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.
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.
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.
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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs