It is said that Albania under the dictatorship was a large prison. However, we still cannot imagine how large the map of Albania would look if all the internment sites, prisons and forced labor camps were made visible. This video presents the places where political prisoners suffered from 1944 to 1991, divided in three groups: internment camps; temporary labor camps and lastly, long-term prisons and prison camps.
Right after taking over the country, the communists started to gather the “enemy” families in camps similar to the Nazi ones, and create communist areas with “pure blood” in the main cities. From 1945 to 1953, internment camps were surrounded with barbed wire. The people surrounded were mainly elderly, women and children, given that the men had escaped, were convicted or executed. The interned were sent as far away as possible from their homes: the southerners in the North and the northerners in the South; they were forced to work and fed with rations. According to official data, in October 1949, there were 2618 people in camps.
Camps surrounded with barbed wire, 1945-1953
1. Camp of Kruja
March 1945 – September 1947. The first internment site in the North, where up to 900 people were taken from the South of Albania. The camp was located in a military unit inside the city. The inhabitants would be fed with 600 grams of cornbread per day and used in forced labor. After the camp was closed, its inhabitants were sent to the camp of Valias.
2. Camp of Berat
March 1945 – May 1949. This was the first internment site in the South of Albania. The interned, who worked in Kuçova, were put in the Murat Çelepia neighbourhood, but also in the city castle. In 1946, there were 1275 interned people from the Middle and North of Albania. After the camp was closed, the interned were transferred to Tepelena.
3. Camp of Tepelena
1949 – 1953. On the way to Tepelena, spouses Fadil and Maja Petrela lost their lives in an accident. Their four minor children entered the camp without their parents, while hundreds of mothers left the camp withouth their children. In the camp of Turan, and later that of Tepelena, around 300 children lost their lives from epidemics and malnutrition.
4. Camps of Kamza dhe Valias
1948 – 1953. In Kamza, interned people from the South and foreign POWs were gathered. In 1949, a camp of huts, surrounded by barbed wire, was built in Valias, near the Ylli i Kuq (Red Star) farm. In 1951, some of the interned were transferred to Kodër-Kamza. The women worked in the Bricks Factory.
5. Camp of Porto-Palermo
December 1949 – December 1950. The interned were taken to the castle of Ali Pasha of Tepelena. They lived in total isolation and with no medical care. They left the camp almost blind from the lack of food and drinkable water.
Wires taken off, yet surrounded all the same
Although the internment camps with barbed wires were eventually outlawed, tens of the interned remained surrounded because they were taken to camps (in Plug and Savra, Lushnja and Shtyllas, Fier) where prisoners worked as well.
Open internment camps
1954 – 1990
After the barbed wire camps were closed, the villages around Lushnja and Fier became the primary internment sites. The interned lived in huts and worked in agriculture. They would report three times a day to the authorities and could not leave the internment site without permission. The permanent enemy families: Biçaku, Mirakaj, Pervizi, Kupi, Dosti, Dema, Dine, etc., were resentenced continuously and many of them spend 40 years in internment. Klora Mirakaj Merlika went into internment as a 10-year-old child and left the internment as a grandmother. The villages where the enemies of the state were interned are much more that the average Albanian knows.
1954 – 1958 Camp of Kuç, Vlora. A camp isolated by nature, only with men, former high officials, intellectuals and members of well-known families, such as Zef and Baltazar Benussi, Lekë and Valentin Pervizi, Mikel Koliqi and Sami Kokalari.
1970 The family of Liri Belishova that has been interned from 1961 in Kuç and later in Progonat, now transferred to Cërrik, where they spend the next 20 years.
1977 The barbed wire camp returns in the internment sites of Tale, Fishta and Kalivaç of Lezha.
In 1982 Liri Lubonja and her son are interned from Lezha to Fishta, as her husband, Todi Lubonja and the other son, Fatos, were in prison. At the same place, Fadil Paçrami’s family is interned, himself also in prison.
1990 The last internment ruling must have been taken on 10 February 1990.
8 May 1990 The People’s Assembly abolished the law on internments and deportations.
The records number 12 thousand interned people between 1949 and 1990. Considering the children and the interned before 1949, the overall number of the interned and deported in Albania is much higher.
Temporary labor camps
The hardest work such as drainage of marshes, construction of canals and roads, which became a priority for the communist government, was immediately laid upon the political convicts, who worked as slaves. In the beginning of the 1950s, the prisons, with very few exceptions, became Units of Re-education through Forced Labor, and their convicts were moved from one worksite to another, near which dormitories were built and barbed wires were set. These sites would see the building of the first camps and later ones which would function for a limited period of time near the worksites.
