From Skifter Kelliçi
Memorie.al / One November afternoon a few years ago, I was in Tirana, at the house of the well-known actress Behije Levonja (Çela), former collaborator of the artistic and musical shows of Radio Tirana, in the 40s, to I was introduced to events and information that would be useful for me to write the first chapters of the “History of Radio Tirana”, which I had just started to outline. I had heard about a tragicomic adventure that had happened in January 1944, when a small group of German soldiers had done it unexpectedly and unremembered in the surroundings of Radio Tirana, but what she told me exceeded all my expectations. And I will tell you, point by point, as she told me:
The testimony of Behije Çela (Levonja)
“That pleasant morning, a few weeks after Fascist Italy had capitulated and the German Nazis had taken their place, – Behija began to speak, with her special Greek-Toscan accent, – I happened to be on the Radio, when bamp, there was a truck in the small courtyard of the Radio, from which a captain and three German soldiers with machine guns, their muzzles wrinkled and their lips stitched, came running down.
As soon as you open and close your eyes, I and four or five others behind me, pushed by the soldiers who were like Gabriel above our heads, saw ourselves on top of the truck. After a few minutes, we saw the German captain coming down the stairs of the building with the director of Radio, Gjegj Buban. It also happens among us. Upon entering the cabin, the truck, emitting a few screeching sounds, shook and took off.
Only then did I see that with me on top of the truck, apart from the director, there were three Italians, all three Radio employees, who had remained there after the capitulation of the fascists: Mario Etore, pianist; Umberto Rampi, orchestra conductor and Antonio Galeaci, radio-technical engineer. There were also a couple of other young employees, whom I did not know, and a drunken boy, whom I had seen a couple of other times in front of the Radio building, looking for the chief of staff, apparently for some job; there was also Pjetër Gjini from Shkodra, musician, singer and comic actor of “Ora gazmore”. All, except the director, looked bitter.
When I had him next to me, with a voice that was breaking, as I was breaking myself, I asked him: “Where are they taking us, Peter”?! “Don’t disturb Teresa, probably somewhere for a concert. Don’t you know that I also have a guitar?” Upon hearing these words, the lips of the three Italians went from ear to ear. What is the truth, the Italian military had invited us several times for concerts in military units, where we were forced to go.
That’s why I believed the words of Peter, who never pleased the lord. And the drinker next to us, who apparently had knocked down more glasses than the other times, asked innocently, scratching his nose like an overripe tomato: “How come the devil isn’t here, the head of the cadre I cracked looking for him” ?! A couple of other employees of the Radio, a little further on, was standing as if dumbfounded. When the truck took the turn from Rruga e Durrës and from there headed towards the old prison, I couldn’t help but say to Pjetri again, but this time, with half of the voice I had left:
“Will they kill us”?! Yes, Pjetri always said: “I told you, we are going to the concert”. The truth, I’m a singer, Pjetri is also a singer, instrumentalist, an incomparable entertainer, Mario, who made you cry on the piano, and Rampi, an orchestra leader, who played with his fingertips and several other instruments, we pulled out a concert. “And these others, who are not artists, what do they want with us”?! – I asked Peter again. “They want me to be invited to the concert”, – he waited for me.
When the truck passed the New Prison, then I thought that we would not be sent to prison and that the words of Pjetër Hokatari, with those spiky mustaches and a brick head, which shone like a crystal vase under the sun’s rays, they were not out of place. And the truck stopped in a deserted square, not far from the Tirana River. The captain, upon leaving the cabin, ordered us all to go down. And so we did, surrounded by three German soldiers.
Without wasting time, the captain, a man with a sallow face and cat-like eyes, approached me, whose legs were trembling, and muttered a few words to me, of which, in the form of a question, I understood the last babble: “…communist”? Here’s how it is… He asked me if I was a communist or not. “Najn”, I answered on the spot. I (and put my hand on my chest), zinger, la…la..la”.
