Writing is among
the greatest inventions, perhaps the greatest invention, since it made
history possible. Writing can be a witness, a testimony, evidence and
even a symbolic as well as an official affidavit.
It is believed that inventions occur because of necessity and practicality.
The result of writing is reading. It is also believed that in general writing
may be very difficult and that reading is not as difficult. On the contrary,
neither writing nor reading is easy. It is the “click” that
a good piece of writing establishes with the reader that makes reading
a real experience, a type of liberation and an “easy” thing.
Reading can be so pleasurable and painful at the same time that it can
feel almost like one is not only reading but transforming and going through
a metamorphosis of becoming one with the characters that one is reading
about. In general, this is when it is said, “The writer and the reader
click with each other.” Such an excellent piece of writing is “Children
Of Kosova - Stories of Horror” by Albana Melyshi- Lifschin, published
in 1999, in New York.
The title of the book is more than shocking. So is the content. One could
ask, “Why Stories Of Horror? What does an educated reader think?” Horror
is something defined as intense fear, dread or dismay. Stories are accounts
of incidents or events; statements regarding the facts pertinent to a situation
in question. What are then the stories of Melyshi-Lifschin’s book
exactly? Horror literature? Not quite true. The explanation to these questions
is addressed in the author’s foreword and is completely discovered
only when one has finished the book.
Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin works at Fort Dix refugee camp. She runs a radio
show for refugees, which broadcasts every night. At first impression, this
is nothing extraordinary or nothing special. But wait, it is about to come-
it is her audience, the most attentive listeners in the world who are the
extraordinary and the special. It is the children of Kosova who are nightly
guests on her program. They sing sad songs and recite heartbreaking poems.
Many Americans who work with Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin in Fort Dix want to
know what the children’s songs and poems mean. Americans live in
freedom and they can’t understand the great pain and sadness in the
performance of the children. “ Much better that Americans don’t
understand our language, or otherwise they would cry!” says one of
the adults who is there as a refugee with the children. The language of
these people is Albanian. They are Albanian kids, men and women who were
forced by the Serbs to leave their country. Fortunately, they have come
to the land of the free, to America, with the hope that, if they want,
they will be able to go back.
The author recalls that despite their desperate and painful situation as
refugees these kids never did cry. They sing for their heroes who are fighting
the Serbian destructive war-machine that has ripped their freedom from
them, closed their schools and jailed their beloved ones. It’s so
tragic that the Serbian occupiers have taught these children words like
war, prison, murder and massacre before they learned their fairy tales
and the names of their toys.
In a book which describes her experiences as a Jew in wartime Albania,
Irene Grunbaum writes about Albania of those days: “ Farewell Albania,
I thought. You have given me friends, adventures, and so much, hospitality
and refuge. Farewell Albania, one day I will tell the world how brave,
fearless, strong and faithful your sons are, how death and the devil can’t
frighten them. If necessary I’ll tell how they protected a refugee
and wouldn’t allow her to be harmed even if it meant losing their
lives. The gates of your small country remained open, Albania. Your authorities
closed both eyes, when necessary, to give poor persecuted people another
chance to survive the most horrible of all wars. Albania, we survived the
siege because of your humanity. We thank you.”
Now it is the Albanians who are in need and it is the United States, the
land of hope and fulfillment of dreams of millions of refugees and immigrants,
which is accommodating the Albanian refugees.
The book goes on and as the reader gets deeper and deeper into the reading
of the children’s stories, he or she gets closer and closer to the
children and starts to feel like one of them. He or she gets into the very
essence of the stories and the hopes of the children. “ I saw a dead
body in front of our house. The man had been killed and his body was covered
with blood and dirt… I didn’t know he was my uncle!” says
Alban Berisha, a twelve-year-old boy from Fushe Kosova. “After we
arrived in Blace, the Macedonian soldiers didn’t treat us much better.
It was raining… we had to sleep outside in the mud…” continues
another one, Shkabjan Hetemi, a fourteen-year-old boy from Prishtina, followed
by Makbule Qerimi, a fourteen-year-old girl who adds, “There are
a lot of talented people in United States. America really doesn’t
need me. It is Kosova that needs me...”, or Mimoza Shaqiri, an eleven-year-old
who so innocently describes the horror, “Once we got to Macedonia,
we had to sleep outdoors for five days. They didn’t allow us inside
the camp. Albanians who lived in Macedonia helped us. They brought us food
to eat and blankets to keep us warm.”
These are just some of the cries of the children that give the reader goose
bumps and remind him how evil human beings can be. But there are a lot
of stories that make hope transparent in light of the horrific circumstances
that the children were faced with on a daily basis. Faton Jakupi, a ten-year-old
kid from Ferizaj remembers, “When NATO started to bomb the Serbians,
we felt safe. We felt that NATO was there to help us…”
There are millions of words that have been and will be written about the
Kosova war, but aren’t these words the most sincere, innocent and
truthful words about this war? Taulant Berisha, a six-year-old says, “ I
want to stay here in America because there are no Serb soldiers here.” One
needs not to read further in order to understand how big the fear must
be to make Taulant think he must abandon his country.
The second part of the book contains drawings from the children. Topics
stretching from the American flag, Kosova Liberation Army soldier figures,
burning houses underneath Serbian planes flying a smoke filled sky to a
peace pigeon with a flower in his beak.
In addition to this part there is one of the most powerful parts of this
book- the third part: Letters and Drawings from American Children. John
Lipari from Londonderry (NH) writes, “Dear Friend… Welcome
to America… In America people are free! Has your stay been enjoyable?
It must be hard to know that you had to flee your home country. We Americans
can only imagine… Only tough people can survive this so you must
be tough! If you get through this you can survive anything. The thing is
you must have faith that God will look over you and guide you through this
horrible tragedy…” and his friend Patrick John O’Sullivan
adds, “ Welcome to the United States of America! I am happy you and
your family are here and are safe. We are trying our best to get you home
as soon as possible. Have hope because 20 countries are helping. Until
this is over, enjoy your stay. We will not give up trying to get you home”.
Aren’t these statements of relief, understanding and beauty? Aren’t
they the ultimate expectations that we aspire to achieve in our lives?
The poem that closes the second to last part is the Albanian National Anthem
that symbolizes the undying pride and hope of the children:
For the Lord Himself has said
The Nations vanish from the earth
But Albania shall live on
Because for her, it is for her that we fight
Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin lives in America since 1992. Her contribution for
the community is remarkable, however, it must be said very clearly that
this book is the best present that she could give to the children of Kosova
and to any persecuted or suppressed child in the world
The author deserves respect for her effort to make the voices of the Kosova
children be heard. By letting kids confess she depicts the most important
part of human life- hope. And who reflects hope better than children?
Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin’s book and kids message is simple. Albanians
should forgive, but they should never forget. Albanians should forgive
the Serbs for what they did to them, but they should never forget it and
they should never forget to thank America for helping them. Albanian-Americans
that do not have or do not try to acquire this book will miss a part of
their own history, their own heritage and their own self.
In the end, one should go back to the beginning and realize that without
writing there would be no reading. More importantly, without writing there
would be no history. Mrs. Melyshi-Lifschin deserves the best of wishes
and luck in every thing that she seeks to accomplish. She deserves a big
thank you for her great book. She accomplished the mission. She has written
a part of Albanian’s history. She merits a big BRAVO!
July 4, 2001