From Lek Pervizi
Memorie.al / Lemit’s body was found in a 37 kg bag with bones. The man who weighed 80 kg. in front of me, who when he laughed the loudest the walls shook and the window panes broke, he was so weak that he could not stand on his feet for long. Professor of literature and the Albanian and Latin language, Guljelm Deda, was reduced to a skeletal being, tight lips, eyes closed by thin eyelids: it hurt the stone and the wood.
– Bones… bones… bone… that’s how they tricked us!
Spiro Himarjoti shouted, moving his arms like two dry perch, like those of all the deserted prisoners.
We reduced you to skeletal beings or shrewd figures, exhausted from digging from dawn to dusk, with rudimentary tools, sinking into the mud of the pharaonic canal of Vloçishti.
How many innocent victims had this monstrous abyss swallowed? In which circle of hell were they, would Dante Alighieri have beaten them? The Kuqaloshe guards, black-hearted and heartless, came around like rabid dogs, ready to bite and sow death. The winged devils equipped with pitchforks had been replaced by demons in uniform and with deadly weapons, much more terrifying and ghastly. Dante’s fantastic hell was transformed into a real earthly hell. Lemmy sat cross-legged, holding on to the shovel.
The rays of the July sun scorched his body. Solar food! Fortunately, his mind was clear. Freedom, freedom, how many crimes have been committed in your name! These words came to mind. Humanity had fallen far below. The great poet Dante should have been born in this century to write another real Hell, where innocent human beings suffered and were tortured, without being guilty of anything.
His thoughts were interrupted by a shadow blocking the sun. A human form stepped forward. He barely lifted his eyelids and recognized Tony’s figure. Yes, you are doing well. I breathe like a sack of cotton. Toni had attended a nursing course and was later found in prison with him. He was the nurse of the Vloçishti camp. This had saved him from forced labor. Without nurses, without doctors and without medicines, health conditions did not exist at all, nothing.
He was assigned to ensure the death of prisoners or those who were on the verge of death. Tony understood the hopeless situation of his friend, Guljelm Deda, whom everyone called Lem. He was told that he would try to find a solution to save him.
– Lem…Lem! I found it!
– Who?… Dante?… said Lem, laughing, because he had once told him, you Ton, don’t meet Dante here, and ask in which circle of hell he would have placed us.
– What Dante took Lem! I found the best way!
– Did you save me…?! Yes, I am saved. A 37-pound bag of bones! Come, come, we have enough bones, bones, and a bag full! Merrin, don’t go to work like that.
Lem tried to laugh like he used to, but he didn’t have the strength anymore. He remained open-mouthed, his eyes fixed on Tony, his future savior. Stop joking, he had his own. But they didn’t go to work there, except to tell myself that the needle was mentally fine.
– Stop joking. It’s a matter of life and death. You have to climb the gutter to the top and lay down on the ground there. Did you get it? When the day’s work is done, the prisoners will come to throw some shovel at you, remembering you as dead. You will open a hole as soon as I breathe. Did you get it? Don’t even move your eyelids and wait there, until I come to check with the guards.
Lemi wanted to laugh like she used to, but it turned out to be a dry growl. He had no more strength. Take care, stay calm and keep your cool. After explaining his plan well, Tony left.
It was serious business. Lemi said to herself, save me at the dacha and follow Tony’s order. He wandered for a long time with no other thought in his head than how to climb that cliff. It seemed like the struggle of Sisyphus, not to roll a stone pillar, but to climb up there like a monkey. He gave himself strength and started to climb. At last, he reached the edge of the channel. He took two steps and threw himself to the ground, and when he felt the sound of his body falling, the famous verse of Dante came to mind: “E caddi, come corpo morto cade” (“I fell, like a dead body falls”).
Now you are dead! You can’t play hand, foot, or mouth. That’s what Tony had said, he knew. How did he come up with this strategy? We just sat there waiting, without thinking about anything. Unconscious, like a pile of stones. Tired eyelids had closed his eyes.
A great desire for sleep came over him. Was death really coming? A Latin prayer came to his mind and he whispered between his languid lips: “Pater Noster qui es in coelis…! He was a believer. It seemed to him that God’s protective hand was reaching over him. He lost his senses.
The sun was sinking beyond the pale horizon. The red light of the tired rays covered the nature with a crimson color. The prisoners had finished their day’s work. They were clinging to the sides of the canal, tired, holding their tools. A strange horde.
Rags, all mud and sweat, blacker than black. Do you say wild people come from another world? The guards came around menacingly, shouting like mad, with their guns pointed at the prisoners. How many innocents had fallen under their bullets!
