LEAVING ALBANIA WITH MY FATHER
From the beginning of June 1944 until the end of October I found myself in Mirdita fighting against the communist guerrillas who were attacking us from all sides, in the area of Mat and Lure e Lume. During these months of fighting many of my men were left for dead or wounded, but the casualties inflicted on the enemy were also many. Ultimately, we were forced to retreat to a more suitable area as the guerrillas received more ammunition and reinforcements, thereby outnumbering us.
Finally, on October 20, we were recalled to Shpal. For three days and three nights we resisted the attacks of the communist brigades there. It had been a tough fight but our determination and struggles were memorable and exceptional. Although we suffered defeat, we also inflicted many losses against the communists. When it was evident that we could not resist any longer we headed in the direction of the Simoni hills. We had to cross the river Fandi i Madh, which was overflowing due to the heavy rains. If it were not for the fishermen who took us across the river we would have been stranded by the river bank.
Once across we headed to Geziq and crossed the river Fandi e Vogel in order to reach Thkell and from there headed into the mountains, where we gathered and continued on the road to Shkodra.
My thought was to go back to Mirdita and continue the fight with those forces that had remained loyal to us and miraculously stand victorious. But Mark1 had other plans, hence I stayed in Shkodra. Mark had decided that my father and I would leave Albania and relocate somewhere west until things calmed down. I was not told ahead, probably out of fear that I would not listen to him.
On November 26, 1944 we left Shkodra for Kastrati. I then continued to Tuz where I joined my father. Our Odyssey started from Tuzi.
For a long time we crossed Jugoslavia on foot and under the constant bombardment of the allies and stopped in different places to rest. After a week we arrived in Jablan where we stayed for a few days. There, where we welcomed the New Year 1945, we lost our driver Llazia Kolashi. From there, always on foot and during the day, we continued the journey to Visegrad. At one point, we hid on the mountain tops to protect ourselves from the Allies’ bombardment and as soon as the incursion was over, we would continue on our way.
We came across many dead soldiers and burnt German vehicles but we kept walking without stopping and without food. We spent the night in an abandoned hut. The winter was hard with snow everywhere. My fear was for my father’s health, but for the greatness of God Almighty he did not get sick, not even once; he was a hundred times stronger than me.
Towards the end of winter we arrived in Visegrad where we were informed about the train to Sarajevo. The train, of course, was in the hands of the German Army, which did not easily carry civilians. There was no other way that the mountains of Bosnia could be crossed and survive. We turned to the German Command for help. At first the German General did not welcome us but after we conversed and I explained the situation calmly, he acquiesced and called an officer who was in charge of the train station and gave the order to let us in. The officer said that the station was closed and that if we were to stay inside, in case of bombing, we would most probably not survive. I explained the matter to my father and he, after thinking for a moment, said to me: “So far we are lucky, even this time He will take us out of danger; we enter”. And so we did. Once again God watched over us and on that day no Allied planes appeared and we boarded a train to Sarajevo.
The train was loaded with people and we squeezed into each other like eggs in a basket. As the train started climbing up the mountain it stopped and started going back downhill. I, who was the tallest in the wagon, moved 200 meters to the front. At that moment I thought I would die, but German soldiers boarded the train and attached another locomotive and with the help of the first one brought it to the top of the Sarajevo mountains. It constantly rained and snowed on the mountains of Sarajevo and the train cars were open. The snow and rain would cover us as we headed up the mountain. For one week we were subjected to falling rain and snow until we arrived in Sarajevo. We stayed in Sarajevo for ten days where we recovered by resting and eating well, from there we left by train to Zagreb, where we also stayed for ten days.
While in Zagreb I decided we should head to Vienna but even in Zagreb the train station was in the hands of the Germans who had closed it and would not let anyone in, only with permission. I had to go to the German Command and ask them to give me permission to take the train. Here, too, fate worked for me. Once the German Command called the guard at the station and gave the order to let us pass we were on our way.
After we left Zagreb it took us three days to arrive in Vienna where we settled in a hotel near the train station, in the southern part of the city. The bombing continued every day and when I would go out to buy food, often while bombing was occurring, I was away from father, the thought of which worried me constantly. One day the neighborhood where we were was bombed. We were shaken to the core as we went down to the basement of the hotel. Father, from time to time, would go out into the hallway to smoke. Suddenly there was a loud boom and a bomb fell, collapsing part of the hotel. Fortunately for us the elevator shaft was left intact otherwise it would have collapsed and most likely killed us all, rather it fell straight into the hallway where our rooms were. Our cement corridor was about a meter thick. The bomb destroyed the roof, the first, second and third floors and the elevator did not work anymore. Our room was in disarray, we hurried and took the few necessities we had left away with us. Fate was on our side once again as the train station had survived. We realized that staying in Vienna any longer was life threatening so we left for Innsbruck.
