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Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II Hardcover – November 1, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815609345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815609346
  • Product Dimensions: 11.3 x 11.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Long-time fine art photographer Gershman spent five years collecting the stories of Albanian Muslims who harbored Jewish refugees during WWII as part of the Islamic tradition of Besa, or sanctuary, and his record provides a clear and powerful push back against a popular image more recently shaped by violent extremists. Each new page offers a portrait and a brief anecdote on the origins of the family, the people they helped, and the bonds that formed between the Albanian and Jewish families. Gershman's portraits are skillful and expressive, capturing warmth and pride but also the weight of the 60 years that have passed since the War. The subjects' resonant voices-"I did nothing special. All Hebrews are our brothers"-share tales of kindnesses and unexpected lives conceived in the midst of catastrophe and destruction. A haunting look at the power of love, compassion and generosity to unite faiths and deliver genuine salvation, this illustrated oral history will fascinate. 66 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

....these photos and their stories ....offer hope for a future in which Muslims and Jews can overcome their conflicts.... -- Former president Jimmy Carter

Long-time fine art photographer Gershman spent five years collecting the stories of Albanian Muslims who harbored Jewish refugees during WWII as part of the Islamic tradition of Besa, or sanctuary, and his record provides a clear and powerful push back against a popular image more recently shaped by violent extremists. Each new page offers a portrait and a brief anecdote on the origins of the family, the people they helped, and the bonds that formed between the Albanian and Jewish families. Gershman's portraits are skillful and expressive, capturing warmth and pride but also the weight of the 60 years that have passed since the War. The subjects' resonant voices--"I did nothing special. All Hebrews are our brothers"--share tales of kindnesses and unexpected lives conceived in the midst of catastrophe and destruction. A haunting look at the power of love, compassion and generosity to unite faiths and deliver genuine salvation, this illustrated oral history will fascinate. 66 b&w photos. (Nov.) --Publishers Weekly

BESA: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II by Norman H. Gershman " Through BESA, Gershman steps outside the traditional role of photojournalist and becomes a historian. His skills as a humanistic photographer and documentarian are exemplified in the book as his lens captures the soulful intent of these Albanian families. We may be learning about these acts of heroism only now, but the work of Gershman and others will ensure that their story will be told for generations."- SirReadaLot.org --SirReadaLot.org

BESA: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II, by Norman H. Gershman. (Syracuse University Press, 125 pp. $39.95)

The tradition of besa--keeping one's word--is so deeply rooted among Albanians that when they committed themselves to saving the lives of Jews during World War II, they did so despite the danger they put themselves in. It is because of the courage and conscience of the mostly Muslim Albanians that the country's 2,000 Jews survived the Holocaust.

Norman H. Gershman's black-and-white photographs and captions bring to life the heroic tales of rescuers and the pride of their descendants. For example, in one photo, the family of Ali and Ragip Kraja stand next to a sign they erected that reads: "The Jewish Refugees of Solomon Adixhes and family drank from this nearby well while being sheltered by Ali and Ragip Kraja when being chased by the Nazis." In an interview, the Krajas add: "We sheltered the Adixhes family out of the goodness of our hearts. We are all brothers and proud of our heritage. If need be, we would do it again."

The nearly 60 images of the aging children of heroes are accompanied by testimonies and recollections; some display photos of fathers or husbands; others clutch the certificate of the Righteous Among the Nations, awarded to their family by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. Yet others pose with grandchildren--a new generation to whom the idea of besa is being passed.

The images are part of a traveling exhibit of the same name under the auspices of Yad Vashem; upcoming is a documentary, God's House: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II, about Gershman's journey to Albania and Kosovo. --Hadassah magazine

BESA: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II, by Norman H. Gershman. (Syracuse University Press, 125 pp.)

The tradition of besa--keeping one's word--is so deeply rooted among Albanians that when they committed themselves to saving the lives of Jews during World War II, they did so despite the danger they put themselves in. It is because of the courage and conscience of the mostly Muslim Albanians that the country's 2,000 Jews survived the Holocaust.

Norman H. Gershman's black-and-white photographs and captions bring to life the heroic tales of rescuers and the pride of their descendants. For example, in one photo, the family of Ali and Ragip Kraja stand next to a sign they erected that reads: "The Jewish Refugees of Solomon Adixhes and family drank from this nearby well while being sheltered by Ali and Ragip Kraja when being chased by the Nazis." In an interview, the Krajas add: "We sheltered the Adixhes family out of the goodness of our hearts. We are all brothers and proud of our heritage. If need be, we would do it again."

The nearly 60 images of the aging children of heroes are accompanied by testimonies and recollections; some display photos of fathers or husbands; others clutch the certificate of the Righteous Among the Nations, awarded to their family by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. Yet others pose with grandchildren--a new generation to whom the idea of besa is being passed.

