Kosovo and Bosnia During World War II
The Grand Mufti and the Nazi Protectorate of Bosnia-Hercegovina, 1941-1945
By Carl K.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem: Haj Amin el Husseini
Haj Amin el Husseini arrived in Europe in 1941 following the unsuccessful pro-Nazi coup which he organized in Iraq. He met German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and was officsially received by Adolf Hitler on November 28, 1941 in Berlin. Nazi Germany established for der Grossmufti von Jerusalem a Bureau from which he organized the following: 1) radio propaganda on behalf of Nazi Germany; 2) espionage and fifth column activities in Muslim regions of Europe and the Middle East; 3) the formation of Muslim Waffen SS and Wehrmacht units in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo-Metohija, Western Macedonia, North Africa, and Nazi-occupied areas of the Soviet Union; and, 4) the formation of schools and training centers for Muslim imams and mullahs who would accompany the Muslim SS and Wehrmacht units. As soon as he arrived in Europe, the Mufti established close contacts with Bosnian Muslim and Albanian Muslim leaders. He would spend the remainder of the war organizing and rallying Muslims in support of Nazi Germany.
Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el Husseini was born in 1893 in Jerusalem, then the capital of Palestine, which was then a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. His grandfather Mustapha and his half-brother Kemal had been the Muftis of Jerusalem in the 1890s. Husseini attended the Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, where he studied Islamic philosophy, but he never completed his studies and left after a year. In 1914, he obtained a commission in the Ottoman Turkish Army as an artillery officer, stationed in Smyrna.
On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour declared that Britain was committed to establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the so-called Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Balfour Declaration was initially contained in a letter to Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron of Rothschild, of the Jewish banking family, who was the leader of British Jewry. Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow, prominent Jewish Zionist leaders in London and the World Zionist Organization, sought to obtain such a commitment in exchange for Jewish support of British war aims. The global Zionist movement had pressured the British government to support a Jewish homeland at the expense of the indigenous Muslim Arab Palestinians, dismissed as "Arab inhabitants". The powerful and influential Jewish banking house Rothschild and Chaim Weizmann demanded a quid pro quo for global Jewish support of the British war effort against Germany. The modern platform for the Zionist movement was established at the World Zionist Congress held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland by Hungarian Jew Theodor Hertzl.
In 1917 the British occupied Palestine and established the British Mandate for Palestine.
The Mufti rejected the British policy of settling Palestine with European Jews. At the time of World War I, there were only approximately 60, 000 Jews in Palestine compared to approximately 800, 000 Palestinian Muslims. Husseini saw Jewish immigration and settlement in zero-sum terms. Each Jewish settler displaced a Palestinian Muslim, diluted the Palestinian population, and in time, would lead to the genocide of the Palestinian people. Husseini perceived the issue in these terms. He rejected both the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine, which was meant to lead to the implementation of the Balfour Zionist agenda. Husseini devoted his entire life and career to the preservation of a Palestinian state and opposed the establishment of a proposed Jewish homeland on Palestinian land and sought to prevent Jewish immigration into Palestine. .
He formed a Society of Palestinian Youth and wrote articles in Arab newspapers arguing against the British Mandate occupation and British immigration policies. On April 4, 1920, he was accused of inciting riots against Jewish crowds in Jerusalem. He was tried by a military court with incitement to violence. He subsequently absconded from his bail and was tried in absentia and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
On July 1, 1920, Sir Herbert Samuel, himself a British Jew, appointed the first British High Commissioner for Palestine, assumed control. Samuel sought to reconcile with the Palestinian population by pardoning Husseini. Sir Robert Storrs, the then governor of the city, appointed him Mufti of Jerusalem. He was also the president of the Supreme Muslim Council, and, later, the Arab Higher Committee. He was thus the religious and political leader of the Palestinian Muslims. Husseini was one of the most influential and powerful leaders in the Islamic world because of the fact that Jerusalem was a holy city and contained many Islamic holy sites, including the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem, the third most sacred Islamic site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
Husseini detested the decadent modern European materialistic way of life and modern secular Western civilization. He was then what would today be called a Muslim fundamentalist and was the precursor of Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Hendi Khomeini, Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, planned with the assistance of Bosnian Muslims, but initially blamed by the FBI on the so-called Serbian Liberation Army, Afghani Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, and Saudi Ossama Bin Laden. Husseini can justly be credited for being a visionary Islamic firebrand and one of the founders of the Muslim resistance to the British-French, later US, colonial/imperial/economic occupation and exploitation of the Muslim Arab world.
Husseini was at the forefront of Islamic militancy and "terrorism" directed against the British/French/US occupation. Hassan el Banna formed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928. The Muslim Brotherhood had links to the Grand Mufti and worked with him in Palestine, sending volunteers in support of the Palestinian uprisings in 1936, 1939, and during the 1948 war. The Muslim Brotherhood sought to establish Muslim states based on the Sharia, Islamic law, and the Caliphate system of political rule, wherein each Islamic state would be ruled by a Caliph. Islam is "creed and state, book and sword, and a way of life." In Pakistan, Syed Abdul Ala Maududi founded the Jamaat Islami movement with the goal of establishing Muslim theocratic states based on Koranic law. Egyptian Sayed Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood continued the movement after World War II. The Muslim Brotherhood had offshoots: the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Haj Amin el Husseini, the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat Islami, Islamic Jihad, all form the roots and historical background for the emergence of the Al Quaeda network, the mujahedeen of Afghanistan, and Ossama Bin Laden. Ayatollah Khomeini and Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic would be influenced by the anti-secular, anti-Western, radical Muslim nationalist movements. In his book The Islamic Declaration, (Islamska Deklaracija, 1970; republished, 1990), Izetbegovic rejected the secular conception of an Islamic state espoused by Kemal Ataturk. Izetbegovic sought to create an Islamic state based in the Sharia, a state where religion would not be separate from the state, i.e., an Islamic theocratic state. Izebegovic established close links to Ossama Bin Laden and al-Qeada and invited mujadedeen forces to join the Bosnian Muslim Army. Izetbegovic later would give Ossama Bin laden a special Bosnian passport and the mujahedeen "freedom fighters" would receive Bosnian citizenship and passports. One of the hijackers of the second attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, possessed a Bosnian passport.
Yasser Arafat was introduced to Mufti and the Mufti would subsequently become the role model and mentor for Arafat. In biographies of Arafat, whose real name is Mohammed el Husseini, the Mufti is stated to be a "distant relative" of Arafat, although this claim has been denied as well. For two years, beginning at the age of 16, Arafat worked for the Mufti and his covert terrorist network and organization, helping to smuggle and buy weapons in the war against Jewish settlers of Palestine. Sheik Hassan Abu Saud, the mufti of al-Shafaria, was worked with the Mufti. The Grand Mufti was a precursor of both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and of the Palestinian national struggle and movement to maintain a Palestinian state. The terrorism, fanaticism, and ruthlessness of that movement reflect the enduring legacy and influence of the Grand Mufti.
