Wednesday, August 22, 2018

WE WILL NEVER FORGET

By Mithat Gashi

DiGuardi’s letter to the Mayor of Tepelena is offensive to the Victims of Communism

I have the highest regard for former Congressman Joe Dioguardi’s work in defense of Kosova. As a member of Congress and as head of the Albanian American Civic League, Mr. DioGuardi spoke loud and clear in support of the ethnic Albanians of Kosova, and warned the international community long before the breakup of Yugoslavia that the Serbian aggression, headed by Slobodan Milosevic, must be stopped. 

Yesterday, I read a letter that Mr. DioGuardi recently wrote to the Mayor of Tepelena, a town in the southern part of Albania, where the communist regime established a concentration camp after WWII. The letter dated July 12, 2018 was published in “Gazeta Dita” I strongly disagree with Mr. DioGuardi’s statement to Mayor Peçi of Tepelena, urging him to not support the establishment of a memorial complex in honor of the victims of communism.
After WWII, thousands of women and children from influential Albanian families were rounded up in military fashion and forced into concentration camps that reeked of human suffering and death. In these barbed wire camps, survivors have reported that in one night 34 infants suffered and died due to inhumane conditions. The only crime that the detainees committed was that they were the children, the fathers, and the grandfathers of people who expressed different political views. These victims were sent to this camp, just like many other camps in Albania, to suffer and their suffering continued for nearly five decades, until the fall of communism.

Among my family members in the Tepelena Camp, I count my mother, Sanije, my aunts Feride, Fatime, and Shpresa, my grandmother, Gjulije, and my uncle, Ahmet Kolgjini. In addition, my uncle Qemal Gashi’s wife, Lirije (daughter of Muharrem Bajraktari) with her brother and mother were transferred from Berat to the Tepelena Camp. Lirije’s mother died in the Tepelena Concentration Camp. Lirije never found the remains of her mother.

In 1944, the Fifth Brigade of the communist army, headed by General Shefqet Peçi, marched into Luma, a district in northern Albania, executing people and causing terror. They burned my grandfather’s home and confiscated his property. In 1945, armed military and police forces rounded my grandfather’s family and deported them to a concentration camp in Berat. My grandfather, Haziz Gashi, had vigorously opposed the communist ideology. For his anti communist stand, he was sentenced to death in absentia as soon as the communist authorities took over the Albania. Among my family members detained in Berat, I count my father, Haxhi Gashi (11); my uncles, Ramiz (10) and Gani (23, with wife and infant son); my aunts Dalije (4), Remzije (1); my grandmother Zarije Gashi, and my cousins Gafurr Spahija and Kadishe Spahija. Two of my infant cousins, Lutfi (son of uncle Gani and Kadishe, infant daughter of Prof. Miftar Spahija died in the Berat Camp).

Holocaust museums and memorials have been established all over the world from Argentina to Uruguay. There are hundreds of such memorials and museums in the United States. Their purpose is to honor the victims and to educate the public of the atrocities committed against humanity.

All internment camps and political prisons in Albania should be turned into museums. Memorials to honor the victims of communism should be erected in every city and those who have committed crimes, Hoxha’s willing executioners, should be brought to justice.
Unfortunately, we cannot erase the past but we are morally obligated to provide justice to the victims through recognition of their suffering. This horrific part of Albanian history should be exposed (and integrated into school curricula) so that Albania’s youth and future generations can also say, WE WILL NEVER FORGET.


-Mithat Gashi escaped from Albania in 1986. He is a board member of the Holocaust, Genocide, Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College.

Friday, December 1, 2017

A LITTLE DEMON OF STEPPE


                             (Visar Zhiti, political prisoner in Communist Albania)                                                

By Visar Zhiti

(Grotesque that I couldn’t get rid of, where any resemblance to a real president or event is accidental, except my likeness to myself…)

Limping demon… still they made you a president.
No horns on your head, but a heavy helmet,
You don’t really hold it, yet your head is strong.
Miserable comedian, cunningly idiot.

Idol’s bronze you carried on your back.
Blasphemously froze your hand and your leg.
How will you raise in darkness, on which cemetery or place,
The statue, crowds took down on bronze verdict day?

You can’t stand the living, who survived your hell…
Then decorate the slain, slaughtered by your brand.
You are the massacre of our time’s conscience,
Back side of rising, - the hoax of revolt…

What steppe brought you luck in this late winter frost?
Holes dig with every step, wretchedly limping demon.
You know not why you are, why time was so unwise?
President of no country, my country without president.

