Kosovo where I met the rescuers’ children, who are in their sixties or even older, the rescuers’ widows, and in some cases the rescuer himself.”

After more than four years of collecting stories and shooting black and white photos, Gershman’s first exhibition was held last November at Yad Vashem.

The exhibition then went the UN headquarter in New York before starting a world tour.

A full length documentary is in progress along with a fine art book of the heroic profiles of Muslims saving Jews in Albania and Kosovo. The premier of the film worldwide is expected in 2009.

“I am proud and happy to show this story to the world,” Gershman says.

Qur’anic BESA

Albanian Muslims saved Jews from the Nazis “to go to paradise.”

People usually ask Gershman about the title he chose for the fruit of his painstaking five-year efforts.

“BESA is a tribal Albanian culture that goes back to thousands of years,” he explains.

“What BESA says is that if some one knocks on your door you have an absolute obligation – no matter who that person is – to save their lives.”

There is no evidence that any Jew was turned over to Nazis in Muslim-majority Albania. [more]

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