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Carl Savich | Columns | serbianna.com Kosovo During World War II, 1941-1945 and Genocide in Kosovo: The Skenderbeg SS Division

by Carl Savich

Historical evidence demonstratesÝ that genocide and ethnic cleansing were perpetrated upon the Serbian population of Kosovo and Metohija, first by theÝ Ottoman Turks, by Albanian leaders and the populace , then during the occupation by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany by Albanian fascists and Nazis, and continued throughout the Communist period , during which periods the ethnic Serbian population was forced to emigrate...

The historical and political precedent for the creation of a Greater Albania or Greater ShqiperiaÝ was set during World War II when the Kosovo and Metohija regions, along with territory southwest of Lake Scutari from Montenegro and the western region of Macedonia,, which was then southern Serbia, or Juzna Srbija, were annexed to Albania by the Axis powers, led by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, under a plan devised by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler which sought to dismemberÝ the Serbian nation and people, which the Germans and Italians perceived as the main threat to the Axis powers and to the Third Reich in the Balkans.

On April 7, 1939, Italian troops invaded and occupied Albania, forcing the Albanian ruler King Zog I, Ahmed Bey Zogu, to flee to Greece.Italy next formally annexed Albania into the Kingdom of Italy under the Italian King Victor Immanuel and established a military government and Viceroy.The Italians began a program to colonize the country when thousands of settlers emigrated to Albania.An Albanian Fascist Party was established with Albanian Blackshirts basedÝ on the Italian models.The Albanian army consisted of three infantry brigades of 12,000 men.

On October 28, 1940, Italy invaded Greece from Albania with 10 Italian divisions and the Albanian army but were driven back.

Germany sought to assist the Italian-Albanian offensive by Operation Alpine Violet, a plan to move a corps of three German mountain divisions to Albania by air and sea. Instead, the Germans built up a heavy concentration of the German Twelfth Army on the northwest Greek border with Bulgaria, from where the German invasion was launched.

On April 6, l941, Nazi Germany and the Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia, Operation Punishment, and Greece, forcing the capitulation of Yugoslavia on the 17th and Greece on the 23rd.Yugoslavia was subsequently occupied and dismembered.The Axis powers established a Greater Albania or Greater Shqiperia at the expense of Serbia and Montenegro. Territory from Montenegro was annexed to Greater Albania. From Serbia, the Kosovo and Metohija regions were ceded to Greater Albania, along with the western part of southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija), now part of Macedonia, an area which was part of Stara Srbija (Ancient or Old Serbia).This Kosovo-Metohija region and the durrounding territory annexed to Greater Albania was called ìNew Albaniaî.

To create an ethnically pure Albanian Kosovo, which the Albanians called ìKosovaî,theÝ Albanians (Shqiptari) launched a widescale campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide.Ethnic Serbs in the Kosovo-Metohija regions were massacred, and their homes were burned, and the survivors were brutally driven out and expelled in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The Balli Kombetar (BK or National Union) was an Albanian nationalist group led by Midhat Frasheri and Ali Klissura whose political objective was to incorporate Kosovo-Metohija into a Greater Albania and to ethnically cleanse the region of Orthodox Serbs.

The Albanian Committee of Kosovo organized massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian inhabitants of Kosovo-Metohija.A contemporary report described the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Serbs as follows:
Armed with material supplied by the Italians, the Albanians hurled themselves against the helpless settlers in their homes and villages. Accoring to the most reliables sources the Albanians burned many Serbian settlements, killing some of the people and driving out others who escaped to the mountains. At present other Serbian settlements are being attacked and the property of indviduals and of communities is either being confiscated or destroyed. It is not possible to ascertain at the present the exact number of victims of those atrocities, but it may be estimated that at least between 30,000 and 50,000 perished.

Bedri Pejani, the Muslim leader of the Albanian National Committee, called for the extermination of Orthodox Serbian Christians in Kosovo-Metohija and for a union of a Greater Albania with Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia into a Greater Islamic State. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, was presented the Pejani plan which he approved as being in the interest of Islam. The Germans,however, rejected the plan.

