The Albanian word of honour to Jews
It’s a small nation, primarily Muslim that did the un-imaginable, saved Jews from the Nazi’s. And that’s not all. Albania, even though during that time was occupied by the Hitler run Germany, is the only country that came out of the World War with a bigger number of the Jewish people than before the war.
No single Jew was handed over to the Nazi’s.
Although this incredible story happened so many years ago, almost no one ever knew about this. Rarely would you see stories published or broadcast about Albanians saving Jews!
Generally I never hide my disappointment with things happening in the Balkans, especially in two countries run by the Albanians, Kosova and Albania.
For a change I wanted to write something positive, something I can be proud of. The first thing that comes to the mind of every Albanian is Mother Theresa, Albanian born nun and world renowned humanitarian. Actually, if there is one thing that makes me feel amazing about my country and my people (Albanians), most definitively it is the harmony between different religions. I will not go any further this time with this one, leaving that to the next post.
I give you my Albanian “Besa” for that. Trust me, this is the best promise one Albanian can make and we keep that promise, even if we have to die for it.
This is what Albanians gave to the Jews during World War II – BESA.
“Besa” or keeping a promise was always part of the Albanian culture, but for the first time was mentioned in “Kanun of Leke Dukagjini” (15-th century), a collection of Albanian traditional customs and cultural practices.
Albanians took the Jewish people home and after giving them their “Besa”, they would even die and not betray the Jewish refugees.
Due to the Albanian extremely rigorous communism after the War until the ’90 very few in the world knew about Albanian “Besa” to the Jews. In 2009, CBS News Sunday Morning prepared a special that is very much worth watching it.
The American photographer, Norman Gershman for years followed the story and came up with a large format book with pictures and text, “Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II”. Those pictures have been exhibited among other places also at the United Nations, the European Council in Strasbourg, the House of Commons and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
In June this year, a documentary about Gershman’s project was promoted in Aspen.
“No matter how often I tell the story of our rescue in Albania by a Moslim Albanian family, I relive our life in Albania over and over again! I love to be able to talk about these wonderful people, who through their compassion, courage and valor upheld the honor of the human race! The Albanian people filled the moral void that engulfed the world in those days, they were among the few shining stars!”
Johanna Neumann – Jewish refugee in Albania during World War II