Relations between Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu during the National Liberation War

Nexhmije Hoxha

During the time of the National Liberation War, Enver met with Mehmet three times. The first was in Labinot for the First Conference of the Country of the AKP; the second was in Vithkuq when the First Brigade of the National Liberation Army was inaugurated. The last meeting was in Permet, at the Anti-Fascist National Liberation Congress.

At the historic meetings of the Party in Labinot and in Permet, the foundations of the new government were planted. There, Mehmet Shehu set forth views that clashed with Enver’s. The decisions and resolutions which were made at the meeting ignored his position. One of the most important decisions by the Congress was strengthening work within the organisations of the Party.

The Party’s Secretary, Enver Hoxha, nicknamed Taras or Shpati, circulated letters to many Committees of the Party in the districts such as Tirana, Korça, Gjirokastra etc. In the letter he sent to the Committee of the Party for Vlora, on May 3, 1943, he writes of the troubles that challenged the Party and how seriously the Party dealt with them. It is known in all the history of the Party that in April 1943, Sadik Premte, ex-chief of the Organisation of Youth and one of the co-founders of the Party which later expelled him for his anti-party activities, organised a faction in Vlore, his birthplace. But it was also defeated in May 1943 by the direct intervention of the Party’s Central Committee and the Political Secretary in the place.

In the letter of May 3, Enver Hoxha (Shpati) wrote to the Regional Committee:

‘The different reports that reached us from that terrain placed before us a bitter reality of the critical state that the Organisation is in.’

The situation is such that faction was concocted by the ignominious Anti-Party element Sadik Premte… The negative attitude Xhepit (Sadik Premtes) has been thoroughly explained to you. It has been stressed persistently that he is the most dangerous element who ever existed in the anti-party, the most treacherous, a swindler. For these reasons especially, the concern and observation and at last his ouster were the main preoccupations of the leaders of the organisation.

Comrade Vjosa, the organising secretary, holds a great responsibility for this abnormal situation in the organization today… Special, precise and categorical directives are given to comrade Vjosa for the attitude towards Xhepi, and it is ascertained that these directives are not executed and are even neglected.

Comrade Vjosa has not shown due attention over Xhepi. Not only that he has not isolated him nor taken the necessary measures against him, but he has allowed him to return to Vlora where Xhepi revived the faction. For all these concessions and mistakes will be proceeded later by a full explanation about them and for the responsibility of everyone.

Based on the letter which the Central Committee addressed to the regional committee of Vlora on April 27, 1943 and the different leaflets, we will attract the attention of Comrade Vjosa. These should make him and all the comrades aware of the attitude and way of dealing with the duties, the tactics dealing with the nationalists, the people and friends. We ascertain that all the leaflets contain political mistakes which go out of the directives given by the Central Committee. The conflict with the nationalists, stressed Enver in his letter, is solved (in Vlora) with decrees and terror and never on the basis of fraternity and persuasion.

The great sensation of preparing for war and the organisation of this war by digging up trenches, by gathering the fighting units from various regions shows that we are launching a frontal war against the fascism which frightens the people and on the other hand are out of the directives of the Party. The behaviour between friends should be fraternal and not humiliating. We have no faith in the enemy, but we should have faith as best friends… Comrade Vjosa, in particular, should be advised to be more careful. He should consult and confer with comrades of the regional committee. He should not make decisions on such grave responsibilities without being consulted….’

One of the most important decisions of the First Conference of KPA was organising the partisan forces in greater Units of the Albanian National Liberation Army. For this reason, the meeting of the General Council of the Anti-Fascist National Liberation Front, in July 10, 1943 chose the General Staff of ANLA (Albanian National Liberation Army). It consisted of 12 members. As it is known Major Spiro Moisiu, officer of the career, was chosen as the head of the General Staff. Enver Hoxha was chosen as commissar of the Army. The chosen members were: Myslim Peza, Haxhi Lleshi, Mustafa Xhani (Baba Faja), Ramadan Çitaku, Abaz Kupi, Ymer Dishnica, Dali Ndreu, Mustafa Gjinishi, Sejfulla Malëshova and Bedri Spahiu.

