Besa: A Code of Honor

From Yad Vashem, an Exhibition Based on the Project of Photographer Norman Gershman, Who Documented the Albanian Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust

"There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania, because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians themselves are divided into three faiths."

Herman Bernstein, the United States Ambassador to Albania, 1934

The Holocaust

The Holocaust is the murder of six million Jews perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. The Jews were the only ones, of all those who suffered under Nazi Germany, for whom a total worldwide annihilation program was initiated. This is the uniqueness of the Holocaust...

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Albania

On the eve of WWII, Albania, a small and mountainous country on the southeast coast of the Balkan Peninsula, was home to a population of a million people, of whom about 70 percent were Muslim, 20 percent Greek-Orthodox, and 10 percent Roman Catholic. The Jewish population numbered some two hundred...

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The Righteous Among the Nations

The primary purpose of the law that established Yad Vashem was to create a memorial to commemorate and perpetuate the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Yet, an additional stipulation in the law requires Yad Vashem to honor “the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to save Jews”...

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Beqir Qoqja

I am ninety-one years old and in good health. I live in the same house now, with my son and his family, as I did when I sheltered my close Jewish friend, Avram Eliasaf Gani, in 1943 and 1944. At first I hid Avram here, but when the persecution of Jews became more horrible...

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Besim and Aishe Kadiu

We lived in the village of Kavajë. In 1940, for a short time, our family sheltered two Greek Jews from the Italian fascists. Their names were Jakov and Sandra Batino, and they were brother and sister. They came to us from Tirana. Their father had been interned in a camp by the Italians...

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Mefail Bicaku and His Son, Niazi Bicaku

When the Italians capitulated in 1943 and the Germans entered the area, my father was only twelve years old. His father - my grandfather - owned a shop in Tirana. My grandfather and father led seventeen terrified Jews out of Tirana. They traveled twelve hours on horseback to the village of Qarrishta, my father walking barefoot. The Jews were hidden in a large barn in the hills near the village...

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Bessim and Higmet Zyma

The year was 1944. A friend of ours asked us to shelter an aged Jewish man from Poland. His name was Lew Dzienciolski. Why not? My husband Bessim was a wonderful physician. He worked at the hospital and we had a clinic in the basement. I recall Mr. Dzienciolski could only see from one eye. What my husband did was to bandage his entire face...

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Nuro Hoxha

I am the oldest son of Nuro Hoxha, who was well known as a teacher and a religious Muslim here in our community of Vlorë. I remember those terrible times when the Nazis moved into Vlorë from Greece, and the Jews went into hiding. I was ten years old. The Jews in Vlorë, Berat, and Elbasan had been living in Albania since 1490...

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Zyrha Kasapi and Her Son, Hamdi Kasapi

Hamdi Kasapi, my husband, died in 1989. He was a cinematographer and was proclaimed an Albanian Hero of Socialist Labor. He and his mother, Zyrha, have been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. I and my sons, Naim and Francis, treasure what Hamdi and Zyrha did for the Jewish family of Mose Frances...

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Kasem Jakup Kocerri

I was born in 1915. All my life I have been a shepherd from Vlorë. I lived with our livestock in the hills. In Vlorë we had many Jewish families who were long-time members of our community. I remember Jakov Solomoni acted as the rabbi at Jewish holidays. We were the best of friends. Jews and Muslims are cousins...

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Ali Sheqer Pashkaj

Our traditional home is in Pukë. My father owned a general store with food provisions. It was the only store of its kind for many miles around. One day a German transport rolled by with nineteen Albanian prisoners on their way to hard labor, and one Jew who was to be shot...

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The Brothers: Hamid and Xhemal Veseli

Our deceased brother Refik was the first to be honored in Albania as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Now we both have been given the same honor for sheltering the family of Joseph Ben Joseph as well as the Mandil family. Under the Italian occupation, Joseph worked for me (Hamid) in my clothing shop...

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Eshref Shpuza

My parents lived in the town of Durres. In 1944, my father befriended the Jewish family of Raphael (Rudi) Abravanel. They were originally from Yugoslavia. He provided fake passports for Rudi, his aunt and uncle and their two children, and escorted them to the border...

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Destan and Lime Balla

I was born in 1910. In 1943, at the time of Ramadan, seventeen people from Tirana came to our village of Shengjergji. They were all escaping from the Germans. At first I didn’t know they were Jews...

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Vesel and Fatime Veseli; Their Son Refik Veseli

My husband was a photographer. He learned his trade as a teenager from a Jewish photographer by the name of Moshe Mandil. The Italians had deported the Mandil family from Priština in Kosovo to Tirana. When the Germans occupied Albania, my husband got his parents’ permission to hide...

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Norman Gershman, Photographer

Norman H. Gershman embarked on his career as a photographer at a relatively late age. He studied with and was influenced by the works of the photographers Ansel Adams, Roman Vishniac and Arnold Newman, as well as under the tutelage of Cornell Capa, the founder and director of the International Center of Photography in New York...

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Besa: The Promise (Movie)

A persecuted family on the run... Sacred books hidden for their protection... A 60 year old promise - unfulfilled but not forgotten... BESA: The Promise weaves Albania's heroism in WWII through the modern day journeys of two men. One is Norman Gershman, a renowned American photographer determined to document first-person accounts of the Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust...

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