Albanian Nazism, PART II: The Albanian Muslim Battalion in the Bosnian Muslim Handschar Nazi SS Division: Kosovo Albanian Nazi SS tradition
by Grey Carter
By Grey Carter – SS Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler formed a Kosovo Albanian Muslim Nazi SS Division during World War II, the Skanderbeg SS Division, 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian), in 1944. He planned to form a second Kosovo Albanian Muslim SS Division but was not able to because the war ended before he could do so. The history of the Skanderbeg division has been documented and analyzed. What has rarely been analyzed, however, is the role of the Kosovo Albanian Muslim members in the Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division Handzar or Handschar. This is an untold story of World War II.
“After the fall of Yugoslavia in July 1941, the Kosovo and Metohia region … joined the Italian Kingdom of Albania set up in 1939. The Albanians lost no time in driving as many Serbs out of the country as they could. Those who were expelled were often forced by local potentates to pay a fee in gold to be permitted to leave the country. They were simply following the example set by the German Reich with its emigration tax. … I recommended urgently that the Albanian Government put an end to the expulsion of the Serbs.”
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, also visited the division twice during the training period in Neuhammer.
The Mufti was accompanied by Muslim officials from Albania and Bosnia during these highly publicized visits. Husseini had himself been an artillery officer in the Ottoman Turkish Army during World War I which had fought on the German side. Husseini arrived in Europe in 1941 through Albania after passing through Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey.
The Mufti retained contacts with Muslim religious and political leaders in Albania. When Husseini came to Sarajevo in 1943 to promote the Handzar Division, Muslim leaders from Albania came to meet him.
SS-Uscha. Rudolf Sommerer, an NCO of the Albanian Battalion in the Bosnian Muslim Handzar SS Division.
The equipment base for the division was set up at Zemun. The headquarters for the division was in Vinkovci. The Albanian Battalion, I/28. was headquartered in Zupanje. The division was subordinated to the Second Panzer Army of Army Group F. Second Panzer Army was commanded by Lothar Rendulic while Army Group F was commanded by Field Marshal Maximilian Freiherr von Weichs. There was parallel authority between the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht. Himmler required permission before the army could issue orders to the division. Himmler wanted the division to operate in the sector between the Sava, Spreca, Drina, and Bosna rivers. This was an important agricultural region. To the north were Volksdeutsche or ethnic German areas. The Handzar Division was sent largely into Bosnian Serb Orthodox regions of Croatia and northeastern Bosnia.
Before offensive operations began, on March 7, the Muslim holiday of Mevlud was celebrated by the members of the Handzar division. Mevlud, or “mawlid(u) (n-)nabiyyi(i)” in Quranic Arabic, meaning literally “the birth of the Prophet” in Arabic, “mawlid an-nabi”, is the Islamic religious observance of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, celebrated in Rabi’ al-awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar.
The Bosnian Muslim and Albanian Muslim observance is based on the Turkish Sunni Muslim custom. Charity and food are distributed, and stories about the life of Mohammed are told and poetry is recited. Mosques and homes are decorated and there are street processions. Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, the commander of the division, ordered that the imams and commanders in the units organize large-scale celebrations of the Mevlud holiday. Lectures were held along with religious ceremonies and special rations were given to the men. Each regiment of the Handzar division had an imam. The imam for Regiment 28 was Bosnian Muslim Husejin Dzozo, later replaced by Ahmed Skaka.
From December 1, 1943, to June 6, 1944, Regiment 28 was commanded by SS Ostubaf. Hellmuth Raithel, who would later command the second Bosnian Muslim SS Division “Kama”. SS-Hstuf. Walter Bormann commanded the Albanian Battalion, Battalion I of the 28th Regiment from August 1, 1943, to April 13, 1944. SS-Ostuf. Heinz Driesner replaced him on April 13, 1944, and remained the commander until June 10, 1944, when he was killed in action.
The division continued advancing, taking Bukvik, Srebrenik, and Gradacac. The Albanian Battalion, I/28, however, was detached and transported by train to Pristina in Kosovo. There it would be the core of a new Nazi SS Division which Heinrich Himmler had ordered formed on April 17. The Kosovo Albanian Muslim Nazi SS Division would be called the 21. Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg” (albanische Nr. 1).
To be sure, there was a “mutuality of interest” in doing so. Support for a Greater Bosnia and a Greater Albania advanced U.S. geopolitical, military, and economic interests that were beneficial to both parties. Similarly, the Bosnian Muslims provided manpower, the warm bodies, for Himmler’s Waffen SS. What was the tradeoff?
The Bosnian Muslims would achieve “autonomy”, their own statelet, sponsored by Heinrich Himmler. Of course, it was done at the expense of the Bosnian Serbs. Northeastern Bosnia was a majority Serbian region of Bosnia.
This was where the Handzar Division chiefly engaged in combat, to take control of Serbian cities, towns, and villages. This was the objective of the Handzar division. The goal was to take over a Serbian majority region of Bosnia. Of course, the concepts of “majority” and “minority” had absolutely no meaning or relevance whatsoever in Islam or Nazism. The only question or issue was power and control.
The tradeoff was similar with regard to the creation of a Greater Albania. If Albanian Muslims supported the Third Reich and provided Himmler with manpower for the Waffen SS, he, in turn, would support the creation of a Greater Albania, which would include Kosovo and Metohija and western Macedonia.
After the genocide committed against the Bosnian Orthodox Serbs by Croat Roman Catholics and Bosnian Sunni Muslims, the Bosnian Orthodox Serb population would be decimated and they would lose their plurality. While all three groups suffered losses in a three-way civil war, the Bosnian Serb population was the only one targeted for genocide.
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