”MY LIFE WITH ENVER”;
Memoirs Volume I By Nexhmije Hoxha
Nobody but Enver Hoxha deserves the expression:
“Glory goes to the ones not asking for it”
Of the original work belongs to the author; and of this translation jointly between the author and the translators – Alliance Marxist-Leninist.
First published in Albanian; by “LIRA” Tirana 1998 (Print Run: 2000).
Publishers Preface – Alliance
This translation was commissioned and edited, with authorisation from Nexhmije Hoxha.
It was undertaken and effected by an Editorial Board drawn from the Communist League (UK) and Alliance-ML (North America). All board members, are former
members of the now defunct ‘Albania Society’ organised by W.B.Bland.
All web-materials of this book are available to be distributed – but copyright is held by this board in association with Nexhmije Hoxha.
All permissions to copy this material on the web or in print format will be freely given, provided that the material is prefaced with the above statements.
Should there be any errors remaining in translation, we apologise for these, and stress that they are solely the responsibility of the Editorial Board noted
above – not the author.
We are publishing this initially as a series on the web. In due course we will be publishing the entire authorised translation as two volumes in a bound version.
1. Authors Preface
I decided to write these memoirs about my life with Enver when I felt a strong need to suppress the torturing loneliness of my prison cell. I started with memories from our youth, our life together, the first meeting and love – that had connected the two of us so much. I had never even talked to my children about these matters, and I have kept these memories to myself, throughout my life.
With the passing of time, our ideal life together was embellished and transformed into a source of endless happiness, and into a moral strength that kept me alive in very difficult situations and circumstances.
Sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment, under absurd charges, it had been already determined that I would not be released until I was over 80 years old. It is for that reason that I decided to write these memoirs, so that they are left to my children, for them to learn about the life experiences of their parents, before they were born, and when they were little. And, even later, when we had not been able to find the time, to talk to them about these things.
So, my children came to learn of them gradually, by reading notes that I had secretly written in prison. They were brave enough to become my muses together with their families – they helped me to fulfill the promise that I had made to their father, my Enver.
At the suggestion of many comrades and friends, I decided to publish these memoirs, hoping that I would be able to satisfy the wishes of many veterans, the co-fighters of Enver; as well as to answer the curiosity of the new generations who would not know Enver as the leader of our country and people for nearly 50 years.
During the 7 years of social and political collapse in our country, much was said and written about Enver and his work, including much which was absurd, banal and even monstrous. In these memoirs I do not want to dwell on the many deceits and obscenities thrown into the Albanian political arena. I only reminisce and describe Enver just as he was, during his life, the war, work, political activities, and with family and friends. Fifty years is a rather long period and the memories reflected in this book are not scientific analyses of the history of that period and the role of Enver Hoxha. Even as memories they cannot completely cover that time span.
But being confined to a prison cell, it was these memories that kept me going, and it was in such a situation that I began to write them down – when allowed to do so and when I had the chance.
Each memory brought back others until they became too many to be included in a single volume and I therefore decided to divide them into two books.
Book I, is the one you have in your hands, “My Life With Enver”.
It includes first acquaintance, our love, our meetings during the time of the National Liberation War, our life in the family after liberation; the daily routine of life and work of Enver, encounters with missions sent by the Yugoslavian Communist Party, and their agents in our Party (whose aim was to include Albania as a seventh republic of the Yugoslav federation); the close friendship with the SU (Soviet Union) during Stalin’s time and, later, the betrayal of the stigmatized revisionist N. S Khrushchev and the ones following him. As chronologically ordered, these memoirs reach the year 1973, although a strict chronology is not necessarily adhered to within each chapter.
Book II reflects “The last ten years of my life with Enver”. The memories in this book are somewhat detached from each other, and this period was a rather disturbed time for the Party and our government too. Towards the end of 1973, Enver suffered his first heart attack. Since the recent years of “democracy” there has been much speculation with regard to Enver’s health. But, based upon the evidence that I have, I can categorically deny the false rumors regarding Enver’s inability to continue working in his highly responsible office. The years following were full of activities, whether in the political arena or in his personal creativity. This is evidenced by his wide ranging activities during this period, his many political initiatives and the several editions of memoirs that he wrote in addition to his ideological or political writings.
During 1974-1975, Enver had to fight against anti party activity, anti-socialists and anti-nationalist who were associated with some of the party members. I write about these in my memoirs and show how Enver handled them and survived these difficulties.
Much speculation has circulated regarding the relationship between Enver and Mehmet Shehu. Therefore, in the second book, I have dedicated a whole chapter to the special character this relationship had, and of the long collaboration and suicide of Mehmet Shehu.
A special part of this second book is dedicated, not only to personal memories, but also to Enver’s arguments on the nature of the relations with the Communist Party of China and the Chinese State. These arguments contradict not only the liberal wing that held to the theses that “Alliance with China was a wrong”, but also the other wing that complained about “the detachment from China”.
Certainly I couldn’t leave out a description of his character and personality, as a man of cultural interests, and of a broad mentality. Enver especially respected men and women of scientific, artistic and literary backgrounds. It is with great discontent that I have had to read from many politicians, writers and intellectuals’ various invented and denigrating charges, which are completely untrue.
With regards to his relation with the people – the straight-forward people – Enver was always a popular leader; with his collaborators he behaved as a friend and respected teacher, as he did with the revolutionaries and Marxist Leninists of other countries; he was a diplomat with politicians and foreign friends; and with his family and friends he was a HUMAN.
I apologize to the readers in the case of any minor inconsistencies, who should take into consideration that these memoirs were written down when I was imprisoned without any documentation available. There I was not even allowed to use my husband’s books, with which I could check and refresh my memories. I could not do this even after I was out of prison. The first six months of 1997 are well known for the political turmoil within Albania. It was a political-economical and socio-psychological crises, and in the midst of this, I was not able to access my family archives (housed in the General Directorate for Archives together with the Central Archive of the Albanian Labor Party (PPSH)). The latter was not available to me even in the second half of 1997. And I still do not have access to them, so I must submit these memoirs as such, at this time for publication.
With all the difficulties encountered in the preparation of these memoirs, I would like to say that they wouldn’t have come to light without the support and concrete contributions of friends who have assisted me as advisers for such a publication; and those who as editors who undertook the publication of this edition. I will not mention their names for the moment, for reasons which are clearly understandable, yet I express my gratitude, and my respect towards their benevolence and consistent stance in spite of unknown storms passing over our people and country.
I also express my gratitude to the publishing house that undertook bringing into the light my collected memoirs.
2. First introduction to Enver
It was because the war involving the people and its’ Party, that Enver and myself first met and then united. Any couple in love preserves as beautiful memories, their first meeting, their first introduction. Some may write poetry, some may sing songs; someone else waits for the beloved in the park, on the street, outside the schoolyard or next to the steps of the apartment. This is what usually happens during peacetime.
What about in wartime, in an undercover situation? Is love born? When you are young, love is born anytime, like flowers in the spring. The war, in spite of its wilderness and awe can’t suffocate or dry up this vivid human feeling.
I became acquainted with Enver for the first time at the Meeting for the Foundation of the Communist Youth that took place on November 23rd 1941, immediately after the foundation of the Albanian Communist Party. (November 8th 1941)
I had never seen or heard about him before. I was part of the Shkodra Communist Group, whereas he was involved in the Korca Communist Group. Even though many attempts were made to unite these youth groups, I had had the chance only to meet some girls and boys from the Youth group, but none from Korca.