At the 1921 Cairo Conference, Britain and France divided up the Arab lands to suit their colonial/imperialist objectives by forming spheres of influence, in a region formerly ruled by Muslim Turkey. In the Sykes-Picot Treaty, negotiated by Sir Mark Sykes and Charles Picot, these British-French colonial spheres were formally established. Since 1875 when Britain gained the Suez Canal, the Middle East was regarded as a key strategic region in safeguarding naval routes in the British colonial empire.. The British/French created Jordan under Emir Abdullah and installed King Faisal in Iraq. Syria was placed under French control. The Balfour Declaration was endorsed. The Islamic Arab Middle East was placed under British/French imperial/colonial occupation/control. The British had occupied Palestine since 1917. On July 7, 1922, the League of Nations approved the British Mandate which had the goal of settling Muslim Arab Palestine with European Jewish settlers.
The Mufti instigated and organized Muslim riots against Palestinian Jews in 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936. In 1921, the Muft organized the fedayeen, Muslim suicide squads. Following the 1936 riots, fearing imprisonment, he fled to Lebanon. In 1939, the Mufti established his headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, where he set up a "political department" that maintained ties to Germany and Italy. Germany sought to create a Berlin-Baghdad Axis and instigated a pro-Nazi coup. Iraqi General Rashid Ali el Gailani, a militant Muslim nationalist, and the Golden Square, a group of pro-Nazi Iraqi officers, took over the Iraqi government. The Mufti sent representatives to Berlin and a letter to Adolf Hitler. In a reply by German State Secretary Freiherr von Weizsaecker, the Mufti was told that "the Fuehrer received your letter dated January 20th…He took great interest in what you wrote him about the national struggle of the Arabs… Germany … is ready to cooperate with you and to give you all possible military and financial help… Germany is prepared to deliver to you immediately military material." Abwehr, German intelligence, established contacts with the Mufti at this time.
Nazi Germany sent arms and aircraft to the Mufti's forces in Iraq but the British were able to reoccupy Iraq, forcing the Mufti and el Gailani to flee to Teheran. The Mufti then flew to either Afghanistan or Turkey "where he is known to have many friends". From there he arrived in Albania and on October 24 he reached southern Italy. On October 27, 1941, the Mufti arrived in Rome. The Mufti would subsequently play a major role in organizing Muslim support for Nazism in Europe.
On May 9, 1941, the Mufti broadcast a fatwa announcing a jihad, an Islamic holy war, against Britain and he urged every Muslim to join in the struggle against the "greatest foe of Islam": "I invite all my Muslim brothers throughout the whole world to join in the holy war for Allah…to preserve Islam, your independence and your lands from English aggression." The Mufti envisioned a vast Arab-Muslim union which would unite Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Trans-Jordan, and Egypt with Germany and Italy creating a Pan-Muslim/Arab Bloc of countries.
In December, 1931, the Grand Mufti organized an All-Islamic Conference in Jerusalem. This would be the first time the Mufti would come in contact with Bosnian Muslim political and religious leaders. Present at the Mufti's All Islamic Conference were Bosnian Muslim leader Mehmed Spaho, the president of the Yugoslavian Muslim Organization or JMO, Uzeiraga Hadzihasanovic, and hadzi-Mujaga Merhemic. The Mufti was elected president of the Conference.
Franz Reichert, the director of the Palestine branch of the Deutsches Nachrichten Buro (German News Bureau) from 1933 to 1938, established the first contacts between Nazi Germany and Muslim leaders in the Middle East. The Mufti approached representatives of the Nazi regime and sought cooperation on July 21, 1937, when he visited the German Consul in Jerusalem. He later sent an agent and personal representative to Berlin for discussions with Nazi leaders.
SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich was second in command to Heinrich Himmler in the SS hierarchy and was the chief of the Reich Security Head Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA) and was the head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the SS Security Service. In Septemper, 1937, Heydrich sent two SS officers, SS Hauptscharfuehrer Adolf Eichmann and SS Oberscharfuehrer Herbert Hagen on a mission to Palestine, one of the main objectives being to establish contact with the Grand Mufti. During this period Husseini received financial and military aid and supplies from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.
After meeting Hitler and Ribbentrop in Berlin in 1941, the Mufti was approached by Gottlob Berger, head of the SS Main Office in control of recruiting, and by Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who made him a part of the SS apparatus. In May, 1943, the Mufti was moved to the SS main office where he participated in the recruiting of Muslims in the Balkans, the USSR, the Middle East, and North Africa. The Grand Mufti was instrumental in the organization and formation of many Muslim units and formations in the Waffen SS and Wehrmacht. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims fought for Nazi Germany in the following formations and units: Two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions, an Albanian Waffen SS Division in Kosovo-Metohija and Western Macedonia, the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Skanderbeg", a Muslim SS self-defense regiment in the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia, the Arab Legion (Arabisches Freiheitskorps), the Arab Brigade, the Ostmusselmanische SS-Regiment, the Ostturkischen Waffen Verband der SS made up of Turkistanis, the Waffengruppe der-SS Krim, formations consisting of Chechen Muslims from Chechnya, and a Tatar Regiment der-SS made up of Crimean Tatars, and other Muslim formations in the Waffen SS and Wehrmacht, in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Balkans, North Africa, Nazi-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, and the Middle East.
The SS Muslim State: The Nazi Protectorate of Bosnia-Hercegovina
On April 10, 1941, Slavko Kvaternik proclaimed the creation of the Independent State of Croatia, Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska, NDH, a Great or Greater Croatia, Velika Hrvatska, following the German invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia. Ironically, Croat and Muslim propaganda and policy sought to create for their respective nationalities what they accused the Serbs of seeking, Greater Croatia and Greater Muslim Bosnia. The NDH consisted of the territories of Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and parts of Serbia and was a Nazi-fascist puppet state created by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and ruled by the Ustashi ("insurgents"), Croatian Catholic nationalists and Bosnian Muslims. The Vatican-supported NDH embarked upon a massive and systematic program of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Serbian Orthodox populations, the Jewish populations, and the Gypsy or Roma populations. The Ustasha regime doctrine was based on the intolerant fanaticism of Roman Catholicism and the racist precepts of the 19th century Croatian nationalist Ante Starcevic, regarded as the "father of his country", he called for the extermination of the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, "a race fit for the slaughterhouse". The President or Poglavnik of the NDH was Ante Pavelic, born in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the Vice-President, from November, 1941 to April, 1945, was Dzafer Kulenovic, a Bosnian Muslim born in Bihac. From April to November, 1941, the Vice-President had been his brother, Osman Kulenovic. The Minister of the Interior was Andrija Artukovic, born in Ljubuski, Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Minister of Justice was Mirko Puk; Slavko Kvaternik was Minister of the Army; Mile Budak was Minister of Education and Cults. Artukovic and Budak personally received the Grand Mufti in Zagreb when Husseini was en route to Sarajevo to oversee the formation of the Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Division in 1943.
