Arch of Drashovice 1943

Drashovice Arch 1943

Drashovice Arch 1943

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Arch of Drashovice 1943

If victory was only temporary in 1920 (due to the betrayal by the despot and usurper ‘King’ Zog) the success in 1943 led to a situation where, really for the first time in Albania, the people had the opportunity to build a life and a country for themselves, by themselves. With the expulsion of the Nazis at the end of November 1944 the country gained true independence and it was then for the people to take their own destiny into their hands. No longer could they put the blame on others. The battles that took place in September and October 1943, and which are depicted on the Arch of Drashovice, played a major role in that final victory.

If the struggle, as depicted on the left hand side of the arch, against the Italians in 1920 seems to be crowded it is even more so on the right. There are parallels but also significant differences, many of those provided by the organisation of the National Liberation Army that was created under the leadership of the, then, Albanian Communist Party – later to become the Party of Labour of Albania.

This history unfolds in an anti-clockwise direction but, apart from that, follows the same format as already described of the 1920 events.

The panel under the arch has the same element of frantic activity. Here there are people who are not actively involved in fighting but are rushing to the front where others are already engaging the enemy. At the extreme left hand side are three male partisans. The one on the very edge we see his face side on, looking in the direction of the battle. He is wearing a cap and although we can’t see the star that would be on the front (this is the typical cap of a Partisan uniform). His left hand, which is resting on his chest, holds a rifle. Of a second male we only see part of his face as he is obscured by the raised arm and the body of the third who is looking behind him, mouth open and calling (and signalling) to those behind to get a move on. We know that the three of them are armed as there are three ends of the barrel visible above their heads.

The sense of movement, of urgency, is demonstrated here by the jacket of the male with the raised arm. It’s flowing back in his mad rush to get to the battle, this jacket thereby hiding the rest of the rifle of the partisan with the cap. But the out flung jacket exposed the butt of his rifle to view, the strap of it going over his right shoulder. On his belt an ammunition pouch can be seen. From his dress we can surmise that he is from the town as it’s not a partisan uniform but a civilian jacket, emphasising the nature of a partisan, a guerrilla war. Photos of the çeta (guerrilla units) of the time show a mix of dress.

Typical Partisan Group

Typical Partisan Group

One of the figures who is depicted in full size is the next in line. This is an older man than those seen so far, his dress is in the traditional style – woollen cap, sheep skin jacket, loose sleeved shirt, trousers and the opinga shoes but in the 20 years since the battle against the Italians, the fustanella (the skirt-like male attire) is less in evidence, but he is obviously from the countryside. The strap of his bolt-action rifle goes over his right shoulder and he holds the weapon in his right hand, at the top end of the stock. His left hand is bent back and rests against what could be a pouch at his waist. This is because he is also running. We can see that from his feet and his sheep skin jacket is also flying out behind him.

If everyone in this section of the tableau is rushing to the fighting they are being outstripped by the youngest individual on the whole monument. From his relative size to the others he is very young but also the most enthusiastic. He is literally flying, both his feet off the ground and he’s overtaking the rest and is closest to the commander calling the troops to arms. But this young lad is distinctive for other aspects.

He is the only one depicted in the 1943 battle who is bare-footed. As on the other side of the arch (and, indeed, on other lapidars) the footwear of the figures tells a story, of class background and wealth. In the 1920 battle the barefooted figure is the (possible) representation of Albania, pulling apart the Italian cannon with his bare hands. In 1920 he is an old man, here a young boy. Here we can interpret the image as a move of the struggle of the Albanians from that of national independence to that of constructing a completely new society, a society which can only be built, ultimately, with the active participation of the young. They can the more easy throw off old ideas and traditions with which older people are burdened. This is not a given as set-backs in Socialist societies in the 20th century showed, but the young have the potential to take society to a higher level – the problem is to encourage them to do so and not fall into the lethargy and cowardice that besets the old.

His dress is that of a young town worker and the star etched on the butt of his rifle, in a sense, mirrors and complements the clasp on the chest of the older man in the 1920 tableau. In 1920 the aim was national independence and so the double-headed eagle was more evident, in 1943 the aim was the socialist revolution, the end of exploitation and oppression, therefore the star takes a dominant role.

