News / Winnipeg

Exhibit honouring Muslims during WWII sets up in Winnipeg

Muslims in Albania saved hundreds of Jewish lives during the Second World War.

Belle Jarniewski checks out the exhibit, Besa: A Code of Honor.

Meg Crane/For Metro

Belle Jarniewski checks out the exhibit, Besa: A Code of Honor.

A travelling exhibit that celebrates Muslims in Albania who saved most of the country’s Jewish citizens and refugees during the Second World War is currently in Winnipeg.

Besa: A Code of Honor was photographed by Norman Gershman. His images show the ancestors of Muslims who risked their lives and are accompanied by a written account of their stories.

“You really see the wonderful stories on each of the panels of what those people did,” said Belle Jarniewski, chair of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre, which helped bring the travelling exhibit to Winnipeg.

“What these people did was so courageous because they did risk their entire family.”

Jarniewski called the exhibit an important piece of history, as it shows what can happen when people aren’t bystanders and are willing to help others.

“It’s an extraordinary story that is relatively unknown in history,” she said.

History books tell many tales of Christians saving Jews, but few of what Muslims did, she added. In some cases, Jewish women were hidden using the veil. In other cases, Muslim families held onto possessions of Jewish families who went into hiding.

“I think that, especially now after the very difficult weeks of rhetoric around the election campaign, I think that this exhibit reminds us of the very positive aspects of two religions that had such a wonderful relationship at one difficult period in history,” said Jarniewski.

“We are working again to build bridges between our two communities. Remembering this one bright light in midst of such terrible darkness at that time in history reminds us of that.”

The exhibit will be at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery at Canadian Mennonite Museum from until Nov. 14, including Remembrance Day from noon until 4 p.m.

A few facts:

  • Albania was the only European country with a Muslim majority
  • Before the Second World War, there were only about 200 Jews in Albania
  • An estimated 600 to 1,800 Jewish refugees ended up in Albania during the war
  • It is believed that only one Jewish family in Albania did not survive the war

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