It is a well-known fact that Enver led and organized the demonstration of October 8th 1941, as a joint action of communist groups, at the eve of the Party’s foundation. Here, it was for me the first time to be in the front line with Enver. But we still had not met.
I think that if the demonstration had not been successful, the Communist Party would never have been founded on November the 8th. There were some communists, such as the heads of youth groups, who did not agree to the foundation of the Party. They tried also to sabotage the demonstration. We communists, were aware that, on October 28th in the morning (as a protest against the ceremonies organized by the fascist invaders to commemorate the fascist march toward Rome as well as the Italian attack against Greece), we would have to wait at the appointed bases for the news as to whether the demonstration would take place or not.
It is a known fact that Enver, Qemal Stafa, Vasil Shanto and other communist companions, were to carry out this action, a baptism of fire for the unification of the groups and the foundation of the Party. After subsequent debates, sometime in the morning, the comrades in favor for action were victorious, and they set off to organize the demonstration. I was waiting at a friend’s house in Bami Street, which, today is called Qemal Stafa Street. Suddenly Sadik Premtja appeared saying: “the demonstration won’t take place”. I started to return home; with cold feet and a pain in my heart. But when I reached the crossroad of Qemal Stafa Street, Pazari I ri and Saraci Street, today called Shinasi Dishnica, I heard the voices of the demonstrators and the patriotic song “Come, Join over here!” Then I started running and joined the demonstrators in Scanderbeg Square, where clashes had already started. There I noticed a big man, whose head could be seen since he was much taller than the other people around him. He was trying to snatch a young demonstrator from the hands of a policeman. Who could he have been? Next to me happened to be Meli Dishnica, the sister of Esat Dishnica, who would participate in as many demonstrations as possible. I asked her: Who is he? She told me he was a professor from Korca, and that having been fired from his job, he had come to Tirana, selling cigarettes in a bar, nearby. What is his name? I inquired. His name is Enver Hoxha she replied.
In such clashes there is no time to stay and observe. Right beside me I noticed a policeman who had captured young Zeqo Agolli, whose family I knew very well. Influenced also by what Enver was doing, I jumped and clambered among them, in order to separate them. The policeman seemed surprised, as a highlander he probably didn’t feel like pushing and throwing me down to the ground, so he freed Zeqi. All around one could see the gun butts of Italian and Albanian police raging over the heads of the demonstrators. Nevertheless the demonstrators kept struggling with fists and umbrellas, which they had taken with them since it was rather cloudy weather, or even, possibly to protect themselves.
In a moment the order was passed: “Everyone towards the Government Building, to find our arrested companions”. With the flag in front, which was usually held by the girls, we headed towards the Government Building (later it became Ministry of Industry). In this case I would like to explain something: as a rule, the companion organizers of great responsibilities, were never sent to the front of the demonstrators. I, for example, would be situated on the second row, behind the flag. If one looks at the photo of that demonstration, the head of Enver is visible, and so is his tall, well built body. When the police dashed through to arrest Enver, the demonstrators immediately formed a barrier, which prevented them from arresting him. Obviously later, the fascists looked for Enver in his shop Flora, so Enver had to go underground.
After the chants in front of the Government building “we want our friends”, “Glory to Albania” “Long Live Liberty” “Down with Fascism” etc, the prime minister, Shefqet Verlaci, appeared on the stairs and mumbled something. Who would listen to him? Scared by the wild chanting, he went inside and, after some moments, our two friends were set free, bleeding. I remained speechless when I noticed that one of them was my brother Fehmi (a high school student, friend of Pirro Kondi and others, two years younger than me, i.e. 18 years old). Companions held him on their shoulders. They wanted him to say something, but he wasn’t able to. One of his eyes was swollen, closed and bleeding. I was worried that his eye had been damaged, but blood was coming from a wound over his eyebrow and probably he had been hit there and on the chin too. Beating his tongue made it difficult for him to speak. I went to him and separated him from the crowd. After we had left the crowd of demonstrators, we got into a cart and went home. I am not going to stop here to describe the shock that my mother went through, and her cries when we were cleaning the wounds. She kept saying: “Poor me, I only have two sons (sic!) and both of you are involved in the struggle …!”
Less than two weeks passed and we were sent the news that “ the Albanian Communist Party had been founded”. The Party that we had dreamed of and wished for was at last a reality for us true communists!
Two weeks after the foundation of the Communist Party of Albania, a meeting was convened to lay the foundations of the Communist Youth Movement. From all youth groups 12 delegates were selected to take part, I was the only female. The meeting took place in the house of Sabrije (Bije) Vokshi, the aunt of Asim Vokshi, the hero who gave his life in the Anti-fascist struggle in Spain. Bija was a brave and wise woman. She was used to such illegal meetings, starting from our renaissance fighter descendants and now, anti-fascist meetings.
The house of Bije was very suitable for such meetings due to its location in occupied Tirana, where the fascist terror was becoming more and more of a burden. The house was located at the end of the large Boulevard, close to the where the train station sits today. It was set among small houses, individual shops, and typical Tirana houses, built of mud bricks. Her house was also suitable for our meetings because it had two entrances. One was deep in the alley, and the other had an exit on another road that connected the end of the boulevard with the street named after to the martyr Siri Kodra. The latter, is now part of the peripheral ring-road that takes you to the hospitals.
Participants of these meetings were assigned a time to show up, and a “code” (a particular knock on the door) so that the landlady wouldn’t open the door to anyone else, even to her friends and relatives who might visit at the time the meting was about to take place. At the end of the meeting in case of danger, one could leave by jumping from the low courtyard wall, to yard to yard of the nearby houses. Qemal had escaped like this many times. Bije’s house was an important base for him. Bije’s neighbors were very kind and patriotic, anti-fascist people, who behaved as if they didn’t notice the comings and goings of the youngsters in the old lady’s house.
On November 22nd in the afternoon, the invited comrades started to come in one after another. I remember that it was dusk when I arrived at Bije’s house. I went in, and everybody sounded joyful. They stopped for a moment, probably they saw a girl comrade, and they might have been telling raffish jokes. We greeted each other with the slogan “down with fascism and liberty to the people”. We shook hands warmly, even though at the time we didn’t know much of each other, since we belonged to different youth groups.
The room in which we had gathered, had comfortable straw mattresses. A black-sheeted iron coal range rumbled merrily with a powerful fire that had reddened it in places. The room had become dim with smoke. It wasn’t cigarette smoke, the comrades mostly didn’t smoke, as they were very young. The smoke came from the bread slices, which were on the range being toasted. On a square table, next to the window, lay the caps of the comrades, on which they had placed the bombs, which seemed like red apples in fruit bowels. Of course the window was covered with a thick blanket, so that the light couldn’t be seen from outside.
The owner of the house could only offer tea from “tiliacaea”, which yielded a very nice aroma. She had to fill up the teapot many times. There were no china glasses, only aluminum ones, like those used in the military, which were not very suitable to drink from since they got hot and could burn your lips. The comrades couldn’t wait for it cool down. Furthermore there were not enough glasses for all of us, so we had to take turns. The impatient ones would take sips. Anything would make them laugh and joke. It was there that I first got to learn of Italian humor. One could distinguish Ndoc Mazi, who got jokes started, and Qemal would keep on the same line. Ndoc could laugh and die in the same way; he died like a hero, together with the other heroes from Vig.