He shares another similarity to the cannon destroyer. Whereas in 1920 it’s the symbol of the Italian monarchy that is being crushed under the bare foot in 1943 it is the symbol of German Nazism that is about to feel the full weight of the new socialist society, both symbols ignominiously broken and lying on the ground, in the dirt. This brings to mind the image of how the captured German standards were thrown at the feet of the Soviet leadership, in the dirt of Red Square in Moscow, on May 9th 1945 (and how they used to be displayed in the Museum to the Revolution in Moscow until that museum became a sham by the end of the 1990s).

Nazi standards dumped in Red Square

Nazi standards dumped in Red Square

Perhaps it’s worthwhile here making a comment about the youth of those who fought in the war against Fascism in Albania. Looking through the (at least five) volumes of ‘Flasin Heronj të Luftës Nacional-Çlirimtare’ (The Heroes of the National Liberation War Speak) you soon realise that many of those who fought, and died, in the struggle against fascism were very young. This was the case with Persefoni and Bule (who were hanged in Gjirokaster) as well as young Liri Gelo – who was murdered by the Nazis in Fier. So by placing a young person in such a prominent, and symbolic, place in this tableau Dhrami is making a statement of the crucial role played by young people in the past to defeat the invader and attain independence for the country.

The manner in which he carries his rifle is also interesting. He’s clutching it close to his body, he doesn’t give the impression he knows exactly what to do with it. The rope strap that the others rushing to the battle use to carry the gun on their backs is here just flapping as he runs. He may have just picked this gun up from a fallen comrade but you get the idea that if anyone wants to take it off him they are in for a huge fight. And the carving of the star into the wood of the butt is the first I’ve noticed (so far) on the Albanian monuments. The star on the caps is common, on the weapons not so much, but this follows a tradition in the Balkans going back into the 19th century and which we can see on the bronze statue at Drashovice, with the double-headed eagle carved into the butt of the kneeling, 1920, fighter.

Between the peasant fighter and the youth there are the heads of three other fighters, two male and one female. We can only see the heads and sometimes the shoulders but, as is usually the case, they are telling us a story. They are all looking in the direction of the battle – there’s only need for one or two to be looking behind, normally calling on others to join the battle, and they are all armed.

The male closest to the back is in profile and only part of his face is in sight. On his head is a cap with the star, not the first so far but one of the many that are depicted here. This is not just any partisan unit, this is an almost exclusively Communist band of guerrilla fighters, the Communist symbolism in many parts. His rifle barrel sticks up just in front of his face.

The comrade in front of him wears no insignia and is bare-headed but the top of the barrel of his rifle is at the level of his should. The third of this little group is an older woman, dressed in the traditional headgear of the kapica – seen on the other side of the arch. To some extent the traditional clothing of the countryside persisted more with the women than the men – such dress to be seen to this day in certain parts of the country, not a particularly progressive indication of the role of women in 21st century Albanian society.

All of this forward group have determination etched on their faces and are armed with modern weapons. That’s an important difference from those going to war in 1920 when anything that could hurt someone was grabbed as they left for the front. In 1943 the partisans are seen well organised, well equipped, even though much of their armaments would have come from the defeated enemy (as well as some arms drops by the British). Also different from the other side is the fact that the woman is going to war, on a par with her male comrades, and is equally armed and ready for action as her hand holding her rifle appears (slightly disembodied) in front of her, over the left shoulder of the bare-footed youth.

Immediately above the older woman is the only Albanian figure on this side of the monument who isn’t armed. Instead he is playing an important role of blowing the bugle to announce the charge to make sure the advance of the Nazi front-line is maintained and victory assured. With the noise of battle, which would have been greater than the previous one of 1920, so more noise was needed to call for reserves. The red star is clearly seen on his cap and it looks like he’s wearing a bandana around his neck.

Finally on this part of the 1943 tableau, before moving on to the main facade, there are two young partisans, one male and one female. They are both in uniform, although we only see the head and shoulders of both. Their caps sport the red star and both of them are armed. The female partisan has her long hair blowing in the wind and the fact that she’s in uniform shows the advance in the active participation of Albanian women in the struggles to free their country. As I’ve said before about 16% of the partisan force were female and although still less than it could be it’s still much higher than the level in most capitalist/imperialist countries whose armed forces are engaged in combat – excepting, perhaps the present day fascist Israeli Defence Force, although they only operate in an army that uses overwhelming technological advantage against civilians, so significantly different from the female Partisans in Albania.

