UNION – From now through December 31, the Human Rights Institute Gallery at Kean University will have on display BESA: A Code of Honor – Muslim Albanians Who Rescued Jews in World War II, an exhibition of photographs by renowned New Jersey-native photographer Norman Gershman.
BESA features images of Albanian and Kosovar Muslim families who sheltered and saved Jews, both Albanian nationals and refugees from neighboring countries, during World War II. There is no charge for admission. For more information, contact the Human Rights Institute 908-737-4670.
The Muslim religious belief in besa, or honor, requires an Albanian to endanger his or her own life if necessary to save the life of anyone seeking asylum. This ancient code, which literally translates as “to keep the promise” is the basis for these righteous deeds.
“At this moment in history, when the media is filled with examples of human rights abuses around the globe, it is inspiring to see how an entire nation placed their own family’s lives in danger to fulfill a religious and cultural commitment to protect strangers in need,” said Dr. Hank Kaplowitz of Kean’s Human Rights Institute. “We hope that the moral lessons from this thought-provoking exhibit will motivate viewers to consider the plight of refugees and recognize how individual families can make a difference.”
This exhibit has been featured at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel, as well as at the United Nations in New York, as part of a worldwide tour. Syracuse University Press also published a companion book.
Gershman was born in Jersey City in 1932, and grew up in Bayonne. After graduating from New York University in 1954, he served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Gershman spent the next 23 years working in investment banking. He then opened an executive search firm and an 18-branch brokerage firm in New York, and has since relocated to Colorado.
Long interested in photography, Gershman began to study the craft seriously in 1976 at the International Center of Photography. He studied with many of the great photographers of the 20th century including Ansel Adams, Roman Vishniac, Gene Smith, Arnold Newman, George Tice, Cornell Capa and Phillip Hallsman.
His particular style involves “available light” photography. Besides making photographic art, Gershman also collected photographic art and was a dealer in fine-art photography. His first major project, commissioned by John Denver, was a set of photographs at concerts in the USSR in the 1980’s.
Gershman’s art is in several museums including the International Center of Photography in New York, The Brooklyn Museum, the Aspen Museum of Art, a number of galleries in Russia, and several private collections. He thinks of his work as “purposeful.” That is, his photographs seek to capture the soul and goodness of ordinary people through eye contact.
The Human Rights Institute at Kean University broadens Kean’s longstanding efforts to promote the awareness of human rights issues and violations across the globe and to develop initiatives designed to eradicate these atrocities and their root causes.
The Institute sponsors a broad range of activities, including seminars and conferences that promote conflict resolution, and works with school districts to train teachers and produce curricula for New Jersey school children. The Gallery is open Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.