Kosovo’s Nazi Past: The Untold Story
By Carl Savich
1. Introduction: Genocide in Kosovo
During World War II and the Holocaust, Kosovar Albanians killed 10,000 Kosovo Serbs and expelled 100,000. Kosovo-Metohija was made a part of a Greater Albania by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Hitler and Mussolini realized the Greater Albania ideology established by the 1878 League of Prizren. Albanian-settled areas of the Balkans—Kosovo-Metohija, western Macedonia, southern Montenegro—were incorporated in a Greater Albania. The Greater Albania Kosovar Albanian nationalist movement murdered Kosovo Serb civilians and took over their lands and houses. Kosovo Serb women were raped. Kosovo Serb Orthodox priests were arrested, tortured, and murdered. Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were attacked and destroyed. Serbian monuments, cemeteries, and gravestones were desecrated and demolished. The Greater Albania nationalist movement formed the Balli Kombetar, the Albanian Kosovo Committee, and the Skanderbeg Nazi SS Division, two-thirds of whose members were Kosovar Albanian Muslims. Kosovar Albanian Muslims played a major role in the Holocaust, the murder of European Jews. Kosovar Albanian Nazi SS troops participated in the roundup of Kosovo Jews who were later killed at Bergen-Belsen. What occurred in Kosovo during World War II was genocide. The mainstream accounts of World War II have censored and covered up the Kosovar Albanian role in the genocide against Kosovo Serbs and the role of Kosovar Albanians in the Holocaust. The Nazi past of Kosovo remains an untold story.
2. Fascist Italy and Kosovo
Albania was peremptorily and hurriedly recognized as an independent nation by the Great Powers in 1912 as a reaction to the First Balkan War to prevent Serbia from acquiring access to the Adriatic Sea and to prevent Montenegro from annexing Albanian territory settled by Montenegrins. Albania had never existed as a united and independent nation before.
The London Peace Conference of July 29, 1913 established international recognition of Kosovo as part of Serbia and also recognized the borders of Albania as an independent state. Under the April 26, 1915 Treaty of London, the Allied Powers sought to induce Italy under prime minister Antonio Salandra to enter World War I on the side of the Allies by granting Italy Albanian territory as well as German-settled territory from Austria, the Southern Tyrol, and the Dalmatian coast. Under the Treaty, Italy was granted “sovereignty” over the major Albanian port of Valona, the island of Saseno, and the surrounding territory.
Italy thus had expansionist goals in Albania and the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia. On October 31, 1922, King Victor Emmanuel III asked fascist political leader Benito Mussolini to come to Rome to form a new government after fascist leaders marched on Rome demanding that power be given to them. Mussolini became prime minister of a coalition government and established a fascist regime in Italy. In May, 1925, the new fascist Italian government signed a treaty with Albania that granted Italy the right to exploit the mineral resources in Albania, established the Albanian National Bank under Italian control, and gave Italian shipping companies a monopoly.
On December 13, 1924, Ahmed Beg Zogu, who was backed by Yugoslavia, seized power in Albania by overthrowing the regime of Fan Noli. On January 31, 1925, Zogu was elected president of Albania for a seven year term. In 1928, Zogu established a monarchy and emerged as King Zog I, “the King of the Albanians”.
Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy sought economic and political control of Albania and to establish a sphere of influence in the Adriatic Sea region throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
By 1937, Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian foreign minister, sought to bring Albania under direct Italian control. Ciano orchestrated the Italian foreign policy with regard to Albania in particular and the Balkans in general.
Following World War I, Italy and Albania supported Albanian terrorist activity against Yugoslavia, particularly the kachak guerrillas who were based in Albania but operated in Kosovo and Metohija. The kachak guerrillas engaged in a terrorist war against Yugoslavia to make Kosovo a part of Albania. The kachak movement was thus a secessionist conflict, a conflict to change the borders of Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro. The Serbian-Albanian conflict in Kosovo-Metohija was always motivated by secession, about making Kosovo a part of Albania. This was the Greater Albania nationalist ideology established by the 1878 League of Prizren. Because Albania itself was politically, economically, and militarily weak and powerless, however, this nationalist ideology meant, in practical terms, not the takeover of Kosovo by Tirana by military force, but the takeover of Kosovo by Kosovar Albanians who would make Kosovo an Albanian land. Whether Kosova was formally or legally united to Albania proper was moot and irrelevant. What was foremost was to establish ethnic Albanian control of the Kosovo region. When all the Orthodox Serbs had been killed or expelled from Kosovo and their Orthodox churches and cemeteries destroyed, the practical realization of a Greater Albania would result, whether legally recognized or not. In other words, what Albanian nationalists sought was a Kosovo taken over by ethnic Albanian Muslims who would expel the Serbian Orthodox and other non-Albanian populations and eradicate any non-Albanian cultural or religious monuments or symbols. It entailed the total and complete extermination and eradication of any non-Albanian population or culture or religion in Kosovo. The Greater Albania nationalist ideology presupposed genocide, biological and cultural and religious.
Kosovo was used by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to destabilize Yugoslavia. Ciano wrote: “We must lull the Yugoslavs. But later, our politics must energetically deal with Kosovo. This will keep the irredentist problem alive in the Balkans, engage the attention of the Albanians and be a knife aimed at the back of Yugoslavia.”
Ciano was determined to occupy, annex, or acquire Albania for Italy. Albania was always an object of fascist Italian expansion and influence. Ciano even proposed to Yugoslav prime minister Milan Stojadinovic to partition Albania between Italy and Yugoslavia. Prince Paul, however, refused: “We already have so many Albanians inside our frontiers and they cause us so much trouble, that I have no wish to increase their number.”
On March 25, 1939, Italy issued an ultimatum to Albania demanding the right to occupy the country. On April 7, following the rejection of the ultimatum, Italy invaded and occupied Albania and made it an “autonomous” possession of Italy, joined in a “personal union” with Italy under Italian King Victor Immanuel III. The Albanian National Assembly voted to unite Albania with Italy. King Zog and his wife Queen Geraldine fled with the newly born Crown Prince Leka to Greece, then to London. Queen Geraldine later said in an interview that the reason Zog fled was because Yugoslavia would not allow Albania to establish guerrilla bases or supply lines on Yugoslavian territory. To justify the invasion, the Italian news accounts of the time manufactured a propaganda story that Zog had invited Italian troops to safeguard his regime. Zog allegedly planned to use the forces to invade Kosovo according to these accounts. The Italian occupation forces installed Shefket Verlaci as the new Albanian prime minister.
Mustafa Kruja replaced Verlaci as prime minister at the end of 1941. In January, 1943, Kruja resigned. He was replaced by the Eqrem Bey Libohova government, which lasted for three weeks. The Maliq Bushati government, which replaced it, lasted three weeks itself. The Italian “lieutenant-general” or governor, Francesco Jacomoni, was dismissed and replaced as well at this time. In May, 1943, Libohova was appointed for a second time to head the Albanian fascist government.
When Italy surrendered to the Allies on September 8, 1943, there were 7 to 8 Italian garrison divisions in Albania, consisting of 100,000 troops. Nazi Germany then occupied Albania and established a new “national committee”. The new Albanian prime minister under German sponsorship was Rexhep Mitrovica.
In June, 1944, Fiqri Dine replaced Mitrovica, who had resigned.
In August, 1944, following Fikri’s resignation, Ibrahim Bicaku was the last Axis-installed prime minister of Albania, before the German evacuation of the country.
Following the surrender of Yugoslavia on April 16, 1941 to the Axis Powers, the bulk of Kosovo and Metohija was immediately annexed to Albania. The western part of Macedonia, known as Illirida in the Greater Albania nationalist lexicon, was similarly annexed to Albania, as was territory from Montenegro. What emerged was a Greater Albania as envisaged by the 1878 League of Prizren made possible by the military intervention of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
3. Greater Albania Emerges
Following the annexation of Kosovo and Metohija, known as New Albania, by Albania, Albanian political leaders sought to integrate the Serbian province by establishing Albanian control over the region and by expelling or killing the Serbian Orthodox population. Albanian political leaders advocated the genocide of the indigenous Serbian population of Kosovo. Albanian prime minister Mustafa Kruja, in a June, 1942 speech made in Kosovo, then called the “New Albania”, stated:
The Serbian population of Kosovo should be removed as soon as possible…All indigenous Serbs should be qualified as colonists and as such, via the Albanian and Italian government, be sent to concentration camps in Albania. Serbian settlers should be killed.
The pre-war Muslim Jemiet party founded a new political organization with an irredentist orientation called the Lidhja Kombetare Shquiptare, which sought to Albanize and Islamicize the province.
Ferat-bey Draga, a prominent Kosovo Albanian leader, stated that the “time has come to exterminate the Serbs” and that “there will be no Serbs under the Kosovo sun.”
