Norman H. Gershman
"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."
"Through the eyes of Norman Gershman, we can see that beyond our individual identities and desires, there is a common core of self, an essential humanity whose nature is peace, whose expression is thought, and whose action is unconditional love."
—Madam Jehan Sadat, The Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development, University of Maryland
"At a time when conflict between Muslims and Jews attracts the
attention of the media, it is heartening to be reminded that mutual aid and friendship also have characterized the relationship. The story told through the photographs of Norman H. Gershman is especially inspiring because the Muslims who saved the Jews in World War II did so at enormous risk to their own lives. . . . I hope that these photos and their stories become widely known. They offer hope for a future in which Muslims and Jews can overcome their conflicts and focus on their common humanity."
—Former president Jimmy Carter
Besa is a code of honor deeply rooted in Albanian culture and incorporated in the faith of Albanian Muslims. It dictates a moral behavior so absolute that nonadherence brings shame and dishonor on oneself and one’s family. Simply stated, it demands that one take responsibility for the lives of others in their time of need. In Albania and Kosovo, Muslims sheltered, at grave risk to themselves and their families, not only the Jews of their cities and villages, but thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis from other European countries.
Over a five-year period, photographer Norman H. Gershman sought out, photographed, and collected these powerful and moving stories of heroism in Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II. The book reveals a hidden period in history, slowly emerging after the fall of an isolationist communist regime, and shows the compassionate side of ordinary people in saving Jews. They acted within their true Muslim faith.
Norman H. Gershman is a fine art photographer whose work is represented in museums throughout the world. His photographs have been featured in exhibits by Yad Vashem in Israel and the United Nations in New York. The stories in Besa will be the subject of a full-length documentary, God’s House.
11 x 11, 160 pages, 66 duotone photographs