Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II

Each crinkle in the well-lined faces that stare out from the crisp black-and-white photos in Norman H. Gershman's Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II seems to tell a story. The Albanian Muslims standing proud before Gershman's lens have endured much: Nazi occupation, Communist rule. But look into their eyes and you see heart-melting kindness, righteous determination, joy. Gershman, a fine-arts photographer, traveled to Albania and Kosovo to photograph Muslims who rescued Jews during World War II and to hear and share their stories. These Albanian Muslims -- some devout, some secular -- risked their lives to save not only Jews who lived in their country but also those escaping persecution elsewhere. They took them into their homes, lived with them as family, protected them at their own great peril. Though some now have been honored by Israel's Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, none have sought reward or glory for their heroism. Each acted according to Besa, a code of honor integral to Albanian Muslim culture, requiring a person to help anyone in need. "God granted us the privilege of saving Jews," says Hamdi Mece, whose family sheltered 12 Jews. "To save a life is God's gift." Beqir Qoqja, 91, who hid a Jewish friend, insists he did "nothing special": "All Jews are our brothers." In these tumultuous times, where rifts and rivalries, intolerance and war, explode around us, these stories of compassion and commonality feel like a vital step toward healing the world.

April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.