Austrian diplomat Hermann Neubacher, the Third Reich’s plenipotentiary for southeastern Europe and Balkans diplomatic troubleshooter for Nazi Germany, noted the policy of genocide by Kosovar Albanian political leaders: “Shqiptars were in a hurry to expel as many Serbs as possible from the country. From those expelled local tyrants often took a gift in gold for permission to emigrate.”
In a speech on the subject of Greater Albania before the Italian Royal Academy on May 30, 1941, Kruja stated that “with the victory of the axis powers and establishment of the new world order, Mussolini and Hitler will ensure the Albanian people a national state that will cover its broadest ethnic borders and be indissolubly linked with fascist Italy.”
The Italian diplomat Carlo Umilta, the civilian aide to the commander of the Italian military occupation forces, stated that the Italian forces intervened on many occasions to prevent massacres of Kosovo Serbs by Albanians. Umilta stated that “the Albanians are out to exterminate the Slavs.” An Italian army report stated that the Albanians are “hunting down Serbs” and that the “Serbian minority are living in conditions that are truly disgraceful, constantly harassed by the brutality of the Albanians, who are whipping up racial hatred.”
Kachak irregulars or guerrillas from Albania poured into Kosovo-Metohija with the Italian occupation forces. The Italian fascist authorities created a local Albanian police in Kosovo, the Vulnetari. Albanian language schools were established, Albanian or Shqip was made the official language, the Albanian Lek became the official currency, the civil administration and governmental offices were staffed by Albanians, and Albanian newspaper and radio stations were established. Pec, Djakovica, Istok, and Orahovac were annexed to Albania at the start of the occupation. Kosovo and Metohija, known as New Albania, became incorporated into a Greater Albania.
Kosovo and Metohija were politically integrated into Albania, Shqiperia or Shqipnija. Albanian political representatives from Kosovo and Metohija met at the Albanian parliament in Tirana and were made part of the Tirana regime. Kosovo was now Kosova/Kosove, an Albanian district of northern Albania.
In April, 1941, the first week after the attack on Yugoslavia, Kosovo Serbs were immediately attacked. Retreating and withdrawing Yugoslav army units were attacked by Albanians who were not disarmed and who seized weapons from military depots and weapons warehouses or armories. Yugoslav troops were robbed or killed and their houses were burned and destroyed and were left empty and deserted.
The entire Albanian population joined in the attacks against Kosovo Serbs. According to Gavril Kovijanic, a professor in Pec, in 1941, Albanians destroyed 65% of the Serbian houses in Pec and 95% in other areas of Metohija. Serbian cemeteries and gravestones were desecrated and destroyed, trees and crops were cut down, and fields were destroyed, meant to starve out the Serbian population to force them to flee. The Albanians looted, robbed, burned Serbian houses and property; there were mass executions of Kosovo Serbs; Serbs were tortured, beaten, and humiliated; and there was the torture and killing of Serbian children and the rape of Kosovo Serb women.
Dimitrije Sekularac, a Kosovo Serb refugee from the Drenica parish, described on July 20, 1941 how he fled from Kosovo with his wife and children to escape the mass murders and genocide. Sekularac stated that as the Yugoslav armed forces and civilian administrative authorities were retreating from Kacanik in southern Kosovo, they were attacked by Albanian deserters of the Yugoslav army who used their weapons against the Yugoslav forces. These Albanian deserters burned houses and killed Serbian civilians.
Kosovar Albanians began killing Serbian civilians in the villages around Pec, where Sekularac and his family fled from. He appealed to the German occupation forces, who occupied the region at that time, for protection of the Serbian population but the German commander told him that he didn’t have enough troops.
Prizren was under Italian military control at that time. The police was entirely made up of Italian members for a year following the occupation. Then a mixed Italian and Albanian police force was created. Around Prizren, new Serbian settlements and houses were uprooted and destroyed and the Serbs were expelled to Serbia and Montenegro. The Serbian land and properties were taken over by ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo Serbs were killed in the villages around Prizren in the first months of the war. Kosovo Serb Djordje Jovanovic, who had been the former president of the Damjanska district, was known to have been killed at this time.
Branislav Leskovac, 23, and Zivota Jovanovic, 24, gave eyewitness accounts of the occupation of Prizren in the early stages of the war and occupation. On April 17, 1941, Italian forces entered Prizren following the surrender of the Yugoslav army. The fascist Italian troops were greeted enthusiastically by the Albanian population because Ciano had promised them the creation of an ethnically pure, Albanian Kosova, incorporated into Greater Albania.
On about April 20, 1941, the first mass arrests and roundups of the Serbian population occurred when 20-30 Serbs were arrested and taken into custody. They had been part of the Yugoslav civil administration. They were imprisoned in the Prizren administrative/municipal/city hall building where they were beaten with guns and hoes. After a few days passed, five were led out and summarily executed. Those murdered were two brothers named Marjanovic, Andrija Fisic, Samardzija and Popovic, and one other person named Kokolja. Kokolja and Fisic were killed with knives and before they died their eyes were gouged out.
Kosovo Serbs were interned in prisons and concentration camps in Tirana and other sites in Albania. In March, 1942, about 40 Serbs were interned in Prizren.
Arrests of Serbs intensified when Albanian leaders visited Kosovo. When the fascist prime minister of Albania, Mustafa Kruja, made an official visit to Prizren in June, 1942, 30 Serbs were arrested.
Kol Bib Mirakaja, the secretary of the fascist party of Albania, made a visit in July, 1942, along with Italian governor Francesco Jacomoni, when more arrests of Serbs occurred and when they intensified.
In the summer of 1942, Serbs were rounded up and deported to internment camps in Tirana, Albania, where one Serb prisoner is known to have died.
In November, 1942, a fourth roundup of Kosovo Serbs occurred in Prizren when 25 Serbs were arrested and held in prison for five and a half months, until May 31, 1943. They were beaten and abused during this time.
On April 1, 1943, 25 Kosovo Serbs were taken to the Italian prison at Porte Romano near Draca. There were 900 Serbs in this prison camp, 600 of whom were from Gnjilane alone. The rest of the prisoners were from Prizren, Pec, Urosevac, Pristina, and Lipljan. The prisoners stayed at the Porto Romano prison until September 16, 1943 when the prisoners were released following the Italian surrender. Those from Gnjilane were transported by boat for Trieste. The boat sank, however, in the Adriatic Sea and almost all the prisoners were killed or drowned. Several survivors recounted this story in the middle of March, 1944 when they were in Urosevac.
When the Germans occupied Kosovo in 1943, they unleashed the Albanian police against the Kosovo Serb population. Murders and expulsions of Kosovo Serbs were intensified. While the Italians restrained the Albanians, the German policy was to turn the Albanians loose on the Serbian population to murder, rob, and loot Serbian settlements. The German occupation forces sought to gain favor with the Albanian population in this way.
Following the Italian surrender on September 8, 1943, Albanian interior minister Dzafer Deva came to Kosovo and reorganized the police force which was made up of balists, Greater Albania nationalists of the Balli Kombetar (BK, National Union).
On December 9, 1943, in Prizren, Kosovo Serb Stevan Bacetovic, a cafe owner, was taken from his house and he was murdered and his body was thrown in a garbage dump. Serbian houses and settlements around Prizren were torched and burned. Serbian women were raped in their houses. In 1944, the two sisters named Berzanovic were known to have been raped by Albanian attackers.
In September, 1943, Serbian houses had been robbed and looted and Serbs were murdered, while 800 were imprisoned.
In the Istok parish in Metohija, 102 Serbs are known to have been murdered by Albanians, as recorded by iguman Sava. Andrija Popovic, the Serbian Orthodox priest of the Istok parish, was murdered, as were priests Vladeta Popovic and Nikodim Radosavljevic of the Gorioca monastery. These are the names of the Kosovo and Metohija Serbs killed by Albanians as recorded in the parish record: Radivoje and Staleta Rasic, Ljupce Krstic, Dimitrije Mirkovic, Radovan Vulic, Radivoje Patric, Milosav Curic, Milisav Cirkovic, Vojislav Lusic, Vukola and Bogosav Antic, Vule and Nevenka Vojinovic, Vladimir Patric, Staleta Krstic, Milosav Carevic, Stana Vulic, Nikodim and Obrad Buric, Blagoje Bojic, Savo and Ilija Zuvic, Bogic and Stamena Zuvic, Ivko and Uros Pumpalovic, Radosav, Bogosav, and Zivko Pumpalovic, Radivoje Betic, Radomir, Sretko, and Stanoje Brajkovic, Milos, Petar, Djordje and Bogosav Asanin, Milic Maksimovic, Dimitrije Zuvic, Rako Deverdzic, Panta Pumpalovic, Milovan and Koja Asanin, Trajko and Sreto Brajkovic, Petronije, Simeon and Tomo Terzic, Dimitrije Krstic, Milos Popovic, Vojo Bojovic, Novica, Drasko, Voja and Vitomir Barjaktarevic, Jovan and Andrija Zivkovic, Vule and Sretko Raicic, Staleta, Milovan, Radosav, Petar, Krsto, Radomir, Mika, and Mata Sedlarevic, Krsto Burovic, Milenko Krsmanovic, Dara and Pero Burasevic, Radun Bekovic, Sreto Veljovic, Nedeljko Boric, Krsto Miljkovic, Petko Zaric, Milan Gocevic, Milenko and Janko Ristic, Maksim Popovic, Milica Zaric, Radovan and Buro Radicevic, Dragomir and Milos Darcevic, Cirko Djodjevic, Boka Vojinovic, Radisav Stanojevic, Milos Minic, Miro and Mileta Pitulic, Zdravko Nikolic, Trivo Grkovic, Vasilije and Radojko Martinovic, Milovan and Koja Asanin, and Trajko and Sretko Brajkovic.
