5. A love born and brought up in war
On May 22nd, I went to Enver’s base, which was in the house next to the Electric Power Plant of Tirana. (Today an Embassy has been built on this site).
It was nearly ten o’clock. There I found Enver. He was happy at seeing me and took me to the room I have described, where there were 2 sofas covered in red fur. The beautiful and warm spring sun entered through the only big window.
After he had asked me about some issues related to work with the youth group, he got up to fetch a photo album. He came and sat next to me on the sofa.
“Would you like to see some pictures of mine when I was young in Gjirokaster, Korca and France? I got them from my sister, the mother of Luan (Omari)” he asked me.
Without receiving an answer from me, he started to skim through the album, introducing me to the members of his family; his grandmother, parents, sisters, first cousins, uncles and aunts. While commenting on one of his best pictures, in which he was dressed up, wearing a suit and a Papillion, with a white handkerchief in his pocket, he said laughing:
“This suit, I borrowed from the son of my uncle, Zihni Luci, who attended medical studies in Vienna ”.
Then he introduced me to some friends from Gjirokastra, and others from the Korca Gymnasium.
Almost all of those photos are now known to the public as they were published in an album and have been displayed on various occasions. In the album there were other pictures taken in France, Montpellier and Paris with Albanian friends, including young girls. In a picture, he was with Vedat Kokona at the beach, in a bathing suit. There was a girl in between them. In another there was a middle-aged woman with a shopping bag. The picture had been taken on the road and he introduced her to me as the landlady of the house they had rented. There was this other picture of a beautiful young girl, a brunette. It was the only portrait. He didn’t dwell on her photo and made no comments. I didn’t ask, not then, and never ever during our life together. For me it was obvious. I couldn’t imagine or pretend that a young handsome man like Enver, in France, would lead the life of an ascetic. This wouldn’t be normal.
As we were leaning on the wall, sitting next to each other and while he was showing to me the last pictures, he tried to put his head onto my shoulder as if wanting to say, “I love you”.
I moved my shoulder automatically without words, meaning “Don’t you dare”.
He closed the album and stood up. I felt like laughing, because I understood why he showed me those pictures, but on the other hand I didn’t ask any questions; I showed no reaction at all, no curiosity. This made Enver feel embarrassed and certainly he thought:
“What can I do? She doesn’t want to understand”.
So after lunch he played a trick on me. He decided to go and sleep after having his meal and told me:
“ Wake me up at five o’clock”.
I started reading in the dinning room. At five I opened the door in order to wake him up. He wasn’t sleeping and was standing on the sofa smoking. The room was foggy with smoke. Enver seemed not to have slept much, perhaps, not at all. I went to open the window and while standing around in the room, not knowing what to do, he said to me:
“Can you make some coffee for me, and or yourself if you want too? “
“With pleasure”, I said.
I usually don’t like coffee because I can’t sleep after. I went to the kitchen and put the utensils, cups, etc. on a tray together with a small electric kettle and returned to the room. I placed them on a table at the end of the room, where the socket was. As I had my back to him, making coffee, Enver said from where he was standing:
“You know what, Nexhmije, since you don’t understand or pretend as if you don’t understand, I will be frank: I want to marry you.”
I was completely taken aback by this proposal, which was made in such a straightforward manner, and it was like a bomb had exploded above me. I wouldn’t have expected that this expression of love from a man would hit me in such a prosaic way; me, a romantic girl who imagined love so differently and especially during these war conditions; I feared war as much as marriage. In order to recover from the confusion that this unexpected proposal caused, I boiled the coffee several times. Enver laughingly asked:
“Is the coffee not yet ready Nexhmije?”
I had to pour the coffee into a cup and took it to him. Apparently, I had blushed, because after he took the cup he stopped to look at me for a while and then said smiling and with a calming and soothing voice:
“I guess you didn’t expect that, did you? You can sit here, I will not hurt you!”
and then he burst into laughter. I sat on a corner of the sofa, silent, playing with my fingers. He spoke more seriously this time:
“What do you think?”
Without turning my head to look at his face I replied:
“I am not going to get married during the war!”
“I didn’t mean to get married during the war. With the proposal I set forth, I meant to say that I love you and that I am serious in saying that, but you, you ought to think carefully about it; look deep into your heart. You should also consider that we have a certain age difference.”
I was twenty-one and he was thirty-four. This age difference was of great concern to Enver so he repeated it to me again up to the time I made my decision. From what I understand, Enver, was more worried about this age difference since it could make me refuse his proposal. Age differences according to Enver, could influence our future relations and make me regret later. I thought differently about it though. In my imagination I had never seen my husband as being of the same age as me. He should be at least a few years older since this, so I thought, would offer me more protection. This is what I thought when I was young, but with the passing of time this age difference took on another meaning that further strengthened our love. I was happy that I married him, because this offered me the opportunity to him as a wife and friend until the end of his life.
Even now, in the writing of these memories, I desire to express my endless love and the wish to serve him until my dying days.
“See you at our house”
Ten days later I went to Nushaj’s Barrack, situated somewhere close to the “Shqiperia Sot” Exhibition. Kozma Nushi had been for some months the secretary of the cell of which I was a member. There I found Enver, although I had not known before hand that he would be there. Valide, mother to three boys and two girls, opened the door of the room. She was surprised, but also pleased at seeing Enver happy. He threw his arm around my neck and shoulders. Valide stopped at the door for some moments, smiled and asked:
“Who is she Taras? “
“A friend Valide, a friend!” – He replied laughing.
I, embarrassed, lowered my head, but the warmness of Valide made my embarrassment disappear. She was a loving woman, brave, affectionate and caring, this is why everybody loved and adored her as if she were “The Mother” of Gorky. Enver, in his memoirs has written about this family. I had never before seen a more poor, but kind and simple, family.
Enver took me by the hand and we sat on a rug, next to the window with thin suspended curtains. Then he asked me of any news from outside. We talked about the work with the youth and finally, he asked me again:
“What else will you tell me?”
He was looking straight into my eyes and smiling at questioning me. I understood his point and answered with the same smile:
“Nothing new from the western front!” “Ok”, he said, ”Patience” in French and took me to the door saying:
“See you at our House!”
“My Goodness!” – I said to myself smiling. I have a house already. I left deeply confused in my heart and mind. I could see now that my concepts of love and war were being shaken, from the foundations, despite this I felt something special: I was in love! I waited for two weeks more, interrogating and testing myself about this vital decision I had to make about my future. I spent many sleepless nights and finally made up my mind. The dam, artificially built, in front of my natural and marvelous feelings of love, was broken.
On June 22nd I visited “our house”. There I found Enver writing and smoking. He had been smoking so much that the room was full of smoke. This room as I have previously described served as an exit to the road, with one or two steps. It only had a longish window, which went up the wall close to the ceiling. Enver was sitting on the rug next to the wall and opened the upper part of the window called the “sopraluce”. He opened the internal doors, as it was rather hot. He was wearing a white shirt, with his sleeves rolled up. His wavy, voluminous hair was not combed. He used to wear it like that during the war and especially when writing. I always liked him this way. He looked younger, more energetic, fully motivated to work.
On this day he had removed his moustache. This was the first sacrifice he would make for me. Once he had asked me :
“how do I look with a moustache?”
Without thinking I had replied, “the moustache doesn’t suit you!”
That day I was wearing a silk dress, given to me by the owner of the house. Having this dress on and with a different hairstyle, I had my picture in the small yard behind that house. I had another picture taken with me in the same dress but with a silk scarf on my head, a brown one like the cloth of my dress and with dark sunglasses; in it I am with Luan (Omari) and Gjike Kuqali, in the house of the later. We would dress like this during our time of struggle in Tirana. Wearing lipstick was important too. This way we would escape identification. As soon as we would enter the bases where we were staying or holding meetings, we would wipe our lipstick off. So the day, I went to the house of Enver, I wiped my lipstick off, took off my scarf, combed my hair and then I sat on the rug leaning on the wall.
Enver was sitting on the dinning table that also functioned as a desk; collecting the papers on which he was working, he asked me:
“How are you? Anything new?”.
He said those words without smiling and without any special expression on his face or in his voice, in order to make me understand that there was no expectation underlying his questions. On the contrary, he acted in a rather pessimistic and relaxed manner and there was no feeling on my part that he was trying to pressure me. But, I replied with a straightforward answer, as he had with his proposal, one month ago. I told him:
“The front of my resistance is broken, I surrender comrade…”
This so was unexpected for him, that for a moment he was shocked and he looked into my eyes trying to understand if, what he had heard, was correct.
“Yes, Yes”, I said, smiling: “I surrender” .
He jumped on his feet very happy, emotional, and came to sit next to me. He hugged me very close to his chest, and we stayed like this for some moments. The he said:
“I am very happy, we will be so happy together.. we will fight for our happiness and love together..”.