All of us laughed at their humor. This is how Enver found us when he entered the room. He had entered from outside into the kitchen where he had left his overcoat, cap, and everything else he possessed. At first, when he entered the room, what was most noticeable was his well-built body, the tallest of all comrades in the room. His dark complexion, his very vivid eyes, his black, rather wavy hair. He was wearing a “doppiopetto” jacket of light colors, beige with brown stripes. Underneath he was wearing a handmade woollen beige pullover with a high neckband, out of which appeared the shirt collar. His trousers were sporty and fashionable for the time, somewhat wide, covering long brown boots up to the knees.
I hadn’t noticed Qemal leaving the room. When Enver entered he was with Qemal . He introduced Enver saying: “This is comrade Taras , a member of the provisionary Central Committee of the Communist Party, founded two weeks ago, on November 8th. He has been delegated to participate in this meeting in order to help set up the Communist Youth Movement.”
Most of the people present, were aware of the fact that he was actually Professor Enver Hoxha. I myself had only seen him from a distance and had heard another name, a non-Albanian one, Taras. What was this other name about? I presumed that was a nickname and, as I heard later on, he was given that name from his friends because of his body, to an extent like a well known character from Russian literature, Taras Bulba, a famous popular fighter.
Enver came around shaking hands with everyone, whilst Qemal did the introductions. Enver would stop at everyone, smiling and chatting with all of them, wondering where he had met one and then the other. When he stopped at me, Qemal said, this is comrade Nexhmije Xhuglini, about whom I have been talking to you. Then he mentioned some other things about me, which made me blush. I interrupted and said; please Qemal let’s stop this and drop the subject…..
When Enver neared the range, he stretched his hands forward to get warmer and noticed the bread toasting, saying “Ahhh this is delicious”…one of his friends asked him whether he wanted to have some tea and he replied “Why not, with great pleasure”. He had his tea and than added ”What if we start the meeting?”
It was around 9 o’clock. After the middle of the room had been cleared two or three desks were placed there. The meeting started. Representing the Central Committee of the Party was Enver Hoxha; on his right there was Qemal Stafa, on his left Nako Spiru, then myself, and on both sides sat all the delegate comrades.
Enver chaired the meeting; he introduced Qemal Stafa as the one who had been assigned by the Central Committee of the Communist Party to work with the Youth Groups. Then he read the greeting speech of the Provisionary Central Committee of the Albanian Communist party (written by himself, and whose original is now in the Central archives of the Party).
Enver presented a report about the importance of the foundation of the Communist Party and the decisions made there to unite the people on a national liberation front, to fight against fascist invaders, the traitors of Albania and to wage the anti-fascist world war.
As we saw then as later, at every meeting and in every speech about and for the youth, even at the beginning, Enver Hoxha spoke with passion. It was still November of 1941. This is why it is understandable that his words about liberty and the future awaiting us, lit up a fire in our young hearts. It gave wings to our thoughts and aspirations for the future. Our dreams seemed more attainable now, more concrete.
When Enver Hoxha got to the end of his speech, the room was filled with silence. Certainly, there was no applause, not only because of secrecy, but also because applause was not yet part of our meeting style since we hadn’t won any victory yet. What we wished for was just a beautiful vision, which one day, certainly would be transformed into reality through our struggles, our blood, our life and youth.
In the midst of this silence, Enver proposed to have a break. Not because we were tired, but it seemed we all needed to be released from emotional tensions. We all moved around. Enver moved to the other room to smoke a cigarette. We also followed him. We surrounded him; despite the fact that we were supposed to be on a break and, because we felt much freer, we started to ask questions and chat.
When we went back to the meeting room, which, during the break had been freshened up, Qemal Stafa took the floor. In the beginning he spoke about the importance of the foundation of the Party. Then he underlined the situation and the struggle of the communist youth.
After Qemal, it was decided that the meeting should be ended since it was past midnight. We moved to an adjoining room used for resting and sleeping. There were no mattresses, no beds, except for one that was Bije’s, the owner of the house. They gave that bed to me. On both sides of the room there were rugs and straw filled pillows. Comrades laid down their heads on the pillows and their bodies on the rugs. Their feet were on wood. They were covered with their overcoats, close to each other, since it was a cold night and the room had no fireplace. Some of the friends preferred to stay in the meeting room, which was heated by the range, sleeping on stools and supporting their heads on their crossed arms on the table.
Even though we were in the capital city, we slept as partisans, fully clothed, with our guns lying ready close to us, in case of danger. In the room where we slept, there was a cupboard in the wall, at the bottom of which there was a place for documents to be kept. A wooden stool covered it and on it were Bije’s clothes. In the ceiling was a space to keep guns. As Enver has said, the house of Bije Vokshi was an arsenal of guns and bombs. We compared Bije to Pellagia, mother to Pavel Vllasov. In the atmosphere of these meetings our imagination would fire up as in the work of Gorky “The Mother”. But I might say that this mother of ours, an Albanian one, didn’t fear guns, she was used to outlaws, their guns and wounds. In this room there was also a special area in which Qemal would develop his pictures. There is well known picture that he took of Enver. In it, he is wearing a moustache for a fake identity card. But from what I know, it wasn’t used for long, since the enemy obtained various documents, so the picture was burned, since it could have identified Enver.
I will digress from the meeting, to tell you about an interesting episode about this picture. On another occasion when Enver had sheltered in the house of Shyqyri Kellezi, he was notified that the house was being watched. Enver left with another comrade immediately, first asking the mother of their friend to deny anything she might be asked. The mother of Shyqyrri was a simple old lady from Tirana, nice in her manners and her humor. When the fascists presented her with the picture of Enver with a moustache, the poor old lady couldn’t help saying ‘My God’ but she immediately came to her senses, shut her mouth with her hand and became very embarrassed. They questioned her for a long time asking her whether she knew Enver, but she kept her mouth shut. She was taken to the police station but even there she wouldn’t answer their questions. She managed to convince the police that she was insane and so they released her.
The next morning of November 23rd, after we had some bread and tea, the meeting continued with discussions on both reports. The floor was given to Nako Spiru. He spoke about fascism, its risk as an ideological and military force, what it represented for intellectual scholarly youth, then he moved onto tasks for the communist anti-fascist youth.
Tasi Mitrushi took the floor on behalf of the Korca working youth, whereas Ndoc Mazi represented the Shkodra working youth. Pleurat Xhuvani took the floor on behalf of Elbasan, whereas for the Tirana student youth, Sofokli Buda who took the floor. I presented the news regarding the Girls Institute of Tirana. I underlined the positive aspect of this institute, which provided the whole country with the teachers it trained there.
Enver had met with factionist Trotskyites such as Anastas Sulo and Sadik Premte, during the meeting for the foundation of the Party. In our meeting also, as a member of the youth group, Isuf Keci, tried to contradict the party direction on various issues, such as the Anglo-Soviet-American alliance, on the external framework, for the country and the role of peasantry, on the internal framework, and other issues.
All participants were discussing vigorously, in support of the direction of our new Party. Enver in his memoirs, commented positively about my speech, and my active participation in the debates on the incorrect perspectives of the delegate of the Youth group. During the lunch break, Enver approached and congratulated me on this. At the time I took this as an encouragement for a comrade who was participating for the first time in a meeting of this sort. At this point, I would like to stress that I vigorously participated in those ideological-political debates, only because we had already had such debates about these issues at the first meeting of the women’s comrade cells, immediately after the foundation of the Communist Party. Probably our women’s comrade cell was the first cell, as it was convened on a weekday, between November 15th and the 22nd – after the end of the party’s foundation meeting, when the foundation meeting of Communist Youth started.
