Archbishop Lazër Mjeda:
Report on the Serb Invasion of Kosova and Macedonia
Lazer Mjeda (1869-1935), Italian: Lazzaro Miedia, was born in Shkodra and educated by the Jesuits. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1891, served as Bishop of Sappa from 1900 to 1904, and was elevated on 14 April 1909, at a relatively young age, to the position of Archbishop of Skopje, a position he held until 1921. Mjeda returned to his native Shkodra that year and served as Archbishop of Shkodra until his death in 1935. It was during his time in Skopje and Prizren that he submitted the following report to the Vatican on the Serb invasion of Kosova and Macedonia. His information served Leo Freundlich in the latter's "Albania's Golgotha."
Vienna, 24 January 1913
Most Eminent Lord,
I trust that I am assisting Your Eminence by presenting you with a summary of the report that the priests, Dom Giuseppe Ramaj, parish priest of Üsküb [Skopje], and Dom Pasquale Krasniqi, my collaborator in Prizren, sent me on the ill treatment meted out by the Serbs to the Albanians of my archdiocese, while stressing that the facts brought forth here are but a small portion of the many atrocities perpetrated, in particular in those regions where foreign eyes have not managed to penetrate. It was difficult for the priests to acquire all the information because communication between one parish to another is forbidden and it is extremely dangerous to speak of such matters. What is presented here is taken from authentic statements by those who witnessed such events or heard about them from a number of other people worthy of being believed.
In Kumanovo, a Serb soldier revealed in the parish office how an Albanian village was attacked. "Those who had not fled before our arrival, hid in the attics of their homes. The houses were set on fire and when the flames rose to the roofs, those inside emerged from their hiding places. We,"continued the soldier, "were positioned at the doorway and when they came out, we killed them. When there were children, we were not supposed to waste our ammunition on them and used our bayonets instead. All this happened," concluded the soldier, "because someone shot at us from one of the houses where a white flag had been raised."
In Skopje, as is now known, the Serbs entered the town without meeting any resistance. For fifteen days in a row, they threw twenty to thirty Albanians into the river Vardar every night.
What is more, behind the town fortress, there is a large ditch that the Serbs intended to fill with bodies of Albanians and, in fact, more than one hundred bodies were seen there! Another ravine situated in Kisela Voda not far from the town of Skopje served as the grave for another eighty Albanian corpses. Wounded Albanians at the hospital were left to starve to death, and many of them vanished into the waves of the Vardar. One eye witness told me that of the 130 wounded men he had seen one day, only eighty were there the next day, and after that, only thirty, without anyone knowing where they had ended up.
One evening, two Albanians were slain while they were walking peacefully down the main road. They were shot by some komitadjis who were merrily drinking at a hotel. The Serb engineer corps then decided to lay a dead horse on the spot, that was brought in by a military vehicle. Three Albanians were stabbed to death with bayonets near the Vardar Bridge simply because they dared to use a public thoroughfare. And wells were also used by the Serbs to exterminate the Albanians. About forty good wells were filled with their corpses.
The mind boggles when describing the thefts, plundering and raping of women in the most barbaric manner. Husbands were even forced to hold the lamp and watch their wives being raped, and fathers were forced to hold lanterns as their daughters were ravaged, even girls of twelve years of age! One young Serb, who was so tired he could hardly stand on his feet, told me: "I am exhausted. I have not eaten, or drunk or slept in the last twenty-hour hours because I have been busy hunting down Albanians in their houses." A Serb soldier holding two watches he had taken from the Albanians and 150 Turkish lira (about 3444 golden francs), saw an old Albanian passing by and exclaimed: "What a pity there are so many of them, because I would have to use up all of my ammunition."
To make things worse, the Serbs of Skopje offered drink to the soldiers so that, when drunk, they would break into the homes of the Albanians and commit all manner of evil deeds. Five villages near Skopje were torched to cleanse the region of Albanians, the flames and smoke could be seen from the town for three full days. And yet, in Skopje itself there was no fighting and no misuse of the white flag.
