By Aleksandr Ndoja
The first part
– An unusual confession by Mihal Pumo, about his life in Mirdita, after he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in political prison, his mother, Nina Pumo, professor of the University of Tirana…! –
Memorie.al / It were September 1977, when I started the fifth grade in the town of Rrëshen. We had a tutor teacher, Jolanda Bajramin, language and literature teacher. Most of the students were local, from the city and surrounding villages where there were no 8-year schools. But some of the students from the city came from other areas of the country, whose parents had come to Rrëshen with different jobs, such as doctors, agronomists, engineers, teachers, policemen, etc. There were also two boys in my class, one of whose parents was of foreign nationality, but the communist regime declared them “enemies of the people” and arrested them. They were my classmates, Mihal Pumo with a Russian mother, and Orest Kalaj, with a Greek father. Both were orphans, with living parents, but in prison!
Mihal remained in my mind, which I remember as today, a small, wise boy who studied extremely well. We were small and did not know what suffering or persecution was. If we found this, we thought it was normal, because that’s all we knew. None of us his peers knew that, beyond that dark coat with fine stripes like velvet work, lay a man whose suffering and extreme terror had begun at the age of 8, when a group of State Security officers, they had entered his house, there in “New Tirana” and had disturbed his child’s sleep, turning his house upside down for inspection. Previously, his mother, Nina Pumo, a professor at the State University of Tirana, had been arrested.
Mihal’s only fault in suffering two deportations and growing up without a mother was a “sin” on the part of his parents, Muntaz and Nina, both students of Plekhanov University in the former Soviet Union, on that dance evening, where the young student Muntaz Pumo, was sent by the Albanian state to study. It was that evening that made a bond between two young people of different nationalities.
Faith that was not broken through an unimaginable ordeal that started in 1958, and that in a few days crowns 60 years. And while Mihali has been in Moscow for years with the reunited family, he remembers in detail what happened that sad morning in 1978, in the apartment in “New Tirana”, until the beginning of the 90s, when the communist regimes went downhill, and when freedom had just knocked.
In an exclusive interview, Mihal Pumo tells previously unheard details about life in Mirdita, about two consecutive exiles that culminated in leaving for Moscow, while three years ago, Nina had gone with her eldest son, after more than 11 years prison, in the Albanian communist ordeal.
Interview with Mihal Pumon
Mihal, you were 8 years old in that terrible year for your family, when your mother Nina Pumo was arrested. How do you remember that moment?
It has been fixed deep in my mind since I was a child…! It was the early morning of October 17, 1975, a Friday, and it was pouring down rain. I was sleeping, when early in the morning, I was woken up by my uncle’s daughter who had been called…!
At that time, my mother was a lecturer at the University of Tirana, where she taught Russian language.
The house was full of officers and people of the State Security, who had overturned it while doing a search. Shocked, like the child that I was, I asked my cousin, where was mom?! She, so that I would not be traumatized, answered me that my mother was at the university and that the people unknown to me were supposedly my mother’s colleagues who were looking for a book…!
But I, with the naivety of a child, told them why they didn’t ask mom where that book was, but turned the whole house upside down?! One of them asked me an idiotic question, if I knew how to speak Russian…! I didn’t answer you, because I didn’t know at all! I felt that something bad was happening…! Then my cousin took me to my uncle’s house, where they told me that my mother was sick and they admitted her to the hospital…!
I was even more shocked. Even today I find it difficult to describe everything I felt then…! After many years, my mother would tell me the events of that day, the first from her…!
After he was arrested at the university, on the way to Tirana prison, (Department 313), in the “Gaz” vehicle of the Security, they passed by our house in New Tirana, where at that moment, I was sleeping peacefully…! One of those from the Security, said to the mother: – “Look at your house for the last time”! At that time, she could not even imagine that she would return to her family, after more than 11 years…!
And your father, where was he at that time?
At that time, the father had been removed from the Ministry of Trade and taken to work in Rrëshen, as a mercerologist in Trade. We, like many families at the time, did not have a telephone at home. During the week, my father used to call our neighbor every day and that’s how we talked to him. On that dark day for us, he called several times but no one answered…!
He realized that something terrible had happened. It was not unexpected for the parents, because for months, both of them were followed and monitored by the State Security. He came to Tirana at 2 o’clock in the morning, in a used car…! I was sleeping, but I heard the door open to my uncle, my father hugged me tightly and started to cry, and so did I…! Even now, my eyes tear up when I remember that scene.
After how many months you were interned in Rrëshen, do you remember how you were transferred, with what means you brought the spoils?
A little more than a month passed when we were expelled from Tirana. Ironically, in a document obtained from the Archives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, it is stated that; I, Mihal Muntaz Pumo, have been expelled from Tirana for hostile activity….! Now imagine what kind of hostile activity an 8-year-old child can do…?!