Mehmet was not on this list. He, who had attended a military school and taken part in the Anti-Fascist war in Spain, could not accept this fact! But Enver looked far: The Communist Party had taken on its back the responsibility of leading the people’s war for the national liberation. For this, he worked with sincerity. The choice of each member of the General Staff had a purpose. Each of them was a military and political figure with a good knowledge of regional and national scope. Based on the criteria and composition of the General Staff, Enver did not recommend Mehmet Shehu. Enver was aware of the mistakes Mehmet Shehu made in Vlora. Not only those that had to do with the problems of the organisations of the Party, but his convictions regarding the partisan war.

When the General Staff decided to expand the ANLA, Enver appointed Mehmet Shehu as a commander of the First Brigade. The choice was pre-meditated and not only to give satisfaction to Mehmet from Enver. Enver respected his courage and bravery as a man of action and one with the qualities of a disciplined, military leader. The glorious path of the First Brigade has been tied to the leadership of commanders like Mehmet Shehu. Enver has pointed this out more than one time in public and social speeches. Enver held this opinion not only for Mehmet but for all warriors, members of the First Brigade and the leading personnel. There are published letters by Enver to all partisan units. In these he recommends by name the bravest and the most decided partisans in the first unit of the National Liberation Army. There were held in high esteem and set as an example to all the other future brigades.

In addition, Enver Hoxha, having known of the stern and unrestrained character of Mehmet, chose Tuk Jakova as the commissar of the Brigade. He was selected because he was from Shkodra, as a symbol of participation by the north of Albania in this military unit, and as hard worker and founder of Party. He also picked Tuk because he was a man of humour and sociable with people. I also think that the choice of Fiqret Sanxhaktari as a vice-commissar was made with the full intention by Enver. First, he knew Fiqret after the founding of the Party when she was activated in the printing of the first documents of the party, the Resolution and the Call. Later, Fiqret was a hard worker while she was a member of the Party committee for Tirana. She was a woman of few words. Perhaps Qemal Stafa recommended her to Enver for her strong mental capacities and leadership abilities. Such a choice would help in the training of partisan warriors, most of whom came from village. I have spoken to him about Fiqret and our friendship. By appointing Fiqret in the First Brigade, perhaps Enver thought such a mature colleague would soften Mehmet’s stern character…

But neither Tuk Jakova, nor Fiqret Sanxhaktari could change the character of the Brigade’s commandant. Mehmet Shehu continued to behave according to his nature without regard to consulting friend or unit commanders. He refused to take advice or listen to the consent of the General Staff. He ignored to execute their decisions.

At the end of October 1943 when the German invaders were preparing to fight against the partisan forces in regions of Peza and Çermenika, the General Staff ordered the 1st Brigade to assist the partisan troops in the regions of Dumre and Darsi, the location where the German troops were situated. The command of the 1st Brigade emptied the regions of Peqin and Lushnje without knowledge or informing the General Staff. On November 1, 1943 it freed the town of Berat. In this way, it went 70-80 kilometres from the region where the operation against Peza was underway. The swift return of the Brigade to that region was impossible.

During this time the Germans prepared to invade Berat. Mehmet Shehu orders the Brigade to go to Mallakaster. He left 150 Italians who had just joined the forces of National Liberation Army to protect Berat. This way, he avoided sending the 1st Brigade to active zones of fighting such as Peza, Çermenika and Berat.

From the documents of war we conclude that Mehmet Shehu failed to carry out the orders of the General Staff. In September 11, 1943 the General Staff orders the command of the the 1st Brigade to advance from Pogradec to Labinot. But it took them six days! In September 18, 1943 the General Staff also ordered the 1st Brigade to block the roads between Elbasan-Tirana. On September 23, the command of the Brigade started to carry out this order. Great delays in execution of these orders of the General Staff were observed in other cases. The most flagrant disobedience was the so called ‘The incursion of the 1st Brigade for saving the General Staff’.