After we had recovered from these furious first emotions he said:
“I am so sorry we cannot celebrate this day with something sweet or something to drink. There is nothing here. . . . We can only have a coffee; let’s have the first coffee of our engagement”
“I agree”, I said, “But there are some conditions”.
“Let’s hear these conditions”, said Enver making himself comfortable where he was standing.
“First; as long as the war lasts, I wouldn’t want us to marry, and second; I need some time before our engagement is announced…! “
“Regarding the first condition”, said Enver, “I fully agree, I will respect your opinion, whilst regarding the second point, no, I can’t hide this news from my best friends like Nako, Ymer (Dishnica), Gogo and others. It wouldn’t sound too good for them to hear the news from other people. Suspicions might be aroused also. On the other hand, I think that our families should be told. They all will be very happy. My family is looking forward to seeing their only son engaged. They worry about my war and illegal status, so there would be nothing more beautiful than seeing me married…”, he said laughing.
“Ceremonies are starting”, I said to myself.
Exactly what I didn’t want. It seemed to me young people didn’t generally like such formalities. I, a young romantic, wanted to make him desire me because we were in love. Whilst Enver, being more mature, wanted to seal everything seriously and respect the best traditions of the people, as well as Party norms especially during a time when enemies and antagonists were accusing the communists of everything.
Enver was right in saying that he wanted our serious and pure relations to be officialised, because the rules of war were rather strict in this direction: love and engagements were not forbidden in their most serious forms, but friends were to be notified (command and Party). Amongst the Partisan Army and underground communists, cohabitation and marriage were not allowed. Cases of engagement and secret cohabitation, against the Party’s wishes, were severely punished with extremely painful measures, as happened in some situations.
The first to know the news about my engagement was my mother. It was more than two months since I had last seen her. I asked to see her at the house of a cousin of ours. She had missed me horribly and was concerned about the fascist terror exercised on us. There were only my parents at my house sustaining themselves on the low wages of my father. I tried to console my mother, but she would not stop crying.
“Qemal was killed too”, she would say, “How will you survive?”
Crying, my mother said:
“Dearest daughter, if you had had someone to rely upon, I wouldn’t feel so worried about you…”.
As she was saying those words I might have smiled and when she saw me like that, she immediately asked:
“Do you have a boyfriend?” I lowered my head again. “I guess you have found someone!”, she said – “He ought to be Muslim!””
“Yes, he is Muslim, in fact he is a muezzin!”
“You must be kidding me!”; she said exalted.
“No, I am not kidding!”- I replied, and then explained how things were and what we had decided.
My mother meets Enver
I don’t remember how long it took for Enver to ask to meet my mother. We arranged a meeting in an underground base, numbered 66, somewhere near where Ali Demi Street is today. As soon as you entered this house there was a covered porch on both sides of it and there were two separate rooms. Deep in the courtyard, full of flowers and vines, there was the Tirana house of Hysen Dashi. In both rooms available for the underground guests, many meetings would be held because the house was considered to be located in the suburbs of the town. Now many buildings and private houses surround it.
I, who am in prison while writing these my memoirs, am trying to orient myself with regard to the location of house 66 that was in this neighborhood.
I am not sure whether it exists or it has been demolished in the framework of urban planning. Near this house should be the house of Xhemal Shijaku, which was rented by Pirro and Alqi Kondi and where the newspaper “The Voice of the People (Zeri i Popullit)” was published. In this house we would also organize the meetings of the Editing Board for the Youth paper ”Call for Liberation”.
It may have been in June or July, I don’t remember very well when my mother came to house 66. She was met and was introduced to Enver there. He gave her a hug and invited her to take a seat. He started the discussion making some jokes, as was usual for Enver, in order to make her feel comfortable and feel free of emotions. He then said:
“I have taken your daughter; are you upset with me?”
“No”, said my mother, “May you have a long and happy life together! However, if previously I had to worry about my two children, now I have to worry about three. I am afraid; how will you fight this strong enemy, they are large and wild.”.
“No, dear mother,” said Enver, “They are numerous, that is true, but we are stronger, because we are fighting to gain our rights and for the liberation of our homeland that is being subjugated…”.
He continued talking warmly to my mother so that she wouldn’t fear the war. He asked her about my father, (Tefik Ephendem he would call him), about my brother Fehmi as well. Then he talked to her about his family situation, and told her how happy they were because of this engagement. He also said to my mother:
“I will take Nexhmije to the house of my elder sister, there she will meet Ane, my mother, and my younger sister, Sano. Then it will be your turn to get to know each other and, as in laws, you will exchange visits as often as the conditions allow during this period. I and Nexhmije have decided not to fully officially announce the engagement!”.
With the meeting coming to an end they hugged each other. Certainly, my mother was very complacent with my choice, he met her expectations, from both the outer appearance and the conversation they had had.
Getting to know Enver’s family
One day, Enver told me that he would introduce me to his elder sister, Fahrije, known to all (including her sons) as Fajè. He told me the location of her house and it wasn’t difficult to find, since it was located on the road named Qemal Stafa where we used to have a rented house. The house was next to the elementary school I had attended. Entering and exiting the house for those of us who were ‘undercover’ wasn’t very practical because, the door was on the big road and this made it difficult to see if anyone was following us or not. It was an old two-story house, with two rooms on the upper floor and two porches on each floor. All the floors and stairs were made of wood. The kitchen was outside, in the courtyard.
Anyway, in order to avoid my knocking on some other door; waiting for me, outside, was my friend Luan. I had known him before because he worked actively with the youth, and the Press. When I entered, Enver’s sister came to greet me. She hugged and kissed me and then said:
“Welcome Vera, come on in. May you bring good spirits to our house! ”
All of Enver’s family, even after the liberation, called me Vera, since this was the name I had on the fake identity card during the Anti fascist National Liberation War.
Fahrije took me upstairs and opened the door to a small room in which Enver sat, smiling. He gave me a big hug and asked his sister:
“Hey Faje’ what do you think of my wife?”
Both of them laughed and joked with each other, sister and brother, whereas I was rather embarrassed, just like the sister-in-law in front of the other sister-in-law. Although, she was a special sister- in-law. She said to me:
“This is the room where Enver stays and works, when he visits us. Now this is your room. You can stay here and talk. For the night I will bring you a mattress, whereas Enver will sleep with the men.”
The room had a window, with a view of the exit door. This made it practical, as one could see and check the people entering. One of the windows had a thin cloth curtain with silk stripes, similar to the ones that were woven on the weaving loom of women. Next to the window there was a rug covered with a flowery cloth. On the wall there was a straw filled pillow, which Enver would lean on and write for hours, articles and letters for circulation to all party committees as well as letters to his friends.
In a corner of the room there was a small shelf with books. There were no tables or chairs. When Enver would sit and work on the rug I would sit on my mattress, on the floor, and would read or write something.
That night or the next one, I went downstairs and was introduced to the owner of the house, Bahri Omar. He gave me the impression of being an intellectual, by the way in which he behaved and the way he led a conversation. It was obvious he loved and respected his wife, since he sheltered her communist brother and fiancé. Usually when there were no guests, Enver would go downstairs to have his lunch or dinner with the people of the house, whereas I preferred not to. They would bring the meal upstairs to the room, because someone might come unexpectedly and find me there if I ate downstairs.
Once, I was unable to avoid this eventuality. I usually keep the door of my room locked but, on that particular day, thinking that someone from the house was at home, I had unlocked it. The door was suddenly opened and I found a dignified, good-looking, middle-aged man in front of me! He was as astounded at seeing me, as I was in seeing him. After a few moments of eyeing each other, he made his apologies and left. From what I learned later from my sister-in-law and from Enver, he was their uncle, Shyqyri Cuci, a very rich merchant. He was not involved in the war of our country, but his son, Jusuf, later was a partisan and a martyr. Enver was not there at that moment. Thank God the uncle didn’t find us together in the room! However, neither Enver nor I were ever together there.
Each of us would be working on our own. We would move a lot from one underground base to the other. Because, although we were outlawed, we wouldn’t stay for long at the same base or place. Almost everyday we would have different meetings, be they party related or with anti-fascists, patriots, intellectuals, youth, women and other simple people. Neither of us would stay for long at the same base. We would change often in order not to burden the same families many of whom were sometimes very poor, and also, of course, we didn’t want to be noticed.
Ane, Enver’s mother, came to visit Fahrije’s house one week after I had been introduced to her. Her real name was Gjylihan, (Rose), and for short she was called Gjylo. Also, Enver’s youngest sister, Sanije, came to visit me.
I was very nervous about meeting Enver’s mother: How would I look in front of her, the wife of the son? She really made it easy for me. As soon as she saw me, she hugged me and with a sweet motherly voice she wished:
“May you have a long life, daughter, May you have a happy life”.
