besa book 88 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Besa - Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II
By Norman H. Gershman
Syracuse University Press
I was deeply moved by this collection of stories describing how Albanian Muslims saved Jews during the German occupation during World War II. Each individual story of such rescue, accompanied by a full-page photograph, greatly enhances the stories' drama and authenticity.
Besa is a code of honor deeply rooted in Albanian culture. It dictates an absolute moral behavior of an individual; it demands that one takes responsibility for others in time of need. Nonadherence to Besa is unthinkable, it would bring shame and dishonor both to an individual and to his family. No German threat could prevent an Albanian host from hiding a Jewish refugee, even a total stranger, taking the best care of him and his family, without remuneration, and frequently under most dangerous and demanding circumstances.
Norman H. Gershman, a fine-arts photographer, author and historian, whose works have been featured at Yad Vashem and at the UN, ought to be congratulated for telling and illustrating this unique story.
In his introduction to Besa, Akbar Ahmed of the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC, recalls that Christianity, Judaism and Islam constitute the three "Abrahamic" religions. The commonality of many of their basic values is a message that is sorely needed today. Ahmed hopes that Besa will help to heal the fractured world, to create and to listen, to have a dialogue and ultimately to create understanding. Jehan Sadat described Besa as "reaching beyond our individual identities and desires, there is a common core of self, an essential humanity whose nature is peace, whose expression is thought, and whose action is unconditional love."
Each individual story of rescue in Besa testifies to the heroism of the Albanian Muslim people, from the family of the former King Zog, his son King Leka I and his Queen Geraldine, to the milk vendor, Marika, shown as holding a milk bottle for the well-hidden Jewish child. Yad Vashem recognized many Albanian Muslims as Righteous Gentiles and many grateful Israeli survivors have renewed their ties with their rescuers. Besa shows how both Muslims and Jews can overcome their conflicts and live together.