‘The Savër Camp was near the town of Lushnja, four kilometres away. The camp was divided in two neighbourhoods: that of the free and of the slaves (internees). According to the drastic majority of the free men, we were the reason Albanians didn’t have enough to eat; because that’s how they had been told by communism’s messengers and they believed this blindly.’
The homes had been built by handmade bricks. Their foundations were parallel to the ground, humidity would reach almost half of the walls’ height. Even the floor was laid by this kind of bricks. The walls had been plastered first and then limed. Two families would live in 24 square metres, which had only one separating wall.
Neither of the internees’ buildings had a toilet inside. It was located out of the homes and was for the common use of three to four families. Its area was 1 x 1m and it served for the personal needs of each internee. It was also the place where the internees would wash themselves with water they’d hold in buckets.
This didn’t exist, neither as a designated space nor as a concept. Cooking was usually done in a corner of the barrack or out of it. The dishes would also be washed outside with the water that was filled and kept in the buckets.
Some 3-metre-deep wells had been opened in Savër for potable water. They were used by all the camp’s internees to fill buckets of water. Worms, leeches, mosquitoes and frogs were rife in that water — it was no different to swamp water. Internees boiled the water before drinking it.
The roads inside the camp were unpaved. In winter, the mud was knee-deep and, as a resident would put it, ‘was sticky like butter.’
Bread was taken by ration cards.
It was performed twice or thrice a day and notified by a bell in the centre of the camp. Whenever the bell rang, internees had to line up and show their presence, otherwise they’d be punished in different ways.
The police was ever-present. In the first years, internees needed police clearance to go to the town (Lushnja).
An internee couldn’t leave the camp without clearance even if they were sick and the town was only four kilometres away. If they were absent in the evening roll call they would be warned. If they repeated it, they would be taken to the interior branch, where torture or transfer to more distant camps across the Myzeqe Field was not unheard of.
Work during the seasons
The drastic majority worked in agriculture and around thirty of them in construction. Gëzim Baruti, former internee, has described for us the work process in each season.
This was the season of planting, irrigating, hoeing, cultivating and opening of canals. We would take the tools and bread bag and go through the road to the great canal to reach a wide and endless field. The lots that were further away were 7 km, meaning we walked 14 km everyday on foot. After breakfast, we would be under the scorching sun until 12:00. After a little lunch break, we’d continue all the way until 17.00; 10 hours of work. We’d come back home at 7:30, exhausted both from work and the long distance and poor food.
This is the season with the longest, sunniest and hottest days. Summer was the busiest of all seasons. We’d depart at 4:00 am sharp. Until 8:00 we would harvest legumes; then we’d go weed or hoe corn or cotton. Days later we’d move on to threshing clover or alfalfa with combines produced in the east, which had a deafening sound when on. Except the noise, during threshing a dust would rise that almost choked us, giving us throat pain and restless cough. The reader can imagine how much dust we’ve breathed in during 40 years of labour! Threshing would continue all the way until late hours. If the combine broke during the day, we wouldn’t be paid and nobody cared if we were staying three to four hours without work. We only had our straw hats to give us shade. They were all we had against temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius. It sounds too horrific to be true. To freshen up, we’d go into the irrigation or drainage canals several times a day with our clothes on. After half an hour, our clothes would dry up and we’d get in the water again. We often returned to the camp with a tractor coming to take the seed of the threshed alfalfa. Our foremen were good people but very eager to execute the ‘directives’ of the farm’s party secretary, an obedient henchman of the bloody communist dictatorship. However, there were also sadistic foremen who took pleasure in our endless sufferings and struggle. ………
This season was very busy, with the largest variety and some of the most demanding tasks. The work schedule was usually provided in the morning but sometimes even at evening so that we could depart early in the morning at 4:00 or 5:00 according to the lot where we worked. We usually harvested cotton and corn. Corn would grow and become strong and its harvest was considered hard work. The road to the worksite was done almost always on foot. If you entered the cornfields, you couldn’t breathe and you’d be covered in sweat because you couldn’t feel any wind at all – that’s how grown and messy the corn branches were! We didn’t wear any upper body clothing, not even tank tops. We dripped in sweat from head to toe. We’d drain the water we took with us very fast and would later drink in the irrigation or drainage canals: thirst doesn’t care about water quality! The production rates required were high, which was proportionate to the hunger among the internees. Therefore, you had to work beyond your means, otherwise you wouldn’t live long! Then again, we succeeded despite the difficulties, like Fan Noli said: ‘the Albanian doesn’t die but lives on.’ After ten hours of work, we’d form a long line to return home tired and silent. Our smiles, that we lost from the exhausting day, would come back to us only when we met our relatives and children in the evenings. ……….
Communism was a long winter on its own and bears no semblance with any other season! We didn’t get to really feel the low temperatures of the season. Working six months opening lines and canals means you don’t really feel the winter cold because you release a lot of energy when you work with a shovel. From November until the end of April, our work was opening canals and drainage lines. Preparation would start a day ahead with the sharpening and hardening of shovels, processes we always did ourselves. We used extra kickplates on the shovels to dig up to 40 cm deep. The production rate was nine cubic metres of digging. They had to provide us with two pairs of boots per year, but we’d barely manage to get our hands on one pair produced by some rubber workshop in Durrës. These boots were low quality and would be penetrated by water within two weeks. After three months, they’d be spotted everywhere, so much so that it looked like we had worn metal sheet boots or torture boots like those used by the servants of the ‘modern’ Nero against the innocent during the horrific years of 1941 to 1991. These were the boots we used to go to work.
Almost all of us exceeded the production rate by one and a half, i.e., 13.5 cubic metres a day or 252 leks. With that amount of money, you could buy two loaves of bread, half a kilo of meat (if there was any to buy), two soaps produced in Rrogozhina, two 18-lek packages of cigarettes and one box of matches. That’s what we, the young workers, would buy. What about those who couldn’t even reach the rate?!
The mud was so sticky that we’d lose one of our boots’ soles every day. We would only realize this when we found ourselves limping on the more or less flat road of the camp. While working with a shovel, our boots would often be filled with water and we’d keep on working when the temperature reached negative 6 degrees Celsius.
Working by shovel was exhausting, which is why the shovel was called the ‘grave tool’.
Internees’ children’s schooling was free until the eighth grade. After 1980, high school was prohibited for them. They were allowed to enroll in the agricultural high school and naturally attend it during the night shift only. If the internees couldn’t supply the livestock sector for reasons out of their control, they would be punished by being taken to a bad brigade where, as Gëzim Baruti said, ‘the foreman was nothing short of a Cerberus like that of Dante’s Inferno.’
If an internee was called to do additional work after having finished his workday and could not go for a variety of reasons, he could be facing public denunciation in the brigade after a few days, and a few months or years later he could be arrested on charges of ‘Agitation and Propaganda’ or ‘Undermining Power of the People’.