In the Lipljan parish, the priest Borislav Kevkic, recorded the names of 62 Serbs who were murdered by Kosovar Albanians in the Lipljan and Donja Gusterica region: Spasa Milicevic, was killed on the road by a gun shot in 1941; Bogdan Cvejic, was killed in Pristina; Zafir Spasic, was killed in his own home; Velibor Markovic, 19 years old, was killed; Djordje Aksic and his wife Mirjana were killed the same day; Ilija Radenovic was killed at his house with a gun; Jovan Denic and his son Jordan were killed together with a gun; Nikola Lazic was killed on the road; Zivo Dimic was killed in the night; Veselin Matic was killed in 1942; Serafin Milivojevic was killed near his village; Milan Lazic was killed in the fields; 19-year-old Stojko Smiljic was killed in an unknown place; Milorad Stojanovic, who was 18 years old, was killed in an unknown place; Vojin Gudzic was killed near Dobrotina; Radomir Trajkovic was killed at Slovinja; Milan Jovanovic was killed outside the village; Ilija Rusimovic was killed between Dobrotina and Lipljan; Alexander Stolic was killed with a gun in his house; Gligorije Perenic was killed in the forest near the village; Stojan Miric was killed in 1942; Jevta Milkic was killed on the road; Velibor Milenkovic was killed on the road; Trajko Simic was killed in the fields; Serafin Cvejic was killed on his own fields; Blagoje Filic was killed in his home with his son Milorad; Miodrag Jovic was killed in Janjeva; Andrija Samardzic was killed in 1943; 22-year-old Luka Djokic was killed in the fields; 22-year-old Zivko Milicevic was also killed; Filjko Tanaskovic, a refugee, was killed in the fields; Mile Draskovic, was executed in Staro Gracko; Nedeljko Milicevic was killed in Gracko; Ilija Markovic, 22 years old, was killed; Damnjan Drljaca was killed in Suv Dol; Milutin Aksic, a high school student, was killed with a gun near the railroad track; Aksa Ilic was killed in the fields; Krsta Lalic was killed at night in 1943; Petar Kuzmanovic, a railroad guard, was killed in 1944; Marko Markovic, a railroad guard, was also killed; Mile Markovic, in N. Rujca; Anto Denda died after severe a beating; Jovo Lalosevic was killed in Suv Dol; Cveta Bulajic, Bosiljka Ozegovic, and Dusan Krtinic, all children, died from the explosion of a bomb; Blagoje Ilic died in battle; Nikola Papic and Vlado Bokic died in Suv Dol from a bomb explosion; Rajko Doslic, Bozidar Milkic, Stojan Vasic, Danica Novakovic and Danilo Ilic died in 1945 in battles with balists in Drenica; Nikola Bogunovic died from a beating in 1944; Cedomir Vucic and Aleksandar Kostic died in Drenica after battles with balists; Miladin Velic, wounded from a gun shot wound, died in 1945; Radomir Stojkovic died from a beating in Glogovica in 1945.
The German occupation forces were brutal towards the Serbian population of Kosovo, aiding and abetting the murders and expulsions carried out by their Albanian Kosovar proxies. The Italian forces were more sympathetic to the plight of the Serbian population.
In 1942, the Italians interned a large group of Kosovo Serbs. Facing imminent military collapse, in the summer of 1943, the Italians began transferring the civil administration in Kosovo to local Albanian Muslims. When Italy surrendered on September 8, 1943, a military and political vacuum resulted in Albania proper and Kosova. German forces poured into Kosovo and Albania from Serbia proper to occupy the area and to safeguard the fascist Greater Albania statelet founded by Benito Mussolini.
4. Serbian Orthodox Priests Systematically Murdered and Orthodox Churches Attacked in Kosovo
Albanian nationalist forces immediately attacked Serbian Orthodox Churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and monuments in Kosovo-Metohija because these were symbols of the Serbian historical presence in Kosovo which were an obstacle to the creation of a Greater Albania. Serbian Orthodox priests were targeted for torture and murder by Kosovar Albanians.
In 1941, 14 Serbian Orthodox priests and a nun were killed in Kosovo-Metohija. First the Serbian Orthodox priests Andrija Popovic of the Istok parish and Nikodim Radosavljevic of the Gorioca Orthodox monastery were murdered to terrorize the Serbian population of Kosovo and to force them to flee and to abandon their houses and land.
In October, 1941, the Serbian Orthodox priest, Abbot Damaskin or Damascene Boskovic, was tortured and murdered by Albanian forces. He was the prior of the Devic monastery. Abbot Boskovic was beaten, tortured, forced to walk over thorns and stones, and then shot to death. To show their arrogance and disdain, his Albanian murderers then photographed his murder, showing a heavily-armed Albanian paramilitary or quasi-police in a white skull cap shooting Abbot Boskovic on the ground.
The Devic monastery was then burned down and destroyed by the Kosovar Albanian attackers.
Fr. Luka Popovic, Fr. Uros Popovic, and Slobodan Popovic were killed while delivering the Orthodox holy liturgy service. The priest Krsta Popovic was killed in 1944, by Albanian balists. The Serbian Orthodox priest Aleksandar Perovic was killed in Podujeva in October, 1944 by Albanian police. Where he is buried is unknown. Jovan Zecevic, the iguman of the Pec patriarchate was killed by balists in Albania.
The Serbian Orthodox priest of Kosovska Mitrovica, Momcilo Nesic, was taken by German forces and executed in Banjica in 1943. The priests Cedomir Bacanin and Tihomir Popovic were executed in the night of November 28, 1942 in the Kosovska Mitrovica prison. The priest German from the Decani monastery was interned in Albania where he was executed. A priest from Decani, Stefan Zivkovic, was killed in the village of Zociste near Velika Hoca by an Albanian soldier on January 8, 1945.
The priest Stajko Popovic from Prizren was killed on April 17, 1943 in Kacanik by Bulgarian forces.
In the Rashka-Prizren eparchy, the priests Uros Popvic and Lika Popovic and the nun Pelagija were killed by Sandzak Muslims. The fates of three or four priests of this eparchy are unknown.
The priest Slobodan Popovic from Djakovica was killed on February 8, 1942 by Communist Partisan forces. The priest Mihailo Milosevic from Pec was executed on December 9, 1944 by Partisans. The priest Dragoljub Kujundzic from Urosevac was executed on November 30, 1942. Other Kosovo priests executed by the Partisans were Radule Bozovic from Pridvorica, Tihomir Balsic from Pec, Mitar Vujisic from Vitina and Simeon Gojkovic from Babin Most.
Kyr Serafim Jovanovic, the Bishop of Rashka and Prizren, fled from Prizren to the Decani Monastery. He was subsequently arrested and deported to the concentration camp in Albania proper where he was tortured and subjected to humiliation. He died from his injuries following this prison abuse on January 13, 1945 and was buried in Tirana. Bishop Serafim had been born in Prizren where the Serbian Theological Seminary or College had opened in 1871. He attended the Prizren Orthodox Seminary and later the Moscow Spiritual Academy where he was ordained an Orthodox monk on June 16, 1902 in the Church of St. Alexander Nevski of Skodra. He then became a professor at the Orthodox Seminary in Prizren. On December 23, 1920, he became a bishop of Zletovo-Struma in Macedonia. On October 29, 1928, he was elected a bishop of the Rashka and Prizren Diocese.
In Metohija, all Serbian Orthodox churches were destroyed to the ground in Serbian settled villages, which in April, 1941 were burned and the Serbian residents killed and driven out. Many churches were destroyed, demolished, robbed, or damaged.
