By Ejëll Çoba
(Excerpt from the book Lost Life)
Virtyt Gjylbega, a young man from Shkodra, arrived at the labor camp with the rest of the Elbasan prisoners. He was the son of Hamid Gjylbega, a published writer and a philosopher who was also credited by Fulvio Cordignano, as having created a new religion in his works. Hamid’s long life full of suffering had confirmed him to be a man of strong character.
Virtyt was assigned by the prison command to be squad commander, but in a few days he was demoted for refusing to report his fellow prisoners like other commanders did. He ended up being assigned to work with a shovel. One day the guards lined up all the prisoners and marched them to stand in front of a young man tied to a post on the center of the prison camp grounds. His face was covered in honey. All of us, 1,500 men, were ordered to spit on him. Approaching the man, I recognized the captive to be Virtyt. The commanders and guards strictly enforced the command. I had to eventually spit on the prisoner too. I realized that many of the prisoners before me had fully partaken in the spitting order leaving their marks on the face of poor Virtyt.
The rest of the prisoners and I went to work and left Virtyt bound in the burning sun. Later, I learned Virtyt and his sister’s fiancé, a Kolonjar, always ate their food together. One day, Virtyt was ordered not to work for the day by the labour camp doctor. Virtyt ate lunch from their shared food including honey sent from the home of the sister’s fiancé. That same evening, the sister’s fiancé accused Virtyt of stealing his honey to the camp guard. Two or three occasions I worked closed to Virtyt. We both were not allowed to work with other prisoners for fear we would exploit their efforts. I often tried to lift his spirits because I could see he was getting depressed, but in each conversation, he spoke very little. Each time the conservation ended this way:
- Oh, Mr. Çoba, I can’t... - I am 40 years old, - I told him – and I am trying to endure all of this, you are just 28, - but I knew my words were not enough to convince the man because he kept saying:
- It cannot be tolerated, it cannot be endured!
Not long after the ordeal, during the night, while we were asleep, we heard gunshots. I found out the next day that, after returning from work, Virtyt cleaned himself and dressed in his finest clothes. Watching the well-dressed man, one of the guards scornfully asked him:
- “Why are you dressed like a groom Virtyt, are you going to be released?” - “Yes, I will soon be free”, Virtyt replied full of confidence.
When everyone was asleep, Virtyt still dressed in his fine clothes, emerged from the barracks. He walked towards the barbwires and floodlights surrounding the outskirts of the labor camp. The guard called two or three times: “ Halt, halt!”
Virtyt did not stop walking. As he approached the guard, he yelled: “fire!”
The guard executed the order, and he fell dead instantly.
In the morning, on the way to work, the entire 1,500 prisoners were dead silent!
Edited by Rebekah Roberts