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Carl Savich | Columns | serbianna.com Vojvodina and the Batschka Division

By Carl Savich
 
Adolf Hitler and Vojvodina

During World War II, the Bachka region of Vojvodina was annexed to a Greater Hungary by Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler sought to dismember Serbia by creating a Greater Hungary, a Greater Albania, a Greater Bulgaria, and a Greater Croatia. Pursuant to this policy, the Bachka region was made a part of Hungary. The Vojvodina region was severed from Serbia proper. Hitler’s goal was to destroy and defeat Serbia by dismembering the Vojvodina region.


Troops from the Kama Division transferred to the Batschka Division, 1944. 
Bachka and Greater Hungary

Vojvodina was the base for not only the Prinz Eugen SS Division, based in Pancevo, but also for the Bosnian Muslim Kama Division and the Batschka Division, both with headquarters in Vrbas. The SS Kampfgruppe Deak, commanded by Laszlo Deak, also was based in Vojvodina.

The Batschka Nazi SS Division of Vojvodina emerged after the breakup of the Bosnian Muslim Kama Division, which had been formed and trained in Vojvodina. The Kama Division had been the second Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division formed by Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler. The first Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division was the 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Handzar” formed in 1943. The Kama and Handzar Divisions were formed by Himmler to establish “autonomy” or “independence” for Bosnia and to achieve a Bosnian Muslim statelet under Nazi control.

When the Kama Division was dissolved, the personnel in the division were transferred to the newly forming Batschka Division. SS Untersturmfuehrer Hans Villier was transferred from the Kama Division to the Batschka Division, which was the successor division to Kama. He would later command Platoon III in the signals battalion of the Batschka Division. Villier had earlier seen action in Russia as a member of the SS Cavalry Brigade and had engaged in the German assault at Rzhev.

The Ottoman Empire Turkish fez and Kama insignia were transferred to the Batchka Division during the initial formation stages before the SS could devise new insignia. The Kama Division eventually morphed into the Batschka Division.

Bosnian Muslim recruits for the Kama Division had been inducted at Waffen SS recruiting centers in Sombor in the Bachka in Vojvodina. When the Kama Division was disbanded in October, the German Waffen SS personnel at the Sombor center in Vojvodina were transferred to the 13th Company of the Batschka Division’s newly-formed 80th Regiment.


Troops from the Kama Division transferred to the Batschka Division, 1944.
The German military position in eastern Europe began to collapse on August 23, 1944 when King Carol of Romania switched to the Soviet side. An entire German army group was trapped and German defensive lines along the Carpathians were undermined. In three weeks, Soviet forces reached the Hungarian border. The Soviet offensives against Hungary threatened to cut off the German occupation forces in the Balkans. The loss of Romanian manpower also resulted in the mustering of additional ethnic German and Hungarian recruits for the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS in Hungary. The rapid Soviet advance meant that the Bosnian Muslim Kama Division did not have enough time to form and was dissolved. Instead, an ethnic German SS Division was formed in the Bachka region to engage Soviet troops.

Heinz Hummel, a zugfuehrer or platoon leader in the pioneer battalion of the 31st Batschka SS Division, recalled that with the collapse of the German military front in Hungary, the Bosnian Muslim troops began to desert. SS Sturmbannfuehrer Sepp Syr dismissed the Bosnian Muslim troops and allowed them to return to Bosnia.

The SS Volunteer Grenadier Regiment 79 of the Batschka Division consisted of six company commanders. One of the company commanders was SS Untersturmfuehrer Alfred Berger, a Sudeten German from Czechoslovakia. He had earlier been a part of the 6th SS Gebirgs Division “Nord” from which he was transferred to the Handzar Division in Bosnia. Berger integrated a company from Kama into the new Batschka Division.

The formation of the Kama Division in Hungary was cancelled on September 24, 1944.. All Bosnian Muslim officers, NCOs, and men were to be transferred to Bosnia. German officers, NCOs, and men were to remain in Bachka to form the new SS infantry division under SS Oberfuehrer Gustav Lombard. Military equipment and material was to stay in Bachka as well.

There was a delay in the transfers of the Bosnian Muslims to Bosnia so Bosnian Muslim troops remained in the Bachka region. For a brief period of time, the 31st SS Division Batschka and the Kama Division existed simultaneously.

The Bosnian Muslim troops in the Kama Division were engaged in combat against Soviet troops for a brief period. In early October, 1944, as part of the Kampfgruppe Syr, Bosnian Muslim troops from Kama were deployed in combat along the Tisa or Tisza River in Bachka.