Camp of Juba, April 1946-October 1946. In Juba, Durrës, the first forced labor camp of communist Albania was built. Among the convicts, there were former government officials Ibrahim Biçakçiu, Koço Kotta, Et'hem Cara, who went through continuous abuse - they had to enter the camp through a cylinder of barbed wire, on all fours.
Qemal Stafa Stadium, June 1946-October 1946. It was the Italian and German POWs who were used to build the biggest stadium of the country.
Camp of Maliq, Vloçisht, Orman-Pojan, 1947-1951. In this marsh, where its engineers declared as saboteurs were executed in November 1946, there were around 2500 political convicts who served as workers, among whom famous writer and economist Dhimitër Pasko. Work would range from 10 to 14 hours a day in the leech-infested waters, under constant hunger and thirst. Josif Papamihali, Virtyt Gjylbergu and Elmaz Libohova were buried alive in this marsh. It took a miracle for the remainder to survive.
Camp of Beden, 1948-1950, created for building the Peqin-Kavaja irrigation canal. In one of the construction groups, there were 28 Catholic priests, from Zef Pllumi (then 26) to Çiril Cani (then 75). By the end of 1950, Mustafa Vata, who would be released in a few days, was killed by a guard, who turned out to have wrongly assumed that the victim was escaping.
Other enclosed camps where convicts have worked during the first years of the communist regime.
Camp of Lekaj in Kavaja, where preparatory work for the Durrës-Peqin railway was carried out during 1948, while convicts were later used for the construction of irrigation canals.
Camp of Vlashuk in Berat, where during the years 1948-49, a 2-km long irrigation canal was built. In 1953, other convicts came to work for the Devoll-Thana canal. Among them, there was Foto Bala (professor), Isuf Hysenbegasi (doctor) and Jani Ikonomi (lawyer).
Camp of Lozhan, Korça, April 1949-December 1949
Camp of Kamza, which was used for the improvement of the fields of Kamza and Valias during 1948. In the years 1950, 300 Greek immigrants worked near the Ylli i Kuq (Red Star) farm.
Camp of the 29 nëntori (29 November) farm, Lushnja, 1950
Camp of the Çlirimi (Liberation) farm, Fier, 1950
Camp of the Lufta e Vlorës (Vlora War) farm, Llakatund, 1950
Camp of Cërrik, 1952
Camp of the Brick Factory, Tirana, 1952-1953
Camp of the Bona Bridge and camp of Bishqem, along the Peqin-Elbasan road, which was used for the construction of the railway connecting the two towns in 1950.
Camp of Yzberisht, Tirana in the years 1950-1951, where the convicts built the dye drain for the textile factory.
Camp of Olive Groves, Vlora, 1950
Afterwards, there are the units of re-education through labor. The laborers carried a number on their backs and were frequently moved to different workplaces. The convicts were prisoners, but they were forced laborers according to the legal terminology. Of course, the camps they worked on would be enclosed.
Unit of Sukth, Durrës 1950
Unit of Podgorie and Nishavec, Korça 1951
Unit of Gosa, Kavaja 1951
Unit of Peqin and Çengelaj 1951-1952
Unit of Plug, Lushnja 1951-1953
Unit of Llakatund, Vlora
Unit of Rrapi i Trishit, Tirana 1952
Unit of Ura Vajgurore 1952. The convicts worked in Kuçova to build the airport there.
Unit of Rinas, Tirana 1953. The Tirana Airport must have been the first international contribution of translator Jusuf Vrioni, one of the many intellectuals who worked for its construction.
Units of Varibop, Shtyllas, Radostima, Levan, Selishta and Kafaraj, Fier 1953-1955. Hundreds of political convicts were installed in villages around Fier to build irrigation canals. Many of them suffered from illnesses due to poor working conditions.
Unit of Zadrima, Lezha 1954-1958
Unit of the Agimi buildings and other construction camps, Tirana 1953-1963. Over 500 convicts were installed near the Lana River for the construction of the Agimi buildings. In 1954, after tunnels were found that had been built by the convicts to escape, 4 of them were sentenced to death by firing squad and 13 others to prolonged years in jail. Other objects built during this period by the convicts are: the Zogu i Zi area, the Dinamo Stadium, the buildings of the "Myslym Shyri" Road, the food industrial complex and the bakery.
Unit of Tërbuf and Bubullima, Lushnja 1956-1958
Unit of Sauk, Tirana 1959. It was installed for the construction of the sanatorium, later used for the construction of the meat industrial complex, the fur factory, a part of the tractor plant and a part of the Gjergj Dimitrov farm buildings.
