Memorie.al publishes the unknown story of Astrit Leka, originally from Borshi in Saranda and living in Switzerland, one of the veterans of the Second World War as a member of the Anti-Fascist Movement in Albania, where he was a member of the guerrilla units in Tirana, in charge of Communist Youth of the “Çermenika” Battalion and partisan in the First Assault Brigade commanded by Mehmet Shehu. Rare testimonies of 97-year-old Leka, from the period when he was studying at the “Cicognini” college in Pratos-Florence in Italy and in 1941 hit one of the leaders of the fascist youth of the school who cursed the Albanian flag one day after the assassination of Vasil Laçi against King Victor Emmanuel III, the meeting with Qemal Stafa that persuaded him to return to his homeland to fight against the occupier, the engagement with the ‘Communist Youth Group’, where Alqi Kondi and Ramiz Alia were also present, the numerous actions in Tirana and Durrës, until the failed assassinations of the Prime Minister Mustafa Kruja who was injured, as well as Xhaferr Deva, where Astrit Leka, had been able to enter the house where the meeting took place. How Astrit was declared “enemy of the people” in 1967 and was forced to work as a manual laborer until 1990, when he left Albania and settled in Switzerland, where he still lives.
“While I was standing inside the house where the meeting was taking place and regularly informed Nako Spiro, Gogo Nushi and Ymer Dishnica about what was being said there, I was ordered not to assassinate Xhaferr Deva, as the action was canceled! After that, the ambush that had taken place outside the house was removed and Adem Kosova and the other comrades left. “This is how 96-year-old Astrit Leka remembers one of the 44 actions he carried out during the Anti-Fascist War, when he led led by the Albanian Communist Party led by Enver Hoxha, elected as a member of the General Council of the World Federation of Veterans for Military Conflict, based in Paris, Mr. Leka occasionally comes from Switzerland (where he has been a resident for years with his family. in Tirana, to take part in the celebrations of November 28 and 29, or in other memorial ceremonies to which he is invited, although he bore the authorship of a burden of shares, and had graduated from three faculties, in 1967, he was denied everything, declared “enemy of the people” and forced to work as a barracks worker for years, until he left Albania in May 1990. But for all those vicissitudes he does not wants to speak, calling them past, and agrees to testify for Memorie.al only about the actions of the War and its comrades, with the sole purpose that “those events are not forgotten, the historical truth comes out and he does not take with him to the grave “!
In addition to being elected as a member of the General Council of the World Federation of Veterans for Military Conflicts, based in Paris, Member of the Presidency of the Albanian War Veterans Organization (OBVL-Tirana), Founder and President of ‘SOLIDEST’ (Association Geneva-based International Development Fund for Eastern Countries), former Adviser to the World Veterans Federation (37 million members), FMAC-Paris, Vice President of the European Confederation of War Veterans and Military, CEAC-Paris and Honorary President of the Union of Albanian Intellectuals’ UIAS ‘- Bern, Switzerland, Mr. Astrit Leka, after the’ 90s has given a very valuable contribution to the spread of the most valuable values of the Albanian nation in the world, as well as the establishment of the busts of our National Hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, in several capitals of the World, for which, in 2019, he was awarded a medal by the Albanian Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.
Mr. Leka, at the beginning of this long interview with you, can you tell us what duties and responsibilities you had during the Anti-Fascist War?
I joined the Antifascist Movement in May 1941, when Qemal Stafa, then a student in Florence, came to my Cicognini College in Pratos-Florence, Italy. He taught me how to protect myself from being expelled from school, because the day after the assassination of Vasil Laçi against Viktor Emanuel III, I had hit one of the leaders of the fascist youth of the school, who cursed the Albanian flag.
What did you talk to Qemal Stafa?
We talked a lot with Qemali about our enslaved homeland and after the call he made to me, I returned to Albania to fight and joined the Communist Group of Shkodra. With the formation of the Albanian Communist Youth, I had the opportunity to be part of the ‘Youth Group’ of the gymnasium where Ramiz Alia, Manush Alimani, Prokop Murra, Muhamer Spahiu, etc. also fought.