As with the depiction of the 1920 battle here Dhrami manages to use one of his participants to take the action from the smaller panel to the large one, where all the action is going on. Here it’s a full figure of a Partisan commander. He has his rifle raised high above his head in his right hand, showing to those running where they must head, his left hand resting on his thigh. Once they reach him they will be directed to where to go as from then on they are in the thick of the battle.

He is shown as an older man (there are other older fighters but the majority are shown as young) with a moustache (facial hair had become less of a fashion by the time of the National Liberation War). He has the star on his cap and he is in the full uniform of a partisan with his jacket open at the neck – a more informal look not normally associated with officers. (Although guerrilla and partisan armies have a structure it has to, of necessity, have less of a hierarchical nature than the class ridden armies of capitalist nations.) Around his waist he has ammunition pouches and attached over his right hip is an English Mills bomb (grenade). The young running boy has just reached him.

His stance is interesting as he straddles the fascist, swastika bearing, banner that lies in the dirt. His left foot is placed on a broken wheel and between his legs can be seen the broken pieces of wood of a barbed wire barricade. The standard is no longer flying as the Partisans have breached the Nazi defence. This is a mirror of the situation on the other side. The broken wheel symbolising the destruction of the enemy’s technology, and theoretical military superiority. It is into this breach in the barbed wire defences that the advancing forces are to enter to completely annihilate the enemy.

Drashovice Arch - Nazi standard in the dirt

Drashovice Arch – Nazi standard in the dirt

Going now up on the left hand side we have a another full figure of an officer. The structure of Communist armies was (both prior to and after gaining state control) that the leadership was shared between a top military and political official – the latter being known as the Commissar from the Soviet experience and language. All decisions on a battlefield have a political consequence and the weighing up of the consequences in conflict have been one of the factors that led to partisan success in the past. This avoids purely military criteria being used when a decision is made to confront the enemy. For example, an easy victory might be avoided as a much more, but in the longer term more strategically important and significant, difficult confrontation would advance the cause greater. The aim is to win the war, not necessarily every possible battle.

The Commissar was also responsible for the political education of the forces when not in battle, the combatants being clear of the reasons they were fighting as important as the technical skills needed by a soldier.

My suggestion is that this other officer, a young man, could well be the Commissar. He is directing the battle in a way the other officer is not. In his right hand he holds a Beretta Model 38 Sub-machine gun (the same sort of weapon as the bronze 1943 partisan statue is holding) the magazine resting on his right thigh. However, his left arm is outstretched and pointing in the direction of the confrontation with the fascists, directing the small group behind him to where they are needed.

He’s in full uniform, cap with a star and a bandana around his neck. Apart from his sub machine-gun he wears a pistol in a holster on his left hip. His stance also makes the statement that he is in the mountains, one foot being higher than the other, as you would be if on the hills. He also straddles symbols of defeat for the Nazis. Beneath him there’s the broken wood and short, ineffectual strands of barbed wire, a standard German metal helmet, with the eagle and swastika of the Waffren SS, at the toe of his right boot. Amongst all this detritus is a tubular metal gas mask tin, used by soldiers to carry anything other than a gas mask but a common part of a German soldier’s military equipment (there’s one on the back a fighting soldier below). Here we get the idea of death without the scene being littered with dead bodies. Vital equipment being abandoned indicates defeat.

Behind his right shoulder are a group of three males. The one closest to him is wearing a heavy overcoat and a thick jumper. (Although some in this tableau are depicted as if they were enjoying a hot summer a great deal of the fighting took place in the high mountains in the winter (as seen on many paintings) and it can get cold up there.) He wears a cap with the star on the front and has a rifle slung over his right shoulder and is looking in the direction of where the officer is pointing.

Behind him is an older man, dressed in traditional clothing and with a moustache (more typical of the countryside in this period than the town) who is looking in the direction of the battle. He is holding the top of the barrel of his rifle, which is seen on the edge of this panel.

The third of the group is again a younger male with a rifle slung over his right shoulder. He also has a star on his cap, but this is not the same as the majority on this tableau. His head covering is more like the traditional, woollen conical hats we have already seen but together with the star there’s what seems to be a double-headed eagle, a variation of which became part of the national flag after national liberation. I’ve only just noticed this slight variation and have yet to discover the significance, if any, of the difference. The presence of the star indicates that the wearer was a Communist and not just a nationalist fighter. His stance is also slightly different. He seems to be looking at the viewer and has his right arm bent and the clenched fist close to the side of his head. We can tell how tight he is clenching his fist by the veins sticking out at his wrist.