He shook his head and turned to Mario with the same question: “Communist”? “Najn”, – was the answer of Mario, who, trying to smile, raised both hands in the air and began to move his fingers. “I pianist… Beethoven. da…da …da…”,- stuttering like this, sounds from the 9th Symphony…! The German didn’t bat an eyelash and turned to Rampi, again with that question: “…Communist”?
Both Mario and this one did not want to prove that they were Italians, that the Germans, as lost allies, did not last long for them, so, after a “…conductor…” escaped them without wanting to, when he saw that the ‘nemci’ rolled his eyes in surprise, said: “Conductor” and moved his hands half-heartedly, as if he were conducting the orchestra. “Here… here…”, the ‘nemci’ hungered and turned to the drunkard with a tomato nose, with the same question. Sarhoshi made a small smile and returned it to the nemce with the rhyme “Rakist, rakist”, and measured his hand to the left pocket of the suit, the ink came out.
Captain Vrikthi clamped his hand with his bear-like paw, while the soldier rested the barrel of the machine gun on the dangerous man’s throat. Father, the red nose, came and turned yellow, like those peppers that never ripen, and his eyes were torn to the size of a cup. At this, the captain put his hand in his pocket, where he apparently expected to find some money, but was disappointed, because he took out a page.
“I … shshshnaaapist”, the poor sarhosh bumblebee saw himself with one foot on the ground and the other in heaven or hell, hell knows. After smelling them, the captain left the page in Sarhosh’s hand and screamed in a piercing voice: “Where are the communists?”
Then Gjergj Bubani, the director of the Radio, approached him and spoke to him in a calm voice, in French or German, I did not hear this, but as he told us later, he had let him understand that in the Radio, there were no communists. The captain looked at him suspiciously. Several minutes passed like this. Rampi, with a trembling hand, pointed to a pit and stammered:
“Here is our common pit.” “That’s all we had…”, I sighed, but Pjetri Hokatar, even in those moments, explained that the hole was caused by a bomb. “Yes, the soil is fresco – fresco”, continued Rampi, with his raspy voice…! However, Pjetri like Pjetri: “Germans love nature and have extended it, because they want to plant some big tree, like Gazepi”.
We liked to trust Peter’s words, when our lives hung in the balance. Even the sarhosh, who had become sober, supported Pjetri. “That’s right, they have delicate feelings,” he said, making us turn our heads away from him. “And you, you should have closed the lid of that bottle, man, because the brandy was spilled and it made you sick.” “Ah, if it’s not the brandy, brother, that damn bottle saved me…”! To cry and to laugh, come on, laugh if you want…!
That captain was looking at the clock, as if waiting for something, while the soldier placed the three-foot machine gun in front of us and was taking aim; it seems to me the Italians. In my ears, endless screams rang out… first the Italians rolled, then the pissing sarhosh, the bullets fell on me too, but I continued to stand. I squinted my eyes, closed and opened them several times and finally, I realized that I was daydreaming; everyone was alive and waiting for the rain that awaited us…!
Suddenly, a car appeared and caught everyone’s attention, ours and the Germans’. Mihal Zallari, collaborator and translator of the Germans, and an acquaintance of the Radio director, came down. It was not known whether the captain was waiting for the translator or the director had notified Mihal by phone, but it is a fact that he saved us: something spoke in a low voice to the captain, who was nodding his head as a sign of affirmation, while he was also speaking, yes already calmly, while Mihali gave us the news that we were free…!
A year later, when Albania was liberated and many things had changed, I saw Todo Bojdan, Muharrem Pirdeni, Hysen Pelingu, Spiro Qirko, Tasi Kanxheri, Nazim Batall, Kaliopi Prifti and others, who had been on the verge of death that day , I said to them: “Let us know in honor of Gjergj Bubani, that we are alive because of him”. And they affirmed with compassion and showed it with deeds:
They testified in the special trial (where the former director was unjustly accused as a collaborator of the invaders), that he had escaped from execution, the communist cell that operated in Radio in those difficult years. I don’t know how much the testimony of the former communists affected, because Gjergj Bubani was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was later commuted to 6 and as soon as he got out of prison, he died, – Behije Çela (Levonja ). Memorie.al