The Truth Regarding the Legendary March of the 1st Brigade in Saving the General Staff

During the Nazi Operation of the winter 1943-1944, the Commissar Enver Hoxha was encircled in the region of Cermenika (Elbasan) with a branch of the General Staff including Commander Spiro Moisiu.

In order to break the encirclement of the Staff, E. Hoxha sent a letter to Nako Spiru in the beginning of February 1944. In it he writes: ‘We want to escape like A. (Aliu-Miladin Popoviç) and T. (Trashi – Koçi Xoxe). If it is possible, please send a letter to T. and show him our plan. Let him answer in detail about the situation of our encirclement. If it is possible, let them send a unit to Grabova and rescue us. In order to understand the plan better, we have to go from this region which is called the same name that I used to sign this document (Shpati). You are wise and understanding. For that reason the unit from Korça would be a great assistance to us if it advances further into the region...’

There is no document of the General Staff; there is no order, no letter from Enver Hoxha seeking help from Mehmet Shehu to save the General Staff. The only document if it can even be called one, is the letter that Mehmet Shehu sent to Dushan Mugosha on February 11, 1944. This letter is published in the first and only volume of ‘Works’ by Mehmet Shehu. It contains many falsifications.

In this letter he informed Dushan Mugosha that he was told by Baca (Ramadan Çitaku) that: ‘The General Staff was isolated and is living in the forests…Therefore, the Staff is in danger,. We must save it. The 1st Brigade should take responsibility and save the Staff…’.

Only Mehmet Shehu knew the contents of this letter. This letter does not even exist in the Central Archives of the Party. Neither is it spoken about in any document. Even if the sending of such a letter was true, it did not constitute an order for the 1st Brigade. The location of the General Staff was not given in this letter. In order for the Brigade to undertake such an important action such as saving the General Staff, it needed to have the order and know the location of the Staff.

Strangely, Mehmet Shehu asked Dushan Mugosha, not the Staff, for the precise location of the Staff of the Central Committee of the ACP and the order to save them. In the aforementioned letter, Mehmet wrote to Dushan: ‘Send us immediately the information on the location of the Staff and their circumstances. Advise us on how should we mobilise, how many forces are needed, from where we should go and the current conditions we might encounter in the regions we will travel through.’

(In the first edition of the ‘Works’ by Mehmet Shehu this citation is left out.) From the materials in the Central archives of the Party, there are no documents that prove whether he took the advice of Dushan Mugosha. But the fact that he began preparations for the ‘legendary march’ show that he had taken the commands from Dushan and ‘his opinion how the 1st Brigade should act’. In fact, it responded with boasting and delay.

In the letter that Mehmet Shehu sends to Mugosha, there appears great ‘concern’. He asks urgently for information and stresses that the General Staff should be saved at any cost. How they prepared for the march was not convincing.

The path followed by the 1st Brigade was in opposition to the one proposed by Enver Hoxha to Nako Spiru. The Staff was supposed to go from Shpati towards Opar in Korça. But by consequence the 1st Brigade went to Tomoricë-Librazhd-Çermenikë-Shëngjergj in the North. Is it possible that he knew nothing about this path the General Staff would follow? The facts suggest that it was not Mehmet but Mugosha who gave the due instructions and advised him on the itinerary of the movement has been aware of it. The documents speak for this.

Nako Spiru sent a letter to Miladin Popovic and Koci Xoxe on February 13, 1944. He wrote: ‘Answer as soon as possible. Are you able to send a unit to Shpat? They write to me (you know who) that they have some sort of plan that they might move there. If you can, send a unit by the 20th. But be strong and smart.

This letter was received by Popovic and Xoxe to whom it was addressed. This is proved by a letter sent by Enver on March 1944 to Nako Spiru. Enver wrote that when he arrived in Korçë, he found his two letters and that the comrades in Korçë had sent a unit commanded by Riza Kodheli to assist the Staff.

Is it possible that Dushan Mukosha had not been aware of Nako Spiru’s letter? Dushan was there in the same region where Miladin Popoviç and Koçi Xoxe were stationed.

