The Hall of the National Liberation War was re-established in 2004. This was the year of commemoration and the reevaluation of world anti-fascism, since for many European countries it coincided with the 60th anniversary of liberation from Nazi-fascism. The collection consists of about 270 items, related to important events from Vlora War in 1920 to the year 1945, which marks the end of World War II in Europe.
The hall covers the period from 7 April 1939 to 1945. It also provides a brief account of the events prior to 7 April 1939. The hall presents the Italian “economic invasion” of Albania during the years ‘20 –‘30 of the last century, when Zog I became fully dependent on Italy and signed Pact I and Pact II, in Tirana in 1926 and 1927. One of the sections in the hall focuses on the opinion of some personalities of Albanian culture against fascism, like Nonda Bulka, Sotir Kolea, Migjeni and Fan Noli, who anticipated the risk of Italian iccupation. Albanians opposed fascism from the outset, taking part in the Spanish Civil War against Franco’s fascist forces during 1936-1939. They became part of the International Brigades and suffered heavy casualties.
Count Galeazzo Ciano, Benito Mussolini’s son in law, was the prime figure behind the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939, and put forward the iedea of offering a “radical solution to Albania”. The invasion of Albania was part of a premeditated plan of Count Ciano. Ciano’s fixed idea of Albania emerged shortly after his first trip to Tirana in April 1937. On 25th August 1937 he wrote in his diary: “I do not know what the future brings. We must seize the opportunities which will present themselves… This time we are not going to withdraw as in 1920. In the south (of Italy) we have absorbed several hundred thousand Albanians. Why should not the same thing happen on the other side of the Adriatic?”
His diary notes on 28th April 1938, i.e. the day after the marriage of Ahmet Zog, confirm that his idea had been thought out long ago. He wrote: “I leave Albania more firmly convinced than never of the need for a radical solution.” On April 30, he added to his diary: “I gave the Duce an account of my visit to Albania. I shall sum up the impressions in a report. But, he agreed at once about the necessity for a radical solution.” He wrote a detailed report, which he handed to Mussolini. After making a detailed description of the situation in Albania, Ciano proposed three possible solutions: 1 – Further economic restrictions, which would later lead to political ones. 2 – Partitioning Albania between her neighbours by signing agreements with Yugoslavia and Greece. 3 – Outright Italian annexation, which would be the most desirable solution. Mussolini agreed with his decisions. He was ready to take over Albania and not to lose it. At that time Albania was the country that best suited the strategic interests of fascist Italy.
An important place in this hall is devoted to the National Liberation War of the Albanian people. Italian fascist invasion on 7th April 1939 was one of the first aggressive acts of fascism in Europe. The invasion of Albania mobilized about 40 thousand soldiers, 400 planes and 12 warships. The bloodiest fightings took place in Durres, Shëngjin, Vlora and Saranda. These multiple invading forces, were opposed by a few thousand men armed with rifles, a fiew machine-gun sections, four or five batteries of light artillery led by Abaz Kupi, the Commander of the Gendarmerie in Durresi. That same day, King Zog of Albanians attended Pandeli Evangjeli’s plan to organize a resistance abroad. He and his family fled to Greece. In Durres, a small army of Albanians led by Abaz Kupi and Mujo Ulqinaku, a marine official, tried to halt the Italian advance. Xhafer Ypi played a key role by calling the “Constitutional Assembly”, which consisted of 159 members, mostly landowners, Chieftains, merchants and clerics. The “Assembly” first met on 12 April 1939. It voted to depose Zog and repeal the Fundamental Statute of 1928, which served as the legal basis of the monarchy. The “Assembly” also decided to unite the nation with Italy “in personal union”, by offering the Albanian crown to Victor Emanuel III. So, Albania would officially function as an autonomous, hereditary constitutional monarchy within the Crown of Savoy. The “Constitutional Assembly” formed an “Albanian” government, and Shefqet Verlaci, the biggest landowner of Albania and King Zog’s mortal enemy, was elected Prime Minister.
On 13th April 1939, the Fascist Grand Council approved the union announced by the Albanian “Constitutional Assembly”. On 16th April 1939, a delegation of Albanian officials, headed by Shefqet Verlaci offered the Albanian crown to Victor Emanuel III. On April 23, Francesco Jacomoni, Italian Ambassador in Albania, was appointed first Official Representative of the King in Albania. As soon as it was set up, his office decreed the formation of the Supreme Corporative Fascist Council, which replaced the parliament. Terenc Toci was elected Chairman of the Council.
In this hall special attention is given to the resistance of the Albanian nationalists, who did not accept the fascist occupation regime. A patriotic act was that of the former Prime Minister Mehdi bey Frashëri, who on his own initiative warned the people, by radio, about the real risks of the fascist invasion of the country. Fascist aggression was strongly condemned by the Albanian diaspora in Argentina, France, Australia, America, England, Egypt, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Odessa (Ukraine). On April 16, the Albanians in America gathered in Boston, in “Franklin Hall”, one of its largest theatres. The meeting was attended by about 1,000 Albanians and a lot of foreigners. In these rallies, the reaction of Fan Noli, a remarkable patriot, who had painfully experienced this tragic event, was particularly strong and influential. The fascist occupation of Albania had strong reverberations in Europe. Many prestigious newspapers in Europe condemned the Italian military invasion of Albania. On 8th April 1939, the
British Parliament, House of Commons, considered the occupation of Albania a sign of the aggressiveness of the fascist powers. But it was emphasized that there was no need to excessively dramatize the situation and it was decided that the British Ambassador in Albania “de facto” recognize the Italian annexation of Albania.
British Foreign Minister, Chamberlain said in the House of Commons that Britain was not interested in Albania and ordered that the Albanian Legation in London be closed. France did not close the Albanian Legation. Nevertheless, it did not denounce the occupation of Albania. Albania had to be sacrificed for the sake of European peace.
On 2nd June 1939 the Italian invaders formed the Albanian Fascist Party, as a branch of the Italian Fascist Party, led by B. Mussolini. It was the only political party in fascist Albania. Its Secretary General was Tefik Mborja. Officially, there was no obligation to join the party, but pressure was exerted on those who refused to accede to it, especially to administrative workers. Also, the fascist emblem was added to the Albanian flag.
A lot of measures were taken concerning education; many subjects were banned from schools, and foreign literature was withdrawn from circulation; only fascist literature was allowed. The French archaeological mission, led by Leon Ray, was forced to interrupt work and leave Albania. The US foundation “Rockefeller” left Albania. The fascist administration tried to control everything, even the people, which it never achieved. With the help of the Fascist Party there were created a number of fascilitating after-work (dopo lavoro) organizations of
the youth, women, university students, cultural and sports associations, etc., aiming to spread the fascist ideas to all social groups, especially to the Albanian youth.
The detachment (Alb. çeta) of Peza is the first anti-fascist armed group in Albania. It was created by Myslym Peza in 1940. During 1941, the armed group intensified its activity. In March it took some action against the Italian occupiers. The activity of this group was of great importance, since it operated in the vicinity of the capital, and its news spread throughout the country.
An important event was the attempt of Vasil Laci, an Albanian patriot and monarchist, to assassinate Victor Emmanuel III, during his visit to Tirana on 18th May 1941. This act gave rise to a lot of public discussion, home and abroad. It showed that the indignation of the Albanians had reached the climax, and the country was on the verge of a new war, indicative of which were the increasing armed attacks of the antifascist groups.
A separate room in this hall, is occupied by documents related to the foundation of the Communist Party of Albania on November 8 – 14, 1941. Three main communist groups operating in the country, the Group of Korca, Group of Shkodra and the Youth Group, attended the meeting. There were also the two envoys of the Yugoslav Communist Party, Miladin Popovic and Dusan Mugosa. Miladin Popovic gave the opening speech and ran the meeting, as a representative of the Comintern. The meeting elected the temporary leadership of the Party and the Provisional Central Committee, composed of Enver Hoxha, Gjin Marku, Koci Xoxe, Kristo Themelko, Qemal Stafa, Ramadan Çitaku, and Tuk Jakova. It
adopted the Resolution, which set out two main tasks: the liberation of the country and the establishment of a democratic regime in Albania.
