Azis Gjergji: The First Albanian Anti-Fascist "Peza" Unit of Freedom Fighters in the Second World War


Resume: 75 years ago, on March 14 and 16, 1941, "Çeta Peza", the first partisan unit guerilla freedom fighters in Albania, Balkans and Europe, was commanded by Civilian Myslim Peza. This unit headed her first action and battle against Italian fascist invaders, in Peza e Vogël [Minor Peza] and Peza e Madhe [Great Peza], 10-16 km. away from the capital of Albania, Tirana. Anti-Fascist armed unit "Çeta Peza" successfully survived the 100-days operation of 700 Italian fascist troops, maneuvering with ingenuity and bravery by Myslim Peza, in their area in Central Albania. The unit "Çeta Peza" was initially enlarged on "Partisan Battalion Peza" [March 1943], after "Partisan Peza Group" [July 1943].

Keywords: Myslim Peza, Çeta [Unit] Peza, Peza e Vogel [Minor Peza], Peza e Madhe [Great Peza], Italian fashist, Victor Emmanuel III, Mussolini, Tirana, Albania.

1. Italian Fascist Invasion
On April 7, 1939, Mussolini's troops, led by General Alfredo Guzzoni, invaded Albania, attacking all Albanian ports simultaneously. The original Italian plans for the invasion called for up to 50,000 men supported by 137 naval units and 400 airplanes. Ultimately the invasion force grew to 100,000 men supported by 600 airplanes. Virginio Gayda, the editor of the daily newspaper "Il Giornale d'Italia, informed the Italian people that their troops had invaded Albania: "Italy has landed her troops in Albania because she was called there by Albanian patriots who could no longer tolerate the misgovernment of the King [Zog I], and because she felt compelled to defend the lives and property of Italian citizens who were threatened and attacked by armed bands. A number of prominent Albanians several months ago signed an appeal to the Italian Fascist Government [Benito Mussolini] in the name of the Albanian people, asking for Italian intervention." 1)

Italian King, Victor Emmanuel III, represented in Albania by his Luogotenente [Lieutenant -General or Viceroy], ruled through Albanian Ministers, but he alone could command the armed forces, declare war, make peace, issue administrative ordinances, appoint officials, etc. On June 3, 1939, Albania received her new fascist constitution, which was handed by King Victor Emmanuel III to an Albanian delegation, headed by Shefqet Bey Vërlaci, the Prime Minister. In order to render acceptable to the Albanians their loss of independence through the Italy-Albanian unification process, the Albanian Prime Minister, Shefqet Bej Verlaci, and the head of the Catholic Mirditë tribe, Gjon Marka Gjoni, were among thoshe who were made Italian senators; while the Foreign Minister, Xhemil Dino, was given the rank of an ambassador in the Italian service, and the new Secretary-General of the Albanian Fascist Party, Tefik Selim Mborja, was made in addition a member of the Fascist Grand Council in Rome. The organizer of the occupation of Albania, Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son in law and Minister of Foreign Affairs, in his diary wrote: "I must say that probably for the first time since the annexation they were visibly satisfied… The operation of emasculating Albania without making the patient scream-the annexation-is now practically completed."2)
But Albania was not owned by 4 or 40 Albanian collaborators. Through centuries Albanians had fought against the Ottoman invaders of their own lands by organizing armed volunteer groups (alb. çeta) based on villages and regions. Based on this tradition, Myslim Peza (1897-1984), a villager, illiterate, but very clever, brave and wise, precisely on June 5th, 1940, created the nucleus of an armed Anti-fascist unit, around which, eight fighters rallied within two months. This event is also documented by the Head of Luogotenente (Viceroy), Colonel Arturo Scattini in its information sent to Rome on August 6th 1940: "Now Myslim Peza, has finally created one armed band with eight people. 3)
"Çeta e Pezës" was the first partisan unit guerrila of freedom fighters in Albania, Balkans and Europe commanded by a civilian, Myslim Peza, during the Second World War. Who was Myslim Peza? This has synthetically been described by Lord Julian Amery, a former high cadre of the UK, who helped organize the anti-fascist resistance in the Balkans. Speaking of "two sets of guerrilla strengths" one in Peza and the other in Martanesh, former Major Julian Amery explicitly says: "The first and strongest of these groups was led by Myslim Peza, Robin Hood veteran of Albania, who had been a fugitive for over ten years, first opposed Zog and then the Italians." 4)

2. The First Action
Documents of Central Archive of Albanian State (alb. AQSH), in the Military Court Fund (No. 158), File No. 173 with 300 pages of literature show that the first anti-fascist action in Albania was conducted 75 years ago, on March 14, 1941, in Peza e Vogël (Minor Peza), only 10 km away from the capital of Albania, Tirana. Peza e Vogël action took place at a time when the Greek people, led by King George II, Prime Minister Jan Metaxas and General Alexander Papagos, were fighting heroically to defend freedom, independence and national dignity. Contrary to the illusions of Duce, the Greek resistance was courageous andquicklyled the Greek army to the counterattack. After the withdrawal inside Albania, the Italian fascist army was positioned on a front line from Himara on the west coast to the east by Lake Ohrid. Albanian battalions "Tomorri" and "Taraboshi", which were forced into the Greek front, refused to fight and deserted en masse from the front; some were surrendered to the Greek; others were arrested and locked in the concentration fascist camp at Shijak, from where most of them escaped. 5)

Anti-fascist unit "Çeta Peza", in December 1940, counted 72 members. One of ex-fighter arrested by the Carabinieri later, J. H., testified to the investigator: "Myslim Peza hosted in his house one anti-fascist fighter from Mokra region, named Kajo [Karafili]. There were many Kosovars and Tosks. I didn't know their names, because Myslim's Mouse came in and out abort 30-40 people in the day." Another ex-fighter, J. S., claimed: "At home of Shyqri Peza [brother of Myslim Peza] there were about 60 fugitives and deserters. Inasmuch as they didn't have room for all, 20 people stayed with them, while the others went to the surrounding villages, as Çelmetaj, Cullhaj, Zguraj, Gror, Greca etc ... “Shyqri Peza provided food and our supply of weapons ." The third arrested, K. P. confessed: "One day some friends stole a sheep and a lamb, bringing them to the Peza brothers’ home. When Shyqri, the elder brother, noticed this, he opposed firmly and ordered them to take the stolen animals immediately back to where they had been stolen." 6)

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