Dzafer Kulenovic, the Bosnian Muslim Vice-President of the NDH, had been the president of the Yugoslavian Muslim Organization (JMO, Jugoslovenska Muslimanska Organizacija) and was the political leader of the Bosnian Muslims. Eleven Muslim political leaders of the JMO were invited to be part of the Ustasha NDH parliament in Zagreb. The Ustasha Commissioner for Bosnia-Hercegovina was Bosnian Muslim Hakija Hadzic. The NDH was a Croatian Catholic and Bosnian Muslim state which sought the extermination or genocide of the Serbian Orthodox, Jewish, and Roma populations. The Serbian Orthodox population was referred to as grkoistocnjaka in the NDH and were de-recognized as a nationality group. On April 25, 1941, under Decree Law, No. XXV-33Z, the Serbian Orthodox Cyrillic alphabet was outlawed and Orthodox Serbs were forced to wear a blue band with the letter "P" for Pravoslavac, Orthodox. In Belovar, Serbs were forced to wear a red armband with the word "Serb". The NDH adopted the Nuremberg racial laws and began the incarceration of Jews., who were forced to wear a yellow band with the letter "Z", for Zidov, Jew.
On September 25, 1941, under decree-law, No. 1528-2101-Z-1941, the creation of "assembly or work camps for undesirable and dangerous persons" was authorized, which was the basis for the establishment of the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia.
From the beginning of the German invasion of Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Muslims had sought to convince the Germans that Bosnia-Hercegovina should be a Nazi Protectorate, that is, have an autonomous political existence, a Greater Islamic Bosnia, a Greater Muslim State. In 1941, over 100, 000 Bosnian Muslim conscripts were available to fight in the military formations of the Third Reich. Roman Catholic Croatian and Bosnian Muslim soldiers were in the Ustasha death squads, the Domobranci (Home Guards), and the Croatian Army.
Bosnian Muslim soldiers were in the Nazi-Ustasha German-Croatian "Legion" units, the 369th, 373rd, and 392nd Infantry Divisions. The 369th German-Croatian Infantry Division, formed in 1942, was known as the Vrazja Divizija or Devil Division commanded by Generalleutnant Fritz Neidholt. The 373rd German-Croatian Infantry Division was known as the Tigar Divizija or Tiger Division. The 392nd German-Croatian Infantry Division was known as the Plava Divizija, or Blue Division. The 369th Reinforced Croat Infantry Regiment, made up of Croats and Bosnian Muslims, fought at Stalingrad where it was destroyed. The NDH also sent the Italian-Croat Legion, attached to the Italian 3rd Mobile Division, to the Russian front where it was destroyed during the Don retreat. The 369th Reinforced Infantry Regiment, formed at Varazdin, consisted of three battalions, two from Croatia, one from Sarajevo. The Regiment left Zagreb on July 15, 1941 for the Doellersheim Training Camp near Vienna, Austria. From here, the troops were transferred by railroad to the USSR. The Regiment was deployed on various points on the Russian Front: Krementchug, Jasy, Kirovograd, Permomaysk, Poltava, the Dnieper River, Kharkov, Stalino. On May 15, 1942, the Regiment was deployed on the Voronezh Front. On September 27, the Bosnian Muslim/Croat troops deployed to Stalingrad where they fought to take the city. By February, 1943, the Regiment was totally annihilated and obliterated by the Russian Red Army. The German/Axis forces were encircled and surrendered en masse in Stalingrad.
The Bosnian Muslims formed purely Muslim formations as well, the most important of which was the Muslim Volunteer Legion, led by Mohammed Hadzieffendic. Other Muslim formations were the Zeleni Kadar/Kader (Green Cadres), Nazi formations created by deserters from the Home Guards (Domobranci), led by Neshad Topcic, the Muslim nationalist group, the Young Muslims (Mladi Muslimani), Huska Miljkovic's Muslim Army, and the Gorazde-Foca milicijas (policing units). Alija Izetbegovic was a key member of the Young Muslims (Mladi Muslimani) group.
The Bosnian Muslim political and religious leaders, known as Muslim autonomists, continued to argue for the establishment of a autonomous Nazi Protectorate for Muslim Bosnia. They wrote Adolf Hitler a Memorandum and interceded with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in Berlin to support their goal of creating a Nazi protectorate for Bosnia. The German commanders in Croatia, the NDH, Foreign Minister Siegfried Kasche and General Edmund Gleise von Horstenau, however, opposed the creation of a Protectorate for Bosnia, supporting instead a unitary NDH.
On October 15, 1942, Bosnian Muslim religious and political leaders sent a delegation from Mostar to a meeting in Rome with the Grand Mufti and Benito Mussolini, who sought to gain influence in the Muslim countries and who assumed the title of "Protector of Islam". The Bosnian Muslim delegation consisted of the grand mufti of Mostar, Omer Dzabic, Ibrahim Fejic, hadzi-Ahmed Karabeg, and Oman Sehic. The goal of the delegation was to convince Mussolini to sponsor a Fascist Protectorate for Bosnia-Hercegovina, an Italian-sponsored Greater Islamic State, like the Greater Albania made up of Kosovo and Western Macedonia, which Italy did sponsor. A Fascist Protectorate for Bosnia, however, did not result.
The Bosnian Muslim leadership remained determined to secure political autonomy for Bosnia-Hercegovina by interceding with the Grand Mufti to use his influence to create a Protectorate By 1943, the Mufti and the Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler became convinced that the Bosnian Muslims could be organized in Nazi formations to advance the objectives of the Third Reich and of Islam. Himmler became a sponsor of the Muslim autonomists, the Greater Muslim Bosnia ideology, and their movement to achieve autonomy for Muslim Bosnia. Bosnian Muslim Reis-el-Ulema Hafiz Mohammed Pandza was a key recruiter for the division and was himself a prominent Muslim autonomist, a key proponent of the Great or Greater Muslim State of Bosnia, even though the Serbian Orthodox were the largest population in Bosnia. Himmler explained how he decided to form the Handzar Division as follows:
I decided to propose to the Fuehrer that we establish a Muslim Bosnian Division. Many believed the notion to be so novel that they scoffed at it … Such is the fate of all new ideas. I was told, "You're ruining the formation of the Croatian state" and "No one will volunteer"…. Germany and the Reich have been friends of Islam for two centuries, owing not to expediency but to friendly conviction. We have the same goals.
Himmler wanted to re-establish the continuity with the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire, which had formed Bosnian Muslim military formations. Himmler sent the Mufti to Zagreb and to Sarajevo to prepare for the formation of the Bosnian Muslim units. Himmler's SS representative in the NDH, Konstantin Kammerhofer, was told to begin recruiting a Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Division of 26, 000 men, which if realized, would make it the largest of all the SS Divisions.
In forming the Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Division, Himmler overruled the objections of the Pavelic regime, which considered such formations and infringement on the sovereignty of the NDH. Himmler, as the second most powerful leader in the Third Reich after Hitler, was able to create a de facto Protectorate for Bosnia. He wanted to create an "SS recruiting zone", an SS State administration in northeastern Bosnia to "restore order". Two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions would be created by 1944 to serve this purpose.
Genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina
On July 22, 1941, Mile Budak declared that the goal of the NDH was to create a Croat Catholic and Bosnian Muslim state by the extermination of "foreign elements", which were Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies (Roma). His statement is as follows: "The basis for the Ustasha movement is religion. For minorities such as Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, we have three million bullets." He emphasized in a speech on July 6, 1941, that the Bosnian Muslims were to be an integral part of the NDH: "The Croatian state is Christian. It is also a Moslem state where our people are of the Mohammedan religion." Orthodox churches and synagogues were plundered and destroyed and Serbian Orthodox priests and Jewish rabbis were murdered.