Ane was a tall, upright woman. She was a wise, intelligent lady. This could be seen, not only from her speech but also from her appearance. Later, I would become very close to her.
That day we simply chatted for some moments; she asked me about my family etc., whilst I would answer in a shy way. I wouldn’t say much, since I was quite embarrassed, I didn’t know what to say, I was very nervous. The conversation covered many topics, as the French would say, “a batons rompus” (desultory). We laughed twice, when Ane called me daughter in law. Fahrije smiling said to her:
“Ane, don’t start calling her daughter in law this early, because not everybody has to know. You might have a slip of the tongue when she visits your house. We should call her Vera since that is what is noted on her identity card. Okay? ”
That was right, Vera was noted in my identity card but it didn’t help much on one particular day, when I went to visit the house of Enver’s parents in Tirana. It was a single storey house with two rooms. There was also a neighbor of theirs who was visiting, she was from Dibra and immediately recognized me. The funny thing was that when I went to Enver’s house, everyone felt rather strange since no one had remembered to tell uncle Halil, Enver’s father, about our engagement. All of his children would call him uncle Halil. They hadn’t told him since he was thought to be too curious and couldn’t keep a secret. I felt sorry about his being kept in the dark since he was a part of the family too. When I got to know him, I loved him more; especially when I would make him feel happy. He was such a nice and kind old man.
I would visit my sister-in-law’s house, from time after time, when I found myself in difficulty and when the fascists and reactionaries were becoming more aggressive.
6. Great terror in Tirana
One night, I was expecting Enver to come to his sister’s house, but he didn’t show up. It was already dark, and the time for “coprifuoco” [curfew, Italian in the original] was near. I started to get worried and was wondering what could have happened? But soon Luan showed up and gave me a small letter given to him by some friends of the Party Committee. Enver had written to me:
“I am leaving for Vlora. Sadik Premtja is messing around there. Don’t worry! Taras”.
It was easy for him to say; “don’t worry”, but I couldn’t relax! What was this unexpected trip about? Was the situation that serious? Who might he be traveling with? The road was very dangerous. What if he was discovered and recognized? He had been sentenced to death in-abstensia. How would he enter Vlora? How could I sleep with all these worries and questions pounding and torturing me?
In Tirana, during this period, there was terror everywhere, wild terror. Our communist friends, fighters, anti-fascists, were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, killed and hanged at the most frequented roads and squares in order to put fear into the hearts of the people. In those houses that were under suspicion by the enemy, there were frequent controls. The enemy command had issued an order requiring that every family had to attach to the door, a list of all the family members in the house; and that any dinner or overnight guests had to be registered at the local police station. If these rules were broken then all involved would be severely punished. Obviously, it was very difficult for those who had been outlawed, to find shelter and to operate within the city. Therefore they were forced to sleep fully clothed and with pistols and hand grenades under their pillows. In advance, they had prepared hiding places in various houses, so that they could move on undetected at a moments notice. At the same time they also had to carry guns and keep a sharp lookout so that they could escape any potential attack. The heroic acts of our fighters were well known by our people but I can also say that, the families who sheltered us were no less dedicated, cold-blooded and brave and ready to sacrifice their own lives.
In addition to the controls exercised on certain houses, during day or night; during “coprifuoco” [curfew, Italian in the original] hours, when no one was allowed to leave their house, there were two organized searches: “a setaccio” [Italian in the original], meaning “as if with a comb”, which were from 18:00 or 20:00 until 6 a.m. in Tirana. An order was issued that, nobody was to leave the house until an all clear was issued, saying that the search had been completed throughout the city. These searches were conducted by groups of five or six persons of whom, two were armed Italian carabinieri and the others Albanian militia led by known spies in the pay of the enemy.
During one of these searches I happened to be in the house of Enver’s sister. Enver had left Tirana a few days before for Vlora. What could I do? I disguised myself as a servant; I wore an apron, put a scarf on my head covering my forehead and took off my socks. I then poured buckets of water all over the floor, corridors and stairs. When the search party entered through the courtyard door, I observed them from the second floor since I was somewhat nervous in case any of them might recognize me. The only person who could recognize me was the spy Seit Mati, who used to be a neighbor of mine had lived next door to us. He was the second most notorious killer and spy after Man Kukaleshi. Fortunately he was not with this search party. When I saw that none of them would be able to recognize me, I relaxed. However, they would probably ask me for my ID, but since it was forged, I couldn’t show it to them. So the owner of the house and I agreed that, we would say that I went to her house once a week to do the cleaning and that I was half-witted. I played this role wonderfully. It was a role in which I wondered around talking to myself and not caring who they were.
One of them pushed me strongly saying angrily
”Move on you damn idiot”.
“Goddamn it they are messing up my floor and it will be hard to get clean!”- I said.
They searched all over the house. When they entered the small room, where Enver used to work and stay during the day I could feel my heart pounding as I thought:
“what if Enver were here today? What would have happened?”
Certainly, a catastrophe. Enver would have fired off the whole of his arsenal that he kept in his bag, which, anytime he would go out, would be placed on the back of his bicycle. Apart from this there were his handgun and two hand grenades that he would keep in his belt, and two more hand grenades in the pockets of his coat and overcoat.
Escaping from this house and saving oneself, would be a pretty hard job, since the road outside were usually full of people coming and going. Today this road is called Qemal Stafa road.
But at this particular moment, I felt relaxed enough since Enver was neither in the house nor in Tirana. I felt like laughing, because I had been reduced to this sorry state. In a corner of the room where Enver and I stayed and worked, there was a small library shelf full of the usual literature and schoolbooks. In spite of this, they threw everything on the floor, skimming through all of them, trying to find anything suspicious. They continued to search like this in the other room where the boys of the house slept. Enver used to sleep there too. The three of them would sleep on the floor, but Enver’s mattress was not there, so they weren’t sure if there were two or three people sleeping there. The parquet floor was lime yellowish from being washed so often; it was very old, and parts of it could be moved. Underneath the parquet we could hide brochures, gazettes and leaflets, published by the party.
So we can say that Enver’s nephews slept on “bombs”. In these holes I could hide and save my correspondence with Enver, the letters that Enver had sent to me during the war. In contrast, my letters to him have been lost (apart from two) together with some documents of his concerning the Party and the National Liberation Front’s activities during the winter Nazi operation, which placed the general headquarter under siege.
The second search, on another occasion, found me in the house of another anti-fascist, the democrat Malo Frasheri, where I was always welcomed by him and his wife, Ruze Frasheri (Sister of Deko Rusi), who was a distinguished activist in the organization of the Anti-fascist Women Union. They had a little daughter, who seeing that the house was full of strangers, started to cry and scream. I was already used to playing the role of the servant, and so, took the girl in my arms and went out into the yard, acting as if I wanted to calm her down and have a walk with her. Time and again I would pinch her so that she would continue to cry and consequently keep me away from the beasts. Several years after the liberation, I met her by chance, that little girl who now had completed her higher educational studies. She was attending a socio-cultural event. I hugged her and, being very moved, I said:
“Hopefully you have forgiven me for the pinching when you were young?!”
She had been told about this by her parents, when she had begun to understand the world around her. At that moment both of us started to laugh. For me this is a beautiful memory and therefore I couldn’t leave it out of this memoir.
Vojo Kushi over the tank
On the road that takes you to the hospitals, there used to be a mosque in a narrow street, called the Mosque of Zajmi. I don’t know why it was called that. Syrja Selfo, a friend of Enver, had rented a house nearby this mosque, since he was marrying Bibika, one of the two sisters of the house where Enver took me by bicycle. Selfo’s brothers, big merchants, did not approve of that relationship, because Bibika was originally from a modest family and by profession, she was a nurse. Before getting married she spent some time with Enver’s family.
I was in the Selfo house, the day that Vojo Kushi and other comrades put up the legendary resistance towards hundreds of fascist invader forces, who had surrounded them with tanks. I could hear the roar of the guns from the base where I was staying. Not knowing who was involved in the siege, I rushed to the house at the Zajmi mosque in order to check if Enver was there. He had returned from Vlora and, despite the terror that was taking place, had entered Tirana. I found him at the house. He was very worried and was very restless. He was moving around the room, smoking one cigarette after another since he had heard the guns and didn’t know where the battle was. When I told him that the fight was taking place in the direction of Ije Farka’s house, he became black with anger and told me that in that house, where he had been the previous day, were sheltered Vojo Kushi, Xhoxhi Martini and Sadik Stavaleci. The latter was sheltered there because he was sick. Enver told me that he had reprimanded them severely because he had found them cleaning the guns in a slow manner. They had stripped their guns completely and were taking too much time, which in the present situation of fascist terror, was a grave error.