What tasks were assigned to that group and in general during the Antifascist War?
At the end of 1942, I was entrusted with the responsibility of being a member of the first coordinating commission of the war between the Anti-Fascist Communist Youth and the National Front Youth. In the spring of 1943, I was appointed member of the Albanian Communist Youth Circle of the Elbasan branch, where Alqi Kondi was secretary and then head of the Communist Youth of the “Çermenika” Battalion. On September 8, 1943 in Labinot, I was assigned by the senior leadership of the Communist Party to work with the youth in the city and commander of the guerrilla unit, operating from Myzeqe in Mitrovica and from Skopje to Durres. In September ’44, I joined the 1st Assault Brigade, commanded by Mehmet Shehu.
Did you have a nickname during the War and how many actions did you take part in and what are the most important ones that you personally did during that time?
My nickname since the period of illegality has been ‘Alaric’ and throughout the period of the War, I have participated in more than 44 actions and all of them have had their importance according to the time, circumstances and conditions when they were committed. But I am highlighting the assassination attempts against the Prime Minister Mustafa Merilika, the Minister of Interior, Xhaferr Deva, the seizure of the Minister of National Economy, Ago Agaj in Tirana, the action of the depots of the Bank of Durrës, and the forcible taking of flour in the electric oven of The New Bazaar in Tirana that supplied the Germans, the police, the gendarmes, etc.
All these actions, of course you did not just do them…?!
I wanted to emphasize that not only these actions, but in all that I have done, I have done together with my friends.
Can you tell us more specifically who decided to carry out the assassination of Prime Minister Kruja and how that action was carried out? So where did you personally get the orders?
The decision to assassinate Prime Minister Mustafa Kruja (Merlika) was taken by Nako Spiro, Gogo Nushi and Ymer Dishnica, who were part of the senior leadership of the Communist Party of Albania, etc., that I did not know everyone who were they, as then there was great conspiracy and every one of us had to know vfet only his duties.
When did this action take place and how did he carry it out?
This happened in October 1943, when Muhamer Spahiu, one of the members of the Communist Youth Circle of Tirana, provided accurate information on the movement of Mustafa Kruja, who was going to have his teeth treated at Dr.’s clinic… Xhevdet Asllani, at the intersection of “Dibra” Street with that of “Barricades”.
What did you do after this information you received from Muhamer Spahiu?
After this information, Nako and Gogo and Ymer Dëshnica, who had gathered all three in the house of Esat Deshnica, an important base of the War located very close to the Cigarette Factory “Flora”, decided to assassinate Mustafa Kruja and appointed all the persons who would take part in that action, of which I was one.
What was the concrete task that you would perform as part of that group in that action?
They, the main leaders of the leadership, Nako, Gogo and Ymer Dishnica, asked me to find you two cars (cars) with which the action would be carried out and told me that: after I found the cars, they would come to take them, Shahin Ruka, who at that time was the commander of the guerrilla units of Tirana. But I wanted to clarify that I did not depend on Shahini, but directly on the senior leadership of the Communist Party of Albania, such as Enver Hoxha Nako Spiro, Gogo Nushi, Ymer Dëshnica, etc., from whom I received instructions.
Did you find the cars?
I found the cars by hijacking them through an action I did in an Italian economic enterprise in Tirana, which was in full service of the organization “TODT”, of the German General Command dealing with counter-intelligence, backgrounds and building fortifications, against the landing of the Allies. After securing the two cars, at Gogo’s request, they came and handed them over to me, Shahin Ruka, who was also the person who, together with his unit, led the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Mustafa Merlika Kruja.
How did the assassination attempt end and who was the man who was assigned to shoot at the prime minister?
The man appointed to carry out the assassination was Shyqëri., Who shot and wounded Prime Minister Merlika.
What about you, did you take part in the action, or did your task end with finding two cars?
By order of Gogo Nushi, I took part in that action, supporting the unit, located in Mapon, which was located at the beginning of “Rruga e Dibra” and I was the last to leave that area, after all the members of the units.