Between January and July 1942, the national guerrilla units succeeded in fighting the Italian forces. On 16th September 1942, the Communist Party organized a conference in Peza (a village near Tirana), which was also attended by the nationalist supporters of King Zog. The first National Conference, held in Peza, occupies an important place in the hall. The communist party invited all the Albanian resistance leaders to create a national resistance front of all people regardless of their religious and political beliefs. The conference came up with a resolution, which became the platform of the National Liberation War of the Albanian people and was unanimously approved by the delegates. The Conference of Peza laid the foundations of the National Liberation Movement by emphasizing the determination to fight against the occupiers until the liberation of Albania, and set up the national liberation councils as the sole people’s power.
On September 29, 1942 there was founded the National Front Party whose chairman was Mid’hat Frasheri. The political program of the National Front consisted of the Decalogue, which set out three main tasks: restoring the independence of the homeland, establishing a democratic regime in the country and the unification of Albania and Kosovo. In 1943, Mehdi Frasheri says: “Then, like every revolutionary organization, the National Front should remain involved in a fighting Democracy. The activity of any effective revolutionary organization should begin with the expulsion from them of the people who, intentionally or unintentionally, directly or indirectly, are related to people engaged in the fascist system”.
In early July 1943, the Presidency of the General National Liberation Council decided to call up a special meeting of the Council, which would discuss a number of important issues. The meeting started work on July 4, 1943 in Labinot (a village near Elbasan). It decided to set up the General Staff of the National Liberation Army. Some of its attendants (12 alltogether), were representatives of the nationalists. The General Staff defined the organizational structure and elected the military commander and the political commissar of the Staff. Spiro Moisiu was elected military commander, and Enver Hoxha political commissar.
Another important event was the Mukje Meeting (also known as Mukje Agreement), which was held from 1st to 3rd August 1943. Considering the issues discussed, Mukje Meeting can be regarded as the second edition of the Conference of Peza, since its agenda contained issues previously discussed in Peza, such as the union of all political forces to fight against the foreign invaders and liberate the country until the realisation of the full independence of Albania. But, it was different from the Conference of Peza, in that it was attended not only by representatives of the communist party, but also by other political forces engaged in the war. The delegates belonged to two political fronts: the National Liberation Front, including the communists and the Zogists, and the National Front. Another major difference was that Mukje Meeting did not aim to create a common alliance similar to the National Liberation Front set up in Peza. It intended to reach an agreement (Mukja accord) between two political organizations that claimed the same legal status.
The II National Conference was held from 4th to 9th of September 1943. It reviewed the one-year activity of the National Liberation Front after the first
National Conference of Peza, and made several decisions on a number of issues of great concern to the National Liberation Movement. The Conference approved of the political line followed by the National Liberation Front. It was considered effective. The Conference adopted the Statute and Regulations of the national liberation councils, which were reviewed and approved, article by article, by the General National Liberation Council in July.
The conference analyzed the attitude of the delegation of the National Liberation Front at Mukje Meeting. The Conference approved the decision of the General Council on the annulment of the agreement reached in Mukje, because, as it was said, it ran counter to the program and purpose of the National Liberation Front, as well as negotiating platform that the General Council had approved. Delegates criticized the members of the National Liberation Front, especially Ymer Dishnica and Mustafa Gjinishi, whose attitude had been the same as that of the National Front, and who had signed a compromise agreement, which undermined the interests of the Front and the National Liberation Movement.
