Jews Honour Muslim Rescuers

By Mario Toneguzzi for The Calgary Herald

Calgary’s Jewish community is honouring Muslims who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

In commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Calgary Jewish Federation, in association with the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, is presenting the Yad Vashem exhibition Besa: A Code of Honor — Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust.

The photographic exhibition opened Friday and will remain open through Feb. 11 at the Calgary Jewish Community Centre, 1607 90th Ave. S.W.

“We are very pleased to be sharing this inspiring and visually stunning exhibit with the Calgary community at large,” said Adam Singer, president of the Calgary Jewish Federation.

“Historically, there have been many examples of Jews and Muslims living side by side as neighbours and friends. The 17 Albanian Muslims featured in the exhibit are among 63 who have been recognized by the state of Israel as Righteous Among the Nations. The courageous acts of all rescuers, carried out under perilous circumstances, set a moving example. We want to get the message out that every one of us has the potential to emulate the humanity and bravery celebrated by renowned photographer Norman Gershman in the Besa exhibit.”

The Calgary showing of Besa was made possible through grants from the Calgary Foundation and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Singer said Besa means “to keep the promise” by taking responsibility for others, especially in peril.

Close to 24,000 individuals from around the world have been named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s world centre for Holocaust research, documentation, education and commemoration.

Admission is free to the exhibit and everyone is welcome.

“One message, obviously, is that the Holocaust happened and it’s been recognized by the United Nations,” Singer said. “It’s important to bear in mind that as years pass and the Second World War becomes more distant in time from the present, we lose, of course, first-hand accounts. The survivors are dying off and at some point will no longer be with us. And there’s a tendency to not want to remember things like the Holocaust. That’s a natural and even normal human desire not to think about bad things that happened in the past.

“So it’s critical that we take active steps to ensure that there is collective recollection of what happened. And collective recollection not only of the terrible things that were done, but also the great things.

“The other thing is that there seems to be a narrative these days that Jews and Muslims are enemies and this exhibit helps remind us that that’s only a small part of a centuries-old narrative in which Jews and Muslims are not enemies, but in fact are neighbours and friends and people who help each other.”

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  1. February 8th, 2012

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