Finally, after all the issues had been presented, and were addressed, we passed onto the election of Communist Youth Central Committee. It was decided that it would be composed of five people. Candidacies were presented in a way, which today, might seem strange. Numbers, not names were presented and each of the numbers listed the characteristics of a person. I believe the candidacies were proposed in principle by the Provisionary Central Committee of the Party, and supervised by Enver Hoxha and Qemal Stafa; based also on the discussions taking place in that meeting. The characteristics listed included: duration of involvement in communist groups, what was the activity in which the person had been involved, education, origin, social background, profession etc. all in all, these were general characteristics on which the delegates would base their vote.
The candidacies presented were approved by everyone. The names of the comrades elected are well known. Elected as political secretary was Qemal Stafa; Nako Spiro was elected organizational secretary; and Nexhmije Xhuglini, Tasi Mitrushi and Ymer Pula were elected as members. The latter was from Kosova and when he was sent to organize the Communist Youth, he was replaced by the distinguished, brave and active worker, Misto Mame. Later changes occurred, since Qemal Stafa was killed less than six months after the meeting. Nako Spiro replaced him as secretary general, and Misto Mame was appointed as organizational secretary.
Since my election to the Central Committee of Communist Youth I was assigned to work with the Tirana Youth, and I was elected as its political secretary. I was also assigned to work with the organization of the Communist Youth in Durres and Elbasan, to where travelled several times. After the elections were finalized, the Foundation Meeting of the Communist Youth, which became a nucleus for the broad organization of antifascist youth, was closed enthusiastically. Calling it an uncontained enthusiasm would not be fair, as we couldn’t scream or shout or clap hands there. But in a low voice we sang the “International” and our revolutionary songs learnt in our underground activities. I can say that it was our hearts singing rather than our mouths. But we closed the meeting at this point and followed Bije eagerly into the kitchen because, being young, and after such a beautiful job, we felt hungry!
What I call a kitchen was a large area, characteristic of Tirana houses, sometimes called house of fire. It was extended with compressed soil and lacked a ceiling and a fireplace. A thick chain hung from the blackened trunks caused by smoke, and was used to hang copper jugs or mess tins. When meetings such as ours were organized with many participants, big kettles were placed on the grills where pasta would be boiled or even polenta. But we Dibra People call the polenta ‘Bakerdan’. That very day, when the meeting was over, some of the most active delegates, led by Qemal, asked Bije to prepare halva: “The fascism halva, Bije, at the meeting, we decided to bury it! This is a closed question!”
And everyone would laugh their hearts out as if this “job” was a wedding. !……
These are very beautiful unforgettable memories. And they are memories that are a mixture of joyful moments and sad feelings, such as those for the friends that you have fought and laughed with, and have since “left”.
3. The day in a new course of my life.
On April 7th 1942, as usual on the Commemoration Day of the Albanian invasion by Fascist Italy, a demonstration took place in Tirana. It was one of the best organized and most powerful ever, by the student youth, workers, communists and anti-fascists.
Normally demonstrations occurred in the morning, before noon. All the youth, having been notified of this activity, would arrive gradually, as if by chance. They would fill the upper part of the boulevard that today leads you to the train station, looking as though they were having their everyday walk. At the moment when the organizer gave the signal, the girls would unfurl the flag, and the walkers, so notified, would start marching towards Scanderbeg Square. It was then that the crowd would turn and meld into a compact mass, bursting into patriotic songs (such as “Come, join here!” “For the motherland!” etc.), until they clashed with the Fascists who would immediately attack them.
This time it was different. Thinking that the demonstration would be organized as usual, in the morning, the Fascist invaders and their mercenaries were alert from the early morning hours. Behind the Municipality (now the National Historical Museum), a cavalry unit stood prepared. They had been waiting in vain all day long.
The demonstration, as planned, broke out in the afternoon and, instead of it being directed towards Scanderbeg Square, it took off in the opposite direction. It went towards the end of the boulevard and entered the ring road in the direction that takes you to Siri Kodra Street: the destination being the house where the Party had been founded. But at the crossroads of Siri Kodra and Hospital road, in front of the demonstrators were many Fascist police, Albanians recruited to serve the invaders.
The girls were right in the front. They were, as usual set in the first line, since it was thought that it would be rather difficult for the invaders to hit a woman. And this is what happened. When the Fascists and mercenaries pointed their bayonets towards our chests, we told these poor Albanians that had accepted to serve the occupiers: “Shoot at us, shame on you, behaving in such away with your Albanian sisters and brothers!” At least the Albanian police stepped aside since they didn’t know exactly what to do.
After this break, the demonstrators continued their march. The crowd stopped in front of the Madrassa. Amidst the chanting of various slogans, a short speech was held and then the demonstrators were disbanded.
I had participated in all the demonstrations, but apparently, in this last one, I had been more noticeable. So, I was now an implicated figure. On the morning of April 12th, someone knocked on my door. The son of my uncle, Skender Xhuglini, went outside to answer it. He found armed militia at the front door.
A feeling of alarm passed through the room. It was obvious that they had come to arrest me. There was only one way to escape, and that was through the courtyard door! The greatest concern I had was not for myself but for the others. It might seem paradoxical, but one night before, Drita Kosturi, through her sister, had entered a college of nuns that gave embroidery lessons etc., and had brought a young Italian nun to be sheltered temporarily in our house. She was anti-fascist and for this reason she didn’t want to lead a nun life. We had to find a solution to this problem. The Italians must be prevented from capturing her. In the meantime, as Skender was chatting with the militia at the door, we took care of the nun. We dressed her in some clothes of my mother’s and since her head was shaved she had to wear a scarf to cover it. We also told her to behave like a mute, so that she wouldn’t have to speak.
After Skender had seen off the militia and closed the door from inside, we finally breathed a sigh of relief. When we asked him how he had got rid of the militia; he replied that he had put the militia under some pressure by saying: “how can you an Albanian highlander, a faithful person, come here to take an Albanian girl and then hand her over to the Italians? Don’t you feel ashamed? Apart from that, she is not in here…” , in addition to other words. The militia had answered: “ OK, I will come again another time…” but, as we learned later, he had come to make us aware, indirectly, that I had been included in a list of people to be arrested. He was the brother of a communist and had become part of the militia, on the orders of the Party itself, in order to provide ‘inside’ information.
Of course, there was no time to loose. As soon as he left I got dressed and I told my mother I would let her know of where I would be and where we could meet. I would also let her know where the nun could be taken. We hugged each other and then I left the house. From that moment my parents were left all alone with Skender, because my brother Fehmi Xhuglini, even though he was 2 years younger than me, was forced to live undercover. He left Tirana to go to Elbasan, since he was directed to work with the youth there. Our house was situated in a blind alley, that connects Pazari I Ri (Avni Rustemi Square and the old Postal service) with Dibra Street or as it was known at that time, the Hospital.
Because I was a wanted person it was not possible for me to leave the house and walk up to the end of the street because I might have run into a patrol. I therefore headed towards Qemal Stafa Road moving from courtyard to courtyard and from door to door of the various neighbor’s houses. After reaching the end of the street, I relaxed and started to think about where I might get some lunch before going on to attend the meeting of the First Consultation of Party’s Activities to which I had been invited. I decided to go and pay a visit to some relatives of my father. It was seldom that I and my mother went to visit this family, so questions such as “What might have happened to her? What might have brought her here” were unavoidable. Anyway, it was not necessary to give explanations. I stayed there until 4 p.m., then I set off for the house of Bije Vokshi where the meeting would be held.
