In 2002, American photographer Norman H. Gershman travelled to Yad Vashem to do research on a photo essay he had in mind about Righteous Gentiles. There he discovered the names of some Muslim rescuers from Albania. “French saved Jews. Poles saved Jews. Many people saved Jews. But Muslims? That's the story!,” said Norman, who grew up feeling the sting of anti-Semitism and saw this project as a way to push back at the growing Islamophobia building in the West after 9/11.
Over the next six years, Norman and his associate Stuart Huck travelled to Albania taking portraits of rescuers and recording their stories. They learned it wasn't just a few brave families, but that the entire country had united under the Albanian moral code of besa, which promises protection to those in need. In an entirely unique scenario, Albanians - whether Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox, peasant or king - faced down the Nazis with their sworn promise to protect their Jewish guests. It is a story that was nearly lost to history in the communist decades that followed WWII.
In the course of his project, Norman met Rexhep Hoxha, a humble toy shop owner in Albania's capital city of Tirana. Rexhep asked Norman for help: the family his Muslim father rescued left behind three Hebrew books, and his father promised to return them once the war ended. However, after nearly 60 years having no contact with the family, it seemed an impossible task. With Norman's help, an extraordinary and utterly unexpected personal drama is set in motion - one that bridges generations and religions…uniting fathers and sons, Muslims and Jews.
JWM Productions, LLC sent Director Rachel Goslins to document Rexhep's journey. “With the magnetic Norman Gershman as our guide and our muse, we started out making a film about a forgotten history of interfaith friendship and bravery, interviewing WWII survivors from Albania about their past. Along the way we stumbled across Rexhep Hoxha and were pulled decisively into the present by his modern-day quest. The film had become almost incidental to the larger responsibility of bearing witness to the sacrifice and dedication of Rexhep, his family and all of the people who trusted us with their stories along the way. What happened next left all of us breathless…it is one of those rare gifts from the documentary gods for which I will be forever grateful.”
The film was awarded a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Bridging Cultures through Film grant, and features a score by legendary American composer Philip Glass. It premiered in 2012, winning several film festival Best Documentary awards and a Best Director award.
For more information, go to besathepromise.com.