I did not know this until a few days after my mother’s arrest. They kept telling me that he was in the hospital and that he was supposedly not allowed to go there. But one day, one of my friends, in the yard, asked me: – “Why did they put your mother in prison”? – I didn’t say anything, but I ran home where my grandmother was – she didn’t know what to say to me, when I told her what they told me and she cried with me…!
I also remember another day, when we were still in Tirana, and my mother’s investigator, a certain Dolores, came to interrogate me…! (Velaj). I told her, among other things, that: it’s too bad that the Russians don’t know that they imprisoned my mother that the tanks would fall here, like in Czechoslovakia…! I was only 8 years old, no one had taught me to speak like this, but I was only looking for salvation…! While the investigator said to the mother – “How well you have taught the child…”!
Then we were expelled from Tirana by decision from above. That November evening, when they were loading the booty into a covered “Zis” truck, I was sick with angina and a temperature of 40 degrees. Despite this, we were forced to flee that night. That’s how we left our apartment in New Tirana, which today is Cafe “Sofi” in “Willson” Square.
Where was your father, Muntazi, employed in Rrëshen?
As I said above, he was initially a merchandiser in Trade, but after the arrest of his mother, he was made a simple accountant, regardless of the diploma obtained in the former Soviet Union (where he was sent by the Albanian state) and the specialization he had. He was even the author of a book on Merceology that the students learned. But no one needed this at that time.
How did you keep in touch with your mother Nina, when she was in prison and when she finished her sentence and was released from prison?
The mother was sentenced to 14 years in prison, on the charge of “agitation and propaganda against the popular government and treason against the motherland”! (The question arises, whose homeland…?!) I don’t want to remember now the entire tragi-comedy ordeal of the trial against her. While they forced her to agree to sign that she was a spy, threatening her that they would kill her husband and take her boys to an orphanage.
When the mother asked the investigator: “What can I tell you as a spy”? – The investigator answered: “Have you seen movies with spies? Tell how about them…”! During the investigation, they also told the mother that the husband will divorce and the children will not see him anymore…! It was the time when mom still resisted, not signing. In the end, she was forced to sign, but only after seeing her sons.
We were surprised that after more than half a year after the arrest, we were given a meeting permit for my brother and me. During that meeting, almost all the time, the mother just cried…! As my mother would tell me many years later – I saved her life! When I hugged him, I told him in Russian that we love you very much. Even the father, but they didn’t leave him and is waiting behind the door…! These words, as my mother told me, gave him the strength to survive for us, because before this meeting, he did not want to live…!
How could you live without any woman at home, so how did your father cope with the housework, with two small sons?!
My brother and I owe a great deal to our father. He was both mother and father to us. He washed us, dressed us, fed us, and educated us. During all these terrible years, he did not borrow a single penny from anyone, despite the fact that sometimes the ALL was not enough, not even for bread and tea. While my grandmother was alive, she helped us a lot, but after a few years, she died.
We grew up with great sacrifices, but with tremendous love for each other. Unfortunately, the father suffered from heart, high blood pressure, and kidneys (he only has one kidney). Despite all the circumstances, we survived! I was small, I didn’t know how to help my father at all, (from illnesses), and I was very afraid of losing him too…! I was good at studies and did my homework easily.
Some friends from the village had it more difficult, and perhaps physically they had an even more difficult life than us. Someone asked me to do my homework, promising me something from his village garden. I asked him for garlic, because I knew it reduces tension. So for some time, I brought garlic home to my father, to heal him…!
Did anyone help you, how did the neighbors treat you in the white brick building at the top of town? Do you have someone to thank?
Absolutely no one helped us, some of the neighbors greeted us (at first they gave us an apartment in the officers’ building), some others didn’t greet us, maybe they were afraid.
Father always taught us not to notice that ordinary people are not guilty. It happened to me when I was 9 years old, when a boy (our neighbor) told me that his father forbade him to play with me in the yard, because I was the son of a spy and an enemy.
Already at that age, I answered – that; I understand you, for me you remain a good friend…! The white brick building – it was the new place where they forced us to move after a few years, taking away our two-room apartment and kitchen, to give us one less room…!
To thank… I don’t want to speak in particular… I will say this – regardless of everything, I would say the best words about Mirdita and Mirdita. It is understood that at that time, there were many powers, as we used to say, Security spies.
But I’m talking about ordinary people, about the boys we used to play in the yard, about most of the teachers and schoolmates. The Mirditors are wonderful people, smart, generous, more precisely for them, Fan Noli said himself. So like me and my family, there is a lot of respect for Mirdita and Mirdita.
In those days, we still understood that most felt sorry for us and that, or just a salute, was enough for us to be grateful. Also, we are grateful to my aunt in Tirana and her family, who opened the door for us for 11 years. We could not return to Rrëshen during the day and were forced to stop the night in Tirana.