Secondly, in Enver’s letter to Nako Spiru, it is requested that the actions must be taken immediately. This was mentioned by Mehmet as well. However, these preparations for the incursion and its performance took a long time. Between February 11 and 19, Mehmet Shehu prepared the strategy for the operation by setting out the details of the march itinerary and the meeting of the necessary forces. The political Section of the Brigade headed by Fiqret Sanxhaktari held the meeting of the communists on February 19 and 20, at Zerec in Opar. On February 21, the Brigade began its ‘march’.

Thirdly, the mission for rescuing the General Staff was very secretive and performed with utmost concealment. Enver Hoxha advised that a small and smart partisan unit should be directed to rescue the General Staff. However, the act of Mehmet Shehu marching with three battalions was hardly a secret. He ‘immediately attracted the attention’ of the German forces because of its ‘pomposity and boisterousness’. If Mehmet Shehu kept the mission secret, he did this only for the communists of the Brigade.

It was written in the history of the 1st Brigade: ‘seeing that the march was kept a secret, it (the communists’ meeting) could not be addressed directly because of the duty the three battalions of the Brigade was charged to perform. Because the conspiracy depended on the execution of this order, it was deemed the most subtle way of preparing the communists for the march.

The interior and exterior political situation of the Albanian Communist Party and its role in the National Liberation war were discussed at a Party meeting. But the organisation of in the Brigade and its political duties were never mentioned, nor were the details of the mission undertaken by the Brigade.

With the arrival of the Brigade in Shëngjergj by Tirana, Mehmet Shehu called it an accomplishment. He made no mention of the endeavours to rescue the Staff or their fate. He sent a letter to a part of the General Staff. He wrote: ‘Comrades have crossed the Shkumbin heading to Dumre, but for the moment they are on the other side of Devoll. Or, if they remained in Dumre, we shall find them when we pass through. A few days are needed for the weather to improve, then the Shkumbin might be crossed. Even if something happens to them, they shall bear responsibility and no one else. We reached our objective’.

Mehmet Shehu says he fulfilled his mission, ‘we reached the objective’. But what was the objective Mehmet Shehu thought he reached? He writes that ‘we shall find them in Dumre when we cross Shkumbin’.

Mehmet Shehu Opposes the Order of the General Staff for the Passing of the 1st Brigade to the North

Mehmet Shehu’s attitude toward the General Staff and his inclination to act according to plans in his head became clear by his opposition and hesitation to implement the order which the General Staff gave to the 1st Brigade and later the 1st Division for passing of Shkumbin heading to the north of Albania.

In March 1944, Mehmet Shehu arrived with three battalions of the 1st Brigade to Shëngjergj near Tirana where he met Kadri Hoxha and took a letter that comrade Haxhi Lleshi addressed to the General Staff. The letter as Mehmet Shehu discovered was not addressed to him. He opened it anyway. He learned that the General Staff did not agree that the 1st Brigade should advance into central and northern Albania. This thought disturbed him and made him nervous. He wrote to the Staff: ‘According to that letter it appears you intend to send the 1st Brigade this way from the central Albania. I warn you: “It would be a crime to send the 1st Brigade or any other Brigade in present conditions to central or northern Albania. I shall not take any responsibility in case you order the other part (Tuk) to cross the Shkumbin River in these conditions.”’

The General Staff studied the situation regarding the expansion of troops fighting in the central and northern Albania in April 22 1944. It issued the final order to the 1st Brigade. Mehmet Shehu opposed the order. ‘For the moment – he wrote in April 28 to the General Staff,’ ‘neither the Devoll nor Shkumbin rivers can be crossed at any place. I have much to say about this and will come to explain for this reason.’ Mehmet Shehu not only opposed the order but he explained his reason against the delay to execute the order. He was criticised harshly by E. Hoxha for failing to execute the order.

Mehmet Shehu not only felt dissatisfied by this criticism but it made him doubt himself as he later asserted in one of his letters in December 1944, ‘This criticism drove me to a very grave situation to the extent I attempted to take my life several times!’