On September 3, 1943, Italy capitulated by signing an armistice with the Allies. The Germans were then forced to occupy Albania with the collapse of the Italian forces.The Germans sent he 100th Jaeger Division from Greece and the 297th Infantry Division from Serbia and the German 1st Mountain Division to occupy Albania.Ý These troops were organized into the XXI Mountain Corps, which was under the command of General Paul Bader.

Bedri Pejani organized and headed the Second Albanian League of Prizren in 1943, which sought to revive the goals of the First League of Prizren in 1878, whiich were to unite all the lands where Albanians lived into a single, unified Greater Albania. The Second Albanian League,like the First, was reactionary, anti-democratic, racist, authoritarian, and allied with Nazi Germany. Pejani found an ardent supporter of the Second League in Heinrich Himmler, the ìarchitect of genocideî and the person who oversaw the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. The Second League fit perfectly into Hitlerís New Order in Europe. Moreover, Italian anthropological research had revealed that the Ghegs were Aryans or Nordic, the herrenvolk or master race like the Germans.Pejani and the Second League opposed democracy and human rights but sought to create a Greater Albania through genocide and ethnic cleansing. The 21st Waffen SS Division Skanderbeg resulted from the efforts of the Second League of Prizren.

Germany re-occupied Albania and Kosovo in 1943. Additional security forces for the interior were needed,however, to free up German troops for defense of the coastline. The decision was made to form an Albanian SS mountain division for this purpose. In April, 1944, recruitment for the Albanian SS Division began under the direction of the newly formed Albanian Nazi Party, which had been formed through the efforts of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Acting upon the instructions of Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler, the SS Main Office ordered the formation of an Albanian Volunteer mountain Division on April 17,1944. Himmler planned to create two Albanian SS divisions. SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum, who headed the Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, oversaw the formation and training of the division.

The SS High Command planned to create a mountain division of 10,000 men. The Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, in conjunction with the Albanian National Committee, listed 11,398 possible recruits for the Waffen SS mountain division. Most of these recruits, roughly two-thirds were Kosovars, Albanian (Shqiptar) Ghegs from Kosovo-Metohija in Serbia. The Shqiptar Tosks were found mainly in southern Albania. Most of the Shqiptar collaborators with the Nazi forces were the so-called Kosovars, ethnic Shqiptars from the Kosmet of Serbia. The Albanian gendarmes, special police, and para-military units were Kosovars. The Kosovars were under the direct control of the Albanian Interior Minister, Xhafer Deva.

The Skanderbeg Division was formed and trained in Kosovo and was made up mostly of Muslim Shqiptar Kosovars.There were only a small number of Albanians from Albania proper in the division, about one-third.Ý The Skanderbeg Mountain Division of the Waffen SS was thus essentially a Kosovo or Kosmet division. The division was stationed and operated in Kosovo and other Serbian regions almost exclusively.

Of the 11,398 recruits listed for the division, 9,275 were ascertained to be suitable to draft in the Waffen SS. Of those suitable to be drafted, 6,491 Albanians were chosen and inducted into the Skanderbeg Division. To this Albanian core were added veteran German troops, primarily Reichdeutsche from Austria and Volkdeutsche officers, NCOs, and enlisted men, transferred from the 7th SS Mountain Division ìPrinz Eugenî which was stationed in Bosnia-Hercegovina.The Kosovo Albanian 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS ìSkanderbegî consisted in total of 8,500-9,000 men of all ranks.The 6,491 Albanian recruits were assembled at depots in Kosovo where the formation and the training of the division began.

The official designation for the division was 21. Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS ìSkanderbegî (Albanische Nr.1).The SS Main Office designed a distinctive arm patch for the division, consisting of a black, double-headed eagle on a red background, the national symbol for Albania. The word ìSkanderbegî , embroidered in white, appeared above the eagle and was worn on the left sleeve.The left collar patch consisted of a helmet with a goatís head on the top, the helmet supposedly worn by George Kastrioti, Skanderbeg, after whom the division was named. The Shqiptar recruits in the division wore a white skullcap, the national attire of the Shqiptar Ghegs. The SS Main Office also issued gray skullcaps with the Totenkopf (Deathís Head) insignia sewn on the front below the Hoheitzeichen (the national symbol of Nazi Germany, consisting of a white eagle over a Nazi swastika).

