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Eyewitness to Genocide in Kosovo: Kosovo-Metohija and the Skenderbeg Division
 
 

Eyewitness to Genocide in Kosovo: Kosovo-Metohija and the Skenderbeg Division

 


Introduction

The historical and political precedent for the creation of a Greater Albania was set during World War II when the Kosovo-Metohija region, along with territory in southwest  Montenegro and  western Macedonia (then Southern Serbia ,now part of Macedonia, but a part of Stara Srbija in the medieval period), were annexed to Albania by the Axis powers, fascist Italy and Nazi Germany under a plan  by Adolf  Hitler and Benito Mussolini  to dismember Yugoslavia.The Kosovska Mitrovica region was retained under German occupation because of the Trepca mines. The districts of Vucitrn, Lab, and Dezevo or Novi Pazar were made part of the Kosovo Department.The Tetovo, Debar, Struga, Gostivar regions of western Macedonia were ceded to a Greater Albania under Italian administration.The Gnjilane, Vitin, and Kacanik districts were ceded by Germany to Bulgaria to administer.In the initial stages of the occupation of Kosovo-Metohija,  Germany organized a police force of approximately 1,000 Kosovar Albanians and Albanian paramilitary forces of the same number known as Vulnetara.During the Italian administration from 1941-1943, Kosovo Serbs,  Jews, Gypsies, and other non-Albanians were arrested, interned, deported, or murdered. Serbian houses were burned and Serbian inhabitants were driven out of Kosovo. Dozens of Serbian Orthodox churches were demolished and looted. Over 10,000 Kosovo Serb and Montenegrin families were driven out of Kosovo by Albanians who were  put in charge of Kosovo-Metohija by the Italian and German forces.Kosovo Serbs and Montenegrins were deported to forced labor camps in Pristina and in Mitrovica to work the Trepca mines and to Albania to work on construction projects as forced or slave labor. The Italian regime encouraged the Kosovo Committee and the Balli Kombetar (BK, National Union) to create an ethnically pure Albanian Kosovo as part of a Greater Albania. The government and police were made up of Albanians while the Albanian language and the Albanian flag were permitted in Kosovo-Metohija.Germany assumed direct control and re-occupied Kosovo when Italy surrendered in 1943.

Skenderbeg SS Division - Waiting for action orders in Prizren

On April 17,1944, pursuant to instructions by Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, an Albanian Waffen SS Division, the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Skanderbeg" or "Skenderbeg" (Albanische Nr.1), was formed, which occupied and ethnically cleansed Kosovo-Metohija of Orthodox Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and other non-Albanians. Himmler envisioned the formation of two Albanian SS Divisions, but the war ended before the second could be formed. Approximately 300 Albanian troops in the Bosnian Muslim 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Handzar" or "Handschar" were transferred to the newly forming SS division. The Skanderbeg Division was made up of 6,491 ethnic Albanians, two-thirds of whom were from Kosovo-Metohija, "Kosovars". To this Albanian core were added German troops,Reichdeutsche from Austria and Volkdeutsche officers,NCOs and enlisted men transferred from the 7th