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 friends left.” This is how 97-year-old Astrit Leka remembers one of the 44 actions he carried out during the Anti-Fascist War, when he led the guerrilla units 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) to Tirana, to participate in the celebrations of 28 and 29 November, or even at other memorial ceremonies where he is invited. Although he bore the brunt of a share of the burden, and graduated from three faculties, in 1967 he was denied all, declared “enemy of the people” and forced to work as a barracks worker for many years., until he left Albania in May 1990. But for all those vicissitudes he does not want to talk, calling them past, and agrees to testify for Memorie.al only for the actions of the War and his comrades, with the sole purpose that “those events are not forgotten, to the historical truth has come out and he should not take them 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 Organization for the East, 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.
Continued from the previous issue
Mr. Astrit, how did you leave the office of the Minister of National Economy, after receiving the authorization?
After I received the authorization, I left his office and went down the stairs, waiting for the bursts of personal guard guns, on his orders. But he did as the men did and did not react against me. So, I left without any problems, together with my friends who were waiting for me outside by car to the base, to the house of Esat Dishnica, where was the senior leadership of the Communist Party of Albania.
How did the senior leaders of the SNP receive this action?
They embraced me with the greatest joy, because with the authorization that I provided, the problem of food supply of some partisan brigades was solved, but they also severely reprimanded me, because for the way of carrying out the action, I had acted without their approval. They told me that the failure of this action would have been accompanied by massacres of Germans, who could never allow a guerrilla to enter a minister’s office and take a white firm with a gun to the head. I wanted to say that years later, in 1967, shortly after Enver Hoxha’s speech, on February 6, when I was serving as a French teacher at the Partizani Gymnasium in the capital, and when the Secretary of the Tirana Party Committee saw me right, declared me ‘enemy’ that I did not do the self-criticism that was imposed on me, this action saved me from prison.
Specifically, how did it happen?
My problem went as far as the Secretariat of K.Q. of the ALP, who did not approve of the enemy designation, which was made to me by the Party Committee of Tirana. Then I heard that in that meeting was mentioned this action that I had done at that time, being called as the bravest action of the guerrilla units, that had been done during the War. Although this action was known to me by the senior leadership of the ALP, some bodies, which I am calling delicate, told me that I had acted as an anarchist. But I responded by telling them that I risked myself to serve in the war of liberation.
Can you tell us about any of the other brave actions or assassinations you committed during the War?
Although I took part in more than 44 actions, I did not carry out any assassinations and I did not kill anyone during the War. Even in the assassination attempt against Mustafa Kruja, my role has been supportive. But I have done actions that have endangered me more than assassinations. One of the actions, which, in my opinion, is the largest, most dangerous and most important and most effective, was the forcible takeover of the branch of the branch of the National Bank of Durrës, on November 6, 1943.
Who ordered that action and who carried it out?
In October 1943, Enver Hoxha asked the leadership of the Tirana War to provide food and money for the partisan brigades. After that, Abdyl Këllezi, who was a financier of the Party, handed over 2 thousand Napoleon banknotes to Gani Goxhi and me, to go to Kosovo and buy food. This money was not enough for the required food and I had the idea to take the sugar that was kept trapped in the warehouses of the Bank of Durrës, to be used by the German army. At that time, in the free market there was no kg. sugar and not even in the pharmacy you find, except on the black market, where one kg. cost 6 napoleon paper. There was also a large quantity of wool in the warehouses of the Bank of Durrës, which was expected to leave for Germany, to be used for the Nazi army. On the black market a kg of wool cost 10 napoleons, when a middle clerk received 60 napoleons of monthly salary paper. I proposed the action to Nakos, Gogo, Ymer Dishnica and Mustafa Gjinish, who initially did not approve of me, for fear of the propaganda made by Balli Kombëtar, who would describe us as gangsters robbing banks.
How did you act after that?
I explained that the material was strategic and the action could be justified to the people. They asked me to present a more detailed plan for the action, as it was the first of its kind in Albania and its realization took a long time of a number of people, at least 35 people. And, according to Nakos, who lived in that area, the action posed a danger to all units from a very unfavorable position for us and very favorable for the enemy, who with four field gendarmes, blocked the entire Bank sector.
How was it decided then?