Suddenly Lem felt a weight on his body. It was the shovels of dirt that the prisoners threw. Rest in peace! Requiescat in peace! Desolate Lem! His fellow sufferers pitied him as they passed by him. He held his breath until the prisoners left. Open the ground to breathe. The strong smell of earth came to his nose.
It was the struggle for existence. With life, you needed strength of character and a force of inertia to push you forward. Game of fate or God’s will? Why didn’t they just end it now anyway? Why do you live with me? The thread of these thoughts was interrupted because he heard some steps to join the fairies. It was the guards who came to check if anyone had died.
Not a day went by that a prisoner did not die from the torture. When he felt that his end had come, he went upstairs and lay dead. At the end of the work, his friends covered his body with dirt. This macabre scene had become commonplace. Then it was Tony’s turn to prove his death.
Lemmy heard some fairies. Tony, who was crouching over him, spoke:
– But this guy is still alive!
-Who is it? Don’t you know him?
-No at all. Look, it’s all skin and bones.
-Shut up! We know that. You go and call someone and tell us who it is!
Toni called two young men from Shkodra, to whom he told them about Lemi. They immediately went and picked up the professor and took him to the infirmary tent. The prisoner was called “the tent of death”.
How many of them had given their lives there. But for Lem it was salvation. Tony and the two young men brought him the spoils and some food and drinking water. Two other prisoners were lying there with him. Lem didn’t have time to find out anything, because he fell into a deep sleep that lasted 24 hours. There were rescues.
Tony passed by from time to time; we were accompanied by the guard officer. During his stay in that tent, Lem experienced the death of an inmate. The nurse ordered Lem not to move from his bed and to sit as if he was dying. There they also brought two other prisoners in very difficult conditions. Every day Toni brought Lem the ration of bread, soup and something from his friends from Shkodra who appreciated and respected him a lot.
One day, after examining the sick together with the nurse, one of the sergeants came and fixed his gaze on Lem, lying on his bed, eyes and mouth closed, motionless.
– What about this dog, isn’t it dead yet? It has been here for a long time. Is he dead? Meanwhile, he kicked Lem. He had heard the sergeant’s words and anticipating evil; he froze his body to protect himself. When he got hit, he didn’t move at all, he was so collected that he held his body like a piece of wood.
– Do the check, ordered the sergeant, and if it is proven that he is dead, immediately bury this carcass! Follow our orders well, if you don’t end up in the canal, like this one here!
– How do you order, replied Tony, who was covered in sweat, for fear of being caught, he gave the order to bury Lemi on the spot, as had happened to two other prisoners, sometime before, buried alive . The ferocity of these people knew no bounds.
An autumn with bad weather was approaching. The prisoners were returned to their respective prisons before the deadline, from the tracks that had blocked the continuation of the works. The trucks came where the prisoners were piled hand and foot, tied under the muzzle of the policemen’s guns. They left behind many Fatzi comrades, who had lost their lives in the mud of the Maliqi swamp, and others who had been shot in front of their eyes.
For them, it was as if he had returned to their homes. At least the winter months were spent sheltering and without work to force us. The families came and met them once a month and brought them some food and change.
Far from the hard work in the pharaonic canal of Vločisht and the crimes of the executioners, and especially thanks to his brother Pashko, who helped him with food, Lemi picked himself up and transformed his story into a satire, as a writer and a poet, a man of mood as it was. In the prison of Shkodra, together with his savior, Toni and others, it was a great pleasure to hear how he told the event with a tragic-comic development. And he started:
– The church put me to death there in the canal, as I was in a bag of bones, when a savior angel comes… Tony, and the miracle happened. So Lem is resurrected, according to the order of the nurse Toni, who, replacing the Christ of the resurrection of Lazarus, ordered: Lem get up! And Lem was taken away.
But the events of Lem were not over. Having miraculously escaped certain death, as described above, and having served 5 years of his sentence, he is released. He lives with his brother Pashko or Paçi. Their house had been confiscated by the communist regime, and they lived together in a rented room.
You had to work to earn your daily bread. The slogan of the party was, those who do not work do not eat. The professor’s diploma didn’t hold water anymore. The labor office assigned him to work in a quarry, on the mountain of Taraboshi. I broke large stone blocks with graves. There was no other work for him, they told him. He laughed with his brother and friends.
– So, I am preparing to graduate from the faculty of stone-breakers. This work was very hard and the pay miserable. He could imagine no other solution. Even the desire to read and write was taken away from him. So much so that a poem of five sounds remained unfinished for only three verses.
The hardships of Vloçishti had reduced him to a robot. Would he recover one day? Other colleagues of his were subjected to the same work, breaking stones with some very heavy graves. He remembered Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean, imprisoned in the quarry. Dry consolation.
