After Nikoll Gjomarkaj‘s escape from the camp at Turan, Tepelene in 1949 he arrived in Yugoslavia where he would live as a refugee for the next seven years. During this time he was active in the fight against communism along with other refugees who found themselves strangers in a foreign land. While in Pristina in 1951, he wrote the following letter to his father, Gjon Markagjoni, who was himself a refugee in Rome. The letter is an account of his days in the camp following the arrest of the family in 1945 and his subsequent escape from the concentration camp in Tepelene in 1949.
Nikoll was the fifth and youngest son of Gjon Markagjoni. He was arrested in 1945 and sent to the camps with the rest of the family. The letter is a very important historical document. It represents the state of affairs in Albania at a time when the communists were imposing their worst terror on the prisoners and it recounts the abhorrent conditions endured by the family and others. It is an eye witness account, a first hand testimonial to the brutality witnessed and experienced by Nikoll. It speaks for itself!
The original letter was intercepted and translated by the Italian Secret Service. At that time Italy was under a center-right government and many inside the government were very worried about the rise of communism. The Italian government often intercepted documents and letters from Yugoslavia or Albania addressed to Gjon Markagjoni and Ndue Gjomarkaj before delivery and translated them for their own records.
The son of Prince Gjon Marka Gjoni, Nikoll, writes to his father from Pristina on September 23, 1951:
What I’m about to tell you is a summary of the facts that happened to me from 1945 until my flight to Yugoslavia, because to narrate them in detail would require volumes.
At the time of the so called liberation (1944) I stayed with Zef Gjeta in the house of friends of Ndue and Dede (his brothers). We stayed in that house for three weeks and came out free thanks to an amnesty. At that time we were hosted by the family of Ndok Gjeloshi and we will always be grateful for the excellent welcome he gave us. And so we were free until April 1945. But starting from this date our innumerable sufferings began. They took us and isolated us in the house of Guglielm Luka, whose house was opposite our house, and spent three and a half months under police supervision. During these months they were not so brutal with us. Toward the end of July they took us, by truck, along with other families and sent us to Berat. Here they put us in the camp where thousands of other prisoners joined us afterward. We spent a year there without suffering to much and until the labor for the internees began. The first work we were assigned was the fight against grasshoppers in the countryside around Berat, about a 4-5 hour walk; only me and Marta (sister), from our family, participated in this work. The harshness of which you can imagine yourself, in the middle of August under the hot sun of that region…This was in 1946. After the summer, new and different labors began, one harder than the other, but given our young age we managed. Young people of my age and men and women up to the age of 50 took part in these labors, with the exception of women with small and sick children. The labor consisted of the opening of canals, demolition of houses damaged by war, construction of roads, olive picking, harvesting, sowing and other agricultural work. Many people lost their lives during these hard labors.
Now I’ll tell you a little about our family members. I, little Marta (a reference to his sister and not his sister-in-law with the same name) and Bardha (sister), were tireless workers. But Marta did not work for long because they arrested her after a short time and so only Bardha and I remained. Later they brought Mom and Kristina (13 year old niece) to work as well. In the summer of 1947 they chose a group of workers for Kucovo. Mother and I were sent. The description of our suffering is impossible and unbelievable and mother, old (62) and in poor health, almost lost her life. We remained here until June 1947, and fortunately after three weeks I was sent to Shejaku with mother and another 80 prisoners for the construction and asphalting of the Durazzo-Tirana road. The work here was far lighter than that of Kucovo. I was made head worker and mother worked with me and I can’t tell you how I suffered seeing her try to work at that age. After a while I managed to get her work in the kitchen with other women to prepare food for the workers. We were in Shjaku until early October when they transferred us to the Valijas farm, a two hour walk to Tirana. Here they put us to work on a canal until April 1948. Then they sent us back to Berat, where after two years we saw our loved ones again. I wrote a summary of the description of the work that we were assigned. As far as the treatment they imposed on us it is indescribable. Until May we worked in Berat and from there they moved the whole camp to Tepelena. We were around 2,500 internees. This camp, although I was only there one week, left me with the worst impression. They lodged us in camps three hours away from the city, in barracks which even lacked walls. We were given 700 grams of cornbread every day, but sometimes we even had to wait 48 hours for this bread. The children cried from hunger. After a few days they left us only with this bread and nothing else and we remained isolated as we could not go to the city to procure something to eat. After eight days they sent me along with another 100 young people to Lloxhan of Elbasan, for the construction of a stretch of the Gramsh-Korca road. Here 500 soldiers also worked, in addition to prisoners and those forced to work. It is useless to want to continue to tell you in detail about the work they made us perform here because, as I said, I would never finish, but I limited myself to giving you just a summary.
