How many people would lay down their lives for a stranger? This is the question addressed by film makers Norman Gershman & Stu Huck in a documentary released the last weekend of July at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival— BESA: the Promise. The film tells the story of Albanian Muslims who saved the lives of more than 2,000 Jews during World War II. They did not hide them in basements or attics; they took the Jews into their families, gave them Albanian names, and sacrificed their lives for them in some cases.
The question arising from their actions is a clear WHY? Why would Albanians, Muslims, shelter Jews, at the risk of their own lives, during the Nazi occupation of their country? The answer is “besa.”
Besa is a part of the Albanian Code of Honor, embedded throughout their generations. It is usually translated faith, with a reflection on personal honor to keep a promise, at any cost. In their Moral Code (the Kanuni of Lekë Dukagjini), they have a saying “Shqiptaret vdesin dhe besen nuk e shkelin” (Albanians would die rather than break honor). One Albanian interviewed said he would rather sacrifice his only son than break an honor— besa.
The Albanian idea of besa should be acclaimed and lauded among all nations. A documentary of how the Albanian Muslims sheltered German Jews and made them part of their families is long overdue. BESA: the Promise is a must see film for all— Jews, Muslims, Christians, even atheists.
It would be a disservice if I did not leave you with at least two points to ponder—
- Would you lay down your life for a stranger?
- To what extent does a code of honor influence your decisions and actions?
We have a saying at the company where I work—
Honor God: honor people. Make a difference.