Besa: A Code of Honour
Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust
An exhibition from Yad Vashem, presented by the Jewish Holocaust Centre in partnership with the Albanian Australian Islamic Society & Courage to Care
12 March to 30 April, 2015
This exhibition features photographs by the American photographer Norman Gershman of Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
Albania, a European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded where other European nations failed. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation – those of Albanian origin and refugees alike – were saved.
The Albanian population, in an extraordinary act, refused to comply with the occupier’s orders to turn over Jews residing within the country’s borders. Moreover, the various governmental agencies provided many Jewish families with fake documentation that allowed them to intermingle with the rest of the population.
The Albanians not only protected their Jewish citizens, but also provided sanctuary to Jewish refugees who had arrived in Albania. The remarkable assistance afforded the Jews was grounded in Besa, a code of honor, which still today serves as the highest ethical code in the country. Besa literally means “to keep a promise”. One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can entrust one’s life and that of one’s family. The aid given to Jews and non-Jews alike should be understood as a matter of national honour. Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust) has so far recognized 68 Albanians among more than 22,000 with the honored title of Righteous Among the Nations.
“Why did my father save a stranger at the risk of his life and the entire village? My father was a devout Muslim. He believed that to save one life is to enter paradise.” Alia Sheqer (whose father rescued Jews).
This exhibition comes at a time in history where the importance of tolerance and understanding between disparate religions and cultures is paramount to maintain a civil society and reflects the spirit of Jewish Holocaust Centre’s Mission Statement:
‘The Jewish Holocaust Centre is an institution dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945. We consider the finest memorial to all victims of racist policies to be an educational program which aims to combat anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice in the community and fosters understanding between people.’
This exhibition was created by Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel. The Jewish Holocaust Centre’s presentation is made possible by the American Society for Yad Vashem.
“The Besa exhibition at the Jewish Holocaust Centre was supported by the Victorian Government.”