It would be useful if the revolutionary left could decide on a universal salute. There seems to be two. I don’t know why nor do I know how they developed. One is the right arm salute seen here – and also on the lapidar in the Martyrs’ Cemetery of Erseke. The other is the straight armed, clenched fist, stretching up high salute as can be seen given by the Partisan in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Korça (and which is also seen on this arch at the very top).

Further up on the left hand side and behind this group of three is an older man, moustached, who must be the Partisan artillery commander. He is in full uniform and a Communist, the standard star on his cap. Criss-crossed over his chest are a couple of ammunition belts and although he is the middle of the task of working out the range for the artillery he still has hold of his rifle by the barrel in his left hand. In his right hand he holds a stubby gun sighting telescope to his right eye. It’s difficult to make out exactly what type but it is similar to a number made by the British at the time. They tended to be shorter than anything that might have been captured from the Italian or German Fascists. Just to his right and little above him are two artillery pieces.

The role of artillery commander at the battle of Drashovice was held by Hysni Kapo, who later went on to become a member of the Politburo of the Party of Labour of Albania and a close comrade in arms to the Party’s General Secretary, Enver Hoxha. However, this is not an image of Kapo, he was a much younger man at the time.

Hysni Kapo

Hysni Kapo

Hysni Kapo was born in Tërbaç, a village that is further up the Shushicë River valley, (where there’s an interesting mosaic dedicated to the 5th Brigade as well as the Martyrs’ Cemetery on the outskirts of the village) so he was very much fighting on home ground. He was wounded in the leg during the fighting. The valley at Drashovice is not particularly wide and control of the mountains on either side would have given that force a decided advantage, both in terms of visibility as well as being able to do significant damage with the artillery. The mountain guns shown on the arch were effective weapons and the partisans developed the ability to move them around to great effect. It was this type of short-barreled mountain gun that was used on 18th October of the same year to shell the Quisling Assembly from the hills above Sauk, just outside of Tirana.

Behind the artillery commander’s left shoulder is another group of three partisans, slanting down from left to right. Almost obscured by the commander’s head is the face of a very young male, about the age of the boy running with the rifle below. Next is an older male partisan, the normal star on his cap and we can see the top of the barrel of his rifle sticking up in front of him.

The last of the group is a young female fighter. She wears a cap with the star and her long hair falling down over her shoulders. What we see of her dress it is more the tradition wear of women of the countryside. However, she has a modern cap rather than the kapica headdress. I would have thought such flowing dresses were not the most appropriate of attire to go fighting fascists but perhaps Dhrami’s idea here was to show a process of transition, from the way women were seen generally in the country and how they were starting to take matters into their own hands. She has webbing across body and in her right hand holds a rifle close to her chest. There are few occasions when women depicted on Albanian lapidars are not armed and dangerous.

Above this group, and at the topmost part of the 1943 arch are two, from the waist-up, images of a male and female partisan. This is Victory. This is a celebration. But it also shows preparedness for the future.

The male is virtually in the centre of the panel. He’s dressed in the full partisan uniform, webbing across his chest and although his face is in profile we can clearly see the star on his cap. Both his arms are fully extended and the form the victory symbol ‘V’. In his right hand he holds his Beretta Model 38 Sub-machine gun (it seems a lot of these were liberated from the Italian invaders). The fist in his left hand is clenched, in the revolutionary salute. As his arms are raised this allows the wind to blow out his loose jacket which flows out to his right, just as the partisan flag below him.

Whereas the man is demonstrative in victory the woman is pensive, looking to her left. She wears the traditional style of clothing of the countryside, the long flowing dress, including the kapica. Over that dress she has webbing which includes an ammunition belt that crosses left to right over her chest. Her rifle she holds in both hands, hugging it to her. Her left hand is holding it by the stock whilst the forefinger of her right hand – and here it’s something different and unique in the depiction of a weapon that is not being fired at the time – is on the trigger. The battle might be over, the war is yet to be won!

