For Norman H. Gershman, it seemed like an unimaginable story. Which was why he had to see it for himself.
"Muslims that saved Jews during World War II?" Gershman said in a recent interview from his home in Basalt, Colo., just south of Aspen. "Whoever heard of that?"
Decades as a portrait photographer has taken him around the world to places as varied as Cuba, Morocco and the former Soviet Union.
But the 78-year-old Gershman said the most important work of his life would come from the photos and stories he collected for five years among the Muslims of Albania and Kosovo whose families harbored thousands of Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation.
Beginning Jan. 4, Tribeca's Soho Photo Gallery will exhibit many of these pictures. Titled "Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During World War II," the show reveals what had been a virtually unknown story of courage, compassion and faith, which Gershman believes needs to be told now, more than ever.
"The paranoia that's sweeping the country regarding Muslims is absolutely nuts," he said. "These photographs show quite a different story."
That story begins with a single word: Besa. It is a code of honor that's been practiced among Albanian Muslims for centuries. Rooted in teachings from the Koran, Besa compels Muslim families to place a stranger's needs above all else.
Jews fleeing to Albania were welcomed into Muslim homes, not as refugees but as guests. Entire villages would protect them. (More)
Soho Photo Gallery, 15 White St. Wed-Sun 1-6 p.m. 212-226-8571, sohophoto.com. Norman Gershman will talk about his work on Jan. 21, 6-9 p.m.