Monday, January 31, 2011

Only Albanians in Albania during WWII

A while back I got all excited about the book, The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle, about Muslims in Paris during the Second World War who put themselves at-risk by helping Jews escape German persecution.

So, I went looking to learn more and came across Besa: Muslims who saved Jews in World War II by Norman H. Gershman (940.5318 GeB 2008).  This is an incredible collection of short, true stories of Albanian Muslims who also risked their lives to help Jews and others in danger from the Nazis.  Albania was the one European country that had more Jews living in the country after the war than before.  This comes down to ‘besa’, a code of honour, unique to Albanian Muslims 

Besa, means literally “to keep the promise.” One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family.
                            (from website: Besa Code of Honour)
Each two page spread in the book includes a short narrative written by a family member and a photographic portrait of descendents of the people involved.   Eloquent, simply told stories tell of the generosity and personal sacrifice made to help Jews and others during the war.

I was gripped listening to a CBC Radio segment  last fall that highlighted a travelling exhibition featuring the portraits and the stories of the Albanian Muslims who live by besa.  From this story I learned that the mayor of Tirana did not hand over the city’s Jews to the Nazis’ but insisted that there were no Jews, only Albanians, living in Albania.  Just one of many stories.

The book is wonderful.  The Current’s story featuring the exhibit is gripping.  This is a story that needs to be more widely known.  I'm glad to have the opportunity to share.


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