Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Besa: Creating a Culture of Peace

Religious intolerance is at the core of many current conflicts worldwide. Creating a culture of peace, therefore, necessitates respect and cooperation among different religions. Can a level of understanding be reached would make peaceful relations possible? An almost forgotten episode during World War II exemplifies this issue.

During World War II, as Jews were being persecuted by the Nazis, they found refuge in Northern Albania. More than 2000 Jews were protected by the locals, who risked their own lives in doing so. Although the Germans demanded that the Albanians provide them with lists of names of Jews in the country, the Albanians refused to comply and instead sheltered them from the Nazis. According to the International School for Holocaust Studies, the Albanians did not turn over a single Jew to the Germans.

This episode was brought to light by Norman H. Gershman, an American photographer, who has included photos of the Albanians’ descendants still living in the country in a book called BESA: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II. According to Gershman, only two countries in Europe, Denmark and Albania, refused to cooperate with the Nazis:

Besa is an Albanian cultural concept that means “to keep the promise” and “word of honor.” The word has its origin in the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, an assembly of customary codes and traditions compiled by the legendary 15th century Albanian chieftain and transmitted verbally over succeeding generations.

Besa means also taking care of those in need, protecting them and being hospitable. Both Catholic and Muslim Albanians participated in this effort. Since 70% of Albanians are Muslims it is safe to assume that it was they who were primary in aiding the Jews. Rather than hiding them in attics or in the woods, Albanians gave the Jews Muslim names, provided them with clothes and treated them as members of their own families.

Gershman told the story of an Albanian shopkeeper named Ali Pashkaj who received the visit at his store of a group of German soldiers surrounding 19 Albanian prisoners. Among the Albanians was a young Jew whom the Germans planned to assassinate.

Since Pashkaj spoke excellent German, he invited the soldiers into the store and gave them food and wine. While he was distracting the German soldiers, he gave the young Jew a melon containing a message instructing him to jump out of the truck at a certain location and run and hide in the woods. The young man followed the instruction and was able to escape.

The German soldiers were furious. They returned to the town and threatened to shoot the man and set the town on fire if the Albanians did not return the young Jew. The Albanians refused and the Germans finally left town. Pashkaj went to the woods where he found the young man and brought him back to his house and protected him. The young man, whose name is Yasha Bayuhovio later went to Mexico and became a dentist. In protecting him, Ali Pashkaj was practicing Besa.

As Gershman told the Jewish Chronicle, “Look, you are not talking to someone who is pro-Arab. It is really quite simply that there are good people in this world. I found Muslims who saved Jews. The perception of the religion of Islam as crazy is nonsense. I am a Jew to my core. I would lay down my life for Israel…However, we have objectified Muslims. They are just people. And in this little people [Albanians] they have a message for the world. I defy anyone to look at these people and say these are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.”

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

October 18, 2018
Erik Molvar
The Ten Big Lies of Traditional Western Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lockheed and Loaded: How the Maker of Junk Fighters Like the F-22 and F-35 Came to Have Full-Spectrum Dominance Over the Defense Industry
Lawrence Davidson
Israel’s “Psychological Obstacles to Peace”
Brian Platt – Brynn Roth
Black-Eyed Kids and Other Nightmares From the Suburbs
John W. Whitehead
You Want to Make America Great Again? Start by Making America Free Again
Zhivko Illeieff
Why Can’t the Democrats Reach the Millennials?
Steve Kelly
Quiet, Please! The Latest Threat to the Big Wild
Manuel García, Jr.
The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ Over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Adam Parsons
A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash
Binoy Kampmark
The Tyranny of Fashion: Shredding Banksy
Dean Baker
How Big is Big? Trump, the NYT and Foreign Aid
Vern Loomis
The Boofing of America
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail