May the 5th of this year has been the most special to me. My grandmother and I were at the cemetery of martyrs in Tirana when I was little but I didn’t understand at all what it meant. I could simply think of some heroes who died in the war fighting for the country and are honored after their death.
In Austria, May the 5th is the liberation day of one of the most infamous concentration camps, Mauthausen. The European Union sends delegations every year and this time happened to be one of them. Before we headed there, I briefly read about the camp in Google but I could never imagine there were also Albanians murdered.
I barely woke up that morning because it was raining. It was so cold that I was feeling lazy to go. Then I made up my mind and said: ‘Who knows when the next time will be to visit a concentration camp. Pull yourself together and go to the destination. You are so young to be lazy!’ I met some of my colleagues who work for the EU in Vienna and we headed to Linz on a bus where the camp was situated.
I didn’t know the importance of the event until I saw thousands of people from different nations. Numerous delegations who came to honor the victims of Holocaust. The first prisoners, who built a part of the camp, have come in 1938.
Later, on May 5th 1945, the camp was liberated by the American army. It is thought that there were murdered 90 000 of 190 000 prisoners in total. It is unknown if the numbers are correct because others said there are so much more.
I see high barbed walls and a few watchtowers. Apparently, it is a present typical prison but once you get in and watch carefully, you make a difference. As I said, it was full of people with different uniforms and flags because the victims were from different European nations, not only Jews. As I entered, I caught an eye of a group of organized people gathered with purple triangles on their hands and the faces of murdered people in the camp.
They were ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’, who were persecuted because of their belief during the wars. Because they didn’t honor the flag, didn’t accept to go in the army or lie the authorities. I have learned these details from my mum who is also part of them. Then I understood, the purple triangles were a sign inside the camp to let them know the reason they were prisoned. It is sad to be persecuted because of their belief.
As I was seeing many kinds of flags I was thinking: ‘If there are from all around Europe, for sure there are also Albanians somewhere.’ At that moment I see our flag and the one of Kosovo. I was thrilled! I went to salute the delegation to find out the reason they were here. I meet Mr. Ronald, the Albanian ambassador in Austria and the other colleagues. Also, I meet Isa, consul of Kosovo in Austria.
‘In Mauthausen camp there were murdered 450 Albanians, didn’t you know?!’- said one of them. I was shocked! ‘When, where, how’ – I started questioning while I was sad and angry that I wasn’t aware of it. Anyways, no one has ever mentioned it in our scholar books or on media. Why is no one talking about the martyrs, the persecuted or people who have suffered during those times?
‘We have come from Vlora, just for this ceremony. We are a group of people whose grandparents or parents have died in the Mauthausen camp. When we have the chance, we come and visit honoring their memory because now there is nothing left as their bodies are burned. I remember they took many people mainly from Vlora in that time. They were detected at the square in front of the municipality. We are impressed because they didn’t take only people who were against the system but also teachers and doctors. Without a reason. Surely, all the prisoners were men’ – one of the ladies was telling me
Meanwhile I was wondering: “You silly even lazed to woke up and doubted your visit here”
Later on, an old man was telling me his personal story.
“They took my father when I was 7 years old. We didn’t see him since then. We didn’t know where they were taking him.”- while showing me the list of some Albanian names.
“We came a few years ago here to put our father’s photo inside. They showed willingness to help us. If you go inside the museum you will see him”- replies a patriot of mine. I join again the colleagues because it was the time of parade.
The prime minister and the other ministers were the first who honored. Then the USA delegation with their ambassador and the most well-dressed soldiers. Because America liberated the camp and they have to go first in the parade. After Americans it was the time of European Union delegates to walk down the parade.
I went to see the camp from inside. At first, I went to a photography exhibition and then to the torture rooms. Mauthausen camp is known for its ‘Stairs of the Death’.
The prisoners climbed the stairs carrying heavy stone weights standing in a queue. If someone fell, the others after him would also fall like a domino effect. The strongest prisoners had the possibility to be executed (which it is called the easiest death and allegedly a favor) or to push down another prisoner behind to death and they continued living. Many of them chose the execution. Other ways were for example: dying on the gas room. Some of them were used for scientific experiments.
There was not much food, the prisoners died of hunger. I experienced pain especially when I was thinking that even people of my blood have gone through these tests. In the room of burned bodies, there are memorials or photo with the names of people who lost their lives.
Somewhere I saw an Albanian flag and a marble memorial where were written their names with the inscription: ‘To our brave sons with the aspiration of freedom on their hearts”.
In the next room, I saw some other Albanian names with pictures.
Among others except Albanian tracks, in one part of the camp was also this sculpture of Odhise Paskali, made in 1968. It showed an Albanian soldier who puts down a German soldier. This artistic work is made on purpose from Albania for the Mauthausen camp.
I go back to the parade because it was time for the Albanians to pay tribute to their people. I couldn’t mis that moment without recording it.
The moderator started speaking Albanian during the time of honors.
It so beautiful to hear your language among 9000 people. When the day was ending, I thought of how much we should value the freedom of democracy we are living. Especially, people of my generation or those who were born after the ‘90 and have no idea of this misery. But what hurts the most is that these people are not remembered as it should be. I hope this article will serve to honor and remember people who have once suffered because nowadays there are no more heroes as long as we have lost the idealism.