Albania's untold story
Thousands of Jews found refuge in Europe's only Muslim state, where an ancient honor code saw all as guests.
(Page 3 of 3)
Among the portraits is that of Haxhi Dede Reshat Bardhi, head of the Muslim Bektashi order in Albania. In the photograph, his eyes relay a combination of softness and conviction, and his right hand rests over his heart, at the edge of his long white beard. Mr. Gershman cites him as saying that then-Prime Minister Mehdi Frasheri – who was also Bektashi – gave his people an order during Nazi occupation: "All Jewish children will sleep with your children; all will eat the same food; all will live as one family."Skip to next paragraph
The concept of "stranger" doesn't exist in Albanian culture, Winter explains, as she strolls through an exhibit of Gershman's portraits on display at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Instead, a foreigner is considered a "guest."
"What a different world we would be living in today if you saw someone coming to you in need ... and instead of closing our doors, looking through our peephole, and pretending we're not there in fear, we rushed out and said, 'A guest! An opportunity to be hospitable; an opportunity to stand tall; and an opportunity to do good.' "
"Why did we do it?" asks Nadire Proseku, an Albanian who sheltered three Jewish refugees in her home for a year, in an interview with Gershman. "We saw the Jews as brothers. As religious but liberal Muslims, we were only doing our duty."
Today, the Albanian example – one that, according to engineer Lojlia, "reflects what a society can be at its best" – is being used to teach religious harmony and to remind people of the symbiosis that has historically existed between Muslims and Jews.
With funding from both a Saudi prince and Steven Spielberg's Righteous Persons Foundation, JWM Productions is hoping to release its feature film about Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust in September, on the anniversary of 9/11, in theaters across the US. And the Queensborough Community College in New York is currently turning the information into lesson plans that it hopes will be used in schools across the country.
"I always wanted to share the story because it's like a miracle," says Weitzmann Owens, whose rescuer's son is among those photographed. "Those were very good people. And it should be publicized."