When Muslims saved Jews

I regularly (and justifiably) criticize Islam and its apologists for the antisemitism and Jew-hatred that’s hardwired into the faith. But there are exceptions, and these need to be borne in mind so that we don’t cross the line from reasoned, valid criticism to a mindless bigotry that just mirrors our Salafist enemy. Such an exception is the following story, which tells the tale of Albanian Muslims who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis:

“I’ll never forget this – when we were at this guy’s home and he was looking at us sort of like angrily and he said ‘What are you doing here?'” says Gershman. “We said, ‘Well, your family saved this Jewish family,’ and he looked at us and said, ‘So what? Any Albanian would have done the same thing. We did nothing special,’ and he meant it.”The Albanians have a word for this: Besa. It translates as ‘word of honor,’ and is a cultural precept unique to Albania.

“The word Besa in Albanian is kind of protection of when they host a guest, the Albanians, it’s a rule, they protect them with their own lives,” says Alberto Colonomos, a Jewish man born in 1933 in what was then Yugoslavia. He was 10 years old when his family fled to Albania.

“There were about 7,200 Jews living in that area. They deported them to the concentration camps and they deported them all the way to Treblinka. They killed them all, nobody came back. But about 50 families escaped a week or two weeks before the deportation.”

The Jewish family that lived with the Kazazi family (pictured) escaped the Nazis during searches by scrambling through connecting doorways to other homes. “Our parents were not very religious, but they believed in the Koran and Besa,” the grown Kazazi children say. “Without the Koran there is no Besa. Without Besa there is no Koran.”

A wealthy man who worked in a tobacco factory took in the Colonomos family. Unlike many Jews in other parts of Europe who survived the war in cellars and attics, Jews in Albania were given Muslim names and treated as honored guests. Colonomos explains that under Besa, Albanians put their guests before their own family.

“They really hid us with their lives. They knew that the Germans – the consequences if they catch them were very, very stiff. So they would be shot. But when they have that Besa, they will not denounce their guests. They were amazing people.”

Be sure to read the whole thing. I’ll not stop criticizing Islam, but this is a reminder of the good that can be found among all people, and it’s fitting for the season. I hope the exhibit comes my way; I’d like to see it.

via Joshua Treviño

UPDATE: Mr. Gershman has a web site devoted to his exhibit, with photos and stories from the time.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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