Unit of Thumana, Kruja 1958-1961. This camp was used for the marsh drainage. It was firstly installed in Mamurras, then in Gjorm. All 540 convicts had been sentenced for political motivations.
Unit of Laç, 1961-1967. There were some escape efforts, but except one case, the other convicts were caught, and some of them killed. In one gruesome episode in 1965, the guards kill Mark Cuf Marku and take his corpse to the camp, leaving him exposed to all the convicts and ordering them to spit on him. Nobody reacts, except a friend of the victim, Islam Cenko, who approaches and kisses the corpse.
Unit of the Caustic Soda Plant, Vlora, 1963-1965. On 15 June 1964, this camp witnesses in shock the murder of Mustafa Alushi, who had been convicted three times for political motivations, and willingly went towards the camp enclosure chanting "Down with communism".
Unit of Rubik, 1963-1967. Its purpose was the construction of the copper processing plant. Within the first year of this camp, Demir Shkoza is killed for attempting to escape.
Unit of the Cement Plant, Elbasan, 1965. Around 290 political convicts were moved to Elbasan to build the cement plant.
Unit of the Cement Plant, Fushë-Kruja, 1965. The convicts, already "specialized" in building cement plants, come from Elbasan for the same purpose.
Unit of Belsh, Elbasan, 1966-1970. It was installed in 1966 for younger convicts. They worked on agriculture.
Unit of Skrofotina, Vlora, 1967-1972. In temperatures reaching 40-45 degrees Celsius during the summer, under the constant attack of mosquitoes and drinking water from oil barrels, the convicts worked for the construction of the saltworks of Vlora, an embankment and a pumping station. In 1969, 340 political convicts worked here.
Unit of Valas, Elbasan, 1970-1983
Unit of Fishta, Ishull-Lezha and Leras, Lezha, 1972-1983. It served as a camp for young convicts working in the farms of the area.
Unit of Përparim (Progress), Shën Vasil, Sarandë, 1978-1991. The convicts worked in agriculture, more specifically terracing.
Unit of Tërnova, Bulqiza, 1987-1991. Opened with 400 convicts, 110 of whom were political and were tasked with chromium extraction.
Re-education School for Minors, Shën Koll, Lezha, 1987- 1991
Unit of Bardhor, Kavaja, 1987-1991. The convicts worked in laurel cultivation and other agricultural works.
Camp of the Dinamo Sports Complex
1988-1989. The convicts, mostly political, built the Dinamo sports complex in Tirana.
Unit of Gjirokastra
1989-1991. In 1989, a new unit is installed for political convicts who work near the sports field.
Long-term prisons and prison camps
The existing prisons were not enough for the large number of convicts during the communist regime, therefore new ones were built in the first years, even repurposing houses or churches. They were divided in prisons for political and criminal convicts. After realizing the advantages of forced labor from prisoners, the regime converted all prisons into work units, except the Unit 313 in Tirana and 321 in Burrel. Most of them were mobile, but some were installed near the mines to stay there permanently. We will mention here the long-term prison camps, as well as prisons that served only as isolation centers.
In the first years under communism, political convicts served their sentences in:
Prison no. 1 Peshkopia, Prison no. 3 Burrel, Prison no. 4 Shkodra, Prison no. 5 and Prison no. 2 Tirana, Prison no. 7 Durrës, Prison no. 9 Berat, Prison no. 11 Vlora, Prison no. 13 Elbasan, Prison no. 15 Korça, Prison no. 17 Gjirokastra, Prison no. 18 Kukës, Camp no. 19 Valias, Prison no.20 Kavaja. Hygiene, food and clothing, as per the reports, were always an issue. Diseases such as tuberculosis, scabies, and bronchitis in the beginning of years 1950 were alarmingly high in number.
Prisons of Tirana
1944-1991. In the New and Old Prison of Tirana, some of the government officials, officers and intellectuals convicted in the first trials such as the Special Trial or the Trial of Deputies or even without any trial such as the scientist Sabiha Kasimati, the only woman among the 22 innocent convicts killed by firing squad after the bombing of the Soviet Embassy, would spend their last hours.
Prisons of Shkodra
1944-1966. Except the Big Prison and the Gestapo Prison, the New Prison was built in 1945 in the Çekaj House. On 6 February 1945, 280 people were in prison, while over 3 thousand people were imprisoned during the whole year. Except the prisons, around 10 houses and Catholic monasteries were converted to interrogation offices. In them, Myzafer Pipa (lawyer), Fratel Gjini (clergyman), Qemal Draçini (professor) and many more died from tortures.
Prison of Gjirokastra
1944-1953. It was situated in the city's castle. Like the Ottomans in the past, the communist regime used the isolation and harsh conditions that the historical structure provided and made it even crueler by adding underground cells. Over 120 prisoners died in this prison. After it was closed, the convicts were moved to the Prison of Vlora
Prison of Vlora
1944-1964. Except the prison that had been functioning for years in a former house in the city center, in the beginning of years 1950, another prison started to be built at the city entrance. The people sentenced to death by firing squad would be executed 300-500 metres away from the cells and left there. Around 80 people lost their lives from torture and executions.
Prison of Burrel (no. 3 and, after 1957, Unit 321)
1946-1991. It started to be built in the years 1938-39, but was opened as a prison in 1946 to become one of the most barbaric ones. The prison of Burrel saw the deaths of former prime minister Koço Kotta, former ministers Gjergj Kokoshi and Xhevat Korça, playwright Et'hem Haxhiademi, generals Abaz Fejzo and Vaskë Gjini, the Italian citizen Giuseppe Terrusi and hundreds of others, the remains of whom are yet to be removed from the prison's enclosure. Other high clerics have suffered here, such as Visarion Xhuvani and Hafiz Ali Kraja; translators of the classics Mark Ndoja and Gjon Shllaku and tens of intellectuals and artists such as Pjetër Arbnori, Fatos Lubonja, Spartak Ngjela and Sherif Merdani.
Central Handicraft Workshop prison camp, Tirana
1950-1966. It was opened in Tirana in 1950 and used prisoners for some handicrafts, as well as polyglots such as Mirash Ivanaj and Lazër Radi for translations. A part of it would serve as women's prison. Musine Kokalari is one of the convicts in this prison.
Prison camp of Bulqiza
1954-1983. It operated for almost 30 years near the Bulqiza mine that served for chromium extraction. The hardest labor was left to political convicts. From 1954 to 1982, 81 prisoners died in this unit from work accidents.
Unit no. 318, Kuçova
1966-1976. This unit served as a women's prison. They would work in agriculture and the oil industry.
Prison camp of Spaç
1968-1990. The convicts were used for copper and pyrite extraction in Spaç and for copper processing in the Reps plant. The number of political convicts would reach over 1 thousand, while criminal convicts were in the mere tens. This camp is marked by the revolt of 21 May 1973, where the prisoners declared what nobody outside the prisons would dare utter: "You are ruthless - our blood is in your hands", "Down with the communists", "Long live free Albania". After the revolt, Pal Zefi, Skënder Daja, Dervish Bejko and Hajri Pashaj were sentenced to death and executed.
Prison of Tepelena
1970-1973. In a period where only work units were opened instead of prisons, the prison of Tepelena is an exception. It was opened for three years in Bënça, Tepelena, specifically for communists excluded from the Labor Party such as Bedri Spahiu, Koço Tashko, Maqo Çomo.
Prison camp of Ballsh
1972-1983. This prison camp housed convicts from several re-education units, who stayed there for 11 long years. Until 1979, they worked on the construction of the oil refinery, and later of households. In 1976, this prison camp had 550 political convicts.
Women's prison, Kosova, Elbasan 1976-1991.
In 1976, the "women's prison" is transferred from Kuçova to Dumreja. Among the political convicts, there were foreign intellectuals who had been married to Albanian men. The prison is still operational today.
"The prison of older people", Zejmen, Lezha
1982-1987. A unit was installed in Zejmen for the elderly and the ill, largely including political convicts. Although it belonged to work units, the prisoners' state meant that there was usually no work in this unit.
Prison camp of Qafë-Bar
1982-1990. It was built for the copper extraction and processing plant in the factories of Fushë-Arrëz. It became operational in August 1982. The convicts were mainly political. Each year, their number exceeded 300. They were at constant risk of accidents, which caused numerous deaths and injuries, were mistreated by the guards and did not even have warm water to shower. In May 1984, a shocking revolt broke out, after which Sokol Progri died from extreme violence and Sokol Sokoli and Tom Ndoja were executed.
Prepared by: Arta Çano/kujto.al
Data based on:
Archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
"Burgjet dhe kampet e Shqipërisë komuniste (Prisons and Camps of Communist Albania)", Kastriot Dervishi, ISKK, 2015
"Burgjet e Shqipërisë-burg (Prisons of the Prison-Albania)", Agim Musta, Toena Publishing House, 2000
"Zërat e kujtesës V (Voices of Remembrance V)", Agron Tufa and Luljeta Lleshanaku, ISKK, 2018
Kujto.al Foundation, with the support of KAS Albania
Translated from Albanian by: Kelvin ZiflaIn case you are aware of crimes, victims or events related to the communist period in Albania, click here to publish it in our archive.