The positioning is also important and relevant to the general ideas that were developed during Albania’s Cultural Revolution from the mid-1960s onwards. It was a stated aim, from the very beginning, that emphasis should be made on the role of women both in the National Liberation War and in the building of a new society. Here we have both a male and female partisan at the very top of the monument and at the moment of victory. They are physically at EXACTLY the same level depicting equality in a formal manner.

Drashovice Arch - Victory

Drashovice Arch – Victory

Now whether there was full ‘equality’ is another matter. And anyway, the issue of ‘equality’ in a socialist society has to take into account many factors that aren’t even recognised as existing in capitalist societies. In a patriarchal society, such as Albania was before the revolution, this elevating of the role of women in past and present struggles was part of the campaign to turn what was a formal equality into actual reality. Although the female partisan is shown as vigilant her daughters and grand-daughters weren’t as concerned (for reasons which are far too complex and numerous to go into here) as she was to maintain, and develop, the status of women in their country. Old attitudes, which were never totally defeated (merely pushed underground waiting to sprout once the opportunity arose) are returning and although some women might be able to ‘advance’ in Albania the position of women in general will not be anything like was attained during the Socialist period from 1944 to 1990.

On the arch the battle against the Nazis continues as we come down on the right hand side of the main panel.

At the female partisan’s left elbow we see the heads of two male fighters. Well only the woollen hat of one of them and head, in profile, on the other. Again the star just peaks out in outline as the two of them use their machine guns against the enemy. One of the tripods appears to be balanced on the top of the flag that flutters in the mountain breeze just below the victorious couple.

The banner, with the star midway between the two heads of the double-headed eagle flutters back, from right to left, as the standard-bearer runs forward, holding the flag pole with both hands behind him, the right higher on the pole than the left. This fluttering is similar to that of the jacket on the victorious male above. Involved in other work the flag carrier is not shown as armed but with his bandana and the star on his cap he has the task of rallying the troops and reminding them for what they are fighting.

Now back to the Commissar, but this time on his left hand side, we see the faces of three partisans. These are part of the group that will go off in the direction he is indicating. We only see the heads of the first two closest to the Commissar. The first, with a moustache, looks straight out at the viewer whilst the other is in profile. It’s impossible to tell how they are armed as the scene is so crowded.

The third, a young woman is also in profile but we see much more of her. She is in full uniform and her hair is seen falling down over her neck underneath her cap. This depiction of young women with their hair flowing free is very common in Dhrami’s work. Traditionally the women had their hair covered, with the kapica, which would be part of the Moslem tradition but this style of dress seems to have encompassed the other two principal religious sects in the country (then and now) Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians.

This freedom of young women to display their hair is an indication and declaration of modernity. It’s turning it’s back on feudal traditions, on the past and on the obligation that women had to comply with the norm, with the accepted styles. Each time I return to Albania I am more aware of the number of women wearing hair coverings, not just Moslem women. It is said that many of these women do so out of ‘choice’ but it is possible to imprison oneself as well as being imprisoned by force. Examples in other countries that had the modernity bombed out of them by the combined enlightenment of the imperialist ‘alliance against terror’ shows that, perhaps sometimes, choice is limited to doing one thing – or else.

Back to the young female partisan. She has a rifle close to her in her left hand and her right seems to be looking for, or perhaps she is holding something, around her waist. There are ammunition pouches attached to her belt and at times I think I see the outline of a pistol – but that’s not particularly clear and wouldn’t seem to make sense.

And, it will come as no surprise, the Communist star is on all their caps. Even though I keep repeating it the implications are important. In 1920 it was a nationalist victory over the Italian Army of Victor Emmanuel. There were more than likely some Communists involved, after all this was only three years after the October Revolution in Russia, revolutions had taken place (and failed) in Germany and Hungary and the ideas of socialism were widespread throughout Europe following the slaughter of the 1914-18 War. But it was a nationalist victory that, because the ideology with a long-term strategy wasn’t dominant, collapsed first into local monarcho-fascism and later occupation by the Italian forces of Mussolini.

Drashovice in 1943 was different. An organised Communist Party had been able to unite various forces in a National Liberation War against any invader. By the autumn of 1943 the Italian’s had been defeated. In just over a year the German Nazis would be defeated. Small Albania would then have to face the ire of the British, later the Yugoslavs and then, in too rapid succession, the abandonment by the Soviet Union and then the People’s Republic of China. That had all happened before the construction of the Drashovice Arch when the People’s Republic of Albania had isolation forced upon them (rather than descending into xenophobia as it is often described).