What happened to Shyqëri after that, what was his fate?
Shyqëri, who was a great hero, was killed in January 1944 during a battle in the Tujan War. After 1944, he was declared a “Martyr of the Fatherland” and his name bears a street here in Tirana, which is located somewhere opposite the Writers’ League.
What can you tell us about the assassination of the Minister of Interior, Xhaferr Deva?
Shortly after the assassination of Prime Minister Mustafa Merlika, we secured another clue, that in a house here in Tirana, a very important meeting would take place. According to that information, many apostate patriots from all the provinces of Ethnic Albania, who had held high positions, such as mayors, deputies, ministers and prime ministers, from the government of Ismail Qemali, that of the Monarchy of Zogut, up to those under Italian fascist occupation. Several other people would also take part, such as Xhaferr Deva, who had collaborated with the Germans in Mitrovica and Vuciterna, who was thought to have been assassinated after he left that house.
Apart from Xhaferr Deva, who were the other people who would attend that meeting and what would be placed there?
Apart from Xhaferr Deva, who at that time had not yet assumed the post of Minister of Interior, among the persons who would attend that meeting were: Lef Nosi, (former minister in the government of Ismail Qemali and member of the Regency under occupation German) Rexhep Mitrovica, (Prime Minister under German occupation) Qemal bej Karaosmani, (signatory of Independence and later Mayor of Elbasan) Professor Ahmet Gashi, Ago Agai etc. All those patriots who had gathered there, would discuss the fate of Albania under German occupation.
Who decided to assassinate Xhaferr Deva and who would carry it out?
In those days, Ibrahim Bicaku had sent words to Myslym Peza, telling him that Xhaferr Deva was openly cooperating with the Germans and had become one of their agents. After that, Nako, Gogo, and Ymer Dishnica, made the decision to carry out the assassination attempt on Deva. The three of them called me to Esat Dishnica’s house, which was not far from our house (the Leka family) which was also an important base of the War, and charged me with carrying out the assassination attempt on Deva.
Would you just carry out that action for the assassination of Xhaferr Deva?
Apart from me, who would play the role of the assassin, entering the house where the meeting would take place, Adem Kosova would also take part in that action, who with some friends of the unit, would support me from outside the house.
What did you do after being charged with assassinating Deva?
Taking advantage of the acquaintances and friendships I had with the family where the meeting would take place, I was able to get inside that house and be present throughout its development, listening closely to all the discussions. Given that the house where the meeting took place was not more than 100 m. far from where Nako and the other comrades of the leadership were, I had the opportunity, through our people who came in there, to keep them up to date on everything that was being said there.
Can you briefly tell us what was discussed there?
Among other things, it was said that: the Germans would be asked to keep their army in Albania, paying with gold in hand, and not as they had done in other European countries, where they had cut the banknotes and caused unprecedented inflation. And if we look at how events unfolded later, that thing was fully proven, because in just one day, the Germans brought to Tirana 750 thousand gold napoleons, exchanging them with local banknotes that were in circulation at the time. And after that the gold exchange did not move a single point, until the end of the War, when the Germans left Albania.
Going back to what was said at that meeting, what did Xhaferr Deva say there?
Yes, in his discussion, Xhaferr Deva demanded that he be given the necessary clothing and weapons to recruit a regiment of Kosovars, whom he would use to eradicate the roots of Slavic communism in Albania.
Was his request approved?
Xhaferr Deva’s request was opposed by everyone, from Lef Nosi who stood up first, the owner of the house who was the son and son-in-law of two signatories of Independence, to Rexhep Mitrovica and Prof. Ahmet Gashi et al.
How did they argue their opposition to Xhaferr Deva’s request to eradicate Slavic communism?
Among other things, they said: “Those who fight in the mountains are our sons, despite the fact that they have illusions, that the Slavs are brothers and that communism will provide Albania with a solution to the national question and its social problems. In this situation, the task “What we are taking on will compromise us as collaborators of the Germans, but we are sacrificing ourselves to maintain an Albanian administration to ease the burden of occupation on the people.” These were more or less their words that opposed Xhafer Deva’s request.
