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The word's origin can be traced to the Kanun, a collection of laws which regulated the Albanian social, economic and religious lives, together with traditional customs and cultural practices of the Albanian society between 1400 to today. Besa is an important part of personal and familial standing and is often used as an example of "Albanianism".
Besa also means taking care of those in need and being hospitable. During World War II, Albanians, 70% of whom are Muslim, saved over 2000 Jews from Nazi persecution. Rather than hiding the Jews in attics or the woods, Albanians gave them clothes, gave them Albanian names, and treated them as part of the family. The concept of besa is incorporated into their culture. Before World War II only about 200 Albanians were Jewish. At the end of the war about 2000 Jews were living in Albania. An award-winning feature film documentary BESA: The Promise (2012) is about American photographer Norman H. Gershman's quest to tell the story of Besa and the Albanians who saved Jews during World War II. This story was featured on CBS News Sunday Morning on November 8, 2009 for the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, which occurred on November 9, 1938.
Besa related sayings include: