By Petrit Velaj
Memorie.al / Petrit Velaj were born in Vlorë in 1924 and he comes from a family known for patriotic activity, originally from the village of Kaninë in that area. After finishing the Commercial School in Vlora, he continued his studies in Italy, but did not manage to finish them, due to the beginning of the War. At that time he decided to return to Albania and become active in the Anti-Fascist Movement, aligning himself with the nationalist forces of the “National Front”, which would cost him dearly…! Immediately after the end of the war, Petriti was arrested by the State Security forces and he went through a long ordeal of suffering, staying for 37 years in the camps and prisons of the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha and then continues his life in exile, for 5 other years, until then, when the general measure of internment was lifted, in 1990. After the 90s, he published the books: “A prison window” and “From handcuffs to democracy”. From the first book, which summarizes the autobiographical memories, we have separated the part that we are publishing below in this article.
Year 1945. The car stopped in front of the prison door of Vlora. I went down. I saw the sky of Vlora with some white clouds, which had risen over Karaburu and were pushing towards the mountains of Shashica, towards my beloved village Kanina…!
In the Department of Internal Affairs, I was greeted with arrogance by Hito Çakua, the head and Qatip Dervishi, the deputy head of the Branch. They isolated me in the room at the entrance of the old prison, in front of the City Hall. The next day, even though I was isolated and overwhelmed, I was called to the inquest.
Namik Cakran’s portrait appeared before me. This man had my aunt’s maid as his wife. During the war, I had heard that Namik Cakrani had been captured by the forces of the National Front, commanded by his brother, Kujtim Cakrani. The memory put him with his shoulders against the wall at the house, in Cakran, and told him:
– “You are sentenced to death”!
There, their father, Bektash Cakrani, immediately intervened and said:
– “Don’t, my son Kujtim, because he is our son”!
The memory had returned to his father and said:
– “I didn’t intend to kill him, but if we didn’t kill him, this one will eat your head, father.”
I remembered this scene when I was in front of him in the interrogation room. Namik Cakrani, sentenced his father to death and now he had me in front of him…!
The director of Vlora prison was Muço Naska. A woolly and ignorant man. It was the full meaning of the word heartbreak. This man disgusted us, as we saw with our own eyes how he robbed the prisoners who were being shot, took their rings and pocket watches.
This is what happened with the gold pocket watch of Hamdi Çeprat. After taking Hamdi’s watch, when he was shot, he was showing it in the prison yard. He took it out and looked into our eyes. We were sorry that Hamdi’s father, Hair Çeprati, was also in prison, as was his brother, Seiti, who one day told me:
– “Every time Muçua takes out his brother’s watch, it seems to me that he plays with Hamdi’s heart…”!
The chairman of my trial was Qemal Klosi. At the time when his brother was hanging on the rope in Rubik, as a saboteur, Qemali, as a special prosecutor, sentenced the nationalists from Vlonia to death. He was a curse from God for us Albanians.
Prosecutor I had Lufter Hoxha. This, Lufteri, in October 1943, with a pine tree in his hand, took the women out of his house in Tragjas and set it on fire, because his father, Tahir Hoxha and his brother Bardhon, were in the ranks of the National Front. The war with all the brothers, they were partisans.
This was my prosecutor. His father, Tahiri, was waiting in the cell with his hands and feet tied for the execution of the death sentence given to him by his son, while the son was happy to punish his father’s fellow soldiers. Lufter Hoxha, my classmate and youth friend, asked for my death sentence.
… After I took Lufter’s “fish”, we were taken to prison. But when Tahir Hoxha saw me, he said: “But you too, my son, were given capital punishment”?! After him, Bego Gjonzeneli raised his voice and shouted: “Why am I sentenced to 5 years in prison, while my student is sentenced to death…”?!
I approached Professor Tahir Hoxha and said: “Albania is full of Petritër.” But I wish that Albania does not have Lufterë, Namikër and Qemalër, as they will turn into lugeters to eat the Albanians.
… Only two days passed and the nephew of Tahir Hoxha, Niko Hoxha, came to the prison, supposedly to meet his uncle! This man, during the War, had tried to kill his uncle, at the head of a communist unit. Now he had come to unmask him before he was executed. What he didn’t tell his uncle.
Those words that came out of his mouth seemed to me like pieces of metal, coming out of the iron gears of the teeth…! Iso was held by the Head of the Branch, Banush Goxhaj, who we hated because every time he came to the prison corridors, he whispered to the guards that we ballisticians were without a flag and without a Homeland.
… The year 1947. The head of the Interior Branch, Banush Goxhaj, like an enraged beast, comes to prison with a list in hand…! After our names were called, we were all isolated in our cells…! The torture started with Qemal Vrioni and continued with others…! Black Qemal was tortured to death.
