Norman H Gershman is Founder of the Eye Contact Foundation which promotes understanding and tolerance through portrait photography. Norman travelled to Albania to photograph Muslims who rescued Jews in WWII. His six year odyssey pays tribute to those who fulfilled ‘Besa’ – a code of honour to protect others from danger. At all costs.
“As a photographer, I see the beauty in the world – especially in the eyes of the people I photograph – hence the Eye Contact Foundation. What occurred in Muslim Albania and Kosovo is a miracle. Not only were all Jews saved from the Nazi invasion, but Jewish refugees were treated as guests under the Besa code. The moral obligation of all Albanians to shelter those in need irrespective of religion, culture, or politics – even their own enemies – is unique. The saving of all Jews is concrete testimony of this code of honour.
Muslim families would tell me of the privilege of saving “God’s children”, I remember the words they said to me: “To save a life is to go to Paradise,” “First God, then our guests and third our family,” “All Jews are our brothers,” “There is no Besa without the Quran – there is no Quran without Besa.”
I know that there are far more good people in the world than bad, and I found such people in Muslim Albania and Kosovo. What I see in the media of Islam is something I do not recognise.
What occurred in Muslim Albania is a miracle. The saving of all Jews is concrete testimony of Besa. It is my pleasure to be part of the Missing Pages campaign as it highlights the history of good relations between Muslims and Jews, and will help build a bridge of better understanding between these faith communities. For many years I have studied Sufi traditions. I see no conflict with this and being a Jew. Of particular value is that Missing Pages has focused on students in universities. It is our youth that will change the world. Muslims and Jews are brothers and sisters under the same father Abraham. We are family.”