On August 14, 1941, Ante Pavelic, a "Bosnian" by birth, in a speech in Vukovar, in Srem, announced the official policy of the NDH:
This is now the Ustashi and Independent State of Croatia, it must be cleansed of Serbs and Jews. There is no room for any of them here. Not a stone upon a stone will remain of what once belonged to them.
Pavelic's speech and the law passed in Srem were published in the Ustasha Hrvatski Narod newspaper of August 15 and 16, 1941.
In 1941, Pavelic declared: "The Jews will be liquidated within a very short time." Following the Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942, where the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" was formulated, the German regime proposed through SS Sturmbannfuehrer Hans Helm that the Croats transfer Jewish prisoners to German camps in the East. Eugen Dido Kvaternik, chief of the NDH security services, agreed that the NDH would arrest the Jews, take them to railheads, and pay the Germans 30 Reichsmarks per person for the cost of transport to the extermination camps in the east. The Germans agreed that the property of the Jews would go to the NDH government..
SS Haupsturmfuehrer Franz Abromeit was sent to supervise the deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oswiecim-Brzezina). From August 13-20, 1942, 5, 500 Jews from the NDH were transported to Auschwitz of five trains from the NDH concentration camps at Tenje and Loborgrad and from Zagreb and Sarajevo. Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler was on a state visit to Zagreb in May, 1943 when two trains on May 5 and 10 transported 1, 150 Jews to Auschwitz.
The largest concentration camp in Bosnia was the Kruscica camp near Travnik, established in April-May, 1941, where many of Bosnia's Jews were killed.
On February 26, 1942, NDH Interior Minister Andrija Artukovic, gave a speech before the NDH Parliament or Sabor in Zagreb in which he claimed the Jewish question had been settled in the NDH:
The Croatian people, having re-established their independent state of Croatia, could not do otherwise but to clean off the poisonous damagers and insatiable parasites—-Jews, Communists, Freemasons. The independent state of Croatia, as an Ustashi state...settled the so-called Jewish question with a decisive and healthy grasp.
The Serbian Orthodox population was the largest ethnic group in Bosnia-Hercegovina. According to the 1931 Yugoslav census, out of a total population of 2, 487, 652, 40.92% were Serbian Orthodox, 36.64% were Muslim, and 22.44% were Roman Catholic Croats. The total Jewish population of Bosnia-Hercegovina was approximately 14, 000 in 1941, 10, 500 of whom lived in Sarajevo. In the 1931 census, there were 73, 000 Yugoslav Jews; in 1941, there were 80, 000 Jews, including over 4, 000 Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and other countries. The Jewish population was broken down as follows: 60% were Ashkenazic and 40% were Sephardic. Due to the Serbian Orthodox policy of fostering multi-ethnic and religious diversity and religious and ethnic tolerance, interwar Yugoslavia had a thriving and vibrant Jewish community. German-occupied Serbia had a population of 16, 000 Jews. The NDH had a total population of 40, 000 Jews, 11, 000 of whom lived in Zagreb.
On April 16, German forces occupied Sarajevo and with local Bosnian Muslims, looted and destroyed the Sephardic synagogue.
Entire Serbian Orthodox and Jewish communities in the Sarajevo region were destroyed and Serbian, Jewish, and Roma, men, women, and children were massacred by Bosnian Muslims and Croats. Numerous massacres occurred in the Bosnian towns of Bihac, Brcko, and Doboj. Even the Germans began protesting the bestiality and brutality of these massacres against Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Roma. Serbian Orthodox churches and Jewish synagogues were plundered and destroyed and Serbian Orthodox priests and rabbis were tortured and brutally murdered.
A large percentage of the Bosnian Serbian, Jewish, and Roma communities was deported between September and November, 1941, to Jasenovac, and Djakovo, and the Loborgrad camp for women from the Kruscica camp, located south of Zenica and Travnik in central Bosnia. From the Kruscica concentration camp, which functioned as a collection and transit camp, Orthodox Serbs, Roma, and Jews, mostly from Sarajevo, were transported to the northern extermination camps of the NDH, Jasenovac, Loborgrad, Stara Gradiska. Survivors were later transferred to Auschwitz where they were gassed. Those who remained alive in the NDH concentration camps were later transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Bosnia-Hercegovina during World War II
In April, 1943, the Grand Mufti came to Sarajevo, where he was greeted by cheering crowds and where he was photographed on the balcony of the presidency building with Bosnian Muslim leaders, to organize the formation of the Muslim SS Division. Husseini met with prominent Bosnian Muslim leaders Uzeiraga Hadzihasanovic and hadzi-Mujaga Merhemic and spoke in the Begova Djamija or Beg Mosque, exhorting Muslims to join the Waffen SS. Bosnian Muslim muftis and imams, such as Mustafa and Halim Malkoc, harangued Muslims in front of mosques to volunteer to join the proposed Muslim Waffen SS Division.
The Bosnian Muslims formed two Nazi SS Divisions during World War II, the 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Handzar" (or "Handschar" in German) from the Turkish hancher, "dagger", from Arabic khangar, "dagger", and the 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Kama", from Turkish kama, "dagger, dirk". During the war, Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the "architect of the Holocaust", reviewed the Handzar Division in a German newsreel in 1943 while the division was being formed and trained in Silesia, at the Neuhammer Waffen SS Training Camp in Germany. The Bosnian Muslims had approximately 20, 000-25, 000 men in the Waffen SS and police, roughly 4% of their total population, one of the highest ratios of membership in the Nazi ranks as a percentage of total population during the war.
The Schutzstaffel or SS, meaning "protective rank" or "defensive squadron" in German, was a branch of the German National Socialist Worker's Party (National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei), the NSDAP, or Nazi party. The SS was originally formed in 1925 as an elite bodyguard to Hitler and the other Nazi leaders and was a part of the SA or Sturmabteilung ("storm troopers" in German) which was headed by Ernst Roehm. In 1929, Himmler became the leader of the SS. On June 30, 1934, the "Night of the Long Knives" ("die Nacht der langen Messer"), Himmler's SS troops executed Roehm and the top leaders of the SA, destroying the power of the SA while making the SS the key organization in the Nazi Party. The SS was a complex evolving organization divided into the Allgemeine (General) Group, and the Waffen (Armed) Group. The Waffen SS, established in 1940, was the combat wing of the SS. The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which tried war criminals after the war, declared the SS a criminal organization and every individual member of the SS to be a war criminal guilty of "planning and carrying out crimes against humanity."
Each member of the SS was supposed to represent the paragon of Nazi racial purity and had to demonstrate a pure Aryan ancestry since 1750. The Race and Settlement Office (Rasseund Siedlungshauptampt) headed by Richard Darre investigated prospective members for racial purity. The two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions, Handzar and Kama, were radical departures from the racial theories heretofore applied by the SS. Before Handzar, SS members had been either German or Germanic, that is, Aryan or Nordic, the herrenvolk or herrenmensch (the master race), and were Christians. Thus, inclusion of the Slavic Muslims represented a radical departure for the SS at that time, although Bosnian Muslim leaders argued that they were of Gothic, not Slavic, origins.
