The Albanian Culture Ministry has announced the establishment of the "Besa" Museum, a new cultural space in the heart of Tirana, which will celebrate the heroic actions of Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The museum will be housed in a historic building (House of Toptans) that embodies the best of 19th-century Albanian architecture and has been designated a Cultural Heritage and Cultural Monument.
The residence has a quadrangular shape with the hall situated in the center and rooms distributed around the hall. The interior is decorated with mural paintings and wooden carvings. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the establishment of the new museum at a gala event honoring Albanian "Righteous Among the Nations" during his recent visit to Jerusalem.
Albania's Culture Ministry has announced an open design competition for architecture design proposals, funded by Israeli philanthropist Alexander Machkevitch, with the goal of finding the best design solution for the museum's construction.
In the first phase, candidates will present the composition of their teams, qualifications, work methodology, and vision for the site, including a preliminary concept. At the end of this phase, the jury will select the five best teams and concepts, which will be able to continue the work for the second phase. In the second stage, the jury will examine the proposals of the five selected teams and choose the winning proposal.
"I am humbled to be a part of this important project that will memorialize the bravery of Albanians who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust," Machkevitch said.
He added that the Albanian people, "and particularly Rama, have shown great commitment to preserving the memory of these heroic acts, and it is an honor to work alongside them. This project is a testament to the power of solidarity and compassion in the face of darkness, and I hope it will inspire future generations to continue this legacy of kindness."
The "Besa" Museum
The "Besa" Museum will pave the way for the creation of a destination of the glorious history of the salvation of Jews during the Second World War, as well as of Jewish history, tradition, culture, and art, according to the Albanian government. The museum will set a new standard for spaces of this type in Albania in terms of mission, concept, architecture, management, direction, exhibition creation, storytelling, education, and community engagement.
Rama said on Tuesday that "it is another very important moment in Tirana's history, urban development, and architecture, and I believe that we will finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief from a long-standing burden of obligation in relation to our children and visitors to our country, which is related to perhaps the most glorious page of Albanian history, the rescue of Jews during WWII."
Albanian Culture Minister Elva Margariti added that "the rescue of the Jews during World War II is one of the most beautiful pages in the history of the Albanians. Christians and Muslims sacrificed everything to protect them. For Albanians this is BESA; it is a value that we will pass on to our children, telling them this extraordinary story.
"The Besa Museum will be a bridge of communication between generations; a dialogue space for sharing the best values of our peoples."
The "Besa" Museum will serve as a meeting point, a dialogue center for cultural exchanges, and beyond. It aims to be an added tourist attraction in Tirana, as well as a center for education and community engagement. The establishment of the "Besa" Museum recognizes the importance of preserving and celebrating the influence of representative values in Albanian society, culture, and activity, especially with regard to the Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
Albania is the only country in Europe that had more Jews after World War II than before the war. The Albanian people refused to hand over a single Jew to the Nazis, and many Albanians risked their lives to protect Jews from persecution.