AAFH translation



Friday, August 11, 2017

SAINTS ARE AMONG US

By Beniamin Bakalli



Is there any god who might forgive such a crime? Damned the day Communist ideology was created! Today I’ll talk about Maria Tuci (Markatusi) an extraordinary girl, beyond reach, nearly celestial. We, the Albanians who for the last 50 years reached the bottom of Hell, in a country where sacred word was proclaimed crime, are surprised to find out that Saints are among us. When the Communists tried to wipe out the line of Saints, they unintentionally enriched it with some Albanian Saints, one of whom is Maria Tuci.

Maria was born in Nderfushaz (Rreshen-Mirdita) on March 12, 1928. She was beautiful, wise and had unshakable faith in Christ. To please their instincts and the desires of their criminal leader, sadistic Communist interrogators tried in all ways to disgrace her and make her lose her faith, but the young woman heroically resisted. Then they striped her violently. According to the statements of her cellmates, Maria faced the tortures heroically until she was so disfigured, her friends could no longer recognize her.

The most horrific event happened in the city of Shkodra in Albania. Europa just stood by and watched the Illyrian land turned into Nero’s amphitheater - the arena suitable for the implementation of Marxist-Leninist theory. After they turned Maria into a living skeleton, they tied her inside a sack with a wildcat enclosed. Communist interrogators delighted themselves by hitting the wildcat with a baton. The wildcat, trying to escape, scratched Maria’s body until the sack was turned into a mass of dried blood.

Maria Tuci (Markatusi) was only 18 years old when she was arrested and 22 years old when she died. She wholeheartedly forgave the torturers who made her a Martyr.  She passed the Great Test - leaving behind the splendid fragrance of her immaculate life. She died in the prison hospital in Shkodra on September 24, 1950, a martyr in the fight against Communism.

AAFH translation

Friday, July 7, 2017

Beyond Reach


By Maks Velo
(Extract from the book "Spaçi", Pg. 350, 351)

Ahmet Hoxha got stuck in my mind, for I could not be like him. Halil, who had slept by him in the communist prison cell, told me his story…

“Ahmet, not yet eighteen, was arrested along with two other villagers for attempting to flee the country’s borders. After serving his sentence, he spent years in several communist concentration camps. In Laçi concentration camp, he met two convicts who were ready to risk their lives to escape. While unloading a truck, the three of them hijacked it, smashed the gate, and fled to the mountains of Kruja. On the third day, they were caught in hiding - betrayed by the people who had given them shelter.  Ahmet was savagely beaten. He regained consciousness in the prison hospital. He shared a room with former communist General Halim Xhelo. On the same day communists killed Ahmet’s father in Gjirokastra Fortress, General Halim Xhelo knocked little Ahmet to the ground, kicked him, and told Ahmet’s mother, ‘We will kill your son when he grows up, too.’  Ahmet, having recovered, began regularly caring for the communist General. When the General regained health, he asked Ahmet, ‘Do you recognize the man whose life you saved?’
‘Yes General, I know you well. In Gjirokastra Fortress, you said that you would kill me once I was a grown-up man.’
‘Then why didn’t you let me die? It would have been very easy for you.’
‘I wanted you to understand the people well.’”
Halil went on telling me, “Ahmet and the communist General became good friends. When the news of former General Halim Xhelo’s suicide reached Spaçi prison camp, Ahmet handed out cigarettes to honor his dead friend…”

AAFH translation

Friday, June 9, 2017

Last Day

By Visar Zhiti
(Extract from the book “Torn Hell", pg. 419, 420)



      Father Zef Pllumi

            I recall Father Zef Pllumi once saying, “Hell” was written for us while I was looking at him lying on the white hospital sheets. I kissed his weak hand. His whole body was like that hand - small, hollow. I wanted to cry. A shadow like fell over the sick, similar to that of the crossbeams; it was our shadow.

            “Because you are our ‘Nation’s Honor.’ I wish you speedy recovery,”  the ambassador said to him.

            Father Zef Pllumi barely smiled, saddened, with eyes burning full of light, he murmured a thank you, and cast his eyes on me. “How are you,” he asked me. “How do you get along with him? How many years did you spend in jail,” he asked me deliberately and looked at the ambassador. 

            “Half as many as you have.” I also answered intentionally.

