When the Muslims saved the Jews

Charlotte exhibit shows how Albanians sheltered their neighbors from the Nazis

By Michael J. Solender

Like freshly discovered treasures on a receding shoreline at low tide, once buried stories of personal courage are resurfacing in a photographic exhibit in Charlotte, 70 years after the acts of kindness occurred.

Stunning black-and-white imagery is accompanied by descriptive text highlighting stories of Albanians, acting on their conscience. The exhibit is part of the Violins of Hope programming coordinated by the UNC Charlotte’s College of Arts & Architecture.

The actions by the people of the small, predominately Muslim, Eastern European country of Albania are just beginning to be known and understood outside the mountainous nation on the Baltic peninsula.

Albania is the only European country that had a post-war Jewish population greater than its pre-war population.

The exhibit features more than a dozen stories and photographs depicting Albanians who sheltered and hid Jews, in accordance with the Muslim teachings of Besa, or moral code of honor. One who acts in accordance with Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family. ……………

Albania had a pre-war population of around 803,000, including about 200 Jewish families. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, many Jews found refuge in Albania. Sources estimate that as many as 2,000 Jewish refugees entered the country. Following the 1943 occupation, the Albanians refused to turn over lists of Jews, instead providing sanctuary and safekeeping to their “guests.”……….

Humble acts of courage

“I learned that there were many others beyond those officially recognized,” said Gershman. “I wanted to document and share these stories.” Read more

2 replies

  1. (I posted the following at Charlotte Observer’s site, only to find out that “Besa” was an Albanian thing and had nothing to do with the Albanians being Muslims.)
    “Why is everyone surprised to hear the stories of some Albanian Muslims saving some Jews? Perhaps because it happened in Europe and Europeans are different!
    Peaceful Jews who were not involved in any intrigue have always enjoyed the kindness and generosity of Muslim societies all over the globe. They flourished in Spain and had no restrictions on them until they betrayed the trust. They have lived in Iran unmolested even from pre-Islam days. Most of Iran becoming Muslim did not change the status of the Jews. There is still a sizeable Jewish population in Iran, even with the backdrop of the Israeli atrocities on the Palestinians. In Turkey too there is a sizable Jewish population enjoying an equal status and, mind you, Turkey is part European.
    This leaves the exodus of Jews from various Arab countries after the formation of a Jewish country. Only a handful of Arab countries actually forced their Jews out of the country, in solidarity with the Palestinians. (Libya was probably one of them.) From other Arab countries Jews left of their own volition. On a visit to Fez, Morocco we were given a tour of the town. When we passed through a Jewelary bazaar the tour guide told us that that whole bazaar once had Jwelers’ shops owned by Jews. On asking I was told that they were not forced to leave, but perhaps they were given incentives of better prospects in Israel.
    Come to think of it there are good Jews too. My Thesis Supervisor was a Jew and a loveable man. If you dig up Spanish history you might get stories of Jewish scholars giving refuge to their Muslim teachers who had displeased the rulers of the time.
    Finally, I must admit, that I now see the logic of promoting stories like the Albanians’. These stories reassure us that there is a lot of good in us and they also serve to promote such selfless acts of generosity.”

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