Two executioners tortured him, while two soldiers sang epic songs from the north. This is how they tortured Atif Golen and Mihal Bellkameni, the brother of the revivalist Spiro Bellkameni, until they both died from torture. In those years in the prison of Burrel, the choristers were made as funeral music, funerals…!
On May 10, 1947, in the pot of food (the dish was onion juice), they had thrown some kind of grass to make us sick. The whole prison that night was not quiet. Everyone crowded around the rooms because the guards, despite our screams, did not open the doors for us. This was one of the inventions of Vangjel Rrêmbec… whose mind was full of mischief…!
During the years 1947-48, 720 political prisoners were buried in the Burrel prison. It was Banush Goxhaj and Vangjel Rrêmbeci who ordered the guards to escort the corpses with a dance…! We were taking the corpse of Fuat Voshtina to the famous Kershi e Burrel. It was me, Pjetër Meshkalla, Anton Kosmaçi, Xhevdet Kapshtica and Ali Radhima. Burrel’s cherry tree remained as a gravestone of the victims of communist terror.
Carrying the body of the shot, we saw how the guards danced accompanying us! Another time, I, Koço Tasi, Petraq Isaku and Kudret Kokoshi, were assigned to take the corpse of a young man, Hasan Prifti, from Dibra. Our vigo was a blanket. The guards accompanied us by dancing. When we went to Kershia, what did we see: the body of Fuat Voshtima that we buried three days ago, the dogs had pulled out on the ground?
…In 1957 we were transferred to Vlora prison, there we beat up some spies…and for that we were isolated in a cell…! One day, “an animal with a human face” came to us there; they called him Mehmet Jaho Bolena, which the communists called Luftar Bolena. His brother, Faslli Jahon, had shot him since 1945, as a ballistic missile. He called us and threatened us:
– “We will also grind your bones, if you discredit our informant elements”.
… Around the year 1970, on the occasion of Enver Hoxha’s birthday, some prisoners wrote him a letter where, among other things, they said: “May your life be shortened, felon, for the good of the Albanian people”.
Then the punishments started again… isolations… torture, ban on correspondence, meeting with family relatives, food. Beatings and swearing by the police increased. When the bell rang and the guard shouted to eat lunch, all the prisoners shouted in chorus: “Eat you”!
… From the 1970s-1980s, members of the Political Bureau came one after the other to clarify the political situation in Albania. Surprisingly, one after the other, they all fell into prisons and shootings…! In one of these meetings, Besnik Baxho, kidnapped, gets up, takes the portrait of the dictator that was hanging in a frame and throws it on the ground.
He also trampled it with his foot, shouting: “This is how all of you who turned Albania into a prison will end up”! The guards took him and put him in solitary confinement. His soul knows what he took away in torture. When he returned to the shed, I saw him every day as he used his hands on the sides of the walls to move. They had disabled him…!
… Taking to heart, as was done in the amateur shows of agricultural cooperatives, through gasps, Pali Miska, member of the Political Bureau, pronounced the name of the unfortunate dictator who had died.
All the prisoners froze in place. Out of their misery, silently, a bear came forward, who had been sentenced to 25 years for trying to escape. It came before us. He raised the palms of his hands to the sky, looking at Pali Miska’s soldiers, and spoke loudly: “Oh God! Oh God! There was indeed a God”!
After uttering these words, he fell to the ground. Pali Miska, took three or four steps forward, bent over him saying: “Brother, brother, get up because we all have this great pain. I understand that it hurts you more”.
Arixhiu got up on his knees and as he was, he addressed Pali Miska: “Aman ore, thank you that you were also saved because he had started to eat them one by one like a grain of gorrice, without leaving us who are suffering and rotting in prisons…” !
When he heard those words, Pali Miska kicked him and ordered the police to isolate him in the cell. Right there in front of our eyes and that of Pali Miska, the policemen started to beat him with the Dajak hasret. Amid laughter, the tragic-comic scene of that day ended.
… When I went to prison for the second time, the woman was in the maternity ward to give birth…!
… For the first time in my life, when I was released from prison, I heard the sweet childish word “father”. The one who jumped on my neck was the boy, Ahmeti…!
I don’t remember how the word came and the boy asked me:
– “How many years did you spend in prison, father?” It was an implied question.
– 37 years in prison and 5 years of exile, – I tell him.
The boy gave me a painful look, frowned, lowered his eyebrows like clouds over the mountains of Karaburun and said to me:
– “Prison life is hard, but you should know that the isolation of many people like us is the same as prison.”
I saw my son that two hot tears rolled down his cheeks. I realized that he had grown up, but also that he had matured before his time. Memorie.al