On Tuesday, May 5 from noon to 3 p.m., Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj and Senator Jeff Klein commemorated the 70th anniversary of WWII’s end as well as the heroic actions of Albanians safeguarding the Jewish population.
This was an Albany-based event being held inside the Assembly Parlor’s Room 306 located on the New York State Capitol Building’s 3rd floor.
The event’s reception featured a trailer for the documentary, ‘BESA the Promise,’ in addition to the traveling exhibition, ‘BESA: Albanians that saved Jews during WWII,’ a display of photographs and stories depicting the real life compassion and altruism exhibited by ordinary citizens saving others from tyranny.
The 86-minute documentary followed Rexhep Hoxha, Muslim Albanian toy maker who sets off 60 years after the war to fulfil a ‘besa’ made to the Jewish family his father rescued during the Holocaust by returning three precious books to the family’s last surviving member.
Assemblyman Gjonaj explained ‘besa’ is a code of honor deeply rooted in Albanian customs where one takes responsibility for helping those in need and being hospitable regardless of a person’s personal or religious beliefs.
During WWII, Albanians, a majority of whom were Muslim, harbored and protected Jews who lived among them as part of their family.
During WWII the country offered Jewish refugees shelter, but after the war, the Communist regime demanded Albanians sever all ties with their Jewish compatriots.
This historical reception featured Albanian president H.E. Bujar Nishani as its keynote speaker; photographer Norman Gershman as guest of honor; and special guest Professor Mordecai Paldiel, Ph.D., the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem’s former director.
Klein and Gjonaj read a proclamation honoring Gershman and at 3 p.m. both NYS legislative houses read resolutions commemorating Albanians for aiding the Jews during the Holocaust as well as WWII’s 70th anniversary.
“I’m proud we’re having this event at the state capital to honor our veterans and their families as well as having this untold story of heroism shared during today’s uncertain climate and worldwide tensions,” Gjonaj expressed. “These incredible stories of compassion and courage help reaffirm the goodness in humanity.”
“As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I am especially moved by and thankful to those who risked their lives to shelter and protect millions of Jewish refugees during one of the darkest chapters in human history,” Senator Klein shared.
“The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II marks a time of deep reflection for us all. I am humbled by the remarkable efforts of the Albanians to help the Jewish population during this tragic period and also the work of the photographer Norman Gershman who was able to document this story.”