Our thought was to move to Italy where we could find shelter. To get to Italy, the main train route was Brenero, but there were constant bombings on that side. Many Albanians who had taken that path were left for dead. We took another route called Passo di Resia, which is about a thousand meters high and seven kilometers away from the Swiss border. In order to take that road and pass through Italy, we needed an automobile, which we did not have. We had to wait until a military vehicle headed to Italy passed by and picked us up. After many hours of waiting a military vehicle approached. I stepped forward and begged him to give us a ride. We boarded silently. The night felt heavy. We arrived at the top of the mountain on the border with Italy. I stopped to check with the border guard who refused to speak with me. From there we could see the light on our Swiss side and darkness on the Italian side.
The next morning we arrived in Merano, it was towards the end of March 1945. Merano was declared an open city because it was considered a hospital city. We stayed in Merano until mid-June. With the capitulation of Germany, the Americans arrived in Merano and with their arrival we feared the handing over of father to the communist government of Albania. At the end of June 1945, from Merano, we headed for Rome. Even in Rome the fear of surrender was great because the situation in Italy had not yet stabilized.
We lived in a bleak atmosphere. In the Italian police station I found a high ranking official who had been in Albania and who knew father and Mark. “I assure you” he told me “that our allies can never catch you, so rest assured that in such a case I will notify you at once and provide you with a safe place”. This was a guarantee for us. This situation continued until the first government was formed with De Gasperi as Prime Minister and from that time we lived freely. Surviving was very difficult as we started to lack the few financial means that my father had with him.
Since many thousands of Albanians had gathered in Italy, the Allies, with the help of Italy, formed an assistance camp for Albanian refugees in Reggio Emilia. Thousands of Albanians took refuge in those camps. My father and I did not as I did not want to involve him in the chaos of the camps. We informed our Italian friends at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who had known my father since the 1930’s when he went to Rome to accompany Mark to the Colleggio Mondragone, of our arrival, which prompted the Italian government to give us a monthly stipend. Although it was not enough to sustain us it did help us somewhat.
Towards the end of 1945, we got in touch with our Albanian friends. From this time on our political activity began ie. Blloku Kombetar Independent.
Father had always been in good health. He never got sick until 1964 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He spent the first year of his illness in the hospital and at home. Everything was looking promising and I hoped the disease would be cured, but the cancer began to spread even more so that he could not breathe. I was forced to admit him to one of the specialized hospitals in Rome. The specialist, the primary surgeon who visited him, told me that he needed an operation in the throat so that they could insert a tube which would allow him to breathe. Once the tube was inserted father was breathing freely. He seemed to be resurrected.
The cancer started to spread to his stomach and he stopped chewing food. The head surgeon who visited him daily, told me that he needed another operation to insert a feeding tube to the stomach so that he could be fed. From then on, for 18 months he was hospitalized under the care of the specialized nurses, due to the daily medication and care. Every day I went to the hospital and spent the day with him. He kept on smoking and never stopped. Finally, the disease took over and on April 28, 1966 he died. Even though this was a very painful occasion for me I was blessed to be near him and was able to close his eyes with my hand and kiss him for the last time.
Prof. Ernest Koliqi, wrote wonderful speeches and poems; biographies and news of the death were written in numerous newspapers and magazines. He was buried in the Cimitero Verano in Rome and his gravestone is marked with a photograph of him. With the death of my father it seemed that the world had collapsed. My wife, Maria Teresa, whom he loved so much, did everything for him that a daughter such as Marta or Bardha could have and would have done.
As a foreigner and political immigrant it was very difficult for me to find employment in Italy. Maria Teresa was an only daughter, she had no brothers or sisters, but as long as her father and mother were alive, she had a very full life. With the death of her parents, both with cancer, and most of her funds spent on medical expenses after their deaths in the hospital, her economic situation began to narrow as we multiplied and became six in the family.
Those events prompted our decision to come to New York, USA where my younger brother Nikoll lived with his wife and three children.
And so we started living somehow.
From the private diary of Kapidan Ndue Gjon Marku
1Kapidan Mark Gjon Marku, older brother of Ndue Gjon Marku.