In 1943, when Refik Veseli, a photographer’s apprentice, smuggled his mentor Moshe Mandil and Mandil’s family across Albania to escape the Nazis, he didn’t see himself as particularly heroic.
Mandil, who had already fled the Nazis in Yugoslavia, was his friend, and it seemed natural to 17-year-old Veseli to help. Veseli’s parents, who were Muslim, agreed, and they hid the Mandils and another Jewish family in their home in the village of Kruje for over a year as Jews were slaughtered across Europe.
Had the two families been discovered, the Veselis could have been killed. But it never occurred to them to turn the families away. Like Albanians of all faiths, they followed “besa,” a code of honor that requires protecting guests with your life, regardless of their religion or creed, and treating them as part of the family.