Besa: The Promise

H. and I saw a remarkable documentary at Canadian Mennonite University last evening. Besa: The Promise told a story I’d not known, of Muslims in Albania taking in and saving Jews during World War II. It seemed unexpected, surprising actually, that this would have happened–Muslims and Jews are enemies, aren’t they?–and the more inspiring because of it.

BessaRescreenBesa refers to an Albanian honor code: one opens the door to a knock, one offers safety to refugees, one keeps one’s word. Several stories played within the larger story: the narrative of the German invasion and hunt for Jews with commentary from elderly survivors and their Muslim hosts; a Jewish photographer’s quest to honor via portraits the Albanians who’d responded so nobly and at great danger to themselves in those evil times; and most compellingly, a Muslim man’s attempt to fulfill a promise made between his late father and his wartime Jewish guest. Since I hope others will see the film, I won’t say more about that particular promise.

The documentary was initially released in 2011 but as far as I know this was its Winnipeg debut, along with an exhibition of photographer Norman Gershman’s work at the Mennonite Heritage Gallery. The auditorium was packed with participants from the city’s Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other communities. Several dignitaries spoke passionately about the continuing need to educate and build bridges between us. In fact, said one, how wonderful if we could live so closely and acceptingly with one another that bridges weren’t even necessary.

Note for Manitobans: The photography exhibit runs at the gallery until November 14.

4 thoughts on “Besa: The Promise

  1. Dora, I agree that this documentary is well worth seeing. I thought about the Mennonite “peace” position and whether we take it as seriously as the Albanians take their position on hospitality. They would rather die than leave a stranger stranded at their doorstep. I also noticed again, how fragmented is the identity of the second generation of those who suffered war time atrocities.

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