Enver had also ordered Ije and her son not to allow our fighters in and out of the house, because the enemy had multiple controls and the situation was extremely dangerous. Apparently that base had been compromised and now was under attack.
Enver couldn’t stand the situation any longer, so he said:
“What if you go out; go to Gogo (Nushi) in order to find out what is happening, who is fighting who, and how things are going?”
Without hesitation I went to one of the youth activists not far from the house where Enver was, and made inquiries. He was of the opinion that he should go out himself to find outabout the situation and then report to me . I had to stay in his house, and after half an hour he came back with shocking news. Vojo, the brave one, had been killed. He had fought heroically, jumping over a tank that had approached him. He had thrown a grenade inside the tank but in so doing, had been killed as well. His two friends, Xhoxhi Martini and Sadik Stalaveci were also killed.
With a heavy heart I went back to Enver. What could I tell him? My head didn’t want me to tell him such bad news?! As soon as he saw me looking so shocked, he understood that it was probably because of the tragic loss of our friends. I had to give him the news. Enver was devastated and overwhelmed with tears, as was I. The death of Vojo Kushi and the other two comrades was a great a loss for the Party since Vojo Kushi was responsible for the guerrilla units of the capital city. He was the right person for this very dangerous and delicate task.
The people used to say that he was the bravest but he was also level headed and calm. He had been given the nickname Tarzan due to his athletic body. He had a face that was rosy and his eyes were blue and sweet like a cloudless sky. One would never imagine that he was the main organizer of activities such as the anti-fascist sabotage and assassinations of dangerous spies. I knew Vojo but Enver knew him better and had had a working relationship with him. Deeply wounded, we talked for a while about his courage, character, decisiveness and heroic bravery.
The party had many brave men like Vojo Kushi. During July 1942, I went to another base. I was surprised when I found Enver there too. After we greeted each other he said:
“Can you take a seat until I finish the work that I am doing”.
I sat in front of him on the other side of the dinning table, where he was working. On it, I could see some paper strips about five to six cm wide. He was writing something on them by dipping his pen into an inkpot full of something white and later, he would roll them up just like slim cigarettes. I was intrigued enough and asked him:
”What are you doing?”
Without raising his head he answered:
“I am writing…”.
I didn’t understand this because I could see nothing on the paper strips and I said to him:
“Why are you kidding me?!”.
But he was indeed writing something using something called “invisible ink ” which can be used for confidential correspondence.
Suddenly he took a match in his hand and told me: ”Look here”,
He lit the match, put it underneath the paper, keeping it at a slight distance.
What could I see? I started to notice immediately the black letters and read more or less, from what I remember:
”. . . on July 24th, throughout the country, at…o’clock in the evening, telephone and telegraph cables will be cut off. This action will also incapacitate the invaders’ telecommunication…to show them that our power is everywhere …therefore the choosing of places should be done carefully and the same timing should be kept and respected everywhere, so none of the comrades will be harmed. . . . ”
My surprise turned into enthusiasm.
“You know what you can do”, said Enver, “take some of these stripes and start writing on them so that we finish earlier”.
After we finished writing, he rolled all of them and put them into a small box. I didn’t ask about the way they were going to be distributed.
Such documents were not preserved, but if there were still any remaining, they would be in the archives in both Enver’s and my handwriting. The action described in them was carried out successfully and became quite famous. The Fascist invaders were highly alarmed although the courageous uncontrollable guerrilla fighter, Mihal Duri, had confused the timing and, despite having been slow to take action, went to his appointed place and carried out his part in an extremely dangerous situation.
7. Delegate at the Peza Conference
Enver was very keen to have meetings with anti-fascist intellectuals in the capital city. In his memoirs he has described in detail the discussions that he had with a wide variety of personalities of that time. Some were known nationalists, some considered themselves “fathers of the nation”. They had done various things in their lives, but now that they had the allies of Nazi Germany in their homeland and Europe was set ablaze, they were doing nothing.
The Albanian Communist Party, since its foundation (November 1941), and during its first Conference (Labinot 1943), had made, as a priority in its program and decisions, a call for the unification of all the people to fight against the invaders. Enver Hoxha began this task fully dedicated.
Sometime around the beginning of August 1942, Enver talked to me about the plan they had for the convening of a Conference for the creation of an Anti-fascist National Liberation Front. This would be with the participation of members from different social strata and regions, who would be recognized by the people as patriots and nationalists and who would want to fight against the invader. When we met during those times, I would sometimes notice him working on a paper that was to be presented and which concerned the national liberation councils. As he explained, in the future, they would operate as a nuclei, exercising the function of popular power organs at the base level. He was working on a certain basic platform, which would be discussed and decisions would be taken.
In one of these meetings Enver told me that the leaders of the Party had decided that I should take part in this conference. He explained to me the great historical importance it would have. Therefore I had to take measures and get well prepared in order to speak about the actual social situation of the Albanian Woman, to speak about their spiritual worlds and their participation in the antifascist war and national liberation war. Nako Spiru talked to me about this as well. He would participate in that conference as a representative of the Anti-fascist Communist Youth.
During August, Enver met several times Myslym Peza, a well-known fighter and patriot, who had started the anti-fascist uprising was with his small but courageous group. These meetings were meant to prepare the measures for the development of the conference. Father Myslym didn’t have any doubts at all and agreed that these conferences should take place in Peza. In spite of Peza being only a few kilometers from Tirana, the invaders had never dared touching that area, where, not only Myslym Peza operated, but all the peasantry solidly behind him.
At these meetings, Enver and the comrades exchanged ideas about the persons to be invited to the conference. Myslym took it upon himself to notify his political migrant friend Haxhi Lleshi. Both of them had been forced to leave the country due to persecution by King Zog. Through various friends they could have sent an invitation to participate to King Zog’s representative, Abaz Kupi. In a similar manner, Haxhi Lleshi notified and brought with him, the Muezzin of the Martanesh Shrine, Mustafa Xhani, known for his patriotic spirit. On the other hand Enver with other comrades had identified some of the most distinguished figures in current historical events, and had sent them invitations. Such persons as Mithat Frasheri, a participant in the Flag raising ceremony; Ndoc Coba, who had participated at the Lushnja Congress; and other nationalists, such as Ramazan Jarani, (an intellectual), Skender Muco, Azis Cami (a military man) and others.
The first ten days of September, delegates representing the Communist Party, went to Peza. They were, Enver Hoxha, Ymer Dishnica, Koco Tashko, Ramadan Citaku, (kosovar-uncle) as well as Mustafa Gjinishi. The later was invited since he had good acquaintances with other nationalists, through his father, Adem Gjinishi, a close friend of Myslym Peza, and also due to the fact that Mustafa himself had escaped to Yugoslavia during the days when Albania was invaded. He had been working at the time with various nationalists. He left for Peza with the other friends and Nako Spiru, who was to represent the Albanian Anti-fascist Communist Youth.
I went to Peza sometime around September 12th. I went on a cart that was commonly used at the time. The driver was an acquaintance of ours. I was dressed simply, with a cotton dress and on my head I was wearing a white gauzy handkerchief, just like Tirana women would do in the villages. The driver dropped us off at the turn in the Peza road, exactly where the symbolic memorial of the warrior of Peza now stands. There were two other members of the group, dressed like peasants as well. We decided to walk according to the tradition, the man would walk ahead and I, as a woman would follow. Since there were no cars on the road we had to go on foot. The road to Peza is not hilly, though it was full of holes and zigzagging. It was also very dusty. It was very hot and the heat of August was till around. There was no shade on the way to Peza where we could have taken some time to rest; there were just bushes and thistles, and, passing by them I couldn’t help trying the blackberries, as we usually did during our partisan marches. On the way to Peza there were plenty of blueberry trees as well, beautiful and tasty for the hungry partisans. But we had been advised not to eat them because they could make you feel dizzy since you could make wine from them.
When I arrived in Peza, it was lunchtime. At that time Peza was much different from Peza nowadays, which now has asphalted roads and squares, a cemetery and the beautifully built monuments with colorful flowers, in memory of martyrs. The environment was just the same, with green valleys; here and there you could see the nut trees, the great-maples with their roots stretching deep into the ground. Around the town were softly lying hills, that created, not only an image of a wide horizon, but also a useful surrounding as protection of the battle fields of many historical events.
The comrades took me to the house of Myslym Peza. He was sitting on a rug. The room was full of guests and other peasants that I didn’t know. He was told:
“Father, she is Nexhmije Xhuglini, the delegate of the women and youth who are participating in the conference. She used to be a teacher, but now she risks capture and as a partisan.”
“Welcome, daughter!”, said Father Myslim and tried to get up.
