BESA: A Code of Honor
Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust
About the Exhibition
This exhibition, originally presented at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2008, features photographs by the American photographer Norman Gershman of Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
Albania, a European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded where other European nations failed. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation – those of Albanian origin and refugees alike – were saved.
The Albanian population, in an extraordinary act, refused to comply with the occupier’s orders to turn over Jews residing within the country’s borders. Moreover, the various governmental agencies provided many Jewish families with fake documentation that allowed them to intermingle with the rest of the population. The Albanians not only protected their Jewish citizens, but also provided sanctuary to Jewish refugees who had arrived in Albania.
The remarkable assistance afforded the Jews was grounded in Besa, a code of honor, which still today serves as the highest ethical code in the country. Besa literally means “to keep a promise”. One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and that of one’s family. The aid given to Jews and non-Jews alike should be understood as a matter of national honor.
As of January 2011, Yad Vashem has so far recognized 69 Albanians among 23,788 Righteous Among the Nations.
Available languages: English, Arabic/Hebrew
Curator: Yehudit Shendar, Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator, Yad Vashem Museums Division
Designer: Studio Art, Jerusalem