Two local men are heading up an effort to recognize Albanian Muslims who rescued, sheltered and otherwise aided Jews during World War II, and the United Nations’ Holocaust Remembrance Day in January will highlight their work.

It is the main project of a nonprofit, Eye Contact Foundation, and has been under way for several years. It already has spawned a book and a DVD highlighting the stories of Albanian citizens, mostly Muslims but also Christians, who sheltered and aided Jews fleeing from the Nazis in Germany.

According to one book that contains photos and stories about some of those saviors and survivors, 63 Albanians have been enrolled in the “Righteous Among The Nations” list of those who “risked their lives to save the Jews.” Established by Israeli law, along with the creation of the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the list contains the names of more than 21,700 people who helped Jews escape persecution during the Holocaust.

The foundation — headed by local videographer and teacher Steve Kaufman, who works with photographer and Wall Street veteran Norman Gershman — is producing a large-format book featuring Gershman’s portraits of Albanian saviors and Jews they rescued.

In addition, according to Kaufman and Gershman, the foundation’s executive director, there also is a documentary film in the making by JWM Productions, winner of multiple Emmy awards, the work of which has been featured on a variety of U.S. television stations, as well as in England and France.

“All Albanians saved Jews,” Gershman, 75, said from his home near Basalt.

He explained that the Albanians were acting under a sort of national code of honor, called “Besa,” which holds that it is a duty to do all one can to help another in need, regardless of religious or cultural differences. There apparently is some dispute about whether Besa, as a philosophy, comes out of the Quran, Islam’s holy scriptures, or predates Islam’s introduction into the Balkans. (MORE)


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