By dusk, all the delegates of the districts had arrived. This was an activity meeting to which all
political and organizational secretaries, elected in the conferences of the districts were invited, to make reports and receive consultations.
These conferences were begun after the foundation of the Party and the establishment of the basic organizations of the Party. Also invited were members of the Central provisionary Committee (7 people), and the Central Committee of Communist Youth (of which I was member).
The tables were arranged differently from the meeting for the Foundation of the Communist Youth, since the number of participants was much bigger. The tables surrounded the four angles of the room, creating a space in the middle. Though not all were true tables, on two angles were trunks supported by boxes. The stools to sit were constructed more or less in the same way, since it was impossible to find enough chairs for all the participants. The chair-person of the meeting sat in between two doors, next to the wall that separated this room from the porch. I happened to sit on a corner of the table attached to the chair-person’s table. In some of the plenary meetings
Enver would come and sit on the corner of the same table and would converse with me.
Once he told me: You have a nice pen, it seems to write beautifully. Would you give it to me? ’’ “You can take it if you really want it” – I replied smiling, “but as you can see it is a lady’s pen”.
It was as thin as a finger and had a red silk threaded plume. I was fond of that black and red pen which I had had for a long time, ever since the time when I used to see it in the window of the bookshop of Lumo Skendo (Mithat Frasheri).
This shop was situated on Royal Road which, after the liberation was called the Street of the Barricades. In this bookshop, I and many friends, would pay a visit everyday after school, to look for any interesting books. We would go there everyday and would be full of awe, when the son of the great renaissance man, Abdul Frasheri, Mithat, prim in his elegant suit, with an overcoat and stiff, white as snow, shirt collar, keeping his head up and his pince-nez spectacles on the nose, would come and serve us. Somewhat further up, on the other side of the road, there was this other bookshop, “Argus”, that was equipped with copybooks, pencils and other school equipment. But at Lumo Skendo’s you could find more serious books, in foreign languages too. There I had bought a little book, the size of a packet of cigarettes, with Carducci’s poems, and another from Leopardi, whose poems I admired during the period of my youth. I remember some verses even today…
O natura , O natura,
Perchè non rendi poi
Quel che prometti
Ai figli tuoi
[nature, oh nature, why can’t you offer your sons what you promise.
Italian in the original]
When I told Enver that the pen had been purchased with my first salary as a teacher and that I had done some teaching only for three or four months in 1942, until the day I was forced to leave home and school; he asked me: “Is it only this pen you could buy with your first wages?” – “No”, I replied, “I bought also a coat for myself, because I didn’t have one. I also began giving a lump sum to my maternal grandmother (a quarter of a napoleon which was about 1 dollar and equal to 25 lek at that time), so she would have some pocket money. The remaining part of my wages, I gave to my mother, for the household expenditures.”
When I mentioned the money for my grandmother, Enver started laughing and asked me:
“What about your grandmother? What would she need the money for?”
I replied: “She needed the money to buy cigarettes, since she was not the kind to ask for money from everyone. “
“If I had known” – said Enver – “That your grandmother smoked, I would have sent her a packet of cigarettes from ‘Flora’ Do you know where Flora is?”
”I know” – I told him – “We pass by that road very often”.
”Why haven’t you visited then?” – he asked me, whilst his smiling eyes were shining more and more as he glanced at me.
”Why should I come” – I replied in a devilish way – “I don’t smoke and I don’t drink either”.
”Well, I know, but if you had come, we could have met each other earlier” – he continued on this track.
These words and jokes of Enver, later took on a meaning, which I hadn’t sensed at the time.
Usually, during wartime, these types of meetings were quite intensive and covered a wide range of topics of national importance and, for security reasons we worked both day and night. The consultation started at around 8 p.m. (April 12th 1942) and continued on until 3 or 4 o’clock a.m.
There were so many delegates that there was some difficulty in making the sleeping arrangements. Some of the comrades would lay down wherever they thought possible, or sit on stools. Some laying their heads on another’s shoulders or even on the meeting tables. I, being the only female, was as usual, more “privileged” in such cases. I would use Bije’s bed; the only bed in the house, and I would sleep with my clothes on and take my shoes off. As soon as I lay down I fell asleep.
I don’t know what the time might have been when I heard a slight noise. The dawn was breaking. At first I thought I was dreaming; I heard some steps that passed by my bed and someone stopped, pulled up the blanket and covered my shoulders and back, even though, as previously mentioned, I was sleeping with my clothes on. The first thought that crossed my mind was that it was my dear mother. But when this someone removed a lock of hair from my face, I woke up completely, but didn’t open my eyes until I heard the steps move away.
When I opened my eyes I saw Enver’s back as he entered the kitchen. I am not sure whether he had slept or not, because when I went to bed I had left him smoking on the porch of the house.
What did I feel in those moments? What did I think? I can truly say that at the time I didn’t think that this act of his was an expression of love. I was pleased that among the leaders of the party we had such comrades. I was getting to know Enver during the meetings and could see that they would take care and behave warmly with us, just as Enver had acted at that moment with me. I was especially delighted that a friend approached me and took care of me, even with the simple act of pulling the blanket over me while I slept, because, it was on that same day that I was nearly arrested and I had left my home and parents. He was a friend who, with his jokes and his warm hand touching my forehead, wanted to create a homey environment for me, trying to relieve me of the sadness of being separated from my beloved parents, whom my brother and I had left alone at home.
This is all I thought at that moment since I didn’t know Enver very well: I didn’t know his age, or whether he was married or not. I was 21 at the time, but he looked much older due to his well-built body, and I wouldn’t have thought of anything else during those days.
It was wartime. War is war and not a wedding ceremony. It doesn’t leave you time to have fun and love. It was nearly midday, when into the house of Bije Vokshi came one of our guards, who, together with two other friends, had been keeping watch around the house for suspicious movements. They let us know that there was a patrol wandering about. The comrades of the Central Committee decided to take some preliminary measures in order to be prepared. They ordered the guards to keep their eyes open and follow the movements of that patrol on the road. In the meantime lunch was prepared.
After lunch we thought that we would continue with the meeting, while always keeping a lookout for any suspicious movements. But we received some bad news. Njazi Demi had been arrested! He owned a house that was a base for our undercover comrades. The house was called “the house of the frogs”. It was next to the oldest bridge in Tirana, and was classified as a cultural monument, and was close to the building where the Italian headquarters was situated during the war (after the war this building was occupied by the Central Committee of the Communist Youth). Later the same building was given to the Committee of the Anti-fascist National liberation War Veterans.
This friend, now arrested, presented us a great risk, even for the meeting to take place. This was because Njazi Demi had close contacts with Bije, and under torture, could be forced to expose us. It was immediately decided therefore that the meeting be postponed to the next day and all the delegates left. They were notified that the meeting would continue, not in the same place, but in the house of Misto Mame.
Before we left, Enver gave some directives; the two tables were to be placed in the two different rooms, whereas the other two where to be moved to the kitchen. The long stools without backrests (there were many of them), were taken to the porch, and placed around the walls. Some of them were taken to the kitchen as well. So the room where the meeting was taking place was empty now, though not at all clean since the comrades had moved around with their dirty shoes. There were cigarette-butts on the floor as well. I had to roll up my sleeves and start washing everything. Bije would go outside at the well and fill in the buckets with water and bring it to me. Meanwhile Enver had defined the interval of time for the comrades to leave from both the doors, so that they wouldn’t be noticed by the neighbors or by any spies that might happen to be around.
