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by Mustafa Xhepa

As the Holocaust continues to capture the minds and the imaginations of writers and movie directors of the entire civilized world, the Red Holocaust, more horrific than the first one, has been in the shadows and its story remains almost untold. Should the silence be broken? Is the time ripe for a discussion and exposure of what happened and why? Rightly so, voices rise in objection to the West for cultivating a memorial culture, only for the Holocaust, and turning a blind eye to what happened in the Communist hell, the Red Holocaust. I think the reason for this asymmetry is closely related to the historical reality: the survivors of the communist genocide have not yet created a collective memory in the West. They still have to fully illuminate their painful, but heroic life stories. When justice is not served, memory assumes the function of the law...

Klement Islami

Tirana, 1975. At the entrance of Petro Nini Luarasi High School two grey suits flanked Klement. The cruel faces told him they wanted to clarify something at the Principal’s office. In the office, Communist Party Secretary, Vasilika waited for him, along with two of his friends, the informers. She told him he was expelled from school for agitation and propaganda against the people’s power. “Silence is suicide,” Klement had said. “One day we will feel guilty, if today we shut our eyes to evil... Whoever despises the inhumane reality must oppose it.” Right after he was informed of being expelled from school, the two interrogators grabbed him from his arms and dragged him out. “I looked at the second floor window and visually calculated the distance. I wanted to jump out the window, headfirst, to end my life before I ended up in their hands, but the hyenas sensed my thinking and clenched my arms even tighter. ‘It is still too early, first you must go through our bench plane,’ they said and dragged me out.” The State Security vehicle was waiting for him inside the schoolyard. The same day, his parents, two sisters and grandmother were forcefully sent to internal exile in one of the death camps in the south of the country, Çerma.

Inside the steel doors of the special interrogation cell in Tirana, communist terrorists used the most macabre torture on his young body. They burnt his flesh with cigarette ember. They used electric shock on his ears and genitals. For days they handcuffed his hands tight onto his back and kept him in shackles until he fell, fainting. They demanded he collaborate with them. Klement did not succumb. He was nourished by the blood and spirit of an anti-Communist family. His father, one of the few intellectuals that had graduated from the Physical Academy in Italy, was a staunch anti-Communist, while his uncle had died in prison as an enemy of the Communist regime. At the same time in the next jail cell, Viktor Martini, a political prisoner, was being tortured.

For a whole month they left Klement in solitary confinement, a concrete, windowless, complete dark prison cell. Even when they moved him into a cell with other prisoners, his assigned prison mate, a red army officer, howled: “Don’t give bread to the enemy of the Party! Let him die! He does not deserve the care of the Party! Long live the Party!” The communist officer, a Party loyal, was in prison because he had stolen from the unit where he had served.

June 1984. I met with Klement near Kristoforidhi Statue in Elbasan city. His suffering in Çerma labor camp, in Lushnja, had stolen his youth. His yellow, curly hair had grown long and was damaged from working long hours in the fields under the sun. He asked me about my family and repeated his advice to not trust anyone easily, so I would not end up like him. “The psychological torture used by anti-humans,” he said, “aims to make you lose trust in the person closest to you. To imprison you, they make use of your acquaintances, friends, family members, girlfriend, and even the person dearest to you, whom you most trust and love.”

It was noontime. I invited him to lunch. The Director of Elbasan Psychiatric Hospital passed by. In that hospital, Klement was tortured for some time in a special ward, where political dissidents were kept in isolation. Klement's whole body shivered with revolt. We sat at a table in the back of the restaurant.

“Muçi,” he said, “I am sure one day we’ll see the anti-humans brought to justice. He (the hospital director) is one of them. He allowed his doctors cause skin abscesses on my leg.”


The psychiatric hospital was widely known by locals for the hidden mission it served. Hundreds of political prisoners were forcibly brought there and would never leave.

Abscess was known among political prisoners as a torture caused by the injection of the pine tree resin in different parts of the body, most commonly in the leg. The injected bacteria caused massive infections, which would often result in leg amputation.

Behind the hospital was Kolonia. There, surrounded by barbed wires, the dissidents were kept until they were physically and mentally degraded, from the drugs forcefully administered by doctors and nurses, who were cautiously selected as tools of oppression by the State Security, Sigurimi.

After calming down, Klement began to analyze the days in captivity, “the oppression of the human by the anti-human,” as he called the communist oppression. He spoke of the horrors in internment: the strenuous manual labor and the hard life full of suffering, searches and endless interrogations. “Nazism,” he told me, “built concentration camps to exterminate the human races they did not want to exist. Communism has turned the extermination camps into the backbone of ‘industrialization of the country,’ the foundation of the system based on the slave labor that digs canals, dries marshes and builds factories. Then he described in detail the small ‘lake’ he created near his cottage and his long political talks with his sisters, Isabela and Zamira. As he was talking, he pointed out the other side of the street, where his relatives lived. “Even they, just like the anti-humans, denounced my family,” he said. We were quiet for a while. Then Klement broke the silence.

“Let’s go!” He said. “I want to see her, who knows when we will meet each other again.” We went to building 41. His girlfriend lived there. We sat on the sidewalk and waited. She came shortly, and in my presence, she begged him not to see her again. She had been threatened to lose her job, because of her relations with him. Klement did not say a word, but I could see the pain in his eyes.

It was almost six o’clock. He had to catch the train back to Lushnja. “Let’s go!” he said. We walked to the station in silence. It was the last time I saw him.


1994. In Washington in one of the halls of the US Congress, I met with Zamira, Klement’s youngest sister, who currently works in the free world with her sister Isabella for the Voice of America. After we greeted each other and Elez Biberaj, who was with her, left, our conversation quickly turned to Klement. Zamira described her last moments with him. “We waited for the night to fall,” She said. “Then we got in the water. Klement asked us to swim ahead, while he followed from behind. We swam throughout the night, encouraging each other, ‘Just a little further! Don’t give up! We are close to freedom!’ Time and again, the border guards’ searchlight fell on us. At dawn we were tired. I started to fall asleep. Isabela was stronger. An Italian tourist’s yacht saw her and picked her up. They found me. We searched and searched for Klement...” She choked up and could not continue. With her head bent down she sat on the shining marble floor. While I, deeply touched, recalled Klement’s words: “Muçi, I am sure one day we’ll see the anti-humans brought to justice …”

One summer morning in 1984, after saying ‘good bye’ to his dear parents, Klement along with his sisters, Isabela and Zamira, traveled toward Saranda. They used their annual leave as reason for vacation in the coastal city, and they stayed at the worker’s resting home. The following evening, they, positioned behind a big rock, waited for a few minutes and went into the water to swim towards freedom, towards the West. After hours of tiresome swimming, just when they thought they reached freedom, Klement noticed the border guards patrolling the area. Trying not to attract his sisters’ attention, he encouraged them to swim faster, while he himself stayed behind.

To save his sisters, he changed direction. He swam south. As he distanced himself from his dear sisters, the motorboat of the red criminals was getting closer to him. He tried several times to dive deeper in attempt to escape the guards on the lookout, but the criminals were so close and had spotted him.

They yelled at him to surrender. They hit him with the bow of the motorboat, but Klement did not give in. Deep in the sea he was swimming to freedom.

They searched for him in the dark abyss. They tied him with ropes and pulled him to the waters of the Communist prison. Hog-tied, they dragged him along Saranda Bay to terrorize the citizens. But the martyr, though dead, radiated freedom, love and heroism.

AAFH Translation

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