These Serbian Orthodox churches were burned and destroyed in the following Serbian villages during the Greater Albania period of 1941-44: Bistrazin and Seremet in the Djakovica district, in Donja Ratisa, Pacaj, Nec, Ponosevac, and Rastavica. In the Djakovica district, in the village of Brnjaca near Orahovac, and in Cikatova in Glogovac, and the St. Peter Orthodox Church from the 14th century in the village of Korisa near Prizren.
Albanians robbed and demolished churches in Vitomirica near Pec, in Kacanik, in Veliki Belacevac near Pristina, the church of Saint Nikola in the village of Banja near Srbica, and the Saint Nikola church in the village of Banjoka near Vucitrn, and churches in the villages of Rastavica and Ratisa near Decani, in the village of Siga near Pec, in Crkolez near Istok, in Pomazatin near Pristina, the church in Podujeva, the church behind the village of Stimlja near Urosevac, and the monastery of Saint Mark in Korisa near Prizren, The Gracanica monastery and the Sokolica monastery were burglarized. The Samodreza church was damaged and frescos and icons were destroyed, and papers torn up.
In the St. Peter and Paul church in Istok, the Albanian leadership held 100 Serbians prisoner in the 1943-44 period from Istok and the surrounding villages for many months and would not let them leave, forcing them to use the bathroom in the church. The Gorioca monastery was also used as a prison in the mass arrests and roundups of Kosovo Serbs.
5. The Pristina Internment Camp for Jewish Refugees from Serbia
In 1942, the Italian occupation forces in Pristina established an internment camp or prison for Jewish refugees from Serbia proper. Jewish refugee families from Belgrade and other parts of Serbia were held in the Pristina internment camp for ten months.
The Mandil family was interned in the Pristina camp in 1942. The Mandil family consisted of Mosa, his wife Gabriela Konfino, their son Gavra, and their daughter Irena. The Mandil family lived in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and Yugoslavia at that time. Gavra had been born in Belgrade on September 6, 1936. Two years later, his sister Irena was born, at which time the family resettled in Novi Sad in Vojvodina in northern Serbia, where Mosa opened a photo studio. His father-in-law, Gavra Konfino, had earlier been the official Belgrade photographer of King Alexander Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia.
Following the German, Italian, Albanian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian invasion of Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, the Mandil family fled south to the “Italian-controlled province of Kosovo”, which then was part of Albania, a Greater Albania created by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) incorrectly and misleadingly referred to Kosovo as an “Italian-controlled province” during World War II. In fact, Kosovo was incorporated into Albania proper, thus creating a Greater Albania. The USHMM seeks to cover up or obfuscate the fact that Kosovo-Metohija was annexed to Albania.
The Mandil family was imprisoned for ten months with other Jewish families from Serbia in the city of Pristina, then part of Albania. Mosa was photographed with his wife Gabriela and son Gavra in the Pristina prison. Mosa made use of his photography experience and photographed the Italian prison guards and staff at the Pristina prison. In return, Mosa expected more lenient treatment. Several of the Jewish families subsequently complained about the overcrowded conditions in the prison. The Italian prison officials submitted the complaints of the Jewish prisoners to the German command. The German authorities responded, however, by executing half of the Jewish prisoners in Pristina.
Mosa Mandil then interceded with Italian officials to save the remaining Jewish prisoners by requesting their transfer from Kosovo to Albania proper. The Italians then moved the Jewish prisoners from Pristina to Kavaja in Albania proper by trucks.
Following the Italian capitulation and the German incursion into Albania, the Mandils moved to Tirana, hoping to find safety in numbers in the capital city. Mosa found work in the photography studio of Neshed Ismail, an Albanian who had worked for Gavra’s grandfather in Belgrade. A sixteen-year-old Albanian apprentice, Refik Veseli, was also employed in this studio.
The Mandil family, along with the Be Yosif family, hid in the mountain village of Kruja from the German occupation forces from November, 1943, until October, 1944, when the German forces withdrew from Albania.
After the war, the Mandil family returned to Serbia, residing in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, where Mosa re-opened his photo studio. In 1946, Refik Veseli joined the Mandil family in Serbia by finishing his professional training in Novi Sad with Mosa.
In 1948, after the founding of Israel and the emergence of the communist regime of Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia, the Mandils emigrated to Israel.
The Altarac family was another Jewish family from Serbia interned at the Pristina prison. The Altarac family consisted of Majer and his wife Mimi Finci and their son Jasa and Lela. Majer had been a prominent architect in Serbia/Yugoslavia. Jasa had been born in Serbia in Belgrade on January 1, 1934. The Altarac family was wealthy and highly assimilated in Serbian society, but the family retained many Jewish traditions, including the yearly celebration of Passover with Majer’s family in Sarajevo.
The Altarac family home in Sarajevo was destroyed during a German bombing raid during the Passover in April, 1941. Jasa’s sister Lela and his grandmother were both killed.
After the bombardment by the Luftwaffe, Sarajevo was occupied by German troops and Croatian and Bosnian Muslim forces, who destroyed the Sarajevo synagogue and began the mass murder of Bosnian and Croatian Serbs and Jews and Roma.
The Altarac family escaped from the newly-formed Croat/Bosnian Muslim state, the Ustasha Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (NDH), the Independent State of Croatia, established by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, which incorporated Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Altarac family fled to the city of Sabac in Serbia, where they were sheltered by the Serbian family of Miloje Markovic, one of Majer’s foremen.
In July, 1941, the Altarac family moved back to Belgrade. Upon their return, the family had to register with the police, and Majer was taken for forced labor. Majer sought to obtain travel documents from Ermino Dorio, a business partner, that would allow the Altarac family to move to the Italian-occupied zone of Yugoslavia, the former Serbian province of Kosovo-Metohija, then part of Albania. The Altarac family fled without these documents when they could not be obtained in time.
The Altarac family first went to Skopje, Macedonia, then part of a Greater Bulgaria, where they were given lodging by a Jewish family named Amarilio. Majer was recognized in the streets of Skopje and feared that he would be reported to the police because of his illegal presence there. The Altarac family could no longer stay in Skopje because of the risk of exposure and arrest.
Majer fled with his family to Pristina in “Italian-occupied Kosovo”, then part of Greater Albania. Initially, the Altarac family lived with a Kosovo Serbian family in Pristina, who sheltered the Altarac family. Subsequently they settled with a Jewish family. As Serbian-speaking Jews from Belgrade, the Kosovar Albanian Muslim population would be hostile to the Altarac family. This explains why they were sheltered by a Kosovo Serb family in Pristina. By contrast, non-Kosovo Albanians in Albania proper were more sympathetic. The Kosovar Albanian nationalist leaders sought to eradicate not only Kosovo Serbs, but Serbian culture and the Orthodox religion and language. As speakers of Serbian and part of Serbian society, the Altarac family could only expect hostility from Kosovo Albanian Muslims, who perceived Kosovo Jews as part of the Serbian society and culture. The goal of the Greater Albania nationalist movement, the 1943 Second League of Prizren, the Balli Kombetar (BK), the Albanian Kosovo Committee, was to create an ethnically pure Albania Kosova/Kosove. Ethnic homogeneity was a key objective of the Greater Albania nationalist groups in Kosova/Kosove.
The German occupation forces put increased pressure on the Italian occupation officials in Pristina to turn over the growing numbers of Jewish refugees from Serbia. In order to appease the German command, the Italian forces concentrated all the non-resident Jewish families in one location. The Jewish families were first placed in an abandoned school, and later, transferred to Pristina’s main prison. The refugee families were allowed to stay together in family units. They were also separated as a group from the regular prisoners. They were allowed to go out in the prison courtyard during the day.
The Altarac family became acquainted with the Mandil family, another refugee family from Serbia. Mosa Mandil, who was a professional photographer from Novi Sad, was able to obtain lenient treatment from the Italian prison commander by taking photographs of Italian officials and authorities. Mosa obtained permission to go to the market each day which enabled the Jewish refugee families to receive enough food to maintain their health.
But by the late spring of 1942, the German command demanded that the Italian occupation forces in Pristina turn over the Jewish refugees from Serbia in their custody. The Italian authorities turned over 51 Jewish prisoners in Pristina to German authorities. These Jewish prisoners were subsequently killed. Jasa Altarac’s aunt Frida and cousin Dita, who were part of this group, were killed.
On July 8, Italians occupation authorities in Pristina interned the remainder of the Jewish prisoners in several different locations in Albania proper. The Altarac and Mandil families were among a group of 18 prisoners from five families that was sent by truck to Kavaja. In Kavaja, the Jewish families were required to report to the police station every day. The five families— the Altarac, Mandil, Azriel, Borger, and Ruchvarger families—rented several apartments on the top floor of a building that they referred to as the “Red House.”