Quickly I approached and shook hands with him, not allowing him to stand up. I did the same with everyone. Then I sat on the big rug, around the wall, drawing back my legs. It was the first time for me to meet father Myslym. He was very much respected by everyone, and that was made obvious from the way he was addressed and spoken to. Indeed, Myslm made you respect and have sympathy for him, not because he was called father (at the time he was only 40 years old), but from the authority he showed. Myslim was tall, slim, dark complexioned and wrinkled from the sun or from the hard life he had had during his days of emigration. But now that he was back in his country, he would go from one village to the other and would eat and sleep anywhere he could. He was always on the move with his partisan group, and, because he was also a popular agitator, he tried with his simple words and strong logic to add members to his group and to convince the peasants of the necessity to fight against the invaders.
He asked where I was from, and when I told him I was from a Dibra background, he immediately replied:
“Oh, we also have here Haxhi Lleshi from Dibra, he will be happy to be introduced to you, do you know him?..”
“I have heard about him”, I said, “but I have never met him”
I left them talking and went outside.
When I was outside the House of Father Myslym, I asked where Enver was. They took me to the house where the leaders of the party were. In those days the relations I had with Enver were known by a limited number of people, this is why our meetings had an official character and this is how we behaved with one another during all the days of the conference.
Enver told me that the representative, Haxhi Lleshi from Dibra, had arrived in Peza. The next day I was introduced to him. During the conversations that he and Enver had had on political and social development in the Dibra Region, Haxhi Lleshi had told him about the fanaticism directed against the women of the region. He had also expressed his belief and confidence that much would be achieved with the emancipation of women. This particular issue he had also discussed with Haki Stermilli, the writer, who had said that there was a girl from Dibra who had been writing to him and whose nickname was Fire. She had been clamoring for the day when the Albanian women would not need to say
“If only I were a boy!”
Enver had in turn asked Haxhi:
”Would you like to meet “Fire?”
The next day, when they were together, Haxhi was surprised at hearing Enver calling for me and then told him:
“This is Fire, the girl from Dibra, her real name is Nexhmije Xhuglini”.
Haxhi was very happy, he hugged me and started to talk to Enver about the patriotic origins of the Xhuglini family. Enver was looking at me from the corner of his eye as if wanting to say to me
“why haven’t you told me all this?”
I had formed the impression that Haxhi was a wise man from the first time I met him. He would speak slowly but clearly. He started to tell us about the five main family groups of Upper and Lower Dibra, mentioning the Lleshaj, Ndreaj, Dine, Aliaj families and their backgrounds; some heroic and some traitors, some living in peace and some fighting each other.
With a medium sized body, his attitude and the manner in which he talked, Haxhi Lleshi didn’t give the impression of being the well-known fighter known throughout the Dibra Region and beyond. When he came to Peza he was wounded in the leg and had to walk with the use of a thick stick. One of his eyes was injured as well. I never got to know under what circumstance these injuries had occurred. He was a gunman. I had two occasions to see how well he was able to use a gun and the relationship he had with it.
The first occasion was in Peza, during the days that the conference was taking place. During one of the breaks, a proposal was made to have a shooting competition. It was wartime. On one side of the hill a big white stone was placed which was to be the target. In this competition along with the other competitors was Abaz Kupi, who, as previously mentioned, was a delegate at Peza Conference. Bazi of Cane had come with his entourage of five or six people. He had an average build, and I can say, short and as old as Haxhi Lleshi. He was wearing a brimless cap typical of the Kruja region and a military jacket. The shooting started. The first to try was Father Myslym, than comrades of his group. Haxhi Lleshi also shot. All of them hit the stone, which was smashed into pieces. Then, Abaz Kupi shot, but it happened that he didn’t hit the stone. I am using the phrase “it happened” because it can be said that Bazi wasn’t able to hit the target. Father Muslym couldn’t help teasing him;
‘I think your gun is becoming rusty, dear Bazi of Cane!’”
Certainly this kind of teasing was not something that Abaz Kupi wanted to hear.
I felt like shooting too. I had never fired a gun. I had once used a pistol, but, in the city it was difficult to practice shooting. I took the gun and before I began to shoot, I was given some tips.
Such as: “Place it well into your shoulder, look only with one eye and try to line-up the target and cross-hair on the rifle-sight, take a breath and hold it for a while…pull the trigger carefully”.
I tried to follow their suggestions and ..I shot.… stone pieces flew everywhere! I had hit the target. I was happy that it wasn’t an embarrassing shot, but Haxhi Lleshi was happier than I was.
He said very loudly:
“Well done Dibra Girl, house of fire!”
Enver acted as if nothing had happened and with a slight smile said only:
“Well Done Comrade!”
Bazi of Cane got very angry.
The second occasion that I witnessed Haxhi Lleshi as the gunman happened many years later, decades after the liberation. We were taking part in the funeral of a war veteran. At my side was Haxhi Lleshi. All of a sudden we heard the shots of the firing squad to honor our friend. Haxhi, instinctively, and at an un-imaginable speed, put his right hand on his belt where he used to keep his pistol. I was impressed by his immediate reaction. This was a habit which had remained with him since the time of the war, when, in his youth, he suffered much from the persecution of King Zog’s people and his enemies both inside and outside the country. He often had to defend himself from sneak attacks. All the people of his region, war comrades and friends, who respected him for his bravery, knew this.
The respect he was held in was expressed in the wide participation at his funeral some time later. I have always had a deep respect for him, taking into account his background. His best qualities were demonstrated during the hard times, when he was blamed, imprisoned and persecuted in the most indecent way. During these times he remained unmoved, staying faithful to his people, to Albania, to his patriotic and revolutionary ideals and keeping also faithful to his frank, open and sincere friendship with Enver. It was a valuable friendship, characterized by mutual respect. During the “democracy” years, many tried to deny this friendship existed, but they weren’t successful Many others failed decades ago, when they tried to compromise the figures of Haxhi Lleshi and Myslym Peza in front of Enver. They tried in different ways and at different times, inventing organized scenarios so that measures could to be taken against them and then, Enver in turn, would be charged according to their out of date plans. But such things didn’t take place. The friendship between Enver, Haxhi Lleshi and Myslym Peza was stable throughout all storms and intrigues and it was a friendship of warriors, a wonderful friendship that is worth writing about.
Enver had a similar friendship with father Faje Martanesh, who was killed precisely for being a patriot who took part actively in the National Liberation War and for being a friend of Enver Hoxha. I saw Father Faje Martaneshi for the first time in Peza, but I met him again in Labinot. Despite being called Father (as he was head of the Martaneshi shrine of Bektashi) and, furthermore despite having a rather full beard, he was young, even younger than Enver. It was evident from his handsome face and his smiling eyes that he was a funny person, who liked to sing in a wonderful resounding voice. It served him well for the job he had in the shrine, where he sang about life and holy wars of imams honored by Bektashis, such as Imam Ali and his sons, Hasan and Hysen. About the later, even our nightingale, Naim (Frasheri), our great star and pride of the Albanian nation and people, dedicated a poem to him, entitled, “Qerbelaja”.
Both Enver and I despaired at the news that a person working for one of the reactionary groups had assassinated Father Faja traitorously. In the Bektashi shrine, close to the tomb of Naim Frasheri, Enver and I would always be looking out for his wife and only son (Mustafa Xhani) who now is one of Albania’s most distinguished surgeons.
Going back now to Peza. It was September 15th. Apart from those that I have mentioned, the other invitees had arrived, such as Mr. Ndoc Coba, Ramazan Jarani, and, still to come were Kamber Qafmolla, Skender Muco and some others. Mithat Frasheri sent Halim Begeja, as a representative of the nationalist youth. Enver told the participants:
“We will wait today and over night, but tomorrow we must open the conference, we can’t wait any longer”.
The “venue” where the conference took place was in one of the usual rooms on the second floor of the house of Myslym Peza. It was decorated with a national flag. Above it, was placed the portrait of the national hero, Scanderbeg, of the old man of Vlora, Ismail Qemali, the portrait of the immortal representative of the Frasheri Brothers, Naim Frasheri, that of the patriot from the northern highlands, Bajram Curri, the portrait of Luigj Gurakuqi and that of the young revolutionary Avni Rustemi. The tables were arranged in a longish “U” shape and were covered with a red tablecloth. On both windows of the room, there hung hand made white curtains according the tradition of the time.
Dawn arrived; it was September 16th.
This date would enter Albanian history as the famous day on which the Anti-fascist National Liberation Front was founded. We were all very emotional. The situation was very much influenced by the atmosphere created by the partisans and the people who were very aware of the significance of this conference. They accompanied us and surrounded us as we were going up the stairs of the house. They were just as emotional as we were. Some of the people were invited inside and stood observing the procedures. Among those persons were some of the escorts of the delegates or some intellectuals working in Peza, persons such as Mustafa Kacaci, Kristo Themelko, Sali Verdha and others. There were a few chairs available, placed next to the walls, for some of them to sit down. Some people even posed as participants at the Peza conference even though they were not! There were only 17 delegates and their names were well known.