Troops in the Vojvodina Batschka Nazi SS Division 
The Batschka Division

The 31st Freiwilligen Grenadier Division “Batschka” was formed in October, 1944, in the Bachka region of Vojvodina, then annexed by Hungary. Adolf Hitler had annexed Vojvodina to a Greater Hungary in 1941. The division reached a maximum strength of 11,000 men in December, 1944, made up primarily of conscripted ethnic Germans or volksdeutsche from the Bachka area itself. The cadre personnel consisted of men from the dissolved Bosnian Muslim Kama Division. The Division saw combat against Soviet Red Army troops in Hungary in November, 1944. It sustained heavy casualties. The division then was refitted and trained for action in Silesia in Czechoslovakia, where it was redeployed in 1945. The division again saw action against Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia. The division was known officially as “Batschka”, but not as “Bohmen-Mahren”, which was based on erroneous speculation after the war. The divisional emblem was a shield with a deer with antlers on it.

The commander of the division was SS Brigadefuehrer Gustav Lombard from October 1, 1944 to April, 1945. Lombard had earlier commanded the Bosnian Muslim Kama Division in its final days. SS Brigadefuehrer August-Wilhelm Trabandt commanded the division from April, 1945 to May 8, 1945, when he surrendered the division to Soviet forces at Hradec Kralove or Konnigratz in Czechoslovakia.

The Chief of Staff was SS Sturmbannfuehrer Otto Reuter, who held this position until March 1, 1945. From October 1, 1944 to 1945, SS Obersturnfuehrer Anton Buntgen was the Quartermaster. From March 1, 1945 to the end of the war, SS Obertstumrfuehrer Johannes Schnor was the Quartermaster. The division operated in the Bachka region of Vojvodina, then a part of Hungary, and in the Silesia region of Czechoslovakia.

The Order of Battle of the Batschka Division was as follows:

SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 78
  I./SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 78
  II./SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 78
  III./SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 78
SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 79
  I./SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 79
  II./SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 79
  III./SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 79
SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment 80
SS-Artillerie Regiment 31
  I./SS-Artillerie Regiment 31
  II./SS-Artillerie Regiment 31
  III./SS-Artillerie Regiment 31
  IV./SS-Artillerie Regiment 31
SS-Füsilier-Bataillon 31
SS-Nachrichten-Abteilung 31
SS-Nachschub-Truppen 31
SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 31
SS-Pionier-Bataillon 31
SS-Kranken-Transport-Kompanie 31
SS-Veterinär-Kompanie 31
Feldpostamt

The order for the creation of the Batschka Division was issued on September 24, 1944. Himmler and Gottlob Berger launched three large recruitment drives in Hungary for the Waffen SS. In 1942 and 1943 they were able to recruit 40,000 volksdeutsche recruits for the Waffen SS, about half consisting of ethnic Germans from the Batchka region of Vojvodina. Volksdeutsche members of the Hungarian Army or Honved were also recruited into the Waffen SS. In 1944, 80,000 to 100,000 volksdeutsche were recruited by the Waffen SS in Hungary. By August 25, 42,000 men had been mustered. Most of the volksdeutsche inducted in September were from Bachka in Vojvodina.


Troops in the Vojvodina Batschka Nazi SS Division 
Hitler and Himmler ordered the evacuation of the German population from Hungary and the Bachka after rapid Soviet advances. The orders were issued by the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle under SS Obergruppenfuehrer Werner Lorenz who went to the Bachka himself on October 2, 1944. The ethnic Hungarian Csangos, who had resettled in Bachka after 1941 from Bukovina, were also ordered evacuated by Hungarian authorities. Hitler and Himmler feared retaliation against ethnic Germans living in Bachka from Soviet troops and from Yugoslav partisan or guerrilla forces. Rudolf Pencz maintained that “the Titoist groups” in Yugoslavia had planned the “total extermination” of the German population of Yugoslavia in 1943 at the Jajce conference held in Bosnia. Pencz gave the following reason for the evacuation:

“They planned nothing less than the total extermination of the German ethnic group, irrespective as to whether, as the ethnic German historian Johann Wuscht put it, ‘the individual Germans had been angels or saints, whether they had had a Kulturbund and a ‘Prinz Eugen’ Division or they had not.”

Germany had worked to exterminate the Serbian population of Bachka and Banat and Kosovo. German foreign policy consisted of creating a Greater Hungary out of Vojvodina and a Greater Albania out of Kosovo-Metohija. The German objective was the extermination of the Serbian populations in Vojvodina and Kosovo. Germany also created a Greater Croatia and aided Croats and Bosnian Muslims in the total extermination of the Serbian populations of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Moreover, ethnic Germans in Vojvodina and the NDH were mobilized into the Waffen SS and Wehrmacht to maintain the German occupation of the former Yugoslavia. In Kosovo, Germany supported the Albanian plan to exterminate the Kosovo Serb population. Hitler and Himmler had a guilty conscience with respect to the German populations in Serbia. Hitler and Himmler had planned and organized the systematic extermination of the Serbian population and they naturally expected repercussions from this genocidal policy.


Troops in the Vojvodina Batschka Nazi SS Division 
On October 6, 1944, Marshal Rodion Malinowski’s 2nd Ukrainian Front crossed the Tisa or Theiss River and advanced into southern Hungary. Fyodor Tolbukhin commanded the  Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front in the Balkans. Earlier, Soviet forces had advanced towards Belgrade and Pancevo, but this had been a feint. The Bachka region remained a secondary or even tertiary theater of operations. The front was at Stari Becej where the 31st SS Volunteer Grenadier Division “Batschka” and the 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Kama” engaged Soviet forces.  Rudolf Pencz, in his history of the Batschka Division, noted: “To these battles combat-ready parts of the withdrawing 31st SS Volunteer Grenadier Division, together with the Muslims of the ‘Kama’ who had remained behind, were also brought up.”

The evidence that the Kama Division saw combat action in World War II is a telegram of October 9, 1944 from the Befehlshaber der Waffen-SS Hungary, the commander of the Waffen SS in Hungary. In this dispatch, it was noted that “the combat-ready parts of SS-Oberfuehrer Lombard’s new division, together with the Bosnians of the ‘Kama’ are to be thrown into the battle.”  A telegram from October 7, 1944 from the Waffen SS commander or Befehlshaber noted that “combat-ready parts of Division Lombard, including the Muslims of the ‘Kama’ Division (2,600 men) deployed on the Theiss to protect the Bachka.” The unit of the Batschka Division deployed was the Kampfgruppe Syr, which according to the dispatch, included Bosnian Muslims.


Gustav Lombard, commander of the Batschka Nazi SS Division 
On October 12, Soviet forces advanced into the Batschka by crossing the Tisa at Stari Becej. Kampfgruppe Syr was part of this engagement. Two companies of the Hungarian Kampfgruppe Deak engaged Soviet forces in the Banat.

The next major engagement was at Srbobran or Szenttamas on the Franzen Canal in Vojvodina. A corporal from the Brandenburg Division, who was born in Kula in Vojvodina, gave this account:

No-one had any idea how far the Soviets had already advanced and whether it was still possible to get through to Kula. In Werbass [Vrbas] there were still men of the 23rd Waffen-SS Gebirgs Division “Kama” (Croatian Nr 2), but these too knew nothing about the Soviet’s progress. Just as in enemy territory, one had to reckon with coming into contact with the enemy at any moment. But Kula was also still free of the enemy as a Hungarian unit was there. … The southern Batschka was thus practically cut off!


Wilhelm Trabandt, the last commander of the Batschka Division in 1945 
On October 18, Soviet forces launched a tank assault against Srbobran in Vojvodina. Hungarian infantry retreated, while the 16th Frontier Jaeger Battalion redeployed to the Novi Sad sector. There were still battles in Sekic. On October 20, Soviet forces occupied Belgrade after the German withdrawal. By October 22, German and Hungarian forces had evacuated the Bachka region of Vojvodina which was subsequently occupied by Soviet forces. Sombor, Apatin, Kula, and Novi Sad were occupied by Soviet troops by the end of October.

By the end of 1944, the Batschka Division was withdrawn from the front for refitting and rest. The Division was then deployed against Soviet troops in Silesia, the former Austro-Hungarian part of Czechoslovakia. They engaged in desperate and brutal defensive actions against Soviet troops. In May, 1945, the remnants of the Batschka Division sought to surrender to US forces to avoid prosecution for possible war crimes. The Batschka SS troops anticipated lenient treatment from American troops that they did not fight against. This plan backfired, however, and reportedly thousands of SS members from Batschka were captured by Czech resistance forces who executed the unarmed members of Batschka. Facing summary execution by Czech guerrillas, Trabandt and the remainder of the Batschka Division surrendered to Soviet forces in May, 1945.