In September, 1943, the Altarac family moved to Tirana. This was the period when Italy surrendered and German troops were then forced to occupy Albania proper, Kosovo-Metohija, and western Macedonia, which then made up Greater Albania. They hid in a small apartment in Tirana. Jewish refugees from Serbia Sida Levi and her son Mikica, were cousins from Belgrade who joined the Altarac family. Mimi Altarac sold garments in order to earn money for the family.
The Altarac family hid in a country house in Kamza in February, 1944. Mimi Altarac and their cousins fled to Tirana in August, however, when they heard that German authorities were in the region. German officials arrived and detained Majer and Jasa after their departure. They hid the fact that they were Jews from the German officials. Majer and Jasa then joined Mimi in Tirana when they were released.
The Altarac family returned to Belgrade after the withdrawal of German forces from Tirana in the fall of 1944. They stayed in Serbia until 1948, when they immigrated to then Palestine. Jasa Altarac married Enica Franses, a Jewish survivor from Skopje, Macedonia, in 1960.
6. Greater Albania and the 1943 Second League of Prizren
When Italy surrendered on September 8, 1943, Germany reoccupied Kosovo-Metohija and Albania proper by deploying the XXI Mountain Corps led by General Paul Bader and made up of the 100th Jaeger Division, the 297th Infantry Division, and the 1st Mountain Division. German policy was to strengthen Albanian Greater Albania nationalist and extremist groups and sought to recruit Kosovar Albanians into German occupation forces.
The Italian occupation forces, by contrast, sought to hold in check the Albanian extremist nationalist groups who sought to completely cleanse Kosovo of Orthodox Serbs by deporting all Serbs and by killing them en masse. The Germans on the other hand, turned the Albanian nationalist groups loose. The Germans immediately understood that the way to ensure Kosovar Albanian cooperation and support was to lend German support for Greater Albania.
The way to recruit and enlist Kosovar Albanians in the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS was to exploit the Albanian nationalist ideology of Greater Albania and an ethically cleansed Kosovo, an ethnically pure Albanian Kosova. The German occupation thus resurrected the 1878 First League of Prizren by creating the 1943 German-sponsored Second League of Prizren. The First League of Prizren established the Albanian nationalist ideology of Greater Albania, the goal to unite Albania proper with all Albanian-inhabited regions of the Balkans, which included not only Kosovo-Metohija, but Western Macedonia or Illirida, northern Greece or Chameria, southern Serbia, and southern Montenegro.
On September 16, 1943, Djafer Deva, a member of the Balli Kombetar (BK, National Union), organized the Second League of Prizren “in cooperation with the German occupation authorities”. Attacks against Kosovo Serbs increased and intensified. Over 10,000 Kosovo Serbian families are estimated to have been driven out of Kosovo during the German occupation. The 1943 Second League of Prizren, the Albanian Kosovo Committee, and the Balli Kombetar were crucial in the creation of the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg”.
On March 19, 1944, Bedri Pejani, the president of the Second League of Prizren, wrote Heinrich Himmler a letter requesting that Himmler organize Albanian formations in the Waffen SS. Himmler wanted to recreate the Albanian Legion of the Austro-Hungarian Army. Himmler wanted to revive the German-Albanian cooperation from the Habsburg period when Austria-Hungary was a sponsor of Greater Albania. Himmler was also buttressed by recent anthropological research by Italian historiographers who had found that the Ghegs of northern Albania and Kosovo-Metohija were Aryans, the herrenvolk, the master or chosen race, who had preserved their racial purity for over two thousand years. Himmler thus needed manpower for the Waffen SS, he wanted to revive the Austro-Hungarian Legion, and he wanted to exploit the Aryan blood of the Ghegs of Kosovo. Himmler planned to form two Waffen SS Divisions made up of Kosovar Albanians. Bedri Pejani wrote to Himmler:
Excellency, the central committee of the Second Albanian League of Prizren has authorized me to inform you that only your excellency is united with the Second Albanian League, that you should form this army, which will be able to safeguard the borders of Kosovo and liberate the surrounding regions…
Hans Heinrich Lammers, chief of the Reich Chancellery, sent Pejani’s letter to Himmler, who wrote Lammers about the planned formation of the two new Kosovar Albanian SS Divisions:
Most respected party friend Lammers! I received your letter of April 29 together with the letter of the president of the central committee of the Second Albanian League of Prizren. At this time one Albanian division is being formed. As things now stand, I plan to form a second division, and afterwards an Albanian corps will be formed…
Heil Hitler! Yours very faithfully, H. Himmler
7. Albanian Battalion in Bosnian Muslim Handzar Nazi SS Division
There were 300 Kosovo Albanian Muslims in the Bosnian Muslim 13th Waffen Gebirgs Divison der SS “Handzar/Handschar”, an Albanian Battalion in Regiment 28, I/28. This Albanian Battalion in Handzar would form the core of the later Kosovar Albanian Skanderbeg SS Division.
Albanian Muslim squad leader Nazir Hodic was a prominent member of the Handzar Waffen SS Division. Ajdin Mahmutovic was another Albanian Muslim member of Handzar, who was seventeen when he joined the Handzar SS Division. He recalled on June 14, 1996: “I was only seventeen years old when I joined (the SS), I found the physical training to be quite easy.”
Himmler ordered that the Bosnian Muslim troops in Handzar wear the Ottoman Turkish fez because it was the national attire of the Bosnian Muslims and because Bosnian Muslim Regiments of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Army had worn fezzes. Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk had outlawed the Ottoman fez in the 1925 Hat Law, but Bosnian Muslims either had not noticed or did not care. The Ottoman Turkish fez continued to be the national attire of the Bosnian Muslims. Ataturk outlawed the fez because it was associated with and was symbolic of the Ottoman Empire; Ataturk sought to establish a secular republic in Turkey. Moreover, the Ottoman fez was associated with a reactionary and militant form of Islam that Ataturk rejected in favor of a secular state.
Himmler, by contrast, wanted to achieve the opposite. He wanted to revive the militant and jihadist nature of Islam and of the Ottoman Empire. Himmler told propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels that he had “nothing against Islam because it educates the men in this division [Handzar] for me and promises them heaven if they fight and are killed in action; a very practical and attractive religion for soldiers!” Himmler wanted fanatical, blind obedience, and soldiers who would sacrifice in the name of religious or ideological belief.
Himmler thus made the fez the conspicuous symbol of the Handzar SS Division. Himmler allowed officers in Handzar, however, to wear the Waffen SS mountain cap or Bergmutze as part of the walking-out uniform or Ausgehanzug. There was a field-gray fez that was to be worn as part of the service uniform, and a maroon or red fez for officers to be worn as part of the walking-out or parade uniform.
On July 30, 1943, Herbert von Obwurzer, who was put in charge of the formation of the division, ordered that the “fez or the Bergmutze could be worn on duty.” Von Obwurzer had commanded a regiment on the eastern Front and been a member of the SS Division “Nord”. The members of the Bosnian Muslim Handzar Division wore the fez or the Bergmutze, both Bosnian Muslim and German members.
The Ottoman Turkish fez was appropriate as the national attire of Bosnian Muslims but not for the Kosovar Albanian Muslims in the Handzar Division. The national attire of the Kosovo Albanians was a white woolen skull cap.
Himmler sought to solve this problem by having the SS Main Office headed by Gottlob Berger issue a specially-made Kosovar Albanian skull cap. Himmler decided that “a different type of headgear was necessary for the division’s Albanians” in a November 26, 1943 letter to Oswald Pohl, the chief of the SS Economic and Administrative Main office (WVHA).
Himmler proposed a white skull cap for Albanian Waffen SS troops that would revive the skull cap worn by Albanian Muslims in the Albanian Legion that had been part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Army. The Waffen SS Main Office approved the issuance of a specially-made Albanian gray skull cap or Albanerfez, Albanian fez. A field gray model of the Albanerfez was made by the SS Main Office and distributed for the service uniform for the Albanian troops in the Albanian battalion, I/28, in Handzar, in early 1944.
There was some doubt whether an Albanian gray skull cap was ever actually issued to the Albanian Waffen SS troops. Photographic evidence, however, establishes conclusively that a gray skull cap was produced by the Waffen SS for Albanian SS troops, which had the Totenkopf or Death’s Head skull and bones insignia of the SS under the Hoheitszeichen insignia of Nazi Germany, an eagle holding a Nazi swastika. SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, the commander of the Handzar Division, was shown in several photographs wearing a gray Albanian skull cap or Albanerfez. The NCO of the I/28, Rudi Sommerer, was photographed alone wearing the gray skull cap and in a photograph with Nazir Hodic, the Albanian squad commander in I/28. Walter Schaumuller, a commander of 5./28, was photographed wearing the Albanerfez during Unternehmen Osterei or Operation Easter Egg on April 12, 1944 south of Mitrovici. There are also several photos of Albanian Waffen SS troops in Skanderbeg wearing the Albanerfez. Austrian Erich Braun, the operations officer of Handzar, and Rudi Sommerer, an NCO from I/28, acknowledged that the SS never issued white skull caps, but specially-made gray ones, in letters dated November 27 and September 21, 1992.