With regard to the seating arrangements for the conference; there was no specified protocol, people could sit next to whomsoever they wished. Based upon this arrangement the seating of the delegates was as follows: Father Myslym, as owner of the house sat next to Ndoc Coba, the eldest delegate. On his other side was Haxhi Lleshi and then Father Faja. Next to Ndoc Coba sat Abaz Kupi, whereas, along the corner tables by the windows sat Ramazan Jarani, Halim Begeja, Mustafa Gjinishi and Koco Tashko. On the opposite side of the main table sat Enver Hoxha and other comrades of the delegation of the Albanian Communist Party. Enver had in front of him a large bag, out of which he took some files and documents. At his side there was Ymer Dishinica, whilst on the other side of the table, next to Father Faja sat Ramadan Citaku, Nako Spiru and myself having on my other side Ymer Dishnica. This completed the circle.
Myslym Peza welcomed all the delegates to Peza. Then the floor was given to Enver Hoxha, who was head of the delegation of the Albanian Communist Party, who were the initiators of the conference. Enver thanked the delegates for their participation and proposed that the meeting be chaired by the eldest of the meeting, Ndoc Coba, and noting his participation and role in the Lushnja Congress and the government that emerged from it. This proposal was approved unanimously and Ndoc Coba became the chair of the Conference. He expressed his gratitude for the honor being given him. He said a few words about our responsibilities to the Albanian people. There was then a moment of silence for the martyrs of the Antifascist National Liberation War. I don’t remember who was given the task of keeping the minutes as secretary of the Conference.
During these past fifty-five years I have written several times about the Peza Conference in the press and have spoken about it on TV.
But here I will simply dwell on some extracts taken from the minutes that I kept during the conference; a photocopy of these minutes was given as a present to me sometime ago. I reproduce the notes as they were spoken and presented.
In the agenda there was included the following items:
1. Political situation (internal and external)
2. National Liberation Councils
3. Presentation from the youth
4. Council (commission) that would compile the resolution of the conference
It seems that the schedule had been drafted by the leadership of the Communist Party in advance: the presentation on the actual situation by Ymer Dishnica, the presentation on the National Liberation Councils by Enver Hoxha and the presentation on the Youth Organization by Nako Spiru. Actually, all of these presentations were made although not in the order as mentioned in the agenda, because, from what can be read in the minutes, the meeting started with declarations and interferences from the nationalists. It should be noted that in the beginning, the representatives of the different nationalist trends were very optimistic and enthusiastic due to the way in which they were received and honored. They also were decided on unification “glorifying” the communist war and showing themselves as being “objective” regarding the future of Albania even if the people decided to choose communism.
This was a facade and their hidden aims were quite different. Their strategy (if it can be said that they had one) and their approach was: “to get closer to the communists, in order to take the initiative and be leaders of the National Liberation War, so that it could be developed in the direction we want it to go rather than in the way the communists would like it to go”.
It can be said that the Peza Conference was convened at the beginning of the armed struggle. Although the Party was then, less than a year old, it had already achieved the leadership and had successfully directed the popular rebellion, the demonstrations of the Youth in all cities of the country, the sabotage of strategic roads and factories by workers and had been able to organize guerilla units and groups in the villages and highlands. The women of Tirana demonstrated in front of the prisons in order to impede the internment of their sons in fascist camps. It was at one of these prison demonstrations that the first Albanian mother was martyred.
After the heroic resistance and death of Qemal Stafa, there were many other young men from the communist party who would die in a similar way, mouthing the words ‘Communist Party’ – such as, Perlat Rexhepi, Branko Kadia and Jordan Misja from Shkodra; Vojo Kushi from Tirana, Myzafer Asqeriu from Gjirokastra, Teli Ndini from Vlora, Misto Mame and Mihal Duri from Tirana. After the heroic deaths of these and other young men, the people, in pain and in sympathy for them would create songs about their heroism. It was due to these and other situations created by the war, that the nationalists were made to sit at the conference table of unification and negotiation. Again, as in Mukje, they came to see what they could do to hinder the rapid progress of the communist party and its leadership. As usual they were thinking about how to turn this progress to their benefit so that they could make history. But for them, it was too late! The people had brought forth young leaders such as Enver Hoxha, Myslym Peza, Haxhi lleshi, Qemal Stafa, Vojo Kushi and others, who did not fear to die for their beliefs.
But let us now continue with the minutes of the conference:
“The floor was given to the nationalist delegates R. J. (meaning Ramazan Jarani – my notes – N.H) The Albanian people have to confront a powerful enemy. The Albanian nation was and is poor and has now been subdued with no one to support it. The weapon to be used against the enemy is the unification of the Albanian people. We want this conference to be a decisive one for the Albanian people, just as it was at the Lushnja Conference.
This is our thesis, which does not contradict the activities of the communists. There is a necessity to unify our youth and establish a committee of “National Protection”. There is no beginning of the revolution, we are living in a revolution.
The floor is given to the delegate Coba, with regard to internal unification. (this speech should have been prepared before hand, because I haven’t taken any notes. I have done the same in the cases of the representatives’ presentations made by the delegates of the Communist Party, Communist Youth etc. (My notes – N.H.)
The political presentation by the Communist Party delegate is read by Dr Ymer Dishnica (my notes – N.H.)
The floor is given to the delegate of the Communist Party, K.T. (Koco Tashko).
The floor is given to the delegate Coba. . . . The unification associated with the Durres Congress, shook the foundations of the government of that time. We should take into consideration one thing: “National Unification”. I respect the opinions of everyone, but above all those that call for “National Unification”.
The floor is given to the representative from the Nationalist Youth (Halim Begeja. Actually he was the person sent by Mithat Frasheri to find out about the questions discussed and decided upon at the conference. (My notes – N.H.)
He underlined the need for remarks regarding the political situation, which are followed with admiration:
“We confirm that, compared with the communist party’s activities, our activities are nonsense. Up to this date, we may not have done anything but, from now on we will be ready to sabotage and clean up the government wherever the council decides. We are trying to establish a government of the people. Some may say that communism will come. If communism takes over the world, there is nothing that nationalists can do even if they get the shotguns to fight against it. Nationalism cannot be hindered by communism. If the people choose communism we will respect their choice. He emphasizes the future of the people and deals with the necessity of a democratic republic with modern social features, according to the long tradition of our people.
Afterwards, he speaks of the struggle and the assemblies of Scanderbeg, calling him
“the old man of princes’ gatherings”. He emphasizes that in the Canon of Lek Dukagjini, it can be clearly seen that, the Albanian people have had their own democratic form of organization rather than one that had been copied. In those days the Albanian people didn’t really know what a republic was, but they had this wish and they were moving towards a democratic republic with modern social features.
The delegate of the nationalist youth, after making a pathetic call, inviting the Albanian people, under the shadow of their Albanian flag, to take up arms against the fascist invaders … closed his speech with a strange proposal:
‘We are of the opinion that the age group between sixteen and seventeen should not be involved in dangerous actions, because it is in this age group that we see the future of Albania. It is a revolutionary time we are living in, and we are destined to enter this war, but, concerning those young persons sixteen and seventeen, they aren’t able to control their thoughts and decisions.’
This was the concept of the responsibilities of the Youth!
The question of the post war regime to be established in Albania was also tackled during the conference.
One of the representatives was of the opinion to have a democratic republic as a form of regime. The representatives of the communist party, arguing that such a slogan couldn’t serve for the unification of everyone to the war, rejected this theory.
They said: “On the form of any regime, it will be the people who decide”.
Abaz Kupi felt good with this and stated:
“I first of all support Albania and then King Zog. If the people don’t want him we ca settle it.”
Kosova and Cameria questions were also touched upon during this conference.
The nationalist delegate, Halim Begeja, in his speech, stated:
“The Albanian Nationalists want to start up negotiations about Kosova. For us Kosova used to be, and still is enslaved. It is in a poor state. If yesterday, it was Yugoslavia governing Kosova with its own laws, today it is Germany spreading its horrific propaganda. The politics of such wolves, and it is with regret I say these words, has triumphed in certain places in Kosova. Therefore we beseech the National Liberation Council to take measures to promote national education in Kosova, in order to teach our Kosovar brothers what the enemy is submitting it to with this systematic war.”
Ramadan Citaku, the Kosovar, also spoke on this issue saying: war is not made through decrees. Everything requires preparation and careful planning (it was typical of uncle Citaku’s character to speak slowly and confidently; he would take everything in a relaxed and easy manner – My notes, N.H)
Nako Spiro also spoke with regard to the Kosova issue. He mentioned the situation of Kosova and emphasized that the issue
“Will be solved on the basis of the Anglo-Soviet Treaty and also through Kosova fighting for itself too ”.