On September 8, Italy declared its capitulation, after the successive defeats suffered by the German and Italian armies in the main fronts of World War II. After the German defeat at Stalingrad, Italy lost all hope of winning the war. In July, the Anglo-American forces landed in Sicily, and in August, in the Apennine peninsula, further weakening the position of the Fascist Axis. Under these circumstances, the Government of Badoglio, which came to power after the fall of Mussolini, was forced to declare the capitulation of Italy and start talks with the allies to survive the war. The Allies’ landings in Sicily and the fall of Mussolini (25th July 1943) gave new impetus to the military activity and organization of the
National Liberation War. In July 1943, the General Council set up the the Gneral Staff of the National Liberation Army and appointed Enver Hoxha its political officer (Alb. komisar).
After signing the capitulation act, Marshal Badoglio informed the command of Italian troops in Albania that the alliance with Germany was over. Consequently, it would terminate all cooperation with the German commands and units. Meanwhile, the Italian units were instructed to stop fighting against the partisan and other anti-fascist forces, to contact their commands and express their willingness to fight by their side against the German forces.
As soon as they heard about the capitulation of Italy, the Germans began implementing their plan of occupying Albania, who had been previously designed. The German Foreign Office and the Wehrmacht were in charge of it. The first political step was taken by the German Foreign Office on the eve of the invasion. It appointed Herman Neubacher, mayor of Vienna, as Special Envoy of Germany for Southeastern Europe. Neubacher was very active in the Balkans, as Hitler’s expert in economic affairs.
When Germany settled in Albania the tide was gradually turning against the Nazis. The Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk caused irreparable damage to Germany. The strength and morale of the Reich troops were in constant decline. In addition, the landing of the Allied armies on southern Italy and its capitulation was a heavy blow for the Axis and had seriously weakened its military strength on Europe’s southern flank. Given the fall of Italy in WWII, and the difficult situation Germany was in, the status of the occupied Albania was in constant change. Initially, Hitler
ordered that Albania be recognized as a “country occupied by force”, but then he changed his mind and ordered that Albania should be given the status of a country with “relative independence” and “limited sovereignty” – terms which were made up to disguise the military occupation of the country. Berlin thought there should be set up an “Albanian” government, which would be controlled by the military occupation authorities so as to guarantee peace and order. Unlike Italy, Germany tried to create the impression that it did not intend to annex or colonize Albania, and that, under the war circumstances, it was forced to take military action there. German authorities did not change the flag or any other national symbols of Albania, nor did they change the names of streets and squares, as Italy did. They didn’t try to create a Nazi party, nor did they create special bodies to ask Berlin for everything, as Italians did. Even though all invaders made mistakes in Albania, knowing nothing about the country, Germans made fewer, because they learned from the mistakes of their enemies.
Albania was dealt with differently, compared to other countries occupied by Germany, like France, where the government of Vichy was left to administer only a small area, or Norway and Czechoslovakia, where the military authorities would be in charge of government administration. In Albania, the administrative workers would be Albanians. Kosovo was also part of the German plan. Under this plan, it would retain the status and the rights it enjoyed during the Italian occupation, and would be offered other major benefits. German promises included the creation of “Greater Albania”.
Under the directives of September 1943, the leadership of the National Liberation War informed the commands of the partisan units about the position they would take in the event of the capitulation of Italy: if the Italian army does not fight against us, we will call upon them to join our war, under the slogan “brotherhood in the war against Hitler”, and will consider the Italian soldiers brothers in arms; otherwise, if they fight against us, we will fight against them, too.
In September 1943, after the Second National Conference, which annulled Mukje Agreement and declared the national liberation councils as the only legitimate authority in Albania, the Zogists responded by creating the National Zogist Party. They held a congress on November 21, 1943, in Zall Herr, where they announced the foundation of their party named under “Legality Movement”. Nationalists with monarchist principles gathered and formed the Legality Party, led by Abbas Kupi, the leader of the fight against the invaders in Durres. Its program provided for the liberation of the country, restoration of Legality, i.e. the King and royal regime, and the Constitution of 1928, as well as the introduction of reforms in the country. Abbas Kupi, the leader of the party, tried to create a nationalist movement of broad participation, which, despite the efforts made, was not achieved. “Legality Movement” remained a small, local party that received limited support.