The Bosnian Muslim troops in the 13th Waffen SS Gebirgs Division "Handzar" and the several thousand in the 23rd Waffen SS Gebirgs Division "Kama" wore a field-green fez, while officers wore a red or maroon fez. On the fez itself appeared the Totenkopf (Death's Head) insignia of the SS and the Hoheitszeichen (a white or silver eagle and the Nazi swastika). While Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Kemal Pasha, had outlawed the fez in 1925 for Turkey in the Hat Law, the Bosnian Muslims, continued to wear the fez.
The Muslim Handzar and Kama Divisions were organized on the model of the Bosnian Muslim regiments of the Austro-Hungarian Army. The divisional names are derived from the Turkish words "hancher" and "kama", which in Turkish mean "dagger", were symbolic of Islam and Islamic military/political power and the Islamic state. The Turkish word "hancher" is derived from the Arabic word "khangar", "dagger". The handzar and kama were usually curved Turkish daggers which the Muslim Ottoman Turkish Zaptiehs or police customarily carried as weapons when Bosnia was under Turkish Ottoman rule. Thus, the names of the divisions were meant to revive the Islamic historical traditions of the Bosnian Muslims as the rulers and masters (begs or aghas) of Bosnia-Hercegovina over the non-Muslim rayah or untermenschen or mistmenschen, the subhumans, Orthodox Serb Christians, Jews, and Roma. This was the meaning and symbolic significance of the names "handzar" and "kama". Usually the Waffen SS Divisions were named after heroic local political or military leaders. The Bosnian Muslims lacked any historical figures in their history.
While the official, final designation of the Handzar or Handschar Division was 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS (the 13th Armed Mountain Division of the SS), the Division was known by other names during its formation stages, when it was under the control of SS Standartenfuehrer Herbert von Obwurzer: Croat SS Volunteer Division (Kroatische SS Freiwilligen Division), SS Division "Bosnien-Herzegowina"(SS Div.BH), Muselmanen Division (Muslim Division), 13.SS-Bosniaken-Gebirgs-Division, Bosnisch-Herzegowinische SS Gebirgsdivision "Kroatien".
These two Muslim SS Divisions were conceived as the armed forces of the de facto Nazi protectorate which the Muslims sought to create for Bosnia-Hercegovina, a Greater Islamic State, Greater Muslim Bosnia, Juden frei and Serbien frei. Adolf Hitler ordered the creation of the Handzar Division of February 10, 1943. The Handzar Division would be commanded by SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS, Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, a decorated Prussian World War I veteran who had been a Colonel in the German Army. At its peak strength by the end of 1943, the division would consist of 21, 065 men, approximately 18, 000 of whom were Muslims, making it the third largest of the approximately 40 SS Divisions formed during the war.
In June, 1944, Sauberzweig was promoted to Generalleutnant and assumed command of the IX SS Mountain Corps. SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Desiderius Hampel replaced him as commander of the Handzar Division.
The Division had at least nine Bosnian Muslim officers, the highest ranking of whom was SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Hussein Biscevic-Beg, who had been a Muslim officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army when Bosnia was under occupation. Initially, the Handzar Division was formed around the core of the Muslim Volunteer Legion, led by Mohammed Hadzieffendic, which was close to divisional strength itself. There were approximately 300 Albanian Muslim troops in the Handzar division primarily from Kosovo-Metohija in Regiment 28, I/28. These Albanian Muslims would in 1944 be transferred to the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division "Skanderbeg" to occupy Kosovo and Western Macedonia. Albanian Muslim squad leader Nazir Hodic was a prominent member of Handzar. Albanian Muslim Ajdin Mahmutovic was seventeen when he joined the Handzar SS Division: "I was only seventeen years old when I joined the SS. I found the physical training to be quite easy."
Heinrich Himmler sought to create two Bosnian Muslim SS Divisions and two Albanian Muslim SS Divisions for Kosovo and Western Macedonia. In a May 22. 1944 letter to Artur Phleps, Himmler stated:
My goal is clear: The creation of two territorial corps, one in Bosnia, the other in Albania. These two corps, with the Division ‘Prinz Eugen, ' as an army of five SS mountain divisions … are the goal for 1944.
Adolf Hitler approved the formation of the second Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Division, 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Kama", on May 28, 1944, although transfers and recruitments for the cadre personnel had been begun on June 10.The objective was to recruit a Waffen SS Division of over 19, 000 troops but by September 10, 1944, the number of men in the still forming division was 126 officers, 374 NCOs, and 3, 293 men, 3, 793 men in all. The Kama Division was commanded by SS Standartenfuehrer Helmut Raithel, who had earlier commanded the 28th Regiment of the Handzar Division. The Kama Division was formed and trained in the Bacska/Bachka region, formerly part of Yugoslavia, at that time annexed by Hungary. The region for the initial formation of the division was in the area between the Sava, Bosna, and Speca rivers. Later, the division was transferred to the Bacska region of the Vojvodina region of Serbia. The Kama SS Division was made up of Bosnian Muslim and German troops. Fredo Gensicke, a Reichdeutsche SS sergeant who was transferred to the Kama Division on July 20, 1944, described the Bosnian Muslim troops in Kama as follows:
There were forever complications with the Bosnian soldiers. ..On the other hand, there were those Muslims so fanatical in their religion that one could get a knife stuck in the back if you would twist your head around, forcing the tassel on the Fez hat to move around.
The subsequent advance of the Russian Red Army and the retreat of the German forces in Yugoslavia forced the Germans to disband the Kama Division by September-October, 1944, after a roughly five month existence. The Kama Division saw little if any actual combat and came too late in the war to have a significant impact on the outcome.
In January, 1944, the Mufti made a second visit to and spent three days with the Handzar Division, which was departing from Germany for Bosnia by rail. In a speech to the Division, he made the following declaration of principles which was to guide not only Bosnian Muslims, but all Muslims throughout the world:
This division of Bosnian Muslims established with the help of Greater Germany, is an example to Muslims in all countries. There is no other deliverance for them from imperialistic oppression than hard fighting to preserve their homes and faith. Many common interests exist between the Islamic world and Greater Germany, and those make cooperation a matter of course. The Reich is fighting against the same enemies who robbed the Muslims of their countries and suppressed their faith in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Germany is the only Great Power which has never attacked any Islamic country. Further, National- Socialist Germany is fighting against world Jewry. The Koran says: "You will find that the Jews are the worst enemies of the Muslims." There are also considerable similarities between Islamic principles and those of National-Socialism, namely in the affirmation of struggle and fellowship, in stressing leadership, in the idea of order, in the high valuation of work. All this brings our ideologies close together and facilitates cooperation. I am happy to see in this division a visible and practical expression of both ideologies.
