Besa: The Promise

1939. War looms on the horizon. Many German Jews were looking for refuge from the desperate situation at home. While the rest of Europe turned its back, Albania offered unconditional asylum. King Zog announced that all Jews residing in Albania could obtain citizenship. The next day fascist troops invaded, sending the king into exile and putting the Jews in jeopardy. In response Albanian families, most of them Muslim, gave their sacred oath, the ancient besa, to protect the refugees. In 2002, Norman Gershman journeyed to Albania to photograph Jews and the families who rescued them. There he met Rexhep Hoxha, the son of a pastry chef who had hidden a family of Bulgarian Jews, the Abadjens, in his home. The refugees had been forced to leave behind their sacred prayer books, and Hoxha’s father pledged to keep them till the Abadjens could someday return to Albania. Bringing the circle to a close, Gershman takes Hoxha to Israel, allowing him to fulfill the 66-year-old promise to the Jewish family he sheltered. Besa: The Promise is a powerful look at a historic example of basic human solidarity.
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