When World War II ended, Albania was the only European country to boast a larger number of Jewish people than it had housed before the Holocaust. More than 2,000 Jews from Albania, Greece, Italy and other nations were hidden in the homes of Albanian families throughout the War. Besa – the Albanian code of faith and honor – was the source of the courage that led to their rescue.
American photographer Norman Gershman, fascinated by stories of the rescue effort, traveled to Albania and Kosovo to chronicle the tales of Albanian-Muslim protectors and their devotion to Besa, which means "to keep the promise." BESA: Muslims who Saved Jews during the Holocaust, at Suffolk University’s Adams Gallery through July 8, is the result of his work.
Gershman’s portraits serve as representations of character as well as historical documentation of the Albanian Resistance. Each portrait is accompanied by a personal statement of how Besa inspired the rescuer. As Basri Hasani said: “My door is always open to someone in need.
Both Muslims and Christians, urban professionals and those living in remote Albanian villages sheltered Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. It was a matter of national honor, and Albanians competed with each other for the privilege of saving Jews. These acts originated in compassion and a desire to help those in need. As another of Gershman’s subjects said: “There are no foreigners in Albania – only guests.”
The exhibit was created by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum, New York, N.Y.
About the photographer
Norman Gershman was born in Jersey City, N.J., in 1932. After college, he served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. He began to study photography in 1976 at the International Center of Photography with Ansel Adams and others. His first major project, commissioned by John Denver, was to photograph concerts in the USSR during the 1980s.
Gershman’s art is included in the collections of The International Center of Photography in New York, The Brooklyn Museum, The Aspen Museum of Art, as well as in galleries in Russia and in private collections. He now resides in Colorado.
BESA: Muslims who Saved Jews during the Holocaust
May 26-July 8, 2012
David J. Sargent Hall
120 Tremont St., Boston
Free and open to the public 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily
3 p.m. Sunday, June 10
Speaker: Johanna Neumann, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Sponsored by the Albanian-American Law Society at Suffolk