In April, 1944, the I/28 Albanian Battalion in the Handzar Division was transferred to the newly-forming 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg” (albanische Nr. 1) in Pristina in Kosovo. The Albanerfez or gray SS skull cap was no longer worn in the Handzar Division but became part of the uniform of the Kosovar Albanian Skanderbeg Waffen SS Division.
SS-Ostuf. Carl Rachor of Handzar rated the military ability of the Albanian and Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS troops favorably. In a letter of September 14, 1943, he wrote that “the enlisted men, particularly the Albanians, shall become outstanding soldiers.”
Albanian troops in the Handzar Division participated in several important battles of the division in 1944 in Bosnia. Before launching its first offensive action, Unternehmen Save or Operation Sava, the assault into northeastern Bosnia across the Sava River, Sauberzweig wrote a letter to the Handzar troops: “We have now reached the Bosnian frontier and will (soon) begin the march into the homeland… The Fuehrer has provided you with his best weapons. Not only do you (have these) in your hands, but above all you have an idea in your hearts—to liberate the homeland….Before long, each of you shall be standing in the place that you call home, as a soldier and a gentleman; standing firm as a defender of the idea of saving the culture of Europe—the idea of Adolf Hitler.”
Sauberzweig also ordered that as Handzar units crossed the Sava River, each commander was to read a prepared message which emphasized that the “liberation” of “Muslim Albania” was to be a goal, directly appealing to the Albanian troops in the Division:
As we cross this river we commemorate the great historic task that the leader of the new Europe, Adolf Hitler, has set for us—to liberate the long-suffering Bosnian homeland and through this to form the bridge for the liberation of Muslim Albania. To our Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, who seeks the dawn of a just and free Europe—Sieg Heil!
The motto of the Division was then invoked, “Handzaru—udaraj!” (“Handzar—Strike!”). Each member of the Division was also given a portrait photograph of Adolf Hitler as Hitler’s “personal gift” to the troops.
Elements of the Handzar Divison crossed the Sava River on March 15, 1944. Regiment 27 crossed the river at Bosanska Raca using assault boats. The rest of the division crossed at the Sava Bridge at Brcko following an intense artillery barrage. The division suffered only light casualties.
Rudi Sommerer, an NCO from the Albanian Battalion in Handzar, 6./28, recalled the assault in a January 4, 1993 letter:
Our company crossed the Sava at dawn. We were the first unit in our sector to cross, and made enemy contact immediately. We suffered several dead, among them Rottenfuehrer Mrosek, a comrade of mine with whom I had served in Finland. The Partisans immediately pulled back into the forests.
The flat Pannonian Plain allowed for a rapid advance by Regiment 27 through Velino Selo to Brodac. Bijeljina was taken on March 16. The regiment then consolidated its position in the city. Regiment 28 bore the brunt of the fighting as it advanced through Pukis and Celic and Koraj at the Majevica mountains. Sauberzweig later recorded that II/28 “at Celic stormed the Partisan defenses with (new) battalion commander Hans Hanke at the point” and that the enemy forces withdrew after running out of ammunition and suffering heavy casualties.
On April 12, 1944, the Handzar Division launched Unternehmen Osterei or Operation Easter Egg in northeastern Bosnia with two pincer assaults. Regiment 27 captured Janja and advanced through Donja Trnova and the Ugljevik mines. The Albanian Regiment 28 on the other hand advanced south through Mackovac and Priboj. The first battalion was ordered to seize the local Majevica heights and “suffered considerable casualties in the fighting.” German NCO in I/28 Rudi Sommerer recalled the role of the Albanian Muslim troops in the battalion in this attack in letters dated November 23, 1992 and January 4, 1993:
My Albanian squad leader, Nazir Hodic, took five of his men and stormed a Partisan position in the hills. They overran the knoll, killing several of the enemy without incurring any friendly losses.
This was the Albanian Battalion’s last engagement with the Handzar Division. On April 17, 1944, Heinrich Himmler ordered the formation of the Skanderbeg SS Division in Kosovo, then part of a German-sponsored Greater Albania. The Albanian I/28 was detached from the Handzar division and transported by railroad to Pristina in Kosovo where a new battalion was created from SS personnel and officers and NCOs from other Waffen SS formations along with Albanian recruits and conscripts from Kosovo and Albania proper. According to Gottlob Berger, the head of the SS Main Office, in a letter to Himmler of April 13, 1944, the Albanian troops in Handzar “were quite sad about leaving.”
8. Kosovar Albanian Nazi SS Division Skanderbeg
Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler planned to create two Albanian Waffen SS Divisions and two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions. In a May 22, 1944 letter to Artur Phleps, the former commander of the 7th SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”, Himmler outlined his plans to form two Albanian SS Divisions:
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.
Himmler ordered the formation of the Kosovar Albanian Skanderbeg Nazi SS Division on April 17, 1944, following the approval by Adolf Hitler. The Skanderbeg Division was made up of 6,491 ethnic Albanian troops, two-thirds of whom were from Kosovo-Metohija, or Kosovars. The core of the new division was the newly transferred I/28 Albanian Battalion from the Bosnian Muslim Handzar SS Division from Bosnia-Hercegovina. To this Albanian core were added German troops and officers and Ncos, Reichsdeutsche from Austria and Volksdeutsche officers, NCOs, and enlisted men who were transferred from the 7th SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”. The Skanderbeg Division consisted mostly of Albanian Muslims of the Sunni and Bektashi sects of Islam and several hundred Albanian Roman Catholics. The total strength of the Kosovar Skanderbeg SS Division was 8,500-9,000 men.
The first commander of the Skanderbeg division during its recruitment and formation stages was SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum, the Higher SS leader in Albania. Fitzhum supervised the formation of the new division from April to June, 1944. The combat commander of the division was SS Standartenfuehrer August Schmidhuber, who assumed command in June, 1944. Schmidhuber had transferred to the Skanderbeg Division from the Prinz Eugen SS Division, then stationed in Bosnia-Hercegovina. In August, 1944, SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Alfred Graf assumed command of the reorganized remnants of the division, formed into a Battle Group or Kampfgruppe until May, 1945.
Kosovar Albanian troops in the Skanderbeg SS Division deserted when they had to fight anti-occupation guerrilla troops. Instead, these Kosovar Albanian SS troops concentrated their efforts on murdering Serbian civilians, women as well as children, and driving out Kosovo Serbs and taking over their houses and lands.
Following the 1943 Second League of Prizren and the revival of the Greater Albania nationalist ideology by Nazi Germany, Kosovo Serbs were again targeted for mass murder and deportation. A new wave of killings and expulsions and seizures of Serbian land and property occurred. An estimated 10,000 Serbian families were driven out of Kosovo by the Kosovar Skanderbeg SS Division. In their place, Albanian settlers and colonists from northern Albania were brought in to take over the Serbian land. In Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo, pro-Kosovar Albanian activist and advocate Miranda Vickers, who would later work as an analyst for George Soros’ International Crisis Group (ICG) and is “ICG’s Senior Albania Analyst”, a self-styled “Albanian expert”, was compelled to acknowledge this fact:
Until the first months of 1944 there were continued waves of migration from Kosovo of Serbs and Montenegrins, forced to flee following intimidation… The 21st SS ‘Skanderbeg Division’ (consisting, as already mentioned, of two battalions) formed out of Albanian volunteers in the spring of 1944, indiscriminately killed Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo. This led to the emigration of an estimated 10,000 Slav families, most of whom went to Serbia…replaced by new colonists from the poorer regions of northern Albania. How many Kosovo Serbs were killed during the Greater Albania occupation period of 1941-44? A contemporary World War II U.S. intelligence report stated that 10,000 Kosovo Serbs were killed in the first year of the occupation. No exact figure has been accurately determined for the number of Kosovo Serbs killed during the Greater Albania period, the Italian/German occupation period, 1941-1944. The number can conservatively be deduced to be between several thousand at a minimum to over 10,000 as a maximum.
How many Kosovo Serbs were expelled? The World War II Commissariat for Refugees in Belgrade registered 70,000 Kosovo Serb refugees during the Italian/German occupation of Kosovo. This figure is a reasonably accurate minimum figure. Kosovo Serb refugees who did not register or who fled to other regions of the former Yugoslavia, such as Bosnia, Montenegro, and Macedonia, were not accounted for. A conservative estimate of up to 100,000 Kosovo Serb refugees takes into account the refugee wartime records and those refugees missed in the reports.