The second battle of Drashovice was a Communist victory and the images cry that out from the roof-tops. Virtually every individual Albanian depicted has at least one indication of their political allegiance, whether it be the star, a bandana or otherwise outward sign such as a carving on the stock of a rifle.

Up to now what has been described has been those forces heading towards the action. The next part is in the thick of the battle. From now on everyone is fighting for his or her life.

The young male at the end of the Commissar’s finger is not in uniform, nor wearing a cap, but the webbing, on which spare ammunition is attached, shows some element of organisation. But the extra ammunition is of no use. For whatever reason, perhaps it jammed, perhaps he didn’t have the chance to re-load, he is using his rifle as a club. He holds the barrel close to the end with his right hand and his left is just above the bolt. He is using all his strength to put as much force down on a fallen Nazi. As in the 1920 tableau, if you don’t have what you would like use what you have.

This is an old rifle, possibly from the time of the earlier conflict, you can tell that from the shape of the butt. The age would suggest a malfunction but if he has taken the weapon from the past he’s also taken a local, Balkan tradition with him into battle. Carved into the wood of the butt that’s about to crush the enemy is a star below which are the letters ‘VFLP’. This stands for: Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit! (Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!) which appears on a number of lapidars, such as the Monument to Heroic Peze as well as in many paintings.

We can’t see the person he is about to attack but just inside his left leg is a German helmet on the side of which is the Nazi SS symbol. Alongside the helmet s the tip of a bayonet, indicating that we are back to the same sort of hand to hand fighting as was seen on the other side of the arch. Here we have the anti-fascist slogan crashing down on Fascism itself.

Drashovice Arch - VFLP v SS

Drashovice Arch – VFLP v SS

There aren’t many images of the Nazi dead on the monument (that would take up too much space) but what Dhrami has done to indicate fatalities is to show a number of helmets, together with weapons in a non-firing orientation. A small group of helmets can be seen to the young partisan’s left, together with the tops of a couple of rifles and a bayonet, no longer a threat. On one of these helmets is the eagle and swastika symbol of the Waffren-SS, the principal regiment fighting in Albania (and another reason why the German War Memorial in Tirana Park is an insult to all those who fought and died in the National Liberation War).

But this fighter hasn’t finished yet. His left foot is stamping down on a Mauser MG34, heavy machine gun, rendering it useless any more in the battle.

From the level of his rifle butt there’s a group of four Partisans, going down from right to left. First is a male, we only see part of his face in profile but he has a bolt-action rifle up to his shoulder and his finger on the trigger. Next to him is a young female partisan. She seems to be standing up higher than the others in her group, and we see slightly more than a head and shoulders view. She is in uniform and has an ammunition belt across her chest, going from right to left. The reason she’s making herself taller is that she is about to throw a hand grenade down onto the enemy below and she’s looking down on to the group of Nazis in the bottom right hand corner of the panel. This grenade is the Model 24 Stielhandgranate (translation: ‘stalk hand grenade’), the stick grenade which was the standard used by the Germans during the war. As opposed to the Mills bombs that would have come from the British this would have been taken off previously defeated Fascist forces and she is returning it, with interest.

Below her is the face in profile of another male. He is armed but this time with a pistol. It’s difficult to make out exactly what type, but it looks like a revolver – there’s signs of wear on this part of the statue. This is a little bit unusual but it seems that Dhrami is introducing all the types of weapons used at the time. Next to him is the fourth of this particular group, an older male, wearing the woollen cap and the sheepskin cloak, with a moustache, thereby reinforcing the idea this was a war fought by all generations and from all parts of the country. He also has rifle up to his shoulder, pointing in the direction of the entrapped Germans, his finger on the trigger.

Moving further down, by the right hand edge, we are into a situation of, literally, hand to hand fighting. Their faces only inches apart we have a partisan struggling with a Nazi officer. The Nazi has a Lugar P08 pistol in his right hand but this has been made ineffective by the action of the partisan who has gripped the hand, and the pistol, in his own left and has forced the muzzle into the air. In order to get an advantage the partisan also has his right hand at the throat of the officer, gripping him by his uniform at the top of his jacket.