One day he was called to the Internal Branch of Shkodra. He found himself face to face with the head of the Branch, the all-powerful, Colonel Hilmi Seiti, who made the law in that city. He had waited for Lem in his office. He was led to his feet, smiling and gentle, inviting him to take a seat in front of the table and offering him a “Partizani” cigarette. Behind him, on the wall, hung Stalin’s photo. As if he was smiling ironically under his mustache.
The colonel had asked him how he felt and what he was doing. Lemi had replied that you feel very well and that he was attending the faculty of stone-breakers. The boss had a big laugh, being very cordial. After exchanging a few casual words, the colonel had assumed a serious expression.
– Listen Lem, we know you well. We value your skills and intellectual qualities as a professor of literature and linguistics. We also know that you have honored our country and your city of Shkodra. Having obtained the diploma with the highest rating “Summa cum Laude”, at the University of Padua in Italy. We greatly appreciate this high-level preparation.
Lemi followed the words of the boss attentively, full of praise for him. Where did he want to go? He was losing his mind, but he was very calm.
– The party and the government have ordered us to take into account your intellectual and professional abilities, and help you in this direction.
You can practice your profession as a professor of literature in the gymnasiums of Shkodra. You will also have the opportunity to exercise your creative talent as a writer and publish your works. So you see for yourself that the party and the government extend their hand. You should take advantage of this luck and this generosity.
Lemmy didn’t open his mouth. Focused on himself, he remembered Vigil’s verse in the Aeneid, “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” (I fear the Greeks and the gifts they give me). Without expressing any thought, the colonel continued to speak.
– I understand that you feel yourself in an unpleasant position, having been convicted and suffered prison and labor camps. The revolution can make mistakes at first, and you have tried it on your back, without being guilty of anything. The people say, “The wet grass goes with the dry”. That’s what happened to you too.
But now the power of the Communist Party has been established and affirmed. We are stronger than ever. Intellectuals like you should be valued and allowed to contribute to the education and formation of new generations. Now that you are a free man, you should enjoy your rights and take advantage of the opportunity that is given to you.
Lemi obliged and answered:
– Thank you. Of course, I would be very happy to practice my profession as a professor, as well as write and publish my works. I appreciate your proposal and I would agree to be involved in the intellectual and cultural life and contribute with my skills.
– Very good Lem. I was convinced that an erudite person like you would have understood and accepted this proposal. All that remains is for me to sign a document for your commitment to contribute to the construction of socialism in our country, under the enlightened leadership of Comrade Enver Hoxha, the first secretary of our Party.
Lem understood where the boss wanted to go. Pretend to follow his words, nodding approvingly. But the pear had its tail back. The colonel continued:
– So, I think you will agree with this opportunity that is given to you. You will benefit a lot. You will have privileges and we will provide an apartment in the city center. But, as I said, you must sign a document of commitment, to be loyal to our party and regime, and to serve them with devotion and sincerity.
On the other hand, to cooperate with us from the State Security, which I represent here in Shkodër. Meanwhile, the boss had put in front of him a typed sheet of paper, which Lemi had to sign.
– Here Lem, just one of your signatures is enough for us to agree and conclude your final commitment.
Lemi, who had glanced at the letter, answered sharply:
– What document? I agree with everything you said, but I do not agree at all with signing this kind of commitment document, for which I became an accomplice and spy. If you have called me for this job, you will not have any kind of commitment from my side, neither with words nor with my signature. The chief’s face transformed instantly, from the sweet expression of a wise man, to that of a ferocious tiger.
– Is this how you oppose our generosity? Do you want to continue being an enemy of the people and the party? Okay, I’ll wait for the firing squad or you’ll die at the bottom of a dark prison dungeon. Firmos Lem, if you wanted to live in peace for a few more days, shouted the colonel in a shrill voice, completely enraged with his face reddened with rage.
– Never! Do what you want with me. I am not afraid of death. Kill me or throw me in jail, right now. There you have me!
– Poor you! Don’t sign? You do not agree to cooperate with us? You reject our proposals? Well, you can get out of this office alive, but you have to pay dearly for this hostile and contemptuous demonstration towards our party and regime!
Lem got up from the chair and left without saying hello. From the photo, Stalin continued to cast his sarcastic gaze.
After a few months, Lemi is arrested and isolated in a cell in Shkodra prison. He sat there for a long time without anyone, except for the guards who gave him bread and water, and, hard to believe, even cigarettes with matches. He understood that it was a game of the colonel. Of course, he wanted to put pressure on the leader for other actions against him. A kind of warning to think about what he had proposed.