There was no lack of victims in Morava. In Tertenik [Tërstenik] 60 persons were slain, in Goshica [Gurishta?] 10, in Siniza [Sinica?] 32, in Verban 20, in Liubishda [Lupishta] 19, and in Kamenoglava, a village of 50 families, all the men were slain in the attack. When the Serb army passed by, it made all of the men come out of the village to greet the army and then the poor villagers were tied up and butchered without mercy. Those who had been hit unskilfully and might have survived, were finished off with bayonets.
In Kalkandele [Tetova], 85 Albanians, who were found in their houses, were slain on some pretext or other. Pillaging and other evil deeds were the same as in Skopje.
In Gostivar, the Serb commander demanded 200 Turkish lira of the town and when this sum was handed over to him, the town survived well, relatively speaking - only six Albanians were slaughtered there. Nothing is known of the fate of the villages around these two towns. But from what happened elsewhere, one can make a good guess.
In Mitroviza [Mitrovica] and surroundings we have nothing particular to report, though rumours spread that there was a terrible massacre of Albanians there.
In Ferizovic [Ferizaj], only three Muslim Albanians of fifteen years and over survived. There was savage fighting there for a twenty-four-hour period and many Serbs fell, too. An Albanian woman, seeing her husband killed, seized a rifle and shot five Serbs. One Serb told me that 1,200 Albanians were slain there, assembled in advance from the surrounding villages to be killed in one spot.
The same things happened to the Albanians in Ghilane [Gjilan], although no resistance was shown to the invaders. Pillaging and massacres took place there, too.
In Prishtina, the number of Albanians slain is estimated at 5,000. But it would seem here that the Albanians, under the direction of Turkish officers, misused the white flag and treacherously murdered numerous Serb officers and many soldiers. The exact number is not known.
In Leshkobare [Lleshkobara], a village near Ferizaj, eight Catholics were killed as they were walking down the road, and carrying no arms or compromising objects. They were shot on the spot simply because they were Albanians.
Prizrend [Prizren]. The town surrendered without a fight, but this did not stop a repetition of the horrors committed against the Albanians everywhere else, with the possible exception of Prishtina. The town and its surroundings are full of Serb komitadjis and gangs conducting summary trials. They do not even ask any questions. It is enough for them to catch sight of an Albanian to kill him immediately. The town resembles the kingdom of death. They knock at the doors of Albanian homes, take the men out and shoot them right away, simply because they are Albanians.
For several days, authorization was not even given to bury the dead. One could hear the firing of rifles throughout the town every night. Within a few days, the number of those slain had risen to 400. No need to speak in particular of theft, plundering, and the rape of women. The word of the day is: "Anything goes with the Albanians," not only goes, but is desirable and done by order. Despite such horrors, the military commander, B. Jankovic, with a revolver in his hand, forced the leaders of the town to send a telegram of congratulations to King Peter.
The Muslim feast of Kurban Bajram arrived, and 800 sheep were sent to market to be slaughtered. And what did the Serbs do? They came immediately with armed officers and confiscated the sheep for their soldiers, forbidding the Muslims to celebrate Bajram.
The commander needed supplies for his soldiers marching against Luma, but he lacked horses. So what did he do? He called 200 young Albanians, loaded each one of them with 40 oka (about 50 kilos) of food and sent them off in the night, through the deep mud, on a journey of seven hours. When they arrived at the camp, the very same commander came up with the original idea of exclaiming: "How curious indeed!"