Meanwhile, how did you act for the realization of the action?
While I was staying inside the house and regularly informing the comrades of the leadership about what was being said there, I was ordered not to carry out the assassination attempt on Deva, as the action had been canceled. After that, the ambush that had taken place outside the house was removed and Adem Kosova and his friends left.
Why was the assassination attempt on Xhafer Deva canceled?
Apparently, the comrades of the leadership had well aged the consequences of my assassination of Xhaferr Deva, and they decided to cancel it, so as not to give the Germans a reason to commit massacres, as they did on February 4, ’44. But the most important thing that I think brought about the cancellation of the assassination, was the attitude of the Albanian patriots in that meeting, who decided to be neutral, as the Germans would only be passers-by in Albania. So that job had to be well thought out …! (continues tomorrow)
The testimony of the veteran, Rexhep Begeja: “How did Astrit steal the German flour in Tirana…”?!
One of those veterans of the Anti-Fascist War who knew Astrit Leka closely during the period of occupation of the country, is Rexhep Begeja, who at that time was a member of the guerrilla units of Tirana. In one of his testimonies regarding the actions of Astrit during the War, among others, Begeja stated: “The action for the abduction of German flour, has started in the village of Priskë e Madhe in the house of Daj Cen Hysa, after The request was made to Astrit Lekë, the former commander of the guerrilla unit, led directly by Comrade Gogo Nushi.When Comrade Gogo and Nako Spiru, on November 28, 1943, asked Astrit to provide him with action flour, Astrit in Tirana and got in touch with the comrades of his unit and with other comrades he had in the action against the Bank of Durrës, where he was taken from its warehouses, what the Movement needed (see the works of Enver Hoxha, page 76, etc.) The comrades of the guerrilla units were sheltered in my house and the action plan was made, assigning the tasks and bases where the flour would be stored.This preparatory work lasted two or three days, so on December 4, 1943 (Arfa day, before Eid) , the comrades set out for action, having clear sec or of them the task entrusted to them by Astrit. In this action there were friends from Tirana, Elbasan and Durrës, whom Astrit had known well, after collaborating with them. Before starting the action, on the former old Post Street, we met by chance our War Friend, the ‘People’s Hero’ Myslym Keta, and Sulë Cenomer ‘The Martyr of the Fatherland’. They expressed a desire to take part in the action and were tasked with certain tasks by Astrit. Even the bases where the flour would be stored were very conspiratorial, only Astrit and I knew them, and some other close friend of Astrit, and no one else. The action was not carried out in full because the Germans and gendarmes intervened, who failed to harm us even though they endangered us. Why this happened, all friends know and Gogo Nushi found out. It is not true that two flour machines were sent to Peza and one to Priska (as Comrade AD wrote a few months ago in a veterans’ newspaper), but the flour was stored in my house and in my neighbor’s house, Masar Sojlit. This is also confirmed by the letter that comrade Gogo Nushi sent to Enver Hoxha on January 3, 1944, entitled ‘We will face the reaction’ (published in the series of his works, volume I on page 108), where among other things he writes: “They searched for our sugar, found and took 156 kv. of flour that we had received a few days ago in the field of Nozullim with action”. It is also not true that the cars were taken to the park of Shit Merlika in Tirana by Lymi, as A.D. says, that Shiti did not have a garage in Tirana, but neither did the car. Lym Keta never said this when he was alive. Lymi found all the work done, when he asked to take part in the action, this is what he always said. The idea for the flour action came to Astrit, who expressed it to us in those days, as he knew the area well. In that action, the same method was used as the one used in the Bank of Durrës, seizing every person who entered, because at the moment we were loading, there were also Germans and gendarmes loading bread, so care had to be taken. “This testimony of Bege, is also confirmed by those of Enver Maçi, Gani Goxhi, (former commissioner of the II Assault Brigade) Halim Haxhiu, etc.” /Memorie.al