And one day the cell door opened and a police captain ordered him to follow him, without handcuffing him. It was found in a room, where the boss himself, Hilmi Seiti, was sitting behind an ordinary table. He motioned for her to sit on the chair in front of him. The professor did not move his lips to greet him, and sat in the chair in silence. This time Lenin was watching him from the wall. The colonel addressed:
– So Lem, your arrest is related to the party’s program to make a “piazza pulita” with our most dangerous opponents.
Let’s not answer. He foresaw this second meeting with a predictable outcome. What would they do with it? He stoically waited for the end of this matter.
– Lem, put your finger on your head and think about the serious consequences you will have. We give you the opportunity to become a member of our society and enjoy the privileges that we offer. Do not reject this unique and generous opportunity to live peacefully and happily.
You also create a family. Only one firm of yours makes us all agree. I have spoken with the party members, who know and appreciate you very much. They are very pleased to see you involved in society and social life. The boss ended the conversation, being polite and well-intentioned towards him. Lemi had gathered herself and spoke
– Did I give you my answer? I can never accept that offer. You can do what you want with me about life and body, but not about my mind and soul. I will never allow myself to be stained with shame and contempt. And then, he pushed the letter towards the colonel. He was enraged with rage and turned into ferocity, getting to his feet and yelling as much as he could, while slapping his hands on the table.
– It’s good for you. You will get what you are looking for. You will never get out of the prisons and concentration camps if you escape the shooting. You asked for it yourself! Capt. Sulo, takes this enemy, lock him there in the dungeon and teach him to behave better!
As they took him to the dungeon, the captor and two other policemen threw themselves at him with punches and kicks, until he lost consciousness and lay on the concrete floor. When night fell and he came to himself, he let him go, he could barely walk. After a few days, several police officers arrived at the house where he lived with his brother. They put handcuffs on him and put him on a truck with what little loot he had.
The car was full of other arrestees, handcuffed like him, crowded together. Guarded by policemen armed to the teeth.
Lemi and his friends, all intellectuals from Shkodra, were locked up in the Shtyllaz camp, next to the prisoners’ camp, and forced to work in the opening of a large canal, together with the prisoners. The camp of Shtyllaz in the field of Fier, was located near the ruins of the ancient city of Apollonia. Together with Lemi, some 100 people from other cities were interned, most of them intellectuals.
Half of them were over 60 years old, and had been sentenced to between 5 and 10 years in prison. Former high officials, ministers, officers, writers and professors, who had escaped the shooting. Shtyllazi was transferred to Kuç i Kurveleshi, an isolation camp, where he was kept for four years, 1954-1958. Here Lemi started the great work of translating Lodovico Ariosto’s poem “Orlando Furioso”.
Meanwhile, they took him to Lushnje, which was designated as an internment center. Except for some elders, the others were forced to work in agriculture. In 1962, Lemi married Miss Marie Muzhani, son of Prof. Luigj Muzhani, who had agreed to marry Lemi, sharing the exile with him. In 1964, a release was made, where Lemi took advantage and settled in Tirana, near the woman’s family.
It seemed that his troubles were over. But no, there was another incident. Less than two months passed and he was arrested, loaded onto a truck with all the women and taken to the village of Ndërnenas in Fier. He was released with an amnesty in 1964, where he stayed for 25 years until 1989. Here he continued his translation work, in such impossible conditions. He managed to finish it after 17 years, a masterpiece within a masterpiece. His eternal testament. Thus our hero fulfilled 45 years of various sentences, prisons, labor camps and exile.
The consequences caused him a serious illness, his hands trembled and he could not write. He moved to Italy, where after a few months he settled in the city of Perugia, helped by a humanitarian association. There, with all the medical interventions, he passed into a hopeless state and died in March 1994. But he left a monumental poetic work, his masterpiece, “Orlandi goes crazy”, of 40 thousand verses…!
Something that a sane mind cannot conceive, nor imagine, due to the conditions in which it was carried out. He never lacked courage. With that act, he opposed the dictatorship with determination and indomitable will that wanted to extinguish him physically and mentally. A true hero of thought.
Beautiful, when she was staying at our friend’s house, she laughed while showing us the four manuscript volumes of 400 pages each:
– Now he realized that I was crazier than Orlandi, that in my head, I would never have started this job. Just think, am I or am I not the one who wrote these books with my own hand? So much so that I wonder at myself. No, Lem, it’s another Lem who wrote it!
He was separated from earthly life, followed by his wife, leaving no legacy, except the memory of his ordeal of suffering. But at the same time leaving a work with which he will be present on the pages of Albanian literature and society. The conclusion, as sad as it is heroic, is his attitude, for how he faced with determination and pride, the terror of the communist dictatorship. Memorie.al