Now I will write to you about Mark’s (wife) Marta and how I left her sick. Her case is very interesting. Since we were interned she was not in good health and was getting worse and worse. The medicines I could get her were useless and the pains in her legs made her suffer too much. She would have benefited from mud and thermal baths, but in the camp we were not even allowed a hot bath. The fact is that she was getting worse, continuously, to the point of not being able to move anymore and we were forced to transport her from one point to another. Seeing her face, she didn’t look sick, but her legs just didn’t hold her. We did everything to alleviate her illness, more than that it was impossible. And so, when I left, I had to leave her in that state, alone, in the hands of God.
And now I’ll tell you how Marta (sister) was arrested. You must know that we were especially hated; it was amazing, as if only Gjon Marka Gjoni and no one else had fought against them. Marta, as always, showing herself to be good and kind to everyone, had gained the sympathy of all the internees. Every time she went to the market she was surrounded by them, embittering more and more the government’s torturers, who hated her to death and watched her constantly, studying the slightest pretext to arrest her. She then retreated into the barrack and almost never went out. She spent a long time like this, shut in. But the day of the arrest came regardless, which was November 14th. For a good five months they kept her under constant torture and then sent her to court. They accused her of being in the organization ‘Bashkimi Shqiptar’ (Albanian Union of Shkoder) in connection with the Catholic clergy. Of course all this was invented, but they could find no other excuse. They sentenced her to seven years and locked her up in a political prison. I intervened and through lawyers I knew, I was able to commute her sentence to three years. This is the sad story of little Marta. During her imprisonment we did everything we could to alleviate the suffering, but also Providence helped us and kept her in good health. Bardha was also arrested three times and held in prison for 4-5 months each time. I can’t write to you more about Bardha, but the day will come when I’ll explain everything to you. Two people are guilty of her arrest, mistreatment and torture inflicted on her and you will know it over time. As for the behavior of the members of our family, we can be proud of them, that even in the midst of so many tortures and unspeakable sufferings they have held high the honor of our name and God willing He will keep us healthy so we can meet and reunite once again.
Father, you asked me if among so many enemies we had found some people who had helped us, some friends,and I answer to you that in a region almost unknown to us and very far from ours, we found a merchant, a certain Tok Baballeku who has done everything to help us in critical moments, to alleviate our sufferings, a truly noble and generous man who we cannot ever forget and hope that the day will come to reward him for his good deeds. In addition to this there was a Scutarino (person from Shkoder), a shoemaker named Daut Myftari, a resident of Berat for many years who was of great help to us at that time. Lately many of our people have fled Albania and confirmed that all our family members are in good health.
Now I’ll tell you about my escape. They sent us, as I said, to Lloxhan of Elbasan and assigned us an impossible job because of its harshness. Nine soldiers watched over us day and night, or better to say nine clubs, and I knew immediately that the situation could not last long and I decided to flee to Yugoslavia, telling myself that it was better to receive a bullet than to be beaten continuously. We were nine and one night we fled and took the road of Qafe Thanes and we reached Pogradec after six nights of walking, traveling at night and hiding during the day. But the police discovered us and opened fire on us, three of ours remained in their hands and us six, as if by a miracle, managed to escape them: it was a critical moment for us. We split into two groups of three so as not to give suspicion. We reached Elbasan and the day after Tirana; we spent the night at the home of Fiqri’s nephew and the next day a trusted man accompanied us to Dibra. Here too we were hosted by the uncles of Fiqri. After we were divided into two groups in Gramsh, I always stayed with Fiqri’s son and hi cousin, while we ignored the fate of Murat’s son and Cen’s two sons. They hosted us for 15 days with the opportunity to accompany us to the border. A man was found who accompanied us, undisturbed, to the Yugoslav border. We passed this via Dibra e Madhe and immediately surrendered ourselves to the Yugoslavs. But they did not trust us and after three days they forced us to pass into Albanian territory. Here we spent six months in the mountains in constant danger and among infinite hardships, but God preserved us and six months later we presented ourselves again to the
Yugoslav authorities who finally allowed us in and welcomed us and we are very grateful for it.
This is a summary of my escape to Yugoslavia. From the Mirditi (people from Mirdita) I receive letters every day and I send you their greetings.
I embrace you and kiss you. Nikoll.