On December 31, 1943 until January 2, 1944, the Bujan Conference was held in the tower of Sali Mani, bayrak-bey of Krasniqe. 49 delegates attended the conference out of 61 invited. 42 of them were Albanians, 4 Serbs and 3 Montenegrins. The attendants considered the situation in Kosovo critical and crucial alike; therefore, they unanimously emphasized the need to intensify the fight against the invaders and manage to involve all social groups in it.
In this hall there are presented the events of the spring of 1944, when the German command decided to launch another massive military assault, more violent than the winter offensive. It aimed to destroy the National Liberation Army. According to the plan, four divisions, i.e. 40 thousand soldiers would participate; about 10 thousand local collaborationist forces would carry out supporting operations. So, the enemy was twice more powerful and had an unchallenged supremacy in military technique and equipment. At this time, the Presidency of the National General Council decided to call up the First Anti-Fascist National Liberation Congress. The Congress was held in the free city of Permet from May 24 to 28, with the participation of delegates from all over the country. The Congress reached a number of important decisions. They elected the Anti-fascist National Liberation Council (ANLC), as the highest legislative and executive body in Albania, and the representative of the people’s sovereignty of the Albanian state. The Anti-fascist Council, in turn, set up the National Anti-Fascist Committee, that would function as an interim government.
On 20 – 23 October 1944, the Second Meeting of the ANLC was held in Berat. Taking into consideration the fact that the war was coming to an end, and the country was on the verge of liberation, on October 22, 1944, the Meeting decided that the National Anti-Fascist Committee become the Democratic Government of Albania. Enver Hoxha was appointed head of the government. Meanwhile, the fighting was concentrated in Tirana, the capital of Albania. On October 29, 1944, by order of the General Staff, there began the final battle for the liberation of Tirana. On October 30, the Saff of the 1st Partisan Division set up their headquarters in the centre of the capital. Worthy of mention is the fierce
battle of Mushqeta on 13th and 14th November 1944. On 15th November 1944, the partisan units launched a decisive attack and after 19 days of bloody fighting, on 17th November 1944, Tirana was liberated. The battle for the liberation of Tirana inflicted heavy losses on the enemy: more than 2,000 soldiers were killed, other 300 were captured or wounded. The partisan units gained possession of 2 tanks, 1 armored car, 25 cannons, 200 vehicles and other equipnent.127 partisans were killed or wounded. Hundreds of people were brutally massacred by the enemy.
The liberation of Tirana heralded the liberation of the entire country. On 28th November 1944, the Democratic Government of Albania and the Presidency of the Anti-fascist National Liberation Council entered the liberated capital. The last city, held by the Germans, was Shkodra. The partisan brigades VI, VII, XXII, XXIII and the Partisan Group of Shkodra, were assigned the task of liberating the city. Heavy fighting took place in the vicinity of Shkodra on 28th November 1944, where the German army was defeated. After midnight the enemy forces surrendered. On the morning of 29th November the National Liberation Army entered the liberated city.
World War II is thought to have been the most destructive war. Since the XVII century, no other war in Europe has ever been so cruel and brought about so much destruction. Peace was restored, but people realized that… it was built on a cemetery.
Special attention is given to Allies Missions in Albania. They made a valuable contribution to Albania’s National Liberation War.
The first British mission was headed by Major Bill Maclean. It was of particular importance because of establishing immediate contacts with the Albanian resistance. The Mission entered Albania thruogh Greece by the end of April and beginning of May 1943. In October 1943, SOE (Special Operations Equipment) received instructions to send to Albania a high-rank mission, headed by Brigadier General Edmond Davis, who would coordinate English work groups, operating in Albania.
A special corner in the hall is dedicated to the Jews during World War II, in Albania. According to global statistics, Albanians are among the few people who did not turn the Jews over to the Nazi Germany, but sheltered and protected them.
During World War II, Albania was a member of the broad World Anti-Fascist Coalition.