During the Greater Albania period in Kosovo’s history, when Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini made Kosovo part of Albania, over 10,000 Kosovo Serbs were killed and 100,000 Kosovo Serbs were expelled. What occurred in Kosovo then was a planned and systematic genocide against the Serbian Orthodox population, a biological and a cultural genocide sponsored by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. War crimes and crimes against humanity were committed against the Serbian Orthodox population of Kosovo, and against the Kosovo Jewish and Kosovo Roma populations.
But this genocide in Kosovo is nowhere to be found in mainstream accounts of Yugoslav or Balkans history and remains an untold story. The genocide in Kosovo is censored and deleted from historical accounts of World War II and the Holocaust. You can look for it, but it is nowhere to be found. “The researchers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. do not even know that Kosovo was part of Albania during the Holocaust. The Museum researchers list Kosovo as a “Serbian province” during the Holocaust. But this is incorrect and misleading. Kosovo-Metohija was part of Albania from 1941 to 1944. The Holocaust Museum seeks to falsify history and to exculpate Albanian leaders during the Holocaust by seeking to spin doctor events during World War II. It must never be forgotten that the USHMM is funded by the US State Department and that the primary sponsor of Greater Albania today is the US government and media and US economic interests. So there is considerable pressure on the USHMM to falsify the history of Kosovo and Bosnia. After all, how would it look if it was revealed that the long-suffering Kosovar Albanians had formed a Nazi SS Division that had played a major role in the Holocaust, in the murder of Jews, of Kosovo Jews, and the murder of Kosovo Serbs and Roma? How do you spin doctor the fact that the Kosovar Albanians engaged in a planned and systematic policy of genocide and mass murder against Kosovo Serbs? You really cannot do it. The only option is censorship and falsification and obfuscation. And that is what the USHMM has done. History becomes just something you manipulate and distort and censor, like everything else.
9. Operation Draufganger and Massacres of Serbian Civilians
On July 28, 1944, the Skanderbeg SS Division and the 7th Prinz Eugen SS Division attacked the village of Velika in the Lim valley. Skanderbeg and Prinz Eugen were alleged to have massacred 428 Serbs of which 120 were children and burned down 300 Serbian houses. This was during a German military operation known as Unternehmen Draufganger or Operation Daredevil.
The Axis Order of Battle consisted of the following Nazi formations: the Kosovar Albanian 21st SS Skanderbeg Division, the 14th SS Regiment from the 7th SS Division “Prinz Eugen”, the Kampfgruppe Bendl, the Kampfgruppe Stripel, parts of the Brandenburg Regiment, and the 5th SS Police Regiment. Operation Draufganger was aimed at the 2nd Assault Corps NOVJ (Drugi Udarnicki Korpus NOVJ) which was formed on October 11, 1943 from the 2nd Proletarian Division and the 3rd Assault Division and was conducted in the Andrijevica area in the Lim valley area between Montenegro and Kosovo-Metohija. The action was conducted from July 18 to 26 to prevent the breakthrough of the Operative Group of the Division into Serbia. The Kosovar Skanderbeg SS Division was broken or decimated during the operation while other units suffered significant casualties and the German plan failed.
SS Brigadefuehrer Otto Kumm commanded the Prinz Eugen SS Division during this action. He would command the division from January 30, 1944 to January 20, 1945. He was replaced by SS Oberfuehrer Schmidhuber who would return to command the Prinz Eugen SS Division after Skanderbeg was reorganized as a Battle Group on January 20, 1945 to the end of the war on May 8, 1945. Prinz Eugen and Skanderbeg were part of the 5th SS Corps of 2nd Panzer Army, commanded by Lothar Rendulic, which was part of Army Group F.
In an attack on the village of Velika in the Lim valley, Kosovar Albanian troops in the Skanderbeg SS Division murdered Serbian civilians, women, and children. Milunka Vucetic personally witnessed the murder of the three-year-old Serbian child Tomislav Vucetic, who was then skinned alive by Kosovar Albanian troops in the Skanderbeg SS Division:
I approached the house of Milovan Vucetic. Around afternoon an army from Ivanpolje came into the area. We decided to take them bread, salt, which we had.
When the army approached, I saw how in the olive grove Tomislav, the son of Milovan Vucetic, played. Two soldiers took him, a third ran over…one took out a knife and began to skin the child alive from his eyes downwards. I could not watch what occurred. I began screaming and his mother Leposava-Lepa ran over to protect him. She was killed.
Another survivor of the massacre, Radoje Knezevic, recalled the role of the Kosovar Skanderbeg SS Division:
I was only 11 years old when Hitler’s Division “Skanderbeg” and “Prinz Eugen” burned down the village of Velika and killed about 428 persons. Our family paid a heavy price that day. On that day my mother Stojanka was killed and then her body burned. The same fate befell my two brothers Nedeljko (5 years old) and Ratko (11 months old). My sister Raba (18 years old) was killed as she was trying to protect her mother and young brothers, And she too was burned.
Divna Vucetic, a survivor of the massacre, recalled:
I heard news of massacres in the surrounding villages so I became concerned for the safety of my children, the two eldest of whom I sent into the woods…I held in my lap my one year old son, Boza. On the threshold my daughter Persida approached, who was only three years old, and after her my two nieces, four year old Kata and three year old Nata, and daughters Cvete and Dusana Vucetic….A soldier approached with a gun…I told him that I wanted to bring him bread, as I was ordered to. He replied to that: “Germany has bread!” He spoke our language [Serbian] perfectly. He then shot at me, killing my son Boza in my lap, and wounding me in the right hand.
The division tagesbefehl or daily command report of the commander of the Skanderbeg SS Division, Schmidhuber, read as follows for June 25, 1944:
Operation ‘Draufganger’ was completely successful. It tied up strong enemy elements and diverted the partisan leadership from conducting their planned operations. The army has expressed its recognition for the efforts made by the participating troops and their commanders.
The Skanderbeg SS Division daily report for July 1 read as follows:
Special recognition goes to the excellent commitment of the reinforced 14th Gebirgsjager Regiment under the command of Ostubaf. Gross…
Kumm, the commander of Prinz Eugen, concluded: “Thus, Operation ‘Draufganger’ was over. It did prevent the planned movement and attack by the enemy, while also hindering the supply distribution from the Berane airfield. However, the great concentration of so many enemy divisions remained a problem!”
The remaining regimental units were then redeployed through the Cakor Mountain pass between Berane in Montenegro and Pec in Metohija on August 1. The II/14 was transported to Pec in Kosovo-Metohija. On August 2, they moved into the Rashka area on the Ibar. SS-Ostuf, Karl von Krempler was in command in the Rashka region of Serbia.
Kumm recalled the battles in Rashka/Sandzak during Operation Rubezahl: “Von Krempler, the ‘Sandschak Prince,’ and his Muslims did hold out in a mountain fortress against the enemy assault, but the majority of the combat capable ‘Turks’ were with their Divisions ‘Handschar’ and ‘Skanderbeg.’ The German assault on Rashka/Sandzak was commanded by Artur Phleps (who commanded “Group Kommando Sandschak) and consisted of the 7th SS Mountain Division Prinz Eugen, the 1st Mountain Division, the Handschar Division (which participated in the initial stages then was transferred to the 2nd Corps to protect the crossing of the Drina River in eastern Bosnia), and the Skanderbeg Division.
Kumm described the Skanderbeg Division as follows: “From the southeast, out of Albania, was committed Oberfuehrer Schmidhuber and his 21st SS Gebirgs Division ‘Skanderbeg,’ an Albanian freiwilligen division. Not much was expected from the commitment of this division—it had just gotten over the creation phase. There was no relying on these troops, other than their German cadre.”
On June 18, the German assault concentrated on establishing a bridgehead over the Lim River in the Prijepolje-Sjenica-Razdacinja area. Kumm wrote: “The objective set for the operation by the commander of the 21st SS Division ‘Skanderbeg,’ Oberfuehrer Schmidhuber, was to destroy the strong enemy concentrations in the Berane area (today Ivangrad) and prevent the airfield from being used by the Allies to fly in supplies for the partisans.”
The report from the II/14 battalion commander was as follows: “Pec lay in a deep pocket, surrounded by the mountains of the north Albanian Alps. Although the leader of the Serbian Orthodox National Church seats one of his patriarchs here and there are beautiful old domed churches evident, there are also minarets in the village…Before Operation ‘Draufganger’ was broken off, the situation reflected: ‘Strong enemy forces, two well-equipped partisan corps, are assembled in the Berane-Andrijevica area either to secure the Berane supply airfield and eventually support an Allied landing, or break through to the east and meet the Russian formations in the eastern Balkans.’ We moved first to the south into the source region of the Lim and took up positions around Gusinje, a border town next to Albania, in preparation for an attack.”
