Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust

Albania, a European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded where other European nations failed in dealing with Nazi Germany. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation – those of Albanian origin and refugees alike – were saved. 

In a five-year project, Colorado-based photographer Norman Gershman set out to collect the names of righteous, non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. He discovered that some of the names were of Albanian Muslims. He then began a quest to meet and photograph the Albanian rescuers or their descendents. During his interviews, when he asked why they had rescued Jews, the resounding response was “Besa,” the code of honor deeply rooted in Albanian culture and incorporated in the faith of Albanian Muslims.

As Gershman later would explain, “There was no government conspiracy, no underground railroad, no organized resistance of any kind – only individual Albanians, acting alone, to save the lives of people whose lives were in immediate danger. My portraits of these people, and their stories, are meant to reflect their humanity, their dignity, their religious and moral convictions, and their quiet courage.”

Gershman’s mission is to use art as the primary form of expression to break down stereotypes and build upon the deep roots of humanism that cross racial, ethnic, religious and national boundaries. His photographs are purposeful. What comes though is his overriding belief in the goodness of people reflected in his portraits.

A film documentary of “Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II” is currently in production for international release in 2009.

The exhibit is traveled by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum and is underwritten by Alnoor Bandali; Bank of Texas; Afshi Charania; Jeannine and Patrick Flynn; Grocers Supply Co., Inc.; H-E-B; Heimbinder Family Foundation; Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation; Hildebrand Fund; Amin Lakhani; Linbeck Family Charitable Foundation; Mach Industrial Group, Inc.; Marathon Oil Corporation; Moez Mangalji; Mildred Yount Manion Charitable Foundation; Marek Family Foundation; Amin Mawji; Akbar Mohamed; Sadru Momin; Moes Nasser; Fasil Sharrif; Margaret E. and Kenneth T. Snyder, Sr.; Strake Foundation; Farid Virani; Malik Waliany; with special thanks to Continental Airlines, official airline of Holocaust Museum Houston.

The public is invited to a free preview reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 16, 2009. Visit www.hmh.org/register.asp to RSVP online. For more information, call 713-942-8000, ext. 100, or e-mail exhibits@hmh.org.

July 17, 2009 - April 4, 2010

Central Gallery

M: Closed
T-W: 10 am to 5 pm
Th: 10 am to 8 pm
F-Sa: 10 am to 5 pm
Su: Noon to 5 pm