Holocaust programming focuses on Muslims who saved Jews

The BESA exhibit in Reeves Library is a part of the National Catholic Center of Holocaust Education’s (NCCHE) semester-long theme of Muslims who helped hide Jews during the Holocaust.

“It’s such an unusual idea for Muslims to save Jews,” said Sister Lois Sculco. “I was at a meeting and I suggested that the members come to the exhibit. As soon as I mentioned Muslims, people seemed to tune out what I was saying. It was like they were saying ‘Don’t tell me Muslims did something good.’”

The exhibit focused on showing a different side of a story.

“We tend to think of all Muslims as the same. We wanted to show a different side of the story, and promote interfaith understanding,” said Wilda Kaylor, associate director of the NCCHE.

The NCCHE also arranged a viewing of the film “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab Lands” as part of this semester’s activities. The showing, held on Oct. 17, focused on the underrepresented Holocaust tragedies that occurred in North Africa.

“In a time where all we hear about is the conflict between Muslims and Jews, it’s interesting to think about how one group once saved the other,” said Carol Brode, assistant professor of art and director of the Harlan Gallery.

The NCCHE worked to get the BESA exhibit for two years. Sister Gemma Del Duca saw the exhibit at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. By partnering with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, they were finally able to get a copy of the exhibit from Hebrew Union College in New York.

“BESA: Albanian Muslims Who Saved Jews” focuses on a group of Albanians who expanded on a concept of their faith to take in refugee Jews. The concept of BESA refers to the Islamic idea of keeping one’s word.

“The artist focuses on humanizing the people. If you look at the pictures, their eyes are looking right at you. They are exquisite photographs,” said Kaylor.

Portrait photographer, Norman H. Gershman, created a book that lead to the exhibit after three years of research. He struggled to track down these unknown heroes because their culture did not permit speaking of their actions.

“This is all new research,” said Kaylor, “until now, this was an untold story.”

Recognizing people in such events can be difficult, yet rewarding in its own way.

“People become nameless and faceless in tragedies like the Holocaust, so naming and recognizing those people becomes very important,” said Brode, who led a tour of the BESA exhibit and the Harlan Gallery exhibit “To Speak Her Heart” simultaneously.

The NCCHE is active at Seton Hill University (SHU). The program offers an undergraduate minor and a graduate studies certificate in Holocaust and genocide studies. They also bring in world class speakers and scholars, host a national conference that will occur fall 2012 and award students the Ethel LeFrak award for Holocaust themed papers.

“What we do is tied into the Catholic Mission,” said Kaylor.

Education can be one the strongest tools against genocide, that is what programs at SHU strive for.

“Learning about genocide teaches us to think the unthinkable and speak the unspeakable. Education awakens us, and once people are awake, there will always be some who can do nothing but act,” said senior Josie Rush, who is completing a minor in Holocaust and genocide studies.

 

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