When all the friends had left, Enver having been the last in the house, came and leaned on the door case. He was looking at me as I was scrubbing the wooden floor with a brush. I was on my knees on the wet floor.
”So you can wash perfectly well, can you not?” – he said laughing
”Did you think that I couldn’t? I am from a Dibra background”.
– “Those who have a Gjirokastra background are quite the same” – he said.
– “I don’t know, I haven’t seen Gjirokastra Houses, but I do know something else. In communism women and men will be equal; so- I continued smiling- men will have to work just like the women do, that is to say that you have to take those carpets that Bije brought and dust them outside…..! “
– “Right, comrade, with great pleasure”, he said and without taking long, went outside, dusted them and brought them inside.
Together with the owner of the house we put the carpets in place, we set the rugs on two corners of the walls, put down the pillows for the guests, covered the table next to the window, put an ashtray on it and a flower pot. The house now seemed ready for even a visit by any “severe guests” with pistols and chevrons. Enver warned Bije to check to see if any of the comrades had possibly left any bombs or pistols under the rugs or pillows; then he asked me:
”Where are you going tonight?” He knew I had left home and couldn’t go back there.
“ I don’t know”, I replied “I don’t know where to go! “
“What do you mean by that? Don’t you have an aunt or an uncle here in Tirana?”
”No, I have no one in Tirana other than some relatives of my father. I have never been to their house for dinner or lunch. If I visit them it means I will have to let them know what the situation is, and I don’t really know if they can shelter me after that.”
Let us bear in mind that it was the end of April 1942, a few months after the Communist Party was founded, and a few days after the powerful demonstrations. Those were the days of fascist terror, days when people were arrested and killed.
Then Enver said:
”You will join me wherever I go then.”
I couldn’t do otherwise. I didn’t even have the time to think. I put on my clothes very quickly. In that period of struggle we tried to disguise ourselves in every way possible. We mostly used elegant dressings, wore hats in order to cover parts of our face, or wore silk scarves on our heads, which was very fashionable at the time. Our real saviors were the dark sunglasses. You might ask where we could find these expensive elegant clothes that helped avoided the suspicions of the fascists and their spies. Friends, supporters, the people helped us. On some occasions I have also used a black yashmak, which I didn’t like much because the fanatic Dibran Muslims wanted very young girls to wear it. I hated the idea and couldn’t walk with it on. We had to move fast, the girls wearing the yashmak daily had to walk slowly and were always accompanied on the road. Lowering the yashmak was not only forbidden, it was also unwise.
When Enver saw me with a brown scarf and the dark sunglasses, he couldn’t help making compliments on the transformation I had gone through. We started laughing. Then we said goodbye to the owner of the house and left. Enver arranged his hat on his forehead, took the bicycle and when we reached the outside door, told me:
“You will sit here in the front. Watch your legs, they shouldn’t touch the chain…“
I was surprised. I had never been on the bicycle with a boy. Then all the way I would feel so uncomfortable. I began to resist: ‘No I can’t “; and in the same time I felt funny.
Then I told him;
”It’s a shame, people will see us, they will say how does it happen that such a signorina gets on a bicycle?! “
”There’s no time for discussions,” he said, “it is getting dark and the house we are going to is on the other side of the city.”
As a matter of fact it was getting late, and the time of the “coprifuoco” [curfew, Italian in the original] was near. All the people had to go into their houses at a certain time, depending on the season, as soon as it started to get dark. It was worse to walk with Enver. It was very risky had the militia stopped us on the road. He was well equipped with bombs and a revolver. Enver was also sentenced to death and was one of the most wanted by the fascists and their hunting dogs.
I didn’t resist for long and got on the front side of the bicycle. At that time I didn’t weight more than 50 kg.
My first adventurous trip on a bicycle was not associated with any incident. Some years after the liberation of the country, when we met foreign friends, Soviets, Bulgarians etc. and exchanged ideas about our traditions. They would also ask us about the way we had known each other and become married. Enver would always say joking: “I kidnapped Nexhmije, according to the Albanian tradition, but I didn’t use a horse. I used a bicycle”… “
We would laugh endlessly. This memory is marvelous for me even today when I think of it.
The house where Enver took me that night was a one-story house, near the Electric Power Plant, in front of “Qemal Stafa” school, in Durres Street. There was no courtyard and you could enter directly onto the small porch, where there were some rugs and a table for four people. There were two rooms and a small kitchen inside. It was inhabited by two sisters, one of who was the fiancé of a friend of Enver’s, Syrja Selfo, a tradesman and sworn anti-fascist. He had rented the house, which served as a spare base for Enver, and it had never come under suspicion. This base was only known to Gogo Nushi, nephew of Enver, and Luan Omari, an activist of the Youth organization.
Both sisters were very hospitable and kind to me. They also prepared for us something quick to eat. After dinner we really enjoyed the discussion. We started to discuss the origin of man. I was very passionate about the Darwinian theory on species evolution and the struggle for survival of the species. So I became very active, just like in the time in the groups, when we had read
publications of Engel’s’ on this issue. Enver was only listening and most probably was trying to let me have my say. I was only able to understand this later. When we were alone he told me: “members like you from the Shkodra group give much importance to theoretical studies”.
And indeed, we were some of the best students in the class. But the workers too were eager to learn more. Vasil Shanto for example was one of the most distinguished workers, and so was Qemal, his best friend; he would take good care of Vasil’s education. So did Kristo Themelko, he wouldn’t leave without first having us explain to him the “Anti-Duhring” of Engel’s. We in turn would make him teach us how to use the revolver.
After we talked with Enver, I went to sleep with the sisters in their room. It was impressive, how they would take care of their hair and their bodies. In the bedroom there were only two beds, on the floor. In one of the beds the two sisters would sleep while I would sleep in the other. The other room was much better furnished, with two sofas covered in red fur and a big carpet. At a corner there was a covered mattress that obviously was used anytime that Enver would show up.
The following day we woke up early. We had a coffee there and separately set off to Misto Mame’s home, which was far away, in the other part of the town, near the place where he was killed. From that square, surrounded by rack berries, you could get to Hospital Street, to the other part to Bami Street, (now Qemal Stafa Street) and if you kept straight on you would get to Bardhyl Street. Today the square doesn’t exist any more, on the site many houses, flats have been built and the streets are arranged in a different way. From the city center you can get there by walking along “4 Deshmoret Street”. Misto’s house was just an ordinary Tirana “room of fire”; sprinkled with soil exactly the same as the kitchen of Bije Vokshi.
As soon as I got there, the other participants of the meeting started to arrive. They entered one by one. Before the meeting had even started, the alarm went off; the activities of the comrades entering the house had been noticed by the neighbors and by the children playing nearby. They had become curious. Justifiably so: why were there all those well-dressed men, some in hats, some in caps, some in dark sunglasses…?!
This house was had to be written off for the meetings too. Some comrades were sent to see what the situation was at the Frog’s house and also with the person who had been arrested. I don’t remember if he was set free or if we had make sure that he wasn’t tortured.
Thus, due to this difficult situation it was decided to return to Bije Vokshi’s house and there we continued with the meeting, with which I go into details. It has been described in the published documents of the Party.
After the consultation meeting, I didn’t see Enver until the 5th of May, the day when Qemal Stafa was shot dead.