After the Congress of Permet in June 1, 1944, the General Staff ordered the 1st Division to assault to the direction of the Shkumbin. This order was not executed. The pretext being that the 4th Brigade had not yet joined the division. In its place the Staff of the Division proposed to send the 12th Brigade. All these were done to postpone the execution of the order.

In June 18, the General Staff repeated the order to advance the 1st Division to the north of Shkumbin: ‘You should not waste time’ – was the Staff’s order-‘you should pass with the appointed forces. The remaining forces of the 1st Brigade will be met by an appointed group of soldiers who will organise them and direct them to meet the active brigade. Take advantage of the timing. The enemy, operating from the part of Kurvelesh, has scattered their forces to several centers. It allows you to safely cross the Shkumbin.’

Hysni Kapo, seeing that Mehmet Shehu hesitated to execute the order of the General Staff on June 21, 1944, wrote ‘… it is necessary for political and military reasons that the 1st Division pass as soon as possible toward North without waiting for the arrival of the 4th Brigade.’

Despite the frequent instructions of the Superior Command, the Command of the Division and Mehmet Shehu in particular hesitated to send the forces of the Division to the North. Seeing this critical situation, Enver Hoxha on July 1, 1944 harshly criticised the directing personnel of the 1st Division. He wrote: ‘It appears there are hesitations and pretexts in the Staff of that Division. The argument does not convince me why it didn’t go to the North. It should have happened. First of all, you should never question the orders that come from the General Staff or the Central Committee. No one is allowed to play or postpone them. The suggestions to activate the 12th Brigade and leave the 6th Brigade plus the decision not to go north are decisions against the orders of the General Staff and are dangerous and harmful. Seeing the scattering of the 4th Division and facing challenges, the Staff of the Division was afraid to take responsibilities to continue their advance according to the orders given. They questioned the General Staff’s decision go to the north. ‘They are dangerous because if the orders given by the Party are discussed but not carried out, this endangers the strength and authority of the Army, General Staff and the Party.’

After the Liberation of the country Mehmet Shehu tried to blame the responsibility of the non-execution of the order to the others. These were the enemy elements condemned by the Party. He has been trying to justify himself at the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania held in June 1967. The agenda of the text of the History of the PLA was discussed. I attended as Director of the Institute of the Marxist-Leninist studies. In this meeting he said: ‘I have never heard that the command of the Division has decided not to execute the order of the General Staff for passing to the north. I learned this after reading the agenda of the History of the Party’.

After this, he tried to blame the responsibility to Tuk Gjakova, Liri Gega and Dali Ndreu. They were condemned by the Party. He tried to lay responsibility by trying to come out clean. But the facts speak otherwise. They witness that he who refused to execute the order to move the units of the National Liberation Army to the north was Mehmet Shehu. In a letter he sent to the General Staff on June 19, 1944, he requested that the 5th Brigade stay in the region of Shpat to rid the area of the gendarmerie. But the information about troops in Shpat was doubtful.

He regards this action with greater importance than the passing to the north. The performance of this action according to the arguments raised by him would continue for a long time because the forces of the 1st Division were scattered around the territory. He wrote: ‘It is imprudent to cross on the other side of Shkumbin and leave behind all those forces of gendarmerie. It is my opinion to begin immediately the total encirclement of these forces: The 1st Brigade come from above Shpat, the 5th Brigade of three battalions come sidelong from Gostima and Dumre. It is better that someone talks with the General Staff. I advise to think it over and talk about the matter then inform us urgently. Tell us about the time of action but take into consideration the starting points of our forces scattered over Gramsh, Dragot-Tunjë and Nahije’.

It was clear he made all decisions to stop the advancement of the 1st Division to the north of Shkumbin.

On June 19, he sent another letter to the Staff of the Division. He tried to convince the leading personnel of the Staff that the situation and the condition of the Division made it impossible to allow movement of partisan forces to the North of Shkumbin. ‘It would be better if you talked to the General Staff and consider all details. Our passing on the other side cannot be executed without considering the situation of the south after the operation of the 4th Brigade. They would not be able to function in my opinion as a part of the Division for a long time’.