The German forces then retreated from Andrijevica and aborted the planned assault on Berane and withdrew along the Cakor mountain pass through Gracanica and Murina along the Lim River. The report from the battalion commander noted: “Oberfuehrer Schmidhuber reminded us that the situation on our side had to be cleared up somehow. At the regimental command post we decided to attack the Stit…It was rumored that the 1st Gebirgs Division was committed from Pec to the Cakor pass.”
The enemy forces were pushed back to the north in the Rashka area of Novi Pazar. This ended Operation Draufganger.
On or about August 11, 1944, in reprisal for an attack east of Kukes, the Skanderbeg SS Division, which was then under the jurisdiction of the XXI Mountain Corps, hanged six “hostages”.
Kurt von Geitner, the Chief of Staff of the Military Commander of Serbia and the Military Commander of the Southeast, from August, 1944 to October, 1944, was subsequently indicted for war crimes after the war. Alexander Lohr was the commander of Army Group E. He was tried and executed as a war criminal after the war. Lohr planned the April 6, 1941 bombing of Belgrade by the Luftwaffe that killed 17,000 Serbian civilians.
10. Kosovar Albanians and the Holocaust
Kosovar Albanians played a major role in the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, or the Holocaust. This Kosovar participation in the mass murder and genocide of Kosovo Serbs and Jews has been covered-up by the mainstream historians and media in the so-called West. The US government has falsified, covered-up, and spin-doctored away the significant role the Kosovar Albanian Muslims played in the mass exterminations of Kosovo Serbs and Jews during the Holocaust. This Kosovar genocide remains an untold story of World War II, a massive cover-up.
In 1941, 550 Jews lived in Kosovo. The Jewish presence in Kosovo went back for over five hundred centuries. During the Holocaust, 210 Kosovo Jews were killed, or 38.18% of the Jewish population of Kosovo. Kosovar Albanians played a major role in the murder of the Kosovo Jews, a role that has been hitherto suppressed and covered-up.
The first operation of the Kosovar Skanderbeg SS Division occurred in Pristina on May 14, 1944. It was a raid on Kosovo Jews. The mass arrests and roundups of Kosovo Jews followed, conducted by Kosovo Albanian Muslims.
The Albanian Kosovo troops in Skanderbeg raided apartments and homes where Kosovo Jews lived, looted their possessions, and rounded them up for deportation to the Nazi death camps. Kosovo Jews were subsequently assembled in makeshift jails. The Kosovar 21st SS Division Skanderbeg apprehended 281 Kosovo Jews, which included men, women, and children. From May to June, 1944, the Skanderbeg troops rounded up a total of 519 Kosovo Serbs and Jews.
When Pristina was first occupied by German troops in 1941, the property of Kosovo Jews was seized, and along with Kosovo Serbs, Kosovo Jews were conscripted for forced labor.
In the northern Kosovo city of Kosovska Mitrovica, Jewish shops and stores were closed and Kosovo Jews were forced to wear a yellow band. The seizure and confiscation of Jewish property was organized and conducted by the Gestapo and by members of the Albanian Committee.
On May 20, 1941, prominent Kosovar Muslim leader Dzafer Deva, the political leader of the Kosovska Mitrovica district, ordered the seizure of Jewish property. Jewish businesses in Kosovo were subsequently taken over and “supervised” by members of the Kosovar Albanian Committee. The seizure of Jewish property in Kosovo was carried out by Kosovar Albanians Mamut Perijuc, Ramiz Mulic, and Osman Ibrahimovic, the leader of the commission which oversaw Jewish property, who worked in conjunction with the Gestapo.
Osman Ibrahimovic ordered the destruction of the Jewish synagogue and the destruction of documents and papers in the Jewish archive.
In Pristina, the seizures of Jewish property and anti-Jewish measures were undertaken by the local Kosovar Albanian civil administration and the members of the Albanian Kosovar Committee. Maljus Kosova was the president of the Albanian Kosovo Committee, while Dzemal Beg Ismail Kanli was the head of the police. Rasid Memedali and Rifat Sukri Ramaan were also members of the Committee.
Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Kosovo placed responsibility for the first and second internments of Kosovo Jews on the local Kosovar Albanian leaders. In the Jewish historical archives of Yugoslavia: “From May 25 to July 2, 1944 the Division ‘Skanderbeg’ apprehended 510 Jews, Serbs…They were put in jails, while 249 were sent as forced laborers to the Reich.”
In Kosovo: A Short History, Kosovar Albanian advocate and propagandist Noel Malcolm was forced to grudgingly admit that Kosovar Albanian Muslims of the Nazi SS Division Skanderbeg in the Djakovica region of Kosovo engaged in “the round-up and deportation of 281 Jews to the Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in May, 1944 where they were gassed. Malcolm was forced to concede that Kosovar Muslim Albanians and Roman Catholics had participated willingly in the mass murder of Kosovo Jews. Malcolm consciously and methodically censored, suppressed, and covered-up the genocide conducted against the Serbian Orthodox population and the mass murders of Serbian orthodox priests and the systematic destruction of Serbian Orthodox Churches and monuments and cemeteries.
Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, in the seminal analysis of the Holocaust, The Destruction of European Jewry (1961), documented the role of Kosovar Albanians in the mass murder of Kosovo Jews:
The roundups spread from the mainland of Greece to neighboring Albania. In April, 1944, the commanding general in Albania reported that SS Division Skanderbeg (Albanian collaborators) had arrested 300 Jews in Pristina (“new” Albania, in Yugoslav territory, near the frontier of the domain of the Befehlshaber in Serbia). Between May 28 and July 5, 1944, the SS division rounded up another 510 “Jews, Communists, partisans, and suspicious persons” in the Albanian area. From that group, 249 were deported.
Hilberg based his information from the military report, militarbefehlshaber Sudost, signed by Chief of Staff Kurt von Geitner to Army Group F on April 16, 1944, copies of which were sent to OKH or General Headquarters, the 2nd Panzer Army, the German Plenipotentiary General in Albania, the German General Plenipotentiary in Croatia, the Luftwaffe Commander in Croatia, and the V SS Mountain Corps and a report of the XXI Mountain Corps of July 13, 1944.
The Kosovar Albanian role in the Holocaust has largely been suppressed and covered-up in the mainstream accounts of the Holocaust.
11. Conclusion: Playing Tricks on the Dead
The Nazi and fascist past of Kosovo is carefully censored and covered-up by the US government and media and the establishment academic elites. But occasionally the truth slips through their carefully constructed facade of infotech reality and free world independent media. Then all the irony and absurdity leaps out. “History is nothing but a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead.” That is what Voltaire maintained. But history also plays tricks on the living. It is the Kosovo Serbs who are the victims of genocide in Kosovo. Over 230,000 Kosovo Serbs, Roma, and Jews have been expelled from Kosovo since the illegal NATO occupation of the Serbian province. Over a thousand Koovo Serb civilians have been murdered, including women and children. Serbian priests have been attacked and murdered. Over 150 Serbian Orthodox churches have been destroyed and Orthodox cemeteries desecrated. The US government, media, and so-called political analysts and think tanks have deluded themselves and have manipulated the facts. The Kosovo crisis has always been about the creation of a Greater Albania, which in practical terms meant a Kosovo controlled by Albanians and cleansed on all non-Albanians, Kosovo Serbs, Roman, and Jews. The Kosovo conflict was always about the secession of Kosovo-Metohija and the creation of a Greater Albania. Ironically, the justification for the military intervention by the US and NATO was to prevent a genocide in Kosovo. But in fact, the US and NATO allowed Kosovar Albanian nationalists to achieve a Greater Albania through genocide. In short, the US and NATO were merely finishing the job started by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, achieving the practical realization of the Greater Albania ideology. There is a historical continuity from World War II as is shown by the following instance. In an NBC news report from June 18, 1999, a correspondent described the return of German troops to Prizren again for the first time since 1944, revealing Kosovo’s hidden Nazi past:
I was at dinner with a kind Kosovo Muslim family the other night when talk turned to the German NATO troops that rolled into town to make the city the headquarters of its peacekeeping district. The patriarch of the family, a man old enough to remember the last time German troops rolled into Prizren, said they all felt safe now. ‘The German soldiers are excellent,’ he said. Then he added, ‘I should know, I used to be one.’ Then he raised his arm in a Nazi salute and said, ‘Heil,’ and laughed merrily.
The uniforms and the acronyms have changed from the Waffen SS to NATO and the political sponsors have changed from Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and Heinrich Himmler to Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and Madeleine Albright, but the Greater Albania ideology remains exactly the same, identical to that enunciated by the 1943 Second League of Prizren, and the 1878 First League of Prizren.
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Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, Inc., 1961.
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