The division was named after George Kastrioti, or Gjergj Kastriota, also as Kastriotis (1405-1468), a national hero of Albania, who fought against the Ottoman Turks.As a child, Kastrioti was given as a hostage to Sultan Murad II to be brought us as a Muslim at Adrianople (Edirne).Kastrioti became an officer in the Ottoman Turkish army and led the Turkish forces in many victories over Christian troops.Murad II was impressed with his valor and bravery in his battles for Islam and gave him the name Iskander Bey in Turkish, from ìIskanderî, Alexander the Great, or Prince Alexander, and ìBeyî, master.

The nameÝ was shortened to Skanderbeg, beg being the local variant of beg.Later, Kastrioti renounced Islam and converted to Christianity and attacking his former Ottoman Turkish masters. He captured the Albanian capital Kruja from the Turkish governor and proclaimed a revolt against the Turks in 1442.Sultan Mohammed II sent Turkish armies to defeat the renegade Kastrioti, but he was able to defeat the Turkish forces, which besieged Kruja but could not capture it. Kastrioti died in 1468. Kruja surrendered in 1479 and the Turks occupied Albania.

The Albanians in the Skanderbeg Division were mostly Muslims, of the Bektashi and Sunni sects of IslamThe division contained several hundred Albanian Catholics, followers of Jon Marko Joni.

The first commander of the Skanderbeg division was SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum, who commanded the division from April to June, 1944. After the July 20, 1944 assassination plot against Hitler, Fitzhum was appointed supreme commander in Albania. In June, SS Standartenfuehrer August Schmidhuber, who had been a member of the 7th SS Mountain Division ìPrinz Eugenî, was appointed commander of the division, a post he would hold until August, 1944. On June 21, 1944, Schmidhuber was promoted to SS Oberfuehrer, and later in the war, he would be promoted to SS Brigadefuehrer. SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Alfred Graf commanded the reorganized remnants of the Skanderbeg Division from August, 1944, to May, 1945.

The Schutzstaffel or SS was created in the period 1923-1925 and was initially known as the Stosstrupp (Shock Troop) ìAdolf Hitlerî. On January 16, 1929, Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler leader of the SS, Reichsfuehrer SS. The SS was envisioned as an elite troop of the Party, a Praetorian bodyguard to Hitler and the Nazi leadership. The SS was a formation ìcomposed of the best physically, the most dependable, and the most faithful men in the Nazi movement.î In 1940, combat units of the SS were formed, collectively termed the Waffen SS. Approximately 30-40 Waffen SS divisions were formed during the war,divided into three groupings, Waffen SS divisions made up of Germans, those made up of ethnic Germans outside the Reich, and those made up of non-Germans, ìDivisions der SS, Divisions of the SS.

On September 27, 1939, Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler as Chief of German Police consolidated the Gestapo, Kripo, and SD under an SS Main Office of Reich Security, or the RSHA. The RSHA was the actual body entrusted with the overall administration of the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem, what became known as the Holocaust. The SS Economic and Administrative Main Office, or WVHA, ran the concentration camp system. Nazi concentration camp personnel and guards, although not under the command of the Army or the Kommandoamt der Waffen SS, nevertheless, wore Waffen SS uniforms and received Waffen SS paybooks. Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler oversaw a program that resulted in the extermination of millions of men, women, and children. Himmler was the architect of genocide and of the Holocaust and the Waffen SS was his ìprivate armyî, the ìblack angelsî. As part of the Skanderbeg Waffen SS Division, Kosovar Albanians would play a role in the Final Solution, the Holocaust. Kosovo Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies would be victims.

In June, 1944, the Skanderbeg Waffen SS Mountain Division engaged in large-scale field maneuvers in the area between the towns of Berane and Andrijevica in Montenegro ( Crna Gora). Garrisons of the Skanderbeg division were established in the Kosovo towns of Pec, Djakovica, Prizren, and Pristina. Further training of the divisionÝ continued in August as new recruits were inducted in the division. An artillery battalion of the division, consisting of two batteries, was located in Gnjilane.