After such statements and discussions and after a break; in the minutes it has been written that: Comrade Taras’ presentation on national liberation councils was read. This presentation has been lost. Regarding its content, comrade Enver has written about it in his memoirs and historical notebooks entitled “Laying the Foundations of the New Albania”.
I will only mention some parts of Enver’s speech, which caused active reactions among the nationalist delegates.
Apparently, the nationalists were thinking that, in order to achieve a unified and organized Antifascist National Liberation Front, the Communist Party would withdraw from its positions it held from the outset and during the war that it was undertaking.
But Enver Hoxha emphasized in his presentation that:
”In order to gain the liberation of the people and the homeland, it was necessary for the people to participate in the Albanian Communist Party’s war. The key factor was that they would lead the people, who were resisting and fighting.…” He proceeded: “Ours is a war of National Liberation, which has as its objective the full liberation of the homeland and the establishment of a democratic government, whose form will be decided upon by the people themselves, after the liberation. Therefore our war will be both a political and military one. In order for us to achieve these two crucial aims, the National Liberation Antifascist Front, which will have its national liberation councils throughout the country along with partisan bands, fighting under the national flag of Scanderbeg and Ismail Qemali. The partisans will have a red star in their hats…these partisan bands are the armed forces of the National Liberation Front. Later they will develop into larger units and their main Headquarters will be established”.
I am not continuing further, since here are found all elements disliked by the nationalist comrades and which initiated a hot debate.
The first to respond was Ramazan Jarani who said:
“The word Party doesn’t sound correct to the ear. Today as sons of these people, the unification activities should be disciplined and not have differing tendencies. Let the people have power…Mr. Jarani opposes the word Partisan, and the national youth delegate, supports his opinion. He stresses that it is necessary to omit that name so that the enemy doesn’t have the weapons to fight against us”. Similarly, they opposed the partisan star, too. Both Myslym Peza and Haxhi Lleshi insisted that both the name partisan and the star be retained.
The idea that Enver had proposed with regard to the creation of the Main Headquarters was also debated. The headquarters are related to the army and the army smells like black powder:
“The nationalist fathers agreed to having conventions and councils so that these matters could be further discussed and negotiated so that compromises could be reached. What about the headquarters? Partisan bands; these are dangerous. They require bravery and self-denial.
The then delegate from the Lushnja Congress said:
“Concerning what the previous comrade said about the headquarters, this idea seems to me to have been copied from some other country. He proposes that” initially the councils will be established and will be provided with competent persons to arrange different matters”.
Ismail Petrela interjected:
“Without a solidified approach we cannot start the rebellion”.
Ramazan Jarani adds:
”Fascism fights under the mask of nationalism, therefore we should maintain it too…”
Comrade Taras then said:
“The war is not undertaken with us wearing masks. The real nationalists should tear their masks off (to fascism) and, with their guns, join the fighting. The war will create the headquarters. The councils will be temporary ones and will demonstrate through their work, if they are members of the National Liberation War”.
With all the debates and the reactions, it remains a fact that the nationalists approved, without essential remarks, the resolution presented by the delegation of the communist party, read by me. Even the delegates who joined in when the workings of the conference had been considered closed, such as Skender Muco and Azis Cami, after the reading of the resolution and the acknowledgement of the decisions of the Conference, agreed with them and expressed their regret at not arriving earlier.
The nationalists were pleased with the elections too, because the communist party preserved a reasonable balance for the time being, between the nationalists and communist forces. Seven people were elected to the Council; from the nationalist parties, elected were, Abaz Kupi, Ndoc Coba and Kamber Qafmolla (the later was elected in his absence and he was appointed head of the Council). From the communist party, Enver Hoxha, Ymer Dishnica and Mustafa Gjinishi were elected. Also elected, as a member, was the distinguished patriot and fighter, Myslym Peza.
As we shall see, the nationalists accepted this approach and approved the decisions of the Peza Conference regarding the creation and unification of a National Liberation Antifascist Front in order not to loose credit with the people, who were fighting against the fascist invader. In the meantime they began lobbying feverishly for the organization of their parties, such as the National Front, that represented the anti-king-Zogists, republicans etc, headed by Mithat Frasheri. Legaliteti, their next party, as the word itself implies, gathered Pro-Zogists and other rightist forces and was led by Abaz Kupi. Also, Skender Muco created the Social-Democratic Party composed of some intellectuals. The chairperson of the Peza Conference was frightened so he joined Legaliteti and collaborated with the invaders and their followers. Qafmolla never appeared at the meetings of the council. The communist party was not to be blamed.
Our national anthem clearly expresses that:” traitors are those ones backing out of the war”
The communist party continued its war and collaborated perfectly well with all of those patriots who didn’t fear confrontation with the enemy and who were willing to give their own lives for the sake of their people and homeland. Such are the famous popular heroes: Myslym Peza, Haxhi Lleshi and thousands of others who were imprisoned, tortured, sent to concentration camps or died in battle.
Even today, fifty-five years later, the rightist nationalist forces, the National Front, Legaliteti, etc., take a duel position with regard to the Peza Conference. Do they accept or reject it? They can’t reject it since it was a great historical action along the tradition of the Scanderbeg’s Assemblies, the Renaissance etc., such a pluralist Assembly with participants without religious, regional or ideological affiliations. But what can we do about the fact that they don’t like to remember and accept that it was the Communist Party of Albania that had called and supported this Conference?
Chapter 8: The First National Conference of the Albanian Communist Party: Enver Elected Secretary General
In October or November 1942, an Activity of the Party for Tirana was organized. Gogo Nushi was elected as the political secretary for this meeting. This was because Enver was leaving Tirana to go to Labinot, in Elbasan, in order to prepare the Central Committee meeting and the first local Conference of the Communist Party. The party leaders had been informed that very soon, a delegate from the Yugoslavian Democratic Party, bringing directives from the Comintern would be coming to Albania.
Both Enver and I had had false identification cards prepared. Enver’s was required so that he could move freely from one city to another, whereas mine was so that I would be able to participate at the Central Committee meeting of the Party. I was to replace the political secretary of the Communist Youth, Nako Spiro, who, soon after the Peza Conference, while on his way to Durres, had been captured and arrested. He was freed some three or four months later due to the intervention of his well-known merchant father.
On our false identity cards Enver and I had the same family name – Hysi. My name was Vera Hysi. I don’t remember what name Enver took, and he didn’t remember either, since, during the war, he used many false names in order to avoid capture by the fascists and their spies.
The two of us posed as brother and sister, and left in a small “mille cento” car that belonged to an anti-fascist merchant friend of ours. We knew that on the way to Labinot we would have to pass through many enemy roadblocks. Looking back on this trip, it was very risky and we put our lives in danger. However, we can now laugh about it. If there had been a thorough search made of our pockets and bags or even under the car seats, they would have found an arsenal of pistols, grenades and ammunition.
Today, when I think about this particular day, I have to laugh. Enver was all dressed up, wearing dark black sunglasses and carrying a briefcase, while I was dressed like an elegant “signorina” (young lady, Italian in the original) with a hat and dark sunglasses. When we approached the Tirana road block on Elbasani Street, the armed guard stopped us by a large bunker. He came to the car window and bent down to look inside the car. I laid my head on Enver’s shoulder pretending to be car-sick. Purposely, I had placed an Italian fashion magazine on my lap and was skimming through it. Out of the corner of my eye I was watching Enver. I was surprised at how calm he seemed. He kept one of his hands in his pocket on his gun, just in case the guard asked about our papers. We gave our “passports” to our driver in order for him to hand to the guard. Our driver being very young and very lively, just like almost all drivers are, gave the Italian guard our papers along with a bottle of grappa, saying to him: “ Ehi, amico, questo e’ per te!” (Hey friend this is for you!).This worked out just fine!
The guard took a cursory look at the documents but without any hesitation accepted the bottle of grappa and, winking at the driver, waved us on our way. As soon as the car had moved off, I felt more relaxed and took several deep breaths to release some of the pent-up tension. I recovered my wits finally since we had escaped without incident. In truth, I was more concerned about Enver.
In December, the delegate from the Yugoslav Communist Party, Blazho Iovanovic, a member of the Central Committee and a main leader in Montenegro, came to Labinot. He was accompanied by a military man named Vojo……, who had come in order to share his experiences regarding partisan warfare; as if we were lacking in this!. Through the course of Albanian history, Albanian rebels had shared their knowledge with the fathers and grandfathers of such as this Vojo. Blazho Iovanovic entered into preliminary negotiations with Miladin Popovic and Dushan Mugasha, who also had both come to Labinot; one from Tirana, and the other from Vlora. Blazho spent much time talking with Enver. In December 1942, the Provisionary Central Committee of the Party was convened in a small hut in Shmilo, near Labinot, Elbasan province. I also participated in this meeting as a representative of the Central Committee of the Youth Organization. We had a photograph taken in front of the hut at Shmili, which has been printed in publications several times.