Chapter 4. When Qemal Stafa was killed
I was at Gjike Kuqali’s house when I heard this bad news. We were holding a meeting there with some youngsters. The shock was so strong and the news so unexpected that it was impossible to continue the meeting. Some burst into tears, while others were completely speechless. Someone was sent to learn more of what had happened.
With a deep anguish in my heart, I felt jittery and thought of Enver. What was he doing at that moment? Qemal was both Enver’s and my best friend. I had known him ever since the time of the early communist groups, he was my first teacher. Whereas for Enver, he was his closest collaborator since the first steps of the foundation of the Albanian Communist Party and through the revolutionary and patriotic struggle to liberate the country from the fascist invaders.
Where could I find Enver at this time? I decided to go to the house where he had taken me by bike that strange night, and it was there that I found him. After my “coded” knocks, he himself opened the door. Our sad faces showed that we both were aware of what had happened and both knew of the tragic ending of our comrade, Qemal. Enver closed the door, turned to me, put his arm on my shoulder and sat next to me on the couch in the hall, which I described in the notes concerning the first time I had visited this house.
I don’t know how much time passed without us saying a word. We were shocked. I was about to start crying and could hardly stifle my whining, which had blocked my throat. I didn’t want to seem weak either. He lit a cigarette again; he would inhale deeply (the ashtray on the table seemed a mountain of cigarette ends).
Finally he broke the silence. “Qemal left us, we lost him. We lost a very dear friend, a revolutionary intellectual with a great perspective for the Party and Albania “. He was much moved and had tears in his eyes at saying those words.
After a while I asked: “What do we know? How did it happen?”
Enver started telling me that comrade Gogo (Nushi) was the only one from the Tirana Party committee who knew about the secret base where Enver would shelter us. He had also brought Shule (Kristo Themelko) who had been together with Qemal but had survived the attack and broken the siege. He had explained also that there had been three female comrades. Drita Kosturi, Qemal’s fianceé ; Maria, the fiancéé of Ludovik Nikaj and Gjystina, a cousin of Maria, married to Zef Ndoja. I was thinking that it was normal for Drita to be there, because she was seeing off her boyfriend, Qemal. He was going to leave either that day or the next for Vlora. But what about the other two girls? What were they doing there? They only know Qemal slightly and didn’t have any work relations with him, or with Drita. Later it was discovered that Ludovik, the fiancéé of Maria, was a spy for ISS, Italian secret service. Ludovik, had obviously followed the movements of the two, somewhat featherbrained ladies, and had consequently discovered Qemal’s Base. For me this is the most convincing explanation. The other possibility was that; one of our comrades, who had rented the base, had been arrested. Possibly the house rental document was found in his pocket. It might have been due to this, so that the base had become suspicious and later came under siege.
From what Shule had said, Ludovik had been the first to escape from the back of the house, in order to cover the escape of the female comrades. Whereas Qemal had stayed until he made sure that they had left. Qemal headed towards the river, but obviously, the siege had become more narrowed down and the fascist troops concentrated on him. Qemal had tried to withdraw, fighting until he fell under the hail of bullets of the Italian fascist militia and the local mercenaries.
I think that the attitude of Drita Kosturi was poor and indecent, having been influenced by elements of some secret plan to mask the figure of Qemal Stafa. She has presented many options during media interviews regarding his death. Such was the case recently when she absurdly suggested that Qemal had committed suicide; this fifty years after his death! Qemal not only showed that he was brave, but also that his disposition was one of spiritual nobility. He sacrificed his young life in order to protect his comrades-in-arms, whoever they were.
Enver told me he had severely criticized Shule for thinking only of himself and his friends, and for leaving Qemal alone without any protection. His face was full of gloom and made more so by his moustache; nevertheless many hours had passed since his meeting with Kristo Themelko. It started to get dark, but we didn’t even think of eating. I got up and made some coffee for both of us. We sat on the table, in the middle of the room, where we stayed and talked about Qemal until very late; about how we both came to know him. I spoke about my first meeting with Qemal somewhere in the summer of 1937.
Passion about literature and an aspiration for a better-emancipated future for all Albanian society had ‘hooked me up’ with Selfixhe Ciu, whose nickname was Columbia. She wrote articles in the newspaper entitled ‘Bota E Re’ (The New World) and in other progressive media of the time. I was not intimidated when I met with her, since I was in the same class as her sister, Hanushe. Through her I also got to know Olga Pellumbi and Mila Gjehoreci, who wrote for the same newspapers. I felt myself in good company with them, and we discussed the serious problems of contemporary society. We would exchange ideas on various literary works, which had an emphasis on high revolutionary notes, such as those of Migjeni and others.
As I said, my first meeting with Qemal occurred in the summer of 1937 in a Tirana house, in Bami Street (today it is named after Qemal). When I showed Enver this house, he told me that further down the blind alley was the house of his older sister, Fahrije. When I first met Qemal, there was no one in the house. It was summer, and the owners of the house may have left to visit some nearby village (people at that time didn’t go to the beaches). After a coded knock on the door, Qemal himself opened it, and, after I gave the password, he shook hands with me and headed towards the house. I sat on a straw filled rug. The rug covered all the surface of the floor along the wall. Qemal took a chair and set it in front of me. Certainly, he had been told about me, but despite this, he questioned me on several matters, such as, my educational background, status, family relations, etc. Evidently he wanted to know whether I could commit myself to the organized communist revolutionary movement. From the very start of our conversation, he seemed to me a very serious and mature comrade. I was astonished when I later found out that he was only 17 years old and therefore only one year older than myself. I learned a lot from that conversation with him. Qemal took a long time to explain the work we had to do as communists and especially regarding the work to be done with the communist girls, at the students’ group of the Girls’ Pedagogic Institute from Tirana. At that time, this institute was the only high school for girls open to all Albanians; especially those from the South, where fanaticism was scarce and schooling was much valued. The girls would join the institute aiming at becoming teachers in order to support themselves and their families. But Qemal underlined the fact that a lot of work should be done with those young girls who remained at home and whose life was more closed, confined and somewhat pitiful.
I can say that it was with this meeting that I started my commitment to the Shkodra Youth Communist group. For some time I was unaware both that the group I was a member of, was named the Shkodra Group, and the basis for its’ name. I thought that the center of our activists was Tirana and the leaders of our group were Vasil Shanto and Qemal Stafa. With the trial of many communists in 1939, we came to know about the existence of several other groups.
I told Enver, that I thought that Qemal didn’t get a very good impression about my revolutionary spirit, because, not only did I not say much, but I was also very embarrassed. On that day, there was an incident which, when I look back on it, makes me laugh, but at the time caused me much embarrassment. During our meeting, a beautiful cat entered the room and was obviously missing the tenants of the house who had left it by itself. It came around my legs and then jumped onto my lap. I have always loved cats and without diverting my attention from what Qemal was saying, I started to caress the cat. Unexpectedly I heard him say meekly: “Leave the cat!” And he then went on with his conversation, about directives related to our work. He let it go, but I couldn’t help thinking about this incident for days.
After this meeting, Qemal organized and then became leader of the girls’ cells. This cell had members such as: Liri Gega, Fiqret Sanxhaktari, Drita Kosturi as well as myself. We had some meetings with Qemal, where we learned about communist theories and the tasks we had to undertake. We also made reports on the work done. But these meetings with Qemal didn’t last long since he had to leave for Florence, Italy in order to attend university studies. Drita Kosturi left, too. She also left to attend studies in Florence. She said she had lived in the same house with Qemal. Another friend that went to Italy to study had told me that she (Drita) clung so close to Qemal that in the end he had to get engaged to her.