The first major action of the division occurred in August, 1944 in Kosovo. In September, 1944, the Skanderbeg Division occupied Macedonia, then denoted as southern Serbia, and helped to garrison the region. The Skanderbeg Division was ordered into the areas surrounding the towns of Skopje, Kumanovo, Presevo, and Bujanovac. Skanderbeg operated in the Stara Srbija (Old Serbia) region, in the Kosovo-Metohija towns of Pec, Gnjilane, Djakovica, Kosovska Mitrovica, and the Macedonian towns of Tetovo and Gostivar. The city of Tetovo was a major base for the Skanderbeg Division.

In November, 1944, when the German armies in the Balkans were retreating from Yugoslavia and Greece, the Skanderbeg Division remnants were reorganized into Regimentgruppe 21. SS Gebirgs ìSkanderbegî and was transferred to Skopje, according to an account of the movements of the Battle Group. This SS Kampfgruppe ìSkanderbegî, along with the Prinz Eugen Division, defended the Vardar valley. The Battle Group ìSkanderbegî and Prinz Eugen held the Vardar area because it was the sole corridor of escape for the retreating German armies in Alexander Loehrís Army Group E, which was then retreating from Greece and the Aegean Islands.

The Skanderbeg Battle Group along with the Prinz Eugen Division retreated to the Brcko region of Bosnia-Hercegovina by mid-January, 1945. At this time, the remaining Skanderbeg personnel were incorporated into the 14th SS Volunteer Mountain infantry Regiment of the 7th SS Division Prinz Eugen. The remnants of the Skanderbeg division fought in this formation until the end of the war, retreating to Austria in May, 1945.

The Skanderbeg Division engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Serbian Orthodox population of the regions under occupation by the division in Kosovo-Metohija, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Balkan historian Robert Lee Wolff, in The Balkans in Our Time, described the genocide committed against Kosovo Serbs by the Albanian 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS ìSkanderbegî as follows:

In the regions annexed by the Albanians, their so-called Skanderbeg division,
made up of members of the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia, massacred Serbs with impunity..

Historian L.S. Stavrianos, in The Balkans Since 1453, described the genocide committed against Orthodox Kosovo Serbs by the Skanderbeg Division in these terms:

Yugoslav Albanians, organized in their fascist Skanderbeg Division, conducted an indiscriminate massacre of Serbians.

The Skanderbeg Division played a role in the Holocaust, the genocide of European Jewry. In Kosovo: A Short History, Noel Malcolm noted that in the Djakovica region of Kosovo-Metohija, the Skanderbeg Division engaged in ìthe round-up and deportation of 281 Jewsî to the concentration-extermination camps in May, 1944. According to Malcolm, ìthey took part in the most shameful episode of Kosovoís wartime history.î p310 Skanderbeg rounded up scores of Jews in a group of approximately 500 Kosovans deemed enemies of the Third Reich when the Division occupied Prizren in Kosovo-Metohija. The division sought to create an ethnically pure Kosovo, ethnically cleansed of Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies,Ý the untermenschen (subhumans), not part of the so-called West, who were targeted for extermination.

According to Miranda Vickers in Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo, the Kosovo Albanian Skanderbeg SS Division ethnically cleansed an estimated 10,000 Kosovo Serbian families, most of whom fled as refugees to Serbia while Albanian colonists from Albania entered Kosovo and took over their lands and homes:

Until the first months of 1944 there were continued waves of migration from Kosovo of Serbs and Montenegrins,forced to flee following intimidation....TheÝ 21stSS ëSkanderbeg Divisioní (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.

The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal declared the Schutzstaffel or SS a criminal organization and every individual member of the SS was found to be a war criminal guilty of ìplanning and carrying out crimes against humanity.î The Albanian Kosovars in the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS ìSkanderbegî committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian population of Kosovo.This genocide would contribute to the Kosovar goal and policy to create an ethnically pure Kosova, in a attempt to create a Greater Albania.

During World War II, the Axis powers dismembered and occupied Yugoslavia and created a Greater Albania by annexing Kosovo-Metohija to Albania. During the occupation of Kosovo-Metohija by Nazi Germany, Germany formed an Albanian Kosovar Waffen SS Division, the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS ìSkanderbegî which engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian population of Kosovo. The result was that with the Albanians, with the help of Germany, were able to either kill or drive out entire Serbian families and to round up and deport Kosovo Jews to the extermination camps, thereby creating during World War II an ethnically pure, Nazi German-sponsored Greater Albania.


Carl Savich
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