We went every month to my mother in the Kosovo camp in Dumre. We traveled almost 15-16 hours by bus, train and three hours on foot, coming and going, through muddy fields or in the scorching sun, 40 or so degrees, to have a meeting for only 15 minutes with mom…! And this, for 11 years in a row. Half of my father’s salary went to the road and the little food we brought him.
Our economic situation was really very difficult, but none of us ever complained. While mom made us cookies with the flour and sugar we took to the prison and gave it back to us, at the next meeting…! That’s how we sacrificed for each other. Maybe for all these sufferings, life gave us another chance later…!
When your mother was released from prison, I remember her, accompanied by your brother, Iliri, going out into the city. How long did she stay with you, after it is known, she left for Moscow?
Mom was released with amnesty after serving 11 years and three months in prison. After a year or so, the parents decided to try to save our lives, mine and my brother’s, by self-sacrificing my father…! We decided that the mother would apply for repatriation to the Soviet Union, together with the two sons. Only mother and brother, Ilir, were allowed.
This was a second tragedy for the mother, but the father insisted, saying: “Save at least one of the boys…”! At that time, the end of 1987, hardly anyone could have imagined… that, after three years, the end of that regime would come…! My father always told me, when we were both left, – “You are young and one day, you will definitely join them”, and for myself, there was no hope.
Because of this, the State Security started harassing us again. They followed me, like me and my father. But I was already “seasoned” with suffering and I was not impressed. I even often made fun of them in Tirana. They followed me, I got on the Ring bus, they from the back, with the “Aro” vehicle, but I drove them crazy because I made 3-4 laps around the Ring. Sometimes I ran away, like in the movies, to the alleys of “December 21”.
I ran away from my “tail”, but when we met with my father, other “mares” followed him. After some time, I repeated the request to join my mother, and not only was they refused me, but they took me to the army, and then, after a month and a half, they interned me together with my father. I believe that we were among the last families to be interned in Albania.
During the time your mother was in Moscow, how did you keep in touch with her and your brother Ilir?
We kept in touch only through the letters we sent, but not all of them reached their destination. A letter could pass, censored of course, once every 3-4 months…! For us, this was immense joy. Mother tried to help us in all ways. He sent us parcels of clothes – but they didn’t always allow him. Jeans, sports t-shirts, socks, athletic…, but we were forced to sell them to have more than enough to live.
At that time, before the second internment in the village of Përlat, I worked as a generalist, in the Automotive Goods Park in Rrëshen. I must say, I had a lot of good friends there. Not all of us there had a good biography, that’s why I was quickly adopted there.
You were also interned from Rrësheni, to Përlat. Where did you settle there, in what apartment, and where did you and your father, Muntazi, get a job?
As I mentioned above, when I was taken to Vlorë (Colaj) as a soldier, I had previously applied to flee to the Soviet Union, when I was informed that I had been released from the army, only a month and a half later. I thought that my request to leave the Soviet Union was approved, but a few days passed and I was not being moved…! That’s when I decided to escape from the ward myself. I had a man behind me who was set up as a spy, but by cunning, I managed to jump on the train, in the freight car, without him seeing me. I was without a bonnet, hat or belt, even though it was winter!
After boarding the train, what happened to you, were you dictated?
The police gave the alarm and they started looking for me. With a hundred peripecira, changing the train in Vora, I then arrived in Milot. There was a policeman from Rreshen waiting for me. He was surprised, how did I manage to get there…! We went to the Department of Internal Affairs, as soon as we arrived in Rrëshen. There I learned that, instead of the expected permission to leave for the Soviet Union, I was informed of the deportation to Upper Prlat.
How did you react at that moment, when the second deportation was communicated to you?
For me, it was as if the whole world turned upside down at that moment. It was February 1989! In Eastern Europe, totalitarian and communist regimes were overthrown, while here, there were deportations again…! At this time, the father was told that; we will arrest the boy and you will never see him alive again…! When I saw him again at the threshold of the gate, I understood that no one will defeat us again, never.
To take us to Përlat i Eper, they chose a rainy day and brought us to the door an open “Skoda” truck. The neighbors were watching from the windows…! All the spoils of the house, I loaded them into the truck, alone in the rain. The father suffered from kidney problems and could not carry heavy weights. No one came to help at all. Everyone was afraid. The driver helped me only for the stove, which weighed over 100 kg.
We were given an apartment on the first floor of the mine building in Upper Përlat. There, during the period of internment, my father and I appeared three times a day, to sign, somewhere at the cooperative’s offices. In any kind of weather, rain, hail, or snow, we had to be there; otherwise we ended up in jail. One night, I took a big risk, because I went for wood in the mountains and lost my way back…!
But luckily, waking up, I heard the sound of a car far away. After an hour I got out on the causeway and managed to get back. As my father and I, we didn’t have jobs in exile. Necessity had made me a craftsman. I made a sofa with a piece of wood and scrap car boards, but my sofa, we had to sell it, in order to live..! Memorie.al
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