A Catholic woman from Fan, called Dila, from the village of Shgjini [Shën Gjin], had come to Prizren with her son, a relative and two fellows from the village of Gjugja to buy clothes and other supplies needed for the marriage of her daughter and two other girls. Having done their shopping, they went to Commander Jankovic for a letter of recommendation so that they would not be harassed by any soldiers they might encounter on their journey home. The commander gave them the letter and they set off. When they arrived in Zhur, four hours from Prizren, they came upon some Serb soldiers. They immediately showed the letter to a non-commissioned officer, but he ignored it. The soldiers went through their baggage thoroughly and, although nothing compromising was to be found, the four men were tied up together and the woman's hands were tied behind her back. Thus bound, the men were beaten with rifle butts, marched forward a few steps until they reached the edge of a ditch, shot and kicked into it, one falling upon the other. A signal was given, and all the cold corpses were shot again. The wretched mother let out a terrifying scream, called for her son, and when she saw the corpse, begged the soldiers to kill her, too, and let her join her son, but they denied her request. She was left there to wait. Two of the thugs tied her to a tree. In the meantime, one of the soldiers took out of the bag a loaf of bread that the victims had bought in Prizren for their journey, and stuffed two Mauser bullets into it. Hearing the shooting, several officers and the commander arrived on the scene. They asked why there had been shooting, and the soldiers told them that they had killed four Albanians who had been trying to steal ammunition from the camp, as proven by the loaf of bread, and they showed them the loaf with the bullets in it. The commander did not question this explanation, worthy as he was of such soldiers. All the while, no one gave a thought to the poor women tied to the tree. She was left there, that great Albanian rebel, Monday afternoon, the following night, all of Tuesday and until Wednesday morning. When untied, the wretched woman fell to the ground, more dead than alive. They gave her sustenance, some water and a bit of the bread which had contained the bullets. She was then taken on foot back to Prizren, with her hands still tied behind her back. It was nightfall by the time they got to Prizren, and they locked her in a Serb school, in an unlit room where she spent a terrible night with her hands still tied. The next day, they brought her to Commander Jankovic and there, in front of him, many officers and four citizens, she was accused of rebellion. The poor woman, in her tears, sobbing, and almost fainting, told them what had happened to her, as narrated above. But the general dismissed her explanation and locked her in the Serb diocese. The next day she was released and given to the care of some Catholics who took her to their church. They asked the officers how four persons could have been slain for two bullets found in a loaf of bread, insisting that a proper investigation ought to be carried out and that the baker be condemned, not the innocent buyer. They could not accuse the soldiers directly, because at that time of war, there was no hope of a trial, and the soldiers were not even obeying their own leaders. But the question arises as to how could it have been possible for a small loaf of bread to be baked in an oven with two bullets in it and for the bullets not to have exploded. The answer given was that this had just been proven and was thus possible.
In Prizren, a baker called Gjoni, son of Prek Pali, was shot without reason, as will be explained below. He was preparing his daily bread for a certain number of soldiers. It happened that day that an officer who had the task of supervising the distribution of bread, left his Mauser rifle for a moment leaning against the wall of poor Gjon's shop and went out. In the meantime, a patrol of soldiers came by, caught sight of the Mauser, confiscated it and arrested the baker. He explained the matter to them, and gave them the name of the officer who had forgotten his Mauser, but they would not listen to him and sent him to court to be sentenced to death. After Gjon was arrested, his brother Gjin hastened to find the officer and came back to the police station with him. The officer testified that he had left his Mauser for a moment leaning against the wall of the baker's shop and told them its number. Despite all the explanation he gave, he was beaten up. Nothing was known initially of the fate of poor Gjon. Ten days later, his poor mother who had gone to the police day after day inquiring about her son, discovered the body about a quarter of an hour outside the town. She passionately begged the Serb authorities to allow her son to be given a religious burial, but they ignored her. She went to the Catholic priest and told him what had happened. The priest then went to the authorities and asked for permission in the name of religious freedom, but they threw him out. Finally, after much trial and tribulation, authorisation was given to his father to bury the young man where he was killed, but not for the Catholic priest to bestow a final blessing on the body.