Husseini referred to the Bosnian Muslims as the "cream of Islam" and in a speech to the imams in the Handzar Division, explained why the Muslim/Arab world should support the Axis/Nazi Germany:
Friendship and collaboration between two peoples must be built on a firm foundation. The necessary ingredients here are common spiritual and material interests as well as the same ideals. The relationship between the Muslims and the Germans is built on this foundation. Never in its history has Germany attacked a Muslim nation. Germany battles world Jewry, Islam's principal enemy. Germany also battles England and its allies, who have persecuted millions of Muslims, as well as Bolshevism, which subjugates forty million Muslims and threatens the Islamic faith in other lands. Any one of these arguments would be enough of a foundation for a friendly relationship between two peoples…. My enemy's enemy is my friend.
You, my Bosnian Muslims, are the first Islamic division, and serve as an example of the active collaboration between Germany and the Muslims. I … wish you much success in your holy mission.
Husejin Dzozo, a key imam in Handzar, wrote a letter to Himmler thanking him for creating an imam school, for increased bread rations, and for Himmler's donations to Bosnian Muslim families of the Division's members:
These deeds signify the great benevolence for us Muslims and for Bosnia in general. I therefore consider it my duty to extend our thanks to the Reichsfuehrer SS in the names of the division's imams as well as in the names of the hundreds of thousands of Bosnia's poor in I pledge that we are prepared to lay down our lives in battle for the great leader Adolf Hitler and the New Europe.
The imams in Handzar all spoke Arabic and argued that Bosnia belonged racially to the Germanic world, but spiritually to the Arab world, maintaining the argument that the Bosnian Muslims were of Gothic, that is Germanic/Nordic/Aryan origins, even though they spoke a Slavic language, Serbo-Croatian. Each battalion and regimental staff was assigned an imam. The imams organized the Jumah, Islamic prayer services, and the celebrations of the Islamic holidays. Every month on Friday afternoon, each member of Handzar was allowed to take part in a mass Jumah service. The imams washed the bodies of Muslims who had died in combat according to Muslim custom. Himmler stated that the imams were the "ideological teachers in the battalions."
Imam Dzozo outlined his goals for the Bosnian Muslim SS soldier as follows:
Bosnia's best sons are serving in the SS…After victory is achieved, a new, important task must be completed—-the implementation of the New Order…. Through the Versailles-Diktat, Europe was thrust into a totally senseless foundation, and under the name of democracy, Jews and Freemasons played key roles in political and societal life….It will not be easy to liberate Europe from these enemies, but the SS man … shall build a better future for Europe.
After the Islamic Ramadan holiday, a Bairam celebration was conducted at which time Imam Abdulah Muhasilovic spoke to the troops:
The world's Muslims are engaged in a terrible life-or-death struggle. Today, a war of enormous magnitude is being waged; a war as humanity has never before experienced. The entire world has divided itself into two camps. One stands under the leadership of the Jews. About whom Allah says in the Koran, "They are your enemy and Allah's enemy." And that is the English, Americans, and Bolsheviks, who fight against faith, against Allah, against morality, and a just order.
On the other side stands National Socialist Germany with its allies, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, who fight for Allah, faith, morality, and a fairer and more righteous order in the world, as well as for a fairer distribution of all goods that Allah has produced for all people.
The Mufti expressed his support for Japan, sending Emperor Hirohito a message which praised Japan as a "champion of the liberation of the Asiatic peoples from the yoke of the British and Jewish capitalist." In a broadcast of September 20, 1944, he declared:
We desire victory for Germany and Japan ….We can expect nothing from the Allies who are controlled by world Jewry.
On November 11, 1943, over Radio Bari, the Mufti "my people" to fight the British and the Jews to the death:
If America and England win the war the Jews will dominate the world.
On March 1. 1944, the Mufti attacked American policy in the Middle East in a radio broadcast from Berlin:
No one ever thought that 140, 000 Americans would become tools in Jewish hands…How would the Americans dare to Judaize Palestine?…The wicked American intentions towards the Arabs are now clear, and there remain no doubts that they are endeavoring to establish a Jewish empire in the Arab world.
The Donauzeitung (The Danube Times) newspaper of December 31, 1942 reported that the Mufti had donated over 240, 000 Kuna, the currency of the NDH regime, to the Muslim charity organization in Sarajevo from German government sources. Himmler donated 100, 000 Reichsmarks. The SS bought clothing which was donated to the Merhamed welfage organization, a Muslim charity.
In the spring of 1944, in a German radio broadcast from Zittau, Germany, the Mufti issued a call to Bosnian and Yugoslav Muslims to hold Islamic prayer services for seven days to pray that the German military forces may achieve success.
The Bosnian Muslim Handzar and Kama Divisions fought mainly against Orthodox Serbs, who made up the bulk of the guerrilla and resistance movements, and who were associated with the enemies of the Third Reich, Communism and England, or as Heinrich Himmler termed it, the " common Jewish-Anglo-Bolshevik enemy". On March 1, 1944, the Grand Mufti issued from Berlin the following call to all Muslims: "Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor. Allah is with you." Moreover, the Mufti called upon Bosnian Muslims to "take revenge and to punish" Bosnian Serb Orthodox Christians. Numerous eyewitness accounts testified that the Handzar Division committed the "worst atrocities against the Serbian population." In a photograph of troops of the Division, members are seen reading the pamphlet Islam und Judentum (Islam and Jewry), which explained the Nazi position on the Jewish Question and how it related to Muslims.These were prepared from the Mufti's schools and training centers in Germany the Dresden school for Muslims in the Waffen SS, and the Goettingen school for Muslims in the German Wehrmacht.
Heinrich Himmler was determined to create the two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions, although he met with opposition from the NDH regime and from sources within the SS itself. In a letter to Konstantin Kammerhofer, his SS representative in the NDH, he urged that "strong steps" be taken to convince the NDH regime that is was supposed to be a puppet regime: "I expect to receive, by August 1, 1943, your report that the division, at a strength of about 26, 000 men, is completely ready." Himmler ordered Gottlob Berger to send Kammerhofer two million Reichsmarks to fund the recruiting effort for the Handzar division. Unlike most SS officials, Himmler was convinced of the fighting ability of the Bosnian Muslims, partly from his understanding of the role of the Bosnian Muslims as soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army before and during World War I and his belief that Islam was an ideal religion for a soldier. Himmler stated to Joseph Goebbels that he had "nothing against Islam because it educates the men in this Division for me and promises them heaven if they fight and are killed in action; a very practical and attractive religion for soldiers!" Himmler's policy of using Islam as a bulwark against Orthodox Serbia and Orthodox Russia would later be the policy of Zbiniew Brzezinski, Madeleine Albright, the Pentagon, and the CIA. Ossama Bin Laden and the mujahedeen forces in Afghanistan would be armed, trained, and supplied by the US government. This policy would then be applied in the Balkans. Like Hitler, Mussolini, and Himmler, the US policy was to use the Bosnian and Albanian Muslims as a bulwark against the Serbian Orthodox populations. Like Himmler's policy, the US policy was divide and conquer, manipulate ethnic and religious groups to attack and kill each other so that a foreign military power can occupy the region, whether it is the Waffen SS or NATO. Historically, the dynamics are identical.