The letter of June 19 is published in the volume I of the works of Mehmet Shehu, prepared by Ndreçi Plasari. It was shortened and edited to convey the intention of Mehmet Shehu to delay the movement of the 1st Division to the North.

He writes in a letter that he executed two gendarmes caught by the 5th Brigade without trial. Even this information does not appear in the published book. According to him the captured gendarmes declared that there were many troops concentrated in the region and on the national front. He used this information as an argument to oppose the order of the General Staff.

By the means of these documents Mehmet Shehu asserts that it was his suggestion to the Staff of the 1st Division not to cross the Shkumbin, He claimed ‘he was not informed about the failure to execute the order of the General Staff. This he learned for the first time by reading the History of the Party. He raised the issue at the meeting of the Political Bureau and it was deemed as cheating.’

As soon as Hysni Kapo was informed about the proposal of Mehmet Shehu in a letter dated June 21, 1944, he called his attention not to oppose the passing of the 1st Division because of some forces of the gendarmerie. They might have appeared in the region of Shpat. But the 12th Brigade was ordered to eradicate them. He wrote: ‘Commanding the Division to the North has a great political importance. The sooner we pass, the greater the success we will have. Even militarily, we think this situation more favorable because German forces are scarce.

The passing should be made as quickly as possible. We should avoid endeavours out of the areas of the marked objective which could impede the movement of the forces’.

Although the instructions for the advancement of troops to the north were categorical, Mehmet Shehu tried again to postpone the execution of the order. On June 22, he wrote to the general Staff: ‘We intend to pass Shkumbin during the night of June 24-25 if conditions are normal.’

Mehmet Shehu did what could in order to sabotage the execution of the General’s Staff order. It is impossible that he did not know the great political importance of this order. It aimed at the assault against the interior reaction for the total liberation of the country from the Nazis and taking power by the people.

The question arises: why did he hesitate so long and oppose so many times the important order of the General Staff? Only because some brigades from the south should be strengthened, because he had to deal with some gendarmes or because he could not find a suitable night or time to cross the river?

Can his reasons be explained because of his obstinacy? He had to decide for himself as an educated military man with a great experience in order for his word to be respected? Or were there promises made to others as it would appear later?

Meanwhile, the officers of the British mission in Albania protested to the General Staff with arrogance and persistence that the National Liberation Army should not attack to the north. Enver Hoxha writes in his memories: ‘From the beginning of July 1944 the English Communications Officer asked me for an urgent meeting. I received him.

“I have received a message from the Allied Staff of the Mediterranean. It is requested that you stop the assaults against Kupi and others in the North who are patriots and our friends. Otherwise, your assistance will be cut,” he said to me.

‘Our Division, - I answered (Enver writes) – has taken orders to rid the North of the Germans, the mercenaries and traitors, to establish the power of the National Liberation councils and incite the people to fight the enemy’.

After two days the Allied Staff of the Mediterranean repeated its ultimatum through a note sent by General Wilson.

Before the allies gave an ultimatum to the General Staff, they sent their envoy to Mehmet Shehu. He represented the Allied forces at Abaz Kupi. When Mehmet Shehu and the envoy of Malkin, the old agent of intelligent service and head of English mission at Abaz Kupi, talked, it was in private. What they said was not known. But in the letter of July 22, 1944 written by Mehmet Shehu to the General Staff, it was clear that the English officer wished to reach an impasse and avoid war. In the letter he wrote: ‘This (person) tried to reach an agreement with me, but I told him that this is not possible. I am not the Staff of the Division and I do not represent the General staff”.

In this way Mehmet Shehu pretends that he told the English ally, but in the letter he addressed to the General Staff, he suggested talks should be held and some concessions should be made. He writes: ‘Talk and come to terms. Perhaps he can help us with material’.

Nexhmije Hoxha ‘Miqesi e tradhetuar’, (‘Betrayed Friendship’), Tirana, 2004, pp. 20-36.

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