BESA: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II

An untold story that would have been cast into the dustbin of history if not rescued by the world renowned fine arts photographer, Norman Gershman. A TriBeCa gallery is showcasing photos of Albanian Muslims who saved Jews during World War II.

"Besa" -- the word for code of honor rooted in Albanian culture that, with Quranic teachings, motivated the Albanians to endanger their lives for their neighbors and for strangers six decades ago. Gershman's record provides a clear and powerful push back against a popular image more recently shaped by violent extremists.

Ramadan and Isa Nuza, brothers, sheltered two Jewish families during World War II. The refugees had new Albanian names, and the brothers never knew their original ones.

"Those years were fearful, but friendship overcame all fear," said Merushe Kadiu, whose family sheltered a brother and sister from Greece.

King Leka I of Albania said his father, the former king, helped Jews escape the country as Nazis closed in.

Albanian Muslim Bahrije Seiti Borici holds the Certificate of Honor awarded her familyin one of the images from Norman Gershman's book, “BESA: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II.” Images from the book are featured in a new exhibit at Temple Emanuel.

Lime Balla's family took in three Jewish brothers, even though her family was too poor to even buy a dining table.

The subjects' resonant voices--"I did nothing special. All Hebrews are our brothers"--share tales of kindnesses and unexpected lives conceived in the midst of catastrophe and destruction. This is a haunting look at the power of love, compassion and generosity.

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