The Bosnian Muslim troops in the Waffen SS Divisions were accorded the same privileges they had enjoyed in the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army: special rations and the observance of Islamic religious rites. Each battalion in the Divisions had an Imam and each regiment a Mullah. Following the 1878 occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, four infantry regiments were recruited from the Muslim population: the Bosnia-Hercegovina Regiment No. 1, recruited around Sarajevo; the Regiment No. 2, recruited around Banja Luka; the Regiment No.3, recruited around Tuzla; and, the Regiment No.4, recruited around Mostar. Following the outbreak of World War I, these Muslim regiments in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army would be thrust against the Serbian Army. The Handzar and Kama Divisions were modeled on the earlier Austro-Hungarian Muslim regiments. As Gerald Reitlinger explained in The SS: Alibi of a Nation: "These Moslems were the traditional enemies of the Christian Serbs, and in 1941 their religious zeal had urged them to join in the massacres of Serbs...As pillage was followed by discipline, the energy of the Mujos was canalised into the Waffen SS. The Mujos were organised on the lines of the Bosnian regiments of the old Imperial Austrian army, with officers and even N.C.O.s of German race, but they wore the Turkish fez with their SS runes and ...each battalion had an Imam."
On June 23, 1943, Himmler prepared a special SS oath for the Bosnian Muslim troops which read as follows:
I swear to the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, as Supreme Commander of the German Armed Forces, to be loyal and brave. I swear to the Fuehrer and to the leaders whom he may designate, obedience unto death.
Himmler included a clause pledging the Muslims to swear to "always be loyal" to the NDH and to Ante Pavelic, which was meant to prevent any conflict between Muslims and Croats and the NDH regime, which opposed the formation of the Division. The Handzar and Kama Divisions were listed as "Kroatische No.1 and No.2" respectively to appease the Ustasha NDH regime. Himmler initially envisioned a division made up entirely of Muslims. Sauberzweig stated that "over 90% of the division's soldiers were Muslims" on November 5, 1943. Himmler had to compromise on this issue and allowed Croat troops to join the division. The estimate of Roman Catholic Croats in the division ranged from "300 or so" to 2, 800. After a visit to Zagreb on May 5, 1943, Himmler stipulated that the ratio of Roman Catholics to Muslims "was not to exceed 1:10." The divisions were Croat in name only, that is, nominally. Some German officers even wore the Ustasha checkerboard symbol, but Muslim leaders and the troops in the division perceived the divisions as Bosnian Muslim.
Berger ordered the Croatian government to release all the Muslim NCOs and enlisted troops in the NDH formations for service in the Handzar Division. The Muslims were to be released from the I Ustasha Brigade and the 9th Infantry Regiment of the Croatian Army. This information from the Waffen SS files is significant because it demonstrates that Bosnian Muslims were integral parts of the Ustaha formations and NDH military forces, formations and units that were engaged in the mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Orthodox Serbs. Importantly, it disproves the propaganda position that the Bosnian Muslims were "victims" and did not participate in the genocide against the Serbian Orthodox populations. The Bosnian Muslims played an integral and essential role in the extermination of Bosnian Serbs, Jews, and Roma.
In a 1943 report prepared by the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the US and Canada, the following description of the Bosnian Muslim role in the massacres appeared:
The behavior of the Muslims was traditionally treacherous. As always, they were in the camp of those who were momentarily in power. More than 95% of Muslims joined the Ustashi and participated very actively in the massacre of the Serbs, as, for instance, in the city of Mostar, where great numbers of killings were done personally by Huremovich, a Muslim. …The Ustasha terror began in Mostar. The Ustashi, the majority of them local Mohammedans, are arresting, looting and shipping off Serbs or killing them and throwing their bodies in the Neretva River…They are throwing Serbs alive into chasms and are burning whole families locked in their homes…Outside of Zagreb the strongest Ustasha hotbed is Sarajevo…The Muslims committed unbelievable barbarities for they murdered women and children even with scissors.
General Draza Mihailovich described the Muslim massacres as follows:
Entire districts were devastated by the Muslims, The Drina River carried many bodies from one bank to the other.
The propaganda position that the Bosnian Muslims were innocent "victims" and had no complicity in the genocide against Bosnian Serbs was developed after World War II to maintain the Communist policy of "brotherhood and unity" and to gain patronage with the Muslim/Arab countries The post-war Yugoslav Communist dictatorship painted an erroneous, inaccurate, and false picture of Islam to gain favor and economic/political advantages with Muslim/Arab countries. But all the evidence proves that the Bosnian Muslims participated actively in the genocide against the Orthodox Serbian population and were not "victims" at all.
Herbert von Obwurzer recruited Albanian Muslims from Kosovo-Metohija and Sandzak for the Division. The I/2 battalion consisted of approximately 300 ethnic Albanian Muslims. Gottlob Berger stated that "when the division returned to Croatia, additional volunteers would be recruited, and the Albanians would be returned to their homeland, where they would form the cadre for an Albanian division." The Albanian division would be the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Skanderbeg", consisting primarily of Albanian Muslims from Kosovo-Metohija. Himmler planned to form a second Albanian SS Division but the war ended before this could be done. The Waffen SS recruiting of Albanian Muslims in the Greater Albanian state, which included Kosovo and Western Macedonia was objected to by Hermann Neubacher, who was the German Plenipotentiary in Albania because they violated the sovereignty of Albania.
When Handzar occupied eastern and northern Bosnia in the spring and summer of 1944, to "restore order", it assumed control over its own munitions, without consulting NDH officials, placed civilian authority under Muslim control, and "liquidated" organs of the NDH Ustasha regime. There was a direct challenge and conflict to and negation of the sovereignty of the NDH.
On August 6, 1943, Himmler wrote the following letter to his representative in the NDH, SS Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant der Polizei Konstantin Kammerhofer and to Artur Phleps, commander of the Vth SS Mountain Corps outlining guidelines for the enlistment of Muslims in the Waffen SS and police:
All Moslem members of the Waffen SS and police are to be afforded the undeniable right of their religious demands never to touch pork, pork sausages nor to drink alcohol...I hold all commanders...and other SS officers, responsible for the most scrupulous and loyal respect for this privilege especially granted to the Muslims. They have answered the call of the Moslem chiefs and have come to us out of hatred for the common Jewish-Anglo-Bolshevik enemy and through respect and fidelity for he who they respect above all, the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler... There will no longer be the least discussion about the special rights afforded to the Moslems in these circles.
