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BESA. Un codice d’onore

30 January-March 8, 2015, Holocaust remembrance day 2015

The exhibition, which featured photographs taken by Norman H. Gershman, was one of a series of events organized within the ambit of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Curated by Istoreco, the historical research institute in Reggio Emilia, the exhibition was realized by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre which, among its many tasks, names and pays tribute to the Righteous among the Nations - men and women of non-Jewish origin who saved Jews during the war. Among those named thus far there are 69 Albanians, and it is their story that provides the focus of the exhibition.

This fascinating yet little-known story recounts the role of Albanian Muslims during the Second World War in saving the lives of people of Jewish descent – both refugees and Albanian residents - who were pursued by the Nazis. At root, their actions stemmed from a strong sense of moral obligation, a code of honor which is still considered the highest code of ethics in Albania. Besa literally means "to keep a promise": one who acts according to the code of Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one's life and the lives of one’s nearest and dearest. Albania, a European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded where others European nations failed. All the Jews living in Albania during the German occupation, whether born locally or emanating from abroad, were, with the exception of one family, saved. Indeed, there were more Jews living in the country at the end of the war than when it started.

Istoreco brought the Besa exhibition to Italy to foster dialogue and pay tribute to these extraordinary examples of personal risk and solidarity. The first national showing of the exhibition in Italy was in early 2013 in Reggio Emilia where, with great symbolic import, it was held first in the the old town synagogue and subsequently within a mosque in Reggio Emilia, thus involving both communities significantly.