I continued to insist on the possibility of successfully carrying out the action, perhaps from failing any action up to that time. I looked at the matter through the eyes of a young man who at the time defied death without regard for it. After this insistence, they gave me permission to go to Durrës and study the issue with Kozma Nushi, Telat Noga, Stavri Manjani, etc. They did not accept my proposal, as the situation in the city of Durrës was very critical from the frequent assassinations carried out by guerrilla units against enemy agents, which had greatly irritated them. I went to Durrës several times and studied the location of the warehouses and all the possibilities of carrying out the action. The issue lasted a long time and on November 5, 1943, the Germans launched an attack on Peza, surrounding it with numerous forces launched from Tirana, Elbasan, Peqini, Rrogozhina and Kavaja. I asked the leadership that the next day, at all costs, the operation had to be done, otherwise it would never have been done. I demanded that no one get involved in the plan I had submitted to the leadership of the Tirana and Durrës Districts. I would lead this myself, otherwise I would not take it upon myself. They say that Enver Hoxha had allowed me to do that action. After that, Gogo and Nako made available to me all the guerrilla units of Tirana and Durrës and in Tirana, Gogo Nushi himself took over the continuation of the action, with the help of Qamil Poda, Ali Kubati, Manol Milo, Skënder Kosova and some friends. others whose names I cannot remember.
How was the action carried out?
I held hostage the director of the Bank, the bartender Bresani, Mr. Mango, etc., and kept the plant under control. Having the director of the Bank hostage, I neutralized the intervention of the German field gendarmerie of the bank area and the Port. The operation lasted 8 hours and as a result we were able to get by force from the Bank warehouses, 150 kv. washed wool, 860 kv. sugar and 11 revolvers, which I transported to Tirana with 20 trucks, where each truck was taken with a separate action.
How could you not be dictated during this action that lasted 8 hours and had 20 trucks available?!
We had taken measures, taking into detail all the necessary actions to cross the checkpoints, from the accompanying documents, the drivers that were needed, blocking the drivers in Porto-Romano, and replacing them with our people, and so on. At the end of the action, I signed a statement with my War nickname, “Alaric”, which I left to the Bank’s administration. From the sale of a part of the sugar to the traders who helped the War, we secured millions of Albanian francs for the finances of the War, because in that month, according to Gogo Nushi, there were 16 thousand francs in the Party coffers. And after the action, they became about 2 million francs. As a detail, I am telling you, that 60 thousand napoleons of gold from this income, were used to save the lives of Qamil Poda, Ali Kubati, Manol Milos and Skënder Kosova, who were expected to be shot. The commander-in-chief of the German forces in Albania, Baron Von-Thungen, wrote to the Albanian government and the Regency in Tirana about this action. I also wanted to say that in the history of the Durrës War, this action was attributed to different people, while at that time, on November 8, 1943, Nako Spiru wrote to Enver Hoxha: “The action is the work of Astrit Lekë, who has done 3/4 of the work for providing food from Kosovo for our brigades ». Two weeks later, many of Durrës’s comrades who took part in the action were interned by the Germans in the Nazi camps and never returned.
Testimony of the Gendarmerie Major: “Astrit maintained a manly attitude in prison and…”
Muhamer Spahiu, former leader of the Albanian Antifascist Youth during the War (elected at the Helmës Congress, and later, Secretary General of the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, was one of his classmates in the Tirana Gymnasium and comrades in Astrit Lekë in the People’s Assembly), who from 1961 to 1989, was expelled, interned and imprisoned by the communist regime of Enver Hoxha. In one of his testimonies about Astrit, among other things, he said: “I knew Astrit Lekë during the War, as one of the most active and brave young people, who participated and led many actions of guerrilla units in some provinces of Albania. However, by the end of 1943, highly skeptical of the justice of the Communist Party line, regarding the attitude towards the Kosovo issue and the armed confrontation with the Balli Kombëtar organization, he was looked down upon by the leadership of the War, being considered an ‘anti-party element’. In April 1945, the Brigade of which Astrit was a part, was transferred to Korça. It was a fortune for Astrit, that just at that time we went to Korça for Youth problems, we were informed that Astrit had been arrested. Nako Spiru and I had weaknesses for Astrit because we knew well his contribution to the Anti-Fascist War. If we had not happened there, Astrit would have been shot. He was saved by the intervention of Nako Spiru, then President of the Albanian Communist Youth. Later, Astrit was demobilized, after finishing high school he had dropped out of due to the War, and began a normal life. I know Nakua met occasionally with Astrit, whom he greatly appreciated. “Astrit has been considered an ‘anti-party element’ and has been constantly persecuted, sometimes less and sometimes more, according to the nuances of the class war.” Also, regarding the stay of Astrit Leka during the time he was arrested in Tirana prison, one of the former officers of the Gendarmerie of that time, named Andrea Botka, also testified. In his testimony given in 1953, among other things, he stated: “At the time Astrit was arrested, I was an officer in the Tirana Gendarmerie and I assisted in the Gendarmerie commission, which consisted of Major Hamdi Isufi, Xhelal Stravecka, Ludovik Saraçi etc. In August 1944, during the interrogation and pressure on the arrested Astrit Leka, he maintained an unwavering stance and rejected any accusation, refusing to sign any statement against his comrades and to insult National Liberation Movement. At that time, I was in connection with the National Liberation Movement and chaired the National Liberation Council of gendarmerie officers.