Was Qemal one of those youngsters that would get engaged without first falling in love? I can say no. Above all, Qemal was honest and it might be that in certain circumstances he could have felt pressured to get engaged. I knew Drita Kosturi very well, and in spite of her being older than me by two or three classes, we got on well with each other, since we were part of the same cell.
I freely visited her house and got to know her family members. She had been raised without her mother in a patriotic liberal family. She was a kind of anarchic revolutionary. She was open minded, but not that balanced, and somewhat messy in her life and in her work, and didn’t normally dress well. Although she didn’t know what conspiracy was, she didn’t lack courage.
I told Enver about the activities of our group during the May Day celebrations when Drita would wear a red ribbon in her hair and would go to the pastry shop on Royal Street where all the communist students would meet, including Qemal and his friends. “You probably know that shop don’t you?”, I asked Enver. “It is opposite the store of the big businessman, Shaho. So the network of secret agents were very well aware that Drita was a communist, and certainly knew of the relationship that she had with Qemal.”
During our discussion, I remembered what Bije Vokshi had once told me about Drita. She didn’t really like Drita being so disorganized and flighty. Bije, loving Qemal very much, had asked him once: ” Son, how come you are mixed up with that girl?” He had answered: “Eh, dear Bije, this is the way it is; I can’t help it anymore, and she already knows all about the bases and all our comrades”.
Qemal was an emancipated person, educated and free of prejudices, but one never knows. Perhaps he wasn’t completely free from the prevailing, albeit incorrect mentality of the communist militants who, for the sake of the group’s interests, for our undercover communist work, and, to create bases, believed that marriages had to be arranged. It was due to this mentality that Zylfije Tomini married Xhemal Cani and, as a consequence, the house where the party was founded, was established. They also arranged the marriage between Zef Ndoja and Gjystina, in order to establish the house on Shebeke Road, which became the base for the second Provisionary Central Committee and where the experts of the Central Archive Committee were setup. After the betrayal of Ludovik Ndoja, this house fell into the hands of our enemies. The marriage of Selfixhe Ciu to Xhemal Broja was arranged in the very same way and they were sent to Shkodra.
When I told Enver that a communist comrade had been found for me to marry but that I didn’t want to go through with it because I had never met him; he laughed and said: “Well done Nexhmije!” For him this reaction had another meaning, but I understood it only to be an approval of my reasonable attitude. I told him that this is why the foundation of the party is something more for us young women communists, because we had been saved from certain marriage alliances dyed in red and from certain allegedly golden plated chains. In fact we had had enough of the chains of our conservative families, who lived in accordance with contemporary traditions.
Following this conversation, about the mentalities and mistakes of the communist groups of the time, Enver spoke at length to me about the load of work the party and the communist youth had to face. Not only had they to work on organizing the war against the fascist invaders and the unleashed propaganda of their collaborators and local traitors, but also on the enlightening of the minds and awareness of the common people, so that the girls and women would be viewed under a different light. They were to be treated like human beings and when the party and the people won the war, they would be entitled to equal rights with men.
Qemal was a very funny youngster, and we reminisced about his jokes. Enver told me about his efforts to teach Qemal how to sing Vlora songs, and how he had to join in. Qemal was never able to do this because he would start laughing! “Let’s sing something from Shkodra”- he would say,- and would take the banjo and play, singing merrily. Though deep in thought when we would sit down to work, there were moments when we took breaks and he would suggest playing with colorful glass marbles which he always keep in pocket.
He was still young and these marbles apparently reminded him of the games of early childhood.
I also told Enver how well I remembered the power that Qemal’s laughter had, as well as Vasil’s (Vasil Shanto). When I used to visit Vasil’s home I would often be quite shocked after my meetings with representatives of various groups because of the use of bad language. Once, when I was to have a meeting with a girl from the youth group, I couldn’t believe my ears at the vulgar language that I heard her use; language that I wouldn’t expect even a man to use! Voicing my displeasure, I said to Qemal and Vasil: “I will never ever attend meetings with people such as this.” Qemal and Vasil burst out laughing because they were aware of what I had heard, but that I was unable to repeat it to them.
Did you know, I asked Enver, that the nickname “Delicate” had been given to me by Qemal? And do you know why? It was not because of my outward appearance but because of my intolerance regarding bad language. And, even when Qemal said that he thought that there should be more refined manners and stricter attitudes (I was not sure if he was serious about this or not), he would laugh and make fun. Despite this and his youth, Qemal was the perfect educator for the youngsters and was a wonderful communicator and agitator with people of every age.
I also remember that anytime he was given the occasion, he would have warm chats with my mother. Once, before I had gone underground, a meeting of the Central Youth Committee took place in my home at which, Nikko and Misto Mame also participated. Qemal sat and talked at length with my mother. She would speak freely with him and it was obvious to everyone what an open and charming man he was. At this meeting, he said to her: “Mother, we have to face great difficulties and, in order to overcome them, it will require much effort and many sacrifices before we obtain our liberty.”
I also spoke to Enver about my last meeting with Qemal, two days before he was shot and killed. He came to the home of Hysen Dashi to participate in a meeting of the Youth Circuit Committee for Tirana. We used to call the house “February 66′” and Enver would go there quite often. The meeting was interrupted several times because the night was full of tension due to the constant barking of the neighborhood dogs and it was known that there were patrols everywhere. In order to help relax the young people at the meting, Qemal expressed a wish (that unfortunately, he would never be able to realize) – full of joy and optimism he said – ‘Our day will come; a day of liberty, when all of us will be able to walk along the boulevards singing and chanting and we won’t mind what others will say of us…”.
While Enver and I were talking at the table on that day of calamity, the owners of the house returned from having lunch in the city. We were unaware that it was so late and hadn’t thought about eating. The owners offered to prepare something warm for us to have, but we told them we were not hungry and that some bread and cheese would suffice. Enver also asked for some tea because his throat was dry from his continuous smoking. He asked them about what was happening in the city. They said that people were worried and were wondering who had been killed (those who didn’t know Qemal). They also wondered who else had been there with him, and if anyone else been arrested or killed? There was a general alert and the police and fascist militia were in a very agitated state. Many patrols were to be seen on the streets.
We started to talk again about Qemal; of his courage and culture. Enver told the owners of the house that, the next day Qemal was to have left for Vlora to take care of some work. They had met on the previous day and said their goodbyes. “How could I have known,- said Enver with tears in his eyes- that it was a farewell and not a goodbye?!” It had been only 7 months since the Party had been founded and we needed to do much work. We faced a big battle and the Party and the People needed as many individuals of Qemal’s capabilities and stature.
After dinner we switched on the radio to listen to the daily news. It was difficult to listen to Radio Tirana during the war, because it was difficult to put up with the propaganda of our enemies. We listened to the Moscow news in French and also from the BBC in London, and, as we usually did during the war, we commented on these programs. Then we split to go to sleep. But sleeping was impossible since we still had the noise in our ears of the bullets entering the body of our friend.
In order to honor the memory of Qemal Stafa; this patriotic communist, one of the main leaders of the Albanian Communist Youth, Enver purposed that the fifth of May (the day on which he was barbarously killed), should be commemorated as Martyrs’ day of the Antifascist National Liberation War, against the Nazi fascist invaders. This day became a symbol of honor and a national holiday.
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