Drashovice Arch - Life or Death Struggle

Drashovice Arch – Life or Death Struggle

We get an idea of the status of the officer by his uniform. He wears the field cap of a Waffren-SS officer, with its badges of the eagle with the symbol of the swastika in its talons and beneath that the Totenkopf (the ‘death’s head’ symbol of the skull and crossbones). On the pocket on left hand side of his jacket he wears the Iron Cross medal, together with the swastika in the centre (a variation of the ancient military medal introduced by the Nazis from 1939). Above the medal is another example of the eagle with the swastika, indicating that he is a member of the Nazi Party.

This is a life and death struggle. Only one can come out of this confrontation alive. The stack of German helmets to the officer’s back suggests that he will soon be joining the Nazi fallen.

Possibly due to damage it’s difficult to see if there is a star on his cap but as I’ve said before there are other signs to look for to denote allegiance, and this partisan has what would have been a red scarf around his neck, the main body of it laying over the top of his back.

Going down from right to left from this mortal struggle are the final four Albanians depicted on this tableau. They are the ones in the actual front line. In front of them are the enemy. The impression of the intensity of the battle can be seen in their stance and the determination on their faces.

The first is an older man, moustachioed and firing a Beretta sub-machine gun. On his cap he has the symbol seen once before (the partisan giving a clenched fist salute) of the star with the double-headed eagle below. Around his waist he wears an ammunition belt.

The next is a young male partisan. Whereas all the others are, more or less, facing the viewer, he has his back to us. His rifle is not operative, either jammed or out of ammunition, so he holds his weapon high, the right hand gripping it behind the firing mechanism whilst his left holds it on the barrel. His aim is to use the muzzle, in a stabbing action, to attack the enemy right in front of him.

Next is a young female partisan. She also has a sub-machine gun, supporting it with a strap that goes over her left shoulder. This is not a Beretta, with its distinctive recoil compensator, but she is using it to effect nonetheless. Although in uniform she is wearing a woollen jumper rather than a jacket.

The final member on the front line is a male with a bolt-action rifle up to his shoulder, finger on the trigger and firing into the Nazis only feet away. He has extra ammunition around his waist and across his chest. Like all the others he has a star on his cap.

The remaining images are all of the Nazis, in retreat, dying or fighting for their lives. The tips of their weapons form a curve that goes from the officer in hand to hand combat on the right hand side down to the bottom left, to end up with the Nazi standard in the dirt. They are crushed into a corner, with nowhere to go. They are so close to each other it’s even difficult for them to defend themselves. The dead make the situation even more difficult and the bodies make the living even more aware of their fate.

The helmets and the muzzles of weapons pointing away from the action indicate the toll being taken on the German invaders. Then we start to see some faces. Right at the edge of the tableau there’s a helmeted head tipped back, the eyes are closed, as if he has just been shot or injured. In front of this dying Nazi are two faces in profile but with only one weapon between them, one is holding a dagger in his right hand, not much use against the grenades, sub-machine guns and rifles that confront them. This again demonstrates the ferocity of the conflict. (There’s some slight damage to the stone work on the edge of this Nazi’s helmet.)

Further into the melee matters start to get confusing. There’s a Nazi with a rifle up to his shoulder, firing at the attackers. Just behind him can be seen the almost full length of a bayonet, but it’s impossible to know to which soldier it is attached. On the very edge of the panel there’s a disembodied right hand, held up high into the air, below that a helmet and then below again a muzzle pointing away from the battle. Is this again suggesting surrender and defeat, if not by all the Germans at least by some?

Then there’s the end of a rifle barrel with a bayonet attached. This is also a weapon that doesn’t seem to have an owner. Two, the last ones, soldiers seem to be capable or willing to fight. The one in the front has a rifle in a stance that would indicate he is ready to fire. On his back there’s the circular gas mask container. Behind him there’s an individual whose importance is not so much that of how he is fighting but in how he is dressed. On the left lapel of his jacket we can see the ‘runic’ representation of the SS symbol, the letters being constructed with straight lines. This soldier also is a bearer of the Iron Cross, which would almost certainly make him an NCO if not an officer.

After them there’s nothing left of the Nazi fighting force. On the right hand edge there’s a field gun which looks like it might have lost is caterpillar track, but I’m not totally sure here. Next there’s a machine gunner who is obviously dead as he is slumped over his weapon, his left arm hanging loose as he rests his chin on the gun. There’s the Nazi Party eagle and swastika symbol on his rolled up sleeve. This weapon is again the Mauser MG34, bullets are ready to go through the chamber but there’s no one to pull the trigger. Three empty shell casings lie on the ground beneath the gun.