I don’t remember why, at such a meeting, some of the members of the Provisional Central Committee were not present. There were well known members from the Central Committee and attendees from the Communist Party foundation meeting, such as Tuk Jakova and Ramadan Citaku, but not Koci Xoxe, not even Kristo Themelko. Vasil Shanto and Gjin Marku were in attendance but Ymer Dishnica and Liri Gega, who, at the time had been engaged as members of the Provisionary Central Committee, were absent.
At the First Local Conference of the Albanian Communist Party that took place in Labinot in March 1943, I also participated as a member of the Central Committee of the Albanian Communist Youth and as a delegate elected by the active Tirana Party. I will not dwell on each of the separate working sessions of the conference, which are already well known and which have been documented thoroughly in the History of the Communist Party and also in the Editions of Enver’s memoirs.
But I would like to make a comment about what happened to us with Tito‘s delegate, Blazho Iovanovic.
When the floor was given to Blazho Iovanovic and he spoke about the assistance provided by the Yugoslavian Communist party, he added:
”The Albanian Communist Party was founded by 2 communists from Yugoslavia”.
The allusion was clear enough; he meant Miladin Popovic and Dushan Mugosha. This rang a warning bell in our ears. At that moment, I could see Enver’s nervous reaction of open dissatisfaction. Immediately after Blazho had spoken, the floor was given to Miladin Popovic, who among others, without making direct reference to Blazho, dotted the “I’s” and crossed the “T’s”:
”Nobody should think”, said he, “That the Albanian Communist Party has been founded by we two delegates from the Yugoslavian Communist Party. No, the truth is that the Albanian Communist Party was created by you, the Albanian communists and, if we really have to mention my role or anyone else’s external role, this role is nothing but, what in sister parties relations is defined as fraternal international support. Your Communist Party would have been created just the same, with or without us here”.
During the break one could hear that a hot debate was going on between Enver and Blazho in one of the rooms of the house of Sami Baholli, where the plenary sessions were taking place. Miladin was also involved in this debate along with a few others whose names I don’t remember. In this debate, Enver was explaining to Blazho, how our Party had been established and, also made him aware that what he had said in the conference , was exactly what the nationalist reactionaries were confronting the Communist Party with. During this break, we delegates commented on the awkward statement made by Blazho. That statement would, later, for many decades to come, form the justification for the underhand motives of the Titoites and their agents within our Party.
The other issue that I want to emphasize is that this conference was one of the most important meetings of the Party during the war at the national level. Despite the political and military character of the historical decisions that were made at this conference, from one point of view, it had the role and dimensions of a First Party Congress, as it was organized with appointees from grass-roots organizations and Party regional conferences. It elected the new Central Committee of the Party, which was no longer a provisional one, consisting of some fifteen members and five candidates. Out of this committee emerged the secretariat and the Politburo. Enver Hoxha was unanimously elected Secretary General.
I would like to make a note here, that the election of Enver to this position was not a casual thing. Furthermore, when the choice was to be made during wartime, individual names were not submitted. The choice was based upon the characteristics of the person. Enver’s personal revolutionary activity before and during the fifteen months after the foundation of the Party made him the correct choice.
It is an undeniable fact that Enver Hoxha, since the beginning of Party’s existence, was recognized for his multilateral activities. All members of the provisionary Central Committee were sent to different regions of the circuit. Enver remained at the center since he had been elected as Secretary General of the regional political committee of the Party for Tirana.
‘Taras’, dressed like an electrician with wires on his shoulders and riding a bike, was known to all the cells in the capital city and to all the simple people who sheltered him as the new leader that fascism had sentenced to death. He was known by the intellectuals of the Communist Youth and by anti-fascists with whom he would keep close and regular relations. Being at the Center, Enver turned into the mediator for all organizations of the Party in the regions and for the members of the provisional Central Committee that operated there. With them Enver had frequent correspondence, exchanging information and sharing experiences both inside the Party and locally. He would do this for all the regions and especially regarding the work in Tirana, with Party organizations, the Youth, and National Liberation Councils, guerrilla units etc. Enver would also follow attentively, everything that was happening in Tirana and throughout the country. Depending on the situation, he would define the directions and measures to be undertaken and decide the actions to be carried out; especially to strengthen political propaganda of the Party, at the central and local level. When political events subjected the people to further terror from the enemy – of prison, torture or death – Enver would immediately sit down wherever he could and write articles or pamphlets against such injustices.
It is a fact that Enver Hoxha was in contact and kept in correspondence with communist Kosovar comrades, such as Xhevdet Doda, and more often with a comrade whose nickname was Ostrich. Enver wrote many pamphlets and articles, which were sent to and distributed in Kosovo. Those who worked with Enver can testify to his rich and varied activities some of which are reflected in his many papers and pamphlets. These showed very well his political maturity, which had developed from his practical revolutionary activities during the people’s war for liberation and his desire to see a better life for all Albanians.
Certainly, Enver Hoxha did more than sharing information. In his letters addressed to regional comrades and colleagues in Tirana (when he was away from the city), there is advice, orders and directives of a political and organizational nature. There are also suggestions, remarks and criticisms for making work improvements, which clearly indicate that he was developing into an experienced and dedicated political leader. One can see in his reports and speeches during wartime, his ability to envisage and anticipate situations. With regard to his communications with friends; his very sociable spirit, loyalty and his tendency to both help and to learn from them is quite notable, as is his seriousness and precise assessment of problems. Because of these characteristics, he was openly critical of any mistakes that were made. He held this critical, but benevolent attitude not only with his comrades, but also with me. I will follow this line with my thoughts written down below.
I have mentioned all of this in order to say that, Enver’s election as Secretary General at the first National Conference of the Albanian Communist Party was the logical result of his leading role in the provisional Central Committee, and his real leadership merits. It is due to his efforts to unite all the communist groups, that he presented the motion at the meeting of November 8th, 1941, to found the Albanian Communist Party. Compared to other members of the Provisional Central Committee, Enver Hoxha is considered to be the founder of the Party.
National Conference of the Albanian Communist Youth
After the Conference of the Party, at which many problems were tackled, all the delegates were divided into regional and fighting units. We, members of the Central Committee for the Communist Youth, also started preparations for a meeting of the Youth Organizations at the national level, in order to implement the decisions taken at the First Conference of the Party.
The National Conference of the Albanian Youth was convened in Zaloshnja, in Skrapar from the 9th to the 13th of June 1943. Two or three days before the conference started, Enver left to go to Vlora, in order help free the Korca zones. He passed through Zaloshnja and dropped off a letter for me. In this he said that before I went back to Tirana, I must go in Kucaka to meet him, since he was staying there for a few days. He had also passed on greetings from the Central Committee of the Party, written and signed by himself, for the comrades who were taking care of the conference preparations. He had done a similar thing for the meeting of the Communist Youth Foundation on November 23rd. The message was expected in great anticipation. However, during the break, Nako and I said: “if Enver were here he would be embarrassed”. During the opening ceremonies of the conference, an unforeseen incident happened which caused us much amusement. It was proposed that we sing “The International”. We were on our feet but no one was taking the role as leader of the choir. The problem with this was that no one was able to remember the beginning of the tune! One by one, we would try to start but were unable to remember the tune! There arose much laughter and the climax was reached when Xheko (Ramadan Xhangolli) raised his voice and very seriously started to sing the anthem composed during the time of King Zog: “Just like thunder from the sky…” No one could stop from laughing. Nako observed that it was impossible to continue like this and shouted out loudly:” A break of fifteen minutes!”
We all went outside. The weather was very nice. I remember that a fresh wind was blowing from the mountains. Being young; we had the unexpected opportunity to have a bit of a laugh. This was nothing to be ashamed or to be surprised about.
We returned to the conference room and started the meeting with the National Anthem, known by everyone this time and we sat down to seriously discuss the strengthening of the organization and the extension of participation of the youth in the National Liberation Antifascist War. We had in front of us some very important tasks to be carried out. Before returning to Tirana, I left for Kucaka. On the way there I met the wonderful people from Skrapari; patriots, hospitable and brave Skrapari people. I hold beautiful and unforgettable memories of distinguished patriots such as Pasho Hysi and Hysen Zaloshnja, whom I met again during the war at historical meetings in such places as Labinot, Permet and later in Tirana, at the meetings of the People’s Assembly or those of the Democratic front. There I got to know the active and fighting sons of the former, the names of their families and other families too, such as Karaman Ylli, Zylyftar Veleshnja etc.
I can safely say that: “In Skrapar, every house was a house of fire” and it remained so, even during the most difficult times in Albania.
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