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Few are those places where the terror of the former communist dictatorship can be profoundly understood in this day and age. One of them is the Site of Witness and Memory, a museum of remembrance dedicated to the prisoners and victims of the former regime.
Built in the 19th century, by Arsen Idromeno (father of Kolë Idromeno), as a private house, it was transformed during the years many times, becoming an orphanage, and than an hospital. The structure was bought by Franciscan fathers, in 1930, who turned it into a preparatory college for future parish priests. However, in 1946, the Communist government seized hold of the building and placed Shkodra’s Headquarters of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, abruptly doing away with its former function and swiftly condemning those who had occupied it. For more than four decades, many were the political prisoners and opponents to the system who were tortured and imprisoned within these walls.
The building was finally turned into a museum with the aim of remembering and bearing witness to the suffering of political prisoners. Now, visitors will have the opportunity to look at the photographs and learn the names of those who, in the city of Shkodër, have been either sentenced to a prison term, interned or executed by the communist system. Also displayed are objects used by the prisoners as well as correspondence with relatives and friends. A special focus is placed on the clerics who have been sentenced or killed by the system.
A tunnel of red arches, a detail that represent the blood of the condemned, leads to the detention area. This part of the museum has been set up in such a way as to recreate the panic and terror experienced in these quarters until 1992. The museums include the original 23 cells on each floor as well as the interrogation rooms.
One of the most recognized names to have occupied these cells is Father Zef Pllumi, one of the most beloved figures in Albania, famous for his contribution to the Franciscan community as well as his promotion of Albania’s spiritual and cultural heritage.
The total number of the convicted persons for the area of Shkodra is truly frightening: 2890 imprisoned, 1924 interned, 601 executed, among which 61 were clerics. One should visit the museum not only to honor those who were imprisoned or lost their lives here but in order to confront the mistakes of the past. No society can go forward and progress without truly and honestly addressing its past sins, which should be made clear in order to never be repeated again.