(signed) H. Himmler
The Handzar and Kama Divisions, stationed in the Bosnian towns of Brcko, Bijeljina, Tuzla, Gradacac, and Zvornik, engaged in a policy termed by the Nazis as "pacification" of the population, which consisted of genocide and ethnic cleansing of Serbs and Jews in eastern and northern Bosnia. Sauberzweig wrote that the objective of Handzar was as follows: "The division is to liberate Bosnia. The Muslim population is bound to this land." The Muslim SS Divisions followed a policy of ethnic cleansing (ciscenje, in Serbo-Croat), "cleansing the land of bandits and ethnic enemies" from a directive for the divisions. In the Brcko and Bijeljina regions of northern and eastern Bosnia, units of the Handzar Division "butchered everyone not wearing a fez" ("klali su sve sto nije nosilo fes") based on eyewitness accounts. The Muslim Waffen SS troops, raped, pillaged, and massacred Orthodox Serbs and Jews without regard for age or sex. The Divisions were exhorted in their 1944 directives to "exterminate enemies, exterminate the community, but leave intact the houses, land and effects of the enemies." Unarmed Serbs and Jews, not murdered in the first great wave of genocide, were massacred and ethnically cleansed in Rogatica, Vlasenica, Srebrenica, and Visegrad. Ethnically pure Muslim settlements were created ("cistih narodnih naselja" in Serbo-Croat, from a 1944 report).
The two Muslim SS Divisions were assisted in their "pacification" program by the Nazi formation, Zeleni Kadar ("Green Cadres" in Serbo-Croat), consisting of at least 6, 000 Bosnian Muslim deserters from the Ustasha Domobranci. The Zeleni Kadar was led by Neshad Topcic, a rabidly pro-Nazi Muslim who advocated the extermination of the Serbian population of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Topcic advocated the creation of a "united Muslim phalange" or phalanx organized against Orthodox Serbs, Orthodox Macedonians, Jews, and Roma, consisting of a union of Bosnia, Albanian, and Rashka (Sandzak) Muslims, forming a Great or Greater Islamic union, a Greater Pan-Muslim alliance.
A Greater Pan-Islamic State was advocated by the Albanian Bedri Pejani, the Muslim leader of the Albanian National Committee, who presented a plan to the Grand Mufti calling for the extermination of the Serbian population of Kosovo-Metohija and a union of Greater Albania, consisting of Kosovo-Metohija, Western Macedonia, and southern Montenegro, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia into a Greater Islamic State, a Pan-Islamic State in the Balkans. The Grand Mufti approved the Pejani plan as being in the interest of Islam, but the Germans rejected the plan.
The Muslim Waffen SS Divisions were known for their atrocities against civilians and for their bestial acts against anti-Nazi guerillas. Himmler's liaison officer at Hitler's headquarters, SS Brigadefuehrer Hermann Fegelein, who had commanded the 8th SS Kavallerie Division "Florian Geyer" in Russia and Hungary, described to Hitler the fanaticism and bestiality of the Bosnian Muslim troops, which even appalled the SS leaders, as follows:
The enemy takes off with all its things when they [the Bosnian Muslims] move in.
They kill them only with their knives. There was one man who was wounded. He allowed his arm to be bandaged and then went on to finish off 17 more of the enemy with his left hand. Cases also occur where they [the Bosnian Muslims] cut the heart out of their enemy.
Hitler was dismayed at this graphic account which interrupted a high-level military conference. Hitler dismissed Fegelein's account with, "Das ist Wurst" (German, literally, "that is sausage", meaning, "that is nonsense"). Hermann Schifferdecker, an officer who served on the Handzar division staff, dismissed these accounts in 1992, stating that Hermann Fegelein "had obviously read too much Karl May during his youth." This statement is contradicted by the following: The brutality, bestiality, and Islamic religious fanaticism of the Muslim troops as shown by Kama Division member Ferdo Gensicke who stated that the Muslims in Kama would knife you in the back if the tassel on their fez was moved around and by the massacre of the entire Serbian Orthodox population of Bela Crkva during Operation Signpost.
Bela Crkva Massacre
Himmler set as the goal of the division to secure northeastern Bosnia, the area between the Sava, Bosna, Spreca, and Drina rivers which was a vital agricultural region settled by ethnic Germans in Srem and Orthodox Serbs. Before Handzar could advance into this sector, the Bosut would have to be occupied under Operation Signpost. Before the operation began, the Bosnian Muslim troops in Handzar celebrated the Muslim holiday of Mevlud on March 7, which celebrated the life of the prophet Mohammed. Under Sauberzweig's orders, the commanders and the imams in the division distributed Islamic food rations and conducted Islamic religious rites.
On March 12, 1944, the Handzar Division was advanced into the Bosut region to cross the Sava River. Spearhead F entered the Serbian Orthodox village of Bela Crkva (White Church). In his diary entry for that day, Jorg Deh reported that it found "the enemy gone, having murdered all of the town's inhabitants." In fact, Spearhead J of Task Force A.A. 13 of the Handzar Division was ordered to seize the town on March 10. The Bosnian Muslims troops murdered every Serbian Orthodox resident of the town, man, woman, and child. German officers reported that all the Serbian inhabitants of Bela Crkva had been murdered and that nothing alive remained in the town. The German officers denied responsibility for the war crime and act of genocide, blaming it on "the enemy". But why would the Yugoslav resistance groups, composed mostly of Serbian troops themselves, massacre their own? The only hostile units in the area were units of the Bosnian Muslim Handzar Division. Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, in his Operation Signpost ( Unternehmen Wegweiser) orders, had written that "restraint was only necessary in dealing with the local ethnic German population" because the Bosut was "not inhabited by Muslims." During Operation Sava (Unternehmen Save), the Handzar Division crossed the Sava River in northern Bosnia and occupied northeastern Bosnia.
The number of Bosnian Orthodox Serbs murdered during World War II in Bosnia-Hercegovina is estimated at over two hundred thousand. Of the 10, 500 Jews of Sarajevo before the war, only about 800 survived the Holocaust. Of the approximately 14, 000 Jews of Bosnia-Hercegovina, 12, 000 would be killed.
In conjunction with the extermination of the Orthodox Serbs of Bosnia, as we have seen, Jews, as well as Gypsies (Roma), were also victims of a planned and systematic program of genocide. This fact is crucial in analyzing the Bosnian civil war of 1992-1995.The Holocaust in Bosnia-Hercegovina, from 1941 to 1945 revealed the fragile and precarious ethnic, religious, and cultural balance and the incompatible and conflicting ethnic, religious, nationalist, and political agendas of the population of Bosnia.
The Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, who developed the concept of "genocide" and was instrumental in post-war efforts to create international legislation that would prevent and punish genocide, sought to dedicate his efforts so that mankind would learn from the experiences of history. The Genocide Convention of 1948 resulted.
The word "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin in Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944) because "mass murders" and "denationalization" did not encompass the magnitude of the crime. In 1933, Lemkin proposed at the Fifth International Conference for the Unification of Criminal Law, sponsored by the League of Nations, that genocide be regarded an international crime. His proposal was rejected. Lemkin described how he coined the word "genocide" as follows:
This word is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, clan) and the Latin suffix cide (killing)....Genocide is the crime of destroying national, racial or religious groups.... The conscience of mankind has been shocked by this type of mass barbarity.
Lemkin argued that genocide must be made an international crime because " a state would never prosecute a crime instigated or backed by itself."
In August, 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill lamented in describing the German systematic destruction and mass murders of European populations as follows: "We are in the presence of a crime without a name." Today, that crime is called genocide. What occurred during 1941-1945 in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the systematic and planned mass murders and extermination of the Bosnian Orthodox Serb and Bosnian Jewish and Roma populations, would be termed genocide under present international law and the Genocide Convention.
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