The images are part of a traveling exhibit of the same name under the auspices of Yad Vashem; upcoming is a documentary, God's House: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II, about Gershman's journey to Albania and Kosovo. --Hadassah magazine

"Besa" -- the word for the Albanian code of honor that, with Koranic teachings, motivated the Albanians to endanger their lives for their neighbors and for strangers six decades ago -- is the first major book in English that presents the stories of Albania's heroic Muslims.... By telling their stories, he (the author) says, he is thanking them "on behalf of the Jewish community." --The Jewish Week

"Each individual story of rescue in Besa testified to the heroism of the Albanian Muslim people, from the family of the former King Zog, his son King Leka I and his Queen Geraldine, to the milk vendor, Marika, shown as holding a milk bottle for the well--hidden Jewish child. Yad Vashem recognized many Albanian Muslims as Righteous Gentiles and many grateful Israeli survivors have renewed their ties with their rescuers. BESA shows how both Muslims and Jews can overcome their conflicts and live together."- The Jerusalem Post --The Jerusalem Post

"Looking at these carefully rendered portraits... and the scrupulous attention to detail, the profundity of the photographer's experience is driven home repeatedly. Examining his work and reading the testimony of his subjects, whose stories were suppressed during the long postwar years...you can sense the profundity as if it were almost palpable." --The Jewish Exponent

"Besa will grace any coffee table as well as any library with an adult Holocaust (or Islamic) collection. Its coverage of a neglected subject--the role of non-Christian communities during that era--vitally presents a more nuanced view of the Muslim world." --Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter

"highly recommended" --MultiCultural Review


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Customer Reviews

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Albania is fairly unique in that it had been majority Muslim for centuries.
DWD's Reviews
This is a little known story of one country and one people's humanity and goodness.
sexy senior
A joyful celebration of the best in people and a wonderful conversation starter.
J. damien Corboy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By sexy senior on January 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book restores one's faith in humanity. Goodness and caring for one's fellow human beings know no bounds of country or religion. This is a little known story of one country and one people's humanity and goodness. Yes, they are Muslims and yes they rescued Jews. How inspiring to read their stories. The photographs speak volumes. In this precarious world of ours this story gives one hope and knowledge of the goodness that humans are capable of. Thank you, Mr. Gershman for enlightening us and telling this dramatic and inspiring story. The photographs are beautiful. A must book for all time!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Muradie Cura on August 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My Name is Hasim Cura.I was born in place called Ostros in Montenegro, as you can see I'm an Albanian Muslim,
I live in Australia, and one day I was listening in the Albanian News ,here in Sydney and I was interested to hear that My Albanian Muslim and Christians Brothers did help the Jews (Jevrej) as we call them, which I'm weary proud of them .The book was very eye opening for me because Living in Communists country like in Montenegro (X -Yugoslavia ) we didn't know because that's wasn't allow to to shove in the that time that Albanians where that Generous because us Albanian in X-Yugoslavia where Branded as Separatists and trouble makers.
Interestingly enough The BESA tradition is still being practiced today.
I liked the Book and I hope every Albanian and Jewish (Israelis) read this book. Also hope it helps all the family's that migrated to Israel after the war as well as the Palestinians in the same way they did receive Help.
Regards Hasim.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Frank G on March 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title is self explanatory but it can be a bit misleading. Besa is not exclusive to Alabamians of Islam religion but to all the Albanians. Nevertheless as you go through the stories and pictures on the book you quick realize that all the saviors who provided shelter to Jews during WW2 were muslim. Hence, when looked strictly from the perspective of the author and the stories on the book the title seems right, even though I would've changed "muslims" by "albanians".
A little note about the shipping: I received my fist book little bit messed up during shipping that's why I ordered the second one. I dint want to get bothered with RMA and I am glad I have two copies.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Bearing the name of this book I just want to clarify that "Besa" is not based on religion!!! Although I am Muslim, I would still like to make this clarification! Considering the author has read "Kanuni i Leke Dugagjinit", he should have known this already, instead of making such a statement. It is an "honor" to have such a name, especially considering the time period I was born in when Albanians in Montenegro weren't allowed to name their children Albanian names. "BESA"
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
BESA is a code of honor rooted in Albanian culture and based on the faith of Albanian Muslims. It entails a rigid moral adherence demanding one take responsibility for the lives of others in times of need - and in Albania and Kosovo, Muslims sheltered thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis. Photographer Norman Gershman spent five years gathering these stories and photos for BESA: this survey is a powerful, moving visual and oral history account and is a top pick for any collection strong in Judaic Studies and World War II History, as well as Muslim history and culture reference collections and supplemental reading lists.
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Format: Hardcover
Not many people realize that not just Christians but also Muslims saved Jews from the Nazis during World War II. This book tells the stories of some Muslim Righteous Gentiles in Albania and Kosovo -- mostly Albania. About 2,000 Jews lived in Albania prior to the war. Although Albania was occupied first by the Italians and then by the Nazis, because of the actions of their fellow countrymen almost none of the Albanian Jews were taken. Jewish refugees also flooded into Albania from other countries, mainly Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, and they received shelter as well.

From this book it appears that for the Albanians and the Muslim Kosovars, sheltering Jews was a matter of course, just something that you were expected to do. Even the then-King of Albania did his part, providing Albanian passports to 400 Viennese Jews so they could get out of the country. When he found out that the Jewish family he had formerly employed as his personal jewelers were destitute and didn't have the funds to emigrate to England like they had planned, he gave back all the jewelry they had made for him.

The author went to Albania and Kosovo and interviewed the people who had personally saved Jews, or, more often, their children or grandchildren, since many of the original heroes have passed on by now. Excellent photographs of each interviewee were included. Unfortunately, the stories were kind of lacking. They were all very short -- each less than a page, most no more than three to five paragraphs long -- and as a result not terribly detailed. When you're working off 60-year-old memories, or someone trying to recall what their long-dead mother or father told them long ago, of course it's going to very hazy. Many times they couldn't even remember the names of the Jewish people they'd helped.
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