Kampfgruppe Deak

A Hungarian SS Kampfgruppe or Battlegroup Deak was established in Vojvodina in 1944 commanded by Laszlo Deak (1891-1946). Deak was a former Honved Colonel who had participated in the Great Raid or Razzia in January, 1942 in the Bachka region. In August, 1942, he was pensioned and retired from the army due to his role in the massacres of Serbian and Jewish civilians during the Great Raid in Vojvodina. In August, 1943, he was formally accused of committing war crimes during the Razzia. In February 2, 1944, he was assigned to the Banat where he joined the Waffen SS. He was made a Waffen-Oberfuehrer der SS and commanded the SS Kampfgruppe Deak. In November, 1944, he was attached to the 25th Waffen Grenadier Division der SS “Hunyadi” and was appointed commander of the 61 Waffen Grenadier Regiment der SS. The Deak SS Battlegroup consisted of approximately 1,000 men in three infantry companies, a heavy weapons platoon, and a signals platoon. It was engaged in defensive military operations in Bachka and the Banat. It fought against advancing Soviet troops at Novi Sad.


The divisional emblem for the Batschka Division.
After World War II, Hungarian military leaders were extradited to Yugoslavia to face war crimes charges. In creating a Nazi-sponsored Greater Hungary, they were accused of committing war crimes against Serbian civilians in Vojvodina. Laszlo Deak was sentenced to death by hanging by the Vojvodina Supreme Court on October 31, 1946, for the mass murder of 5,000 Serbs and Jews in Novi Sad in January, 1942, during the Great Raid. He was executed on November 4 or 5, 1946 in Vojvodina, along with Field Marshal Ferenc Szombathelyi and Josef Grassy. Grassy had been an SS-Gruppenfuehrer and a Feldmarschalleutnant of Hungary. He had commanded the 26th SS Grenadier Division “Ungaria” from March to May, 1945 and the 25th SS Division “Hunyadi” from October, 1944, to March, 1945. He had earlier commanded the 15th Hungarian Infantry Division from January, 1941 to October, 1943.  Grassy was apprehended by US troops and extradited to Hungary in November, 1945. He was tried and convicted of war crimes in a Hungarian court in Budapest on January 8, 1946. He was sentenced to death. He was subsequently extradited by Yugoslavia, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for war crimes. He was hanged on November 5, 1946 in Vojvodina. Hungarian Gendarmerie Colonel Marton Zoldi was also sentenced to death and executed in Novi Sad for the massacres in Novi Sad in 1942.

Adolf Hitler with Admiral Miklos Horthy, the leader of the Nazi-created Greater Hungary, which included Vojvodina.
Adolf Hitler’s Legacy in the Balkans

Adolf Hitler’s legacy is being perpetuated by the US and NATO in the Balkans. US and NATO policy in the Balkans is to dismember Serbia and to sever Vojvodina, Kosovo, and Sandzak. The US/NATO goal is identical to Adolf Hitler’s goal. The policy is transparent. The focus is on the amputation or severance of territory from Serbia. The rationale is that by destroying Serbia, by detaching Vojvodina and Kosovo, NATO and the US can take over Southeastern Europe, the Balkans. This is the classic meaning of “Balkanization” in political theory. Benito Mussolini’s foreign minister Galeazzano Ciano saw Kosovo as a knife that fascist Italy could use to stab Yugoslavia in the spine. Today, NATO, the US, and the EU are using the same strategy. Kosovo is still a knife used to stab Serbia in the spine. And Vojvodina and Sandzak are the next knives. Hitler deserves credit for this policy, not the International Crisis Group (ICG). Perhaps too witless or self-delusional to see the origins of their policies with Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, ICG should give credit where credit is due - to their intellectual antecedents such as Hitler. They use Adolf Hitler as a propaganda bugaboo and bogeyman but fail to acknowledge Hitler’s seminal understanding of geopolitical strategy. We have seen this policy before. It is not sui generis. Adolf Hitler’s legacy still endures in the Balkans.

Bibliography

Bender, Roger James and Hugh Page Taylor. Uniforms, Organization and History of the Waffen-SS. Mountain View, CA: Bender Publishing, 1969.

Gervasi, Sean. “Why is NATO in Yugoslavia?” A Paper Delivered to the Conference on the Enlargement of NATO in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Prague, Czech Republic. January 13-14, 1996.

Kumm, Otto. 7. SS-Gebirgs-Division “Prinz Eugen” im Bild. Osnabruck, Germany: Munin-Verlag, 1983.

Michaelis, Rolf. Die Waffen-SS: Fotografien und Documente. Erlangen, Germany: Michaelis-Verlag, 1997.

Pencz, Rudolf. For the Homeland! The History of the 31st Waffen SS Volunteer Grenadier Division. West Midlands, UK: Helion & Co., 2003.


Carl Savich
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