            I had seen him at other times so, in the black soutane, with the rope round his waist. He was humble but fiery, often ironic perhaps left over from the prison time, forlorn but prideful, prudent in his book launches, sitting in the chair, and anyone who was close to him, publisher, art critic, known, unknown individual looked as a tormentor, resembling his healthy torturer.

            He was fading. It was his last day. They had brought him from Shkodra to the Vatican’s hospital. Through the huge windows, light trembled like the white wings of pigeons at Saint Peter’s square. Behind the high walls there was the infamous old library - the archive, and amidst endless shelves, in the half lighted mysterious halls, there was also the only copy in the world of the first Albanian book, “Meshari.” I had seen it, too. I wanted to say to Father Zef Pllumi, “I have kissed the book, just like your hand … a monk like you wrote it. So, why not bring this book back to Albania, for one day? One week? Ask the Pope, please, for Albanians to see their first book, touch it, pay tribute to it, because the so-called Albanian embassy…”

            “I want to die in Albania,” Father Zef Pllumi intervened.

            “There, we die repeatedly, every day,” I replied. I raised my voice, “Revive here, because we need you, Father! With your nourishment, you provide and grow our hunger for truth and love.” 

AAFH translation      
            

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Anti-Communist Resistance







By Maks Velo
(Extract from the book “Spaçi", Pg. 151, 152, 153) 

            From the long lines of prisoners in the camp, one man, who always got in the unemployed line, really caught my attention. He was like one of Balzac’s characters. I do not know why this thought got stuck in my head, but he was slow moving, most often alone, and a man of few words. They told me he was Ceni, Hysen Shoshori from Tirana. It was clear he was an inveterate prisoner, lacking any outside support. At the end of mealtime, he would go over to the kitchen counter, and if there happened to be some leftovers, they would give him an extra tea ration. It was supposedly tea, but it was really more like cold water with no sugar at all.

                                                          Hysen Shoshori

            They told me his story. In April 1959, using a mimeograph, he typed up a flyer in which he exposed official propaganda. He distributed these flyers throughout Tirana, until he was caught in 1974. He would change up their scripts. During nighttime he scattered them under the doors of private houses and apartments, and stick them onto walls, pillars, and stairwells. He had even taken them to the Polish, Romanian, Italian, and Yugoslavian embassies, among others. He would toss most of them out onto parked cars while the embassies were hosting cocktail parties, or he would send them over the embassy walls. He did this from 11pm to 1am and make initial plans for distributing the flyers by changing up his neighborhood route. News about these flyers was broadcast from “Voice of America,” Radio Moscow,” “Radio Belgrade.”

            State Security was on their toes. They positioned themselves in places with clear views, from treetops to apartments used for surveillance. It is now I realize what happened to me in 1966. It was winter, January to be exact, a gentle January like it is in Tirana; it was delightful to be outside. It was close to 2 o’clock in the morning, and I was under a tree near the Gallery of Arts. I was with a girlfriend. We just had kissed when I heard a slight noise. I raised my head and looked up to find a man on top of the tree. Without saying anything, I quietly left.

            They caught him on August 16, 1974 in the alley across from the ambulance building while he was sticking up a flyer with two drops of glue. Ceni would place them either at the start of a road or at the end. Security had climbed on the poplars near the former War Museum. They jumped in front of him, laid him down on the ground, and beat him. Kadri Ismailati handcuffed him, shoved him into a “Warsaw” car, and took him directly to the Interior Ministry. There were special tools of torture in the cellars of the ministry. All of them were inhumane, skilled criminals – Kadri Ismailati, Ali Korbi, Koço Josifi, headed by Nevzat Haznedari.  “Tell us your friends…” but Ceni had no friends. They did not believe him. After the torture, they ordered Bujar Shkaba, the doctor to “Save him, otherwise he is going to leave with the investigation halfway complete”… “Urgently take him to the hospital…” The next day Ceni was taken to the new prison dungeons on the second floor. He was sentenced to be executed by firing squad. Death was salvation for him. However the door of prison cell opened, and it was communicated to him that his life was spared and he was to be sentenced twenty-five years in prison. They expected a thank you, yet Ceni was deeply despaired. He wanted to die. Ceni spent sixteen years in prison and was released in March 1991. He was among the last inmates who were released from St. Vasil’s camp in Borsh.

            What drew my attention most to Ceni’s story was when I found out Ceni’s sacrifice – the cause that turned him into an ardent enemy of the regime. He never forgave the communists for taking his small piece of land, a fertile soil there on the hills; it kept Ceni always dreaming. 

AAFH Translation