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BESA: A Code of Honor, Muslim Albanians Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, Photographer: Norman Gershman
New Exhibit at Yad Vashem Opens Thursday in presence of Minister Raleb Majadele

29 October 2007

On Thursday, November 1, 2007, a new exhibit on Muslim Righteous Among the Nations from Albania will open at Yad Vashem. The exhibit, BESA: A Code of Honor - Muslim Albanians Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, Photographer: Norman Gershman, will be displayed in the foyer of the Yad Vashem Auditorium. The exhibit will then travel to New York where it will be displayed at the United Nations Headquarters for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2008.

BESA: A Code of Honor, is a collection of photographs by American photographer Norman Gershman, of Albanian Righteous and their families, accompanied by short texts. The opening will take place at 10:30 on November 1, 2007 at the Yad Vashem Auditorium, in the presence of MK Raleb Majadele, Minister of Science, Culture and Sport, Justice Yaacov Turkel, Chairman of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem, Raphael Faust, Honorary Consul of Albania in Israel, Norman Gershman, the photographer, and Exhibition Curator and Deputy Director of the Museums Division at Yad Vashem, Yehudit Shendar. The event will take place in Hebrew, with simultaneous English translation available.

“Why did my father save a stranger at the risk of his life and the entire village? My father was a devout Muslim. He believed that to save one life is to enter paradise.” -- Enver Alia Sheqer, son of Righteous Among the Nations Ali Sheqer Pashkaj, featured in the BESA exhibition.

Nearly 22,000 individuals have thus far been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations; 63 of them from Albania. Prior to World War II, some 200 Jews lived in Albania. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, hundreds of Jews crossed the border from Yugoslavia, Germany, Greece, Austria and Serbia. When the Germans occupied Albania in 1943, the Albanian population refused to comply with Nazis’ orders to turn over lists of Jews residing in Albania. The remarkable assistance afforded to the Jews was grounded in Besa, a code of honor. Besa means literally “to keep the promise.” One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family. Almost all the Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation, those of Albanian origin and refugees alike, were saved. Impressively, there were more Jews in Albania at the end of the war than beforehand.

“This is a remarkable exhibit in a number of respects. First, the extraordinary story of Albania - where an entire nation, both the government and the population, acted to rescue Jews. Many, if not all, were heavily influenced in their choice by Islam. Norman has captured this story in his photographs, and his ability to take portraits in which the personality of the subject shines through. This very human story, told through these sensitive portraits combine to highlight a little known, but remarkable aspect of the Holocaust,” said Shendar.

Norman H. Gershman of Aspen, Colorado, 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, Arnold Newman and Cornell Capa, the founder and director of the International Center of Photography in New York. Ultimately, Gershman developed a personal style focusing on portraiture, in which he lends a personal touch emphasizing the special personality of the subject. For four years Gershman focused on photographing Muslim families who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Norman Gershman’s works are to be found in a variety of public collections, including the International Center of Photography, New York; the Brooklyn Museum; the Aspen Museum of Art and a number of galleries in Russia.

For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations program, click here.

The event is open to the press in coordination with the Media Relations Office: 02 644 3410/1/2.