News / USA

Muslims Save Jews in Untold WWll Story

Exhibit showcases photographs of Albanian Muslims who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust

Ali Sheqer Pashkaj's father helped a young Jewish man escape transportation to a labor camp and then hid him for two years. "My father was a devout Muslim," he says. "He believed that to save one life is to enter paradise."
Ali Sheqer Pashkaj's father helped a young Jewish man escape transportation to a labor camp and then hid him for two years. "My father was a devout Muslim," he says. "He believed that to save one life is to enter paradise."

Multimedia

Audio

An untold story of the Nazi Holocaust is on display at a Jewish temple in St. Louis, Missouri. It's a photography exhibit, featuring portraits of elderly Albanian Muslims - men and women who helped save nearly 2,000 Jews who fled to Albania during World War II.

Untold story

"Who ever heard of Muslims saving Jews?," asks photographer Norman Gershman. After hearing the story, he decided to visit Albania to meet the surviving families who had sheltered Jews. "I wanted to go to Albania first to discover for myself who are these people."

Basri Hasani sheltered his next-door neighbor and best friend, Moshe Rubenovic, who fought the Nazis throughout Albania and Kosovo. "I am a true Muslim," says Hasani. "My door is always open to anyone in need."
Basri Hasani sheltered his next-door neighbor and best friend, Moshe Rubenovic, who fought the Nazis throughout Albania and Kosovo. "I am a true Muslim," says Hasani. "My door is always open to anyone in need."

For the past six years, Gershman, a fine art photographer whose work is typically displayed in museums, traveled throughout Albania and Kosovo. He photographed most of his subjects in their homes, often with objects that were significant to the people they sheltered.

In one photograph, a man stands with three Jewish prayer books that a family left behind after the war.

"I'll never forget this - when we were at this guy's home and he was looking at us sort of like angrily and he said 'What are you doing here?'" says Gershman. "We said, 'Well, your family saved this Jewish family,' and he looked at us and said, 'So what? Any Albanian would have done the same thing. We did nothing special,' and he meant it."

Word of honor

The Albanians have a word for this: Besa. It translates as 'word of honor,' and is a cultural precept unique to Albania.

"The word Besa in Albanian is kind of protection of when they host a guest, the Albanians, it's a rule, they protect them with their own lives," says Alberto Colonomos, a Jewish man born in 1933 in what was then Yugoslavia. He was 10 years old when his family fled to Albania.

"There were about 7,200 Jews living in that area. They deported them to the concentration camps and they deported them all the way to Treblinka. They killed them all, nobody came back. But about 50 families escaped a week or two weeks before the deportation."

The Jewish family that lived with the Kazazi family (pictured) escaped the Nazis during searches by scrambling through connecting doorways to other homes. "Our parents were not very religious, but they believed in the Koran and Besa," the grown Kazazi chi
The Jewish family that lived with the Kazazi family (pictured) escaped the Nazis during searches by scrambling through connecting doorways to other homes. "Our parents were not very religious, but they believed in the Koran and Besa," the grown Kazazi chi

A wealthy man who worked in a tobacco factory took in the Colonomos family. Unlike many Jews in other parts of Europe who survived the war in cellars and attics, Jews in Albania were given Muslim names and treated as honored guests. Colonomos explains that under Besa, Albanians put their guests before their own family.

"They really hid us with their lives. They knew that the Germans - the consequences if they catch them were very, very stiff. So they would be shot. But when they have that Besa, they will not denounce their guests. They were amazing people."

Gershman's black and white portraits have been in over 70 exhibitions around the world. For the rest of the year they are on display - for the first time in the American Midwest - at Temple Emanuel, a Reform Jewish synagogue in St. Louis, Missouri.

Rabbi Justin Kerber hopes the exhibit will help start an interfaith dialogue in his own community that will spread to other parts of the country.
Rabbi Justin Kerber hopes the exhibit will help start an interfaith dialogue in his own community that will spread to other parts of the country.

Interfaith dialogue

"We are really delighted to have it and were really excited to see the interest," said Rabbi Justin Kerber, who has led the congregation for a year and a half. He hopes the exhibit will help start an interfaith dialogue in his own community that will spread to other parts of the country.

"At this time when there is so much tension in the world and so much attention being paid to Jewish-Muslim conflict or Israeli-Arab conflict, it's really important for everyone to understand that is not the only story," says Kerber. "It's not the way things have always been and I'm really looking forward to growing this relationship with the Islamic Foundation."

That hope is shared by Mufti Minhajuddin Ahmed, the Imam and director of Religious Services of the Greater Islamic Foundation of St. Louis, which partnered with Temple Emanuel for a panel discussion on the exhibit's opening night.

"I think at a time when the Jewish-Muslim relations are very sour to many of the events taking place in the Middle East, this was a very timely and much-needed exhibition that highlights how Muslims have saved Jews and these are the true teachings of Islam," says Ahmed. "This is an opportunity for others to learn that it's a religion that is not born in violence. Rather they are teachings of compassion and kindness."

The compassion and kindness - the Besa - of the Albanian Muslims was recognized by Israel in 2007. The Jewish state awarded them one of its highest honors, Righteous Among Nations, which is granted to non-Jews who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust.

Gershman's photographs of those men and women have been published in a book called "Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During World War II." A documentary film based on Gershman's trip to Albania will be released next year.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid