Muslims saved Jews during WWII

Cover of "Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in...

Cover via Amazon

Yes, you read it correctly.

This is an interview with Norman Gershman who has photographed people and documented stories about Albanian Muslims sheltering Jews and saving their lives during the Holocaust. From his investigations, he discovered that the basis for much of this life saving was due to an Albanian custom of ‘besa’:

“BESA is a tribal Albanian culture that goes back to thousands of years,” he explains.

“What BESA says is that if some one knocks on your door you have an absolute obligation – no matter who that person is – to save their lives.”

There is no any evidence that any Jew was turned over to Nazis in Muslim-majority Albania. There were ten times more Jews in Albania after WWII than before.

“In fact, Albania is the only Nazi occupied country that sheltered Jews,” says Gershman.

“They came in as guests. They were given Muslim names, they were living with Muslim families.”

From the saviors’ tales, Gershman found that Albanian Muslims considered BESA a manifestation of the Islamic teachings of keeping the promise and protecting the weak.

“I remember that some of them said ‘there is no BESA without the Qur’an.'”

Gershman believes that to Muslim Albanians, the idea of not saving Jews from the Nazis was inconceivable.

“They did this in the name of their religion. They absolutely had no prejudice what so ever.

“I asked them ‘why did you do this? What was in the Qur’an that you did this?’ They would only smile.

“Some of them said ‘we have saved lives to go to paradise.'”

Gershman, an American Jew, notes that “I defy if anybody sees my pictures, especially in the West, and say that these people are militants or supporters of violence.”

These stories of Albanian religious tolerance runs in the face of stereotyped portrayal of Muslims, but unfortunately these kind of stories arent ‘sexy’ enough for normal media outlets. We need more stories like this- it is stories like these that give us hope.




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