This is the 3rd Chapter of an abridged translation of a book entitled "Forty Years in the Jails of Enver Hoxha" by Minas Paras. The previous two chapters can be found here.
The Italian Police returned to Politsani. The Police Chief summoned me to his office and I was told I no longer had the right to move freely. The police, however, were in no position to ensure security in the area. That's when the robberies started. They were perpetrated by residents of Muslim villages against the villages occupied by Greeks. Even Greek villages on the other side of the border were ransacked.
On the 15th of August after the liturgy at St. Nicholas, a meeting of the entire village took place. Some in the crowd advocated hiring outside people to guard the village. I considered this folly and appealed to the others: "Aren't we men and can't we protect our own honor, protect our lives and our village? We have some weapons and we can obtain more."
Someone asked "Are you willing to take charge?" I answered, "Yes."
Ninety three men volunteered immediately and we were able to collect thirty rifles. Starting that night we sent out patrols in and outside of our village. We posted lookouts. Politsanites living in Avlona and Tirana sent us flashlights and other equipment. We were also able to obtain additional weapons. Word spread that Politsani was heavily guarded.
After some initial successes, other nearby villages joined our efforts and within a short period of time, bandits no longer ventured into the region of Pogoni. Later, national liberation movements began to organize in Greece and Albania. In October of 1941 I traveled to Tirana to learn more about these preparations. I was contacted by the Central Committee of the movement known as "Metopou."
It was decided that we would wage war against the occupation. We came to an agreement, Greeks and Albanians. The Greek minority would fight within the movement but after victory against the Axis forces, we would be given the right to become an autonomous region. The Central Committe decided to send a representative, Basil Katis to Politsani. He was to become the Minister of Trade in the new government after liberation but was soon consigned to the jails of Enver Hoxha.
The guerrilla war against the Axis began to spread. The Italian position in Politsani became untenable and they withdrew. Our area because of its mountainous terrain was ideal for guerrilla warfare. It became a safe zone for the partisans who began to come into Politsani to receive supplies and rations. Soon the entire Pogoni region became a partisan sanctuary. The leaders of the Albanian Liberation Movement used Politsani as a headquarters including the Greeks of EAM such as the representative of their Central Committee, Miltiades Kirgiannis under the alias Alexis Yiannaris, whom I warned about the unreliability of the Albanian Communists. Many of the Albanian guerrilla leaders would later find themselves in the jails of Enver Hoxha including Mehmet Shehou, his prime minister for thirty years, who Hoxha personally murdered.
Parachute drops from Allied airplanes began in the valley near the village of Sheperi, next to Politsani. None of these weapons were given to the Greek inhabitants. A British commando team headed by a man named MacNeil also arrived. I asked him for supplies for the Greeks in Pogoni. He advised us to continue working together with the Albanian guerrillas and eventually the Allies would help the Greek minority after the war was over. The team came to Politsani and met with the village leaders. They promised paradrops. Unfortunately they never materialized. I found out later that the leader of the Albanian resistance in the Avlona-Argirokastro area, who was worried that we would break away before the war was over, convinced the British to cancel those paradrops. From that point on we never trusted the Albanian guerrilla leaders.
In the meantime we took part in a number of operations against the Italians. We destroyed the border outposts and we attacked the Italian unit in Limbohovo causing them to retreat, although they returned with reinforcements. Later, the Italians tried to enter the area around Politsani, however, since we occupied key passes and high ground we were able to stop their advance cold. The Albanians of Spahi asked for our assistance when the Italians tried to enter the Zagoria area from the pass at Klisoura. Our volunteer unit was able to scale the surrounding high ground and fought off Italian attempts to gain the heights. I am proud to say that a number of older men from the villages of the Pogoni area took part, including my own father.
We received a call for assistance from the border villages of Pogoni. The Italians had occupied the village of Pogoniani. We notified the village of Sxoriades to send their men to join us in Sopiki. On the way we were ambushed by Italians but managed to break contact without casualties. When we arrived in Sopiki we were reinforced by the men there and continued our movement toward Drimades. We surrounded the entire area causing the Italians to retreat by motor transport to Ioannina.
Now I will begin to describe the duplicity of the Albanian Communists. One night the inhabitants of the adjoining village of Sheperi arrived in an uproar. One of their own had been arrested and accused of helping the Italians. The Albanians wanted to execute him and his fellow villagers asked me to help him. After much haggling and the testimony of his neighbors, we managed to obtain his release. I later met him in the prison at Bals where we were both inmates. He survived the accusation of being a supporter of the Italians but later he was accused of being an anti-Communist.
A more tragic incident occurred which involved a fellow villager and friend, Niko Noti. He jokingly asked some partisans what they would do if Zervas, the leader of the Greek right wing organization EDES, showed up. They immediately arrested him and locked him in the basement of their headquarters with the intent of executing him. The entire village was in turmoil. No one could bear the screams and crying of his mother. He was an only son. The villagers came together in the central Church of St. Nicholas and refused to leave until he was freed. A delegation met with the partisan leaders of the region, Bentri Spahis and Siemsi Totozani. They accused us of not supporting the struggle and thinking only of Greece.
I couldn't take it anymore and spoke up: "Politsani and our entire area has contributed and continues to contribute a great deal to the war effort against Fascism. Our village protects you, feeds you and supports you like no other in Albania. The volunteer unit of the village of which I am the leader, has fought in every engagement where we were needed. All of this is common knowledge. Yesterday, a few Partisans confiscated firewood from some women when they could have easily gathered their own. When the women resisted, the partisans replied: 'This is how we will build a free Albania.' We all know about the agreement we made that we would not support the liberation movement unless the Greek minority was given the right of autonomy. It was agreed in Tirana by the Central Committee. The British mission is also in agreement on this point. Now, we refuse to leave this Church until the release of Niko Noti. If he is not released, we will no longer give aid and comfort to the partisans in Politsani."
A silence descended on the gathering. Spaxis began to speak. He regretted the misunderstanding and said that mistakes of this kind occur occasionally. He emphasized the we were two friendly and allied peoples, fighting a common enemy. The important thing was to continue the struggle. The prisoner was ordered freed.
To be continued.