This testimony of the former Major of the Gendarmerie has been confirmed by the friends that Astrit had in prison, such as Hamdi Sallaku (former deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper ‘Zeri i Popullit’), Bedri Çeliku (Chairman of the People’s Council of Tirana in 1944), Perikli Kasneci, Qemal Toska, Ilhami Tomini etc ».
Prosecutor Rrapi Mino’s letter in 1982, to Ramiz Alia: “Astrit Lekë, fired for hostile activities, to be recognized for his contribution to the War”
One of the people who was a member of the guerrilla unit led by Astrit Leka during the war years, was also Halim Haxhiu, a member of the SNP since February 20, 1942. In one of his testimonies about Astrit, among others, he wrote: “In the autumn of 1943, Comrade Astrit worked in Tirana with guerrilla units, maintaining direct contact with Comrade Gogo Nushi and Nako Spiru. Comrade Gogo assigned me to work with the unit headed by Astrit. Through him, I met many friends in Tirana, as the “People’s Hero” Lym Keta, who came to the action of Nozullim flour, made by our unit led by Astrit. Also, our unit went to Kosovo, where in the cities of Prizren, Gjakova, Peja, Rahovec, Shtime, Prishtina, Lipian, Ferizaj and Gjilan, as well as in some villages where he carried out many actions to fulfill the message that Enver Hoxha had made to Gogo and Nakos on the problem of partisan brigade supplies. It should be noted that our unit has carried out other actions in the city of Tirana, in addition to that of flour. So, we got typographers, typewriters and other printing materials at the Oliveti agency. We carried out other actions in Italian companies, which were put in the service of the German occupier and worked under the direction of the German military genius organization (TODT) for various fortifications. I am mentioning some of them: “Bellotti”, “Siderurgica”, “Pasotti” etc. In addition, we carried out the action against Radio Tirana, the one to provide financial funds for the National Liberation Movement, etc. Regarding the actions taken by Astrit during the War, the Chairman of the Committee of Veterans of Elbasan, Jorgji Shuteriqi (former member of the SNP Circular), who has cooperated closely with Astrit in the actions of the guerrilla units of Elbasan, also testified. Likewise, the two well-known veterans of Dibra District, Qemal Agolli and Mehmet Hajrullau, have testified that they cooperated closely with Astrit, in the action of July 24, 1942 in Macedonia, to cut the telephone lines. While Enver Maçi, member of the SNP and member of the Military Committee of Tirana, during the war, among other things, has testified that together with Astrit, he participated in the action of taking flour in the ‘New Bazaar’, action in which were also Myslim Keta, Adem Krasniqi etc. Regarding the denial made to Astrit Lekë in 1967, for his activity during the War, in 1982, the General Prosecutor of the Republic, Rrapi Mino, in a long report sent to the Secretary of K.Q. of the ALP, Ramiz Alia, among others wrote: “Based on the studies we have done, Astrit Leka has an uninterrupted activity in favor of the National Liberation War, therefore we think that he should be recognized from 1941 to at the end of the war, as a very distinguished activist in the sense of article 48 of the law “On social security” ./Memorie.al