My collaborator in Prizren informed me of the following: "One day, I went to the Serb konak on personal business, i.e. to the department of justice, and a soldier came by requesting a pair of shoes from the director. He was told that there were no shoes. He then requested that he at least be given a pair of sandals, and was told once again that there were none. At that moment, an officer entered. I do not know what rank he held, but I noticed that his colleagues treated him with great respect. Having heard what they were talking about, he turned to the soldier and said: 'Why do you humiliate yourself in front of the director for a pair of shoes? Go out and get a pair of good shoes off the first Albanian you see. Simply kill him and take them. That is what I did. The boots I am wearing came from an Albanian I killed just to get them. You must understand that our plan is to destroy the Albanians.'"
You can imagine what the area around Prizren suffered. Many villages were torched and the poor peasants were mercilessly slaughtered. Catholic Albanians were targeted in particular because it was said that they were on the Austrian side and were enemies of the Serbs. For this reason, three villages were burnt down and thirty Catholic village leaders were slain. Among the recent barbarian acts was this one: Serb soldiers broke into the homes of Catholic villagers and, having eaten and drunk to their fill (because they found wine there), they forced the women out of the houses, tied them up to one another and forced them to dance. Then they amused themselves by shooting at them with their Mausers, and were overjoyed when they saw them fall to the ground. There were other 'interesting' incidents of the sort, too.
General Jankovic was informed that the Luma tribe would not allow Serb troops to pass through without a fight. He therefore proclaimed them to be a lowly race of people and stated that all of them ought to be killed. The troops gathered them all up, men, women and children, sparing no one, intent on annihilating them all and setting their villages on fire. And indeed they destroyed 27 villages in this region, and massacred the men and women. Children were seized from their mothers' breasts, wrapped in straw and burnt alive. They even pierced the bellies of pregnant women with their bayonets and stabbed at the unborn babies. It is unimaginable, but it is true!
Four hundred men of Luma surrendered on condition that they would be left unharmed, but they were sent to prison in Prizren and slaughtered, forty to sixty of them every day. One eye witness stated that about 1,500 bodies of Albanians were seen round about Prizren those days. This is perhaps the reason why foreign journalists were not allowed into Prizren.
Of Ipek [Peja] and the surrounding region we know nothing, but it is to be assumed that it suffered a fate similar to that of other Albanian regions.
The case of Gjakova is unusual and even more macabre. Soldiers were given free hand to do whatever they wanted with the women and children and to steal anything they desired. Initially, it was the Montenegrins who entered the region, followed by their Serb brethren. The parish priest of Skopje stated that a Serb had told him the Montenegrins had brought their women with them and that the latter were seen in Gjakova bearing weapons and slaughtering the local women and children.
One Serb soldier, believing me to be his compatriot, told me with great enthusiasm that very few of the villages in the regions of Tetova, Skopje, Kumanovo, Preshevo, Gjilan, Ferizaj, Prizren, Gjakova and Peja had remained standing. They had set them all on fire. This was the way one had to deal with the Albanians, he concluded.
One Serb officer asserted that 75% of the Albanians ought to be killed. In the Vilayet of Serb-occupied Kosova alone, the number of dead up to now can, without any exaggeration, be estimated at 25,000.
The Serbs and their allies began this war, as they stated, to "free the Christians of Muslim barbarity." It would certainly be more accurate to call it a "crusade for Orthodoxy and for exterminating the Albanians."
It must be noted that, following the initial furor of the war, Serb wrath was directed in particular against the Catholics. I have received letters stating that many of them are being persecuted, arrested and thrown into prison for no reason whatsoever. I believe they are doing so to frighten the Muslims and stop them from embracing Catholicism, because there have been numerous conversions.
Archbishop of Skopje
[In: Archivio della Sacra Congregazione di Propaganda Fide, Rome, APF, Nuova Serie, Rub. 109 (Vienna 1913), p. 176-182. Translated from the Italian by Robert Elsie.]