Drashovice Arch - Fate of the Nazis

Drashovice Arch – Fate of the Nazis

Behind him is another fallen Nazi. He has his back to us, crumpled into the bottom corner of the panel, his rifle muzzle pointing away from battle. At the feet of the attacking Partisans another German lies on the ground, his arms are covering his head, whether to protect himself from the onslaught or indicating his death is not clear. Finally, in the gap above this prone body are further weapons, including a field gun, that is no longer involved in the battle.

And that’s it.

In an earlier post I described this as the ‘War and Peace’ of Albanian lapidars, perhaps it would be better to describe it as a complex graphic novel. There’s lots going on and the symbolism is stronger here than on many other monuments in the country. A truly masterful piece of work!

The other two sides of the arch are, in a sense, mirror images of the similar locations for the 1920 battle. That was simply for independence, the battle of 1943 was under the leadership of the Communist Party and for that reason, on the south-facing panel, the central motif is of a large star. Peeking out behind the star, at the top left, are the weapons that were used by the partisans in the battle. Gone are the agricultural tools of 1920, replaced with modern (and sometimes not so modern) firearms.

Just above, and to the right of the star are the words:

E tunde, parti, e tunde, me djema e vajza si nure.

Translated this is:

You’ve done great, the Party has done great things, with the amazing boys and girls

And as with the flag of 1920, the right hand star disappears into the stone and we read the words:

Moj Mavrovë e Drashovicë, ç’hata bëre atë ditë, me topa me alitrik, e bëre natëne ditë.

Moj Mavrova of Drashovicë, what great things you did that day, fearlessly, both night and day.

(I’ve not been able to find out anything about Moj Mavrovë, apart from the fact that Mavrovë is a small village just a little further up the valley.)

And below those words:

Hysni Kapua si petrit, përmbi tela ç’u vërvit, gjermanët në gjuh u flit, dorëzohu mor jezit.

The young Hysni Kapo, with iron determination, withstood all that the Germans could throw at him, until they surrendered.

Hysni Kapo was a long-standing member of the Politburo. He died in 1979.

The final panel, at the back of the monument, follows exactly the same pattern as that for 1920.

A huge hand tightly grips a rifle near to the top of the barrel. The wrist morphs into the number 1943, in a large font. To the left of the year is the date: 14 shtator 4 tetor, stating that the battle took place between September 14th and October 4th of that year. This date is followed by a small star (any such comparable symbol missing from the 1920 panel).

Then there are the words:

Lufta heroike e Drashovicës që zhvilloi populli i rrethit të Vlorës nën udhëheqjen e shokut Hysni Kapo kundër pushtuesve gjermanë përbën një ndër betejat më të lavdishme të Luftës Nacionalçlirimtare.

Which translates as:

The heroic battle of Drashovice that the people of Vlora district, under the leadership of Comrade Hysni Kapo, fought against the German occupiers is amongst the most glorious battles of the National Liberation War.

And that’s the story of the Drashovice monument.

As this is such a complex and detailed lapidar I intend to describe its complexity over the course of three posts. This is the third of the three. The others can be found under the name of ‘Arch of Drashovice – Introduction and Statue‘ and ‘Arch of Drashovice 1920‘.

Getting there:

I’ve found the best place to pick up a furgon that goes along the Shushicë Valley is by waiting beside the road in the square opposite the Vlora Baskia on Rruga Perlat Rexhepi (the Historical Museum is at the Vlora end of this road). Other furgons leave from this point but you want a furgon that comes the centre of town. Just flag down any one that comes from that direction (possibly going to Mavrovë or Kotë) and ask for Drashovice.





40° 26′ 48.5485” N

19° 35′ 11.5837” E



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One thought on “Arch of Drashovice 1943

  1. verses are actual folk songs, Mavrova and Drashovica are individual villages and it’s being sung to each one of them altogether. You Mavrovë and you Drashovicë, what havoc combined that day, machine guns and artillery, the night looked like day.
    Hysni Kapo like a hawk, threw himself over barbed wires, spoke himself to the germans, surrender you hateful aggressor.

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