Review of a fascinating book about Albania in WW"
by Agnes Jensen Mangerich, Evelyn M. Monahan, Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee
On the 8th of November 1943, a US military 'plane carrying 13 nurses went off-course and crash landed in Nazi-occupied central Albania. Weather conditions were terrible. The country was infested with Nazi German soldiers, who were being opposed mainly by Communist partisans. The latter were not only fighting the Germans, but were also conducting a civil war against rival Albanian miltarised groups, notably the Balli Kombëtare, who, it has been said, might well have been aiding the Germans. The groups of Albanians, who were opposing the Germans, were being assisted by members of the British SOE and the US OSS.
Agnes Jensen ('Jens'), the principal author of this book, was one of the 13 nurses who were stranded behind enemy lines in Albania. She kept a diary whilst in Albania, and it is extracts from this alongside reports written by one of the SOE agents and one of the OSS agents that form the narrative of this excellent book.
Jens describes the day by day (mostly) trials and (few) tribulations of the nurses' several week's long stay in the mountainous heart of Albania. Accompanied by Albanian partisans and British SOE agents they criss-crossed central Albania in the most apalling wintry conditions , enduring physical hardships and multiple medical problems. Their aim was to keep out of sight of the Germans whilst trying to make their way to the sea coast. On their way, they experienced the generous, self-sacrificing, hospitality of Albanian country folk, who were having enough trouble keeping themselves alive.
This book is a real 'page-turner'. Jens and her co-authors not only describe the unbelievable discomforts that the nurses had to suffer, but present their story in such a way that you cannot put down this book, so great is the suspense.
This tale of adventure had to wait for many decades before it could be told. One reason was to try to protect those in Albania, who had helped them, from getting into trouble with Enver Hoxha's Stalinist dictatorship, during which contacts between Albanians and foreigners was regarded with great suspicion by the ruling regime.
I strongly reccommend this book because of the immediacy of its account and, also, because of what it reveals about conditions in occupied Albania during WW2. Just as ordinary Albanians risked their lives to protect Jews who had escaped to Albania in order to flee from the Nazis, so also did these brave people to protect the American nurses and the aircrew. This book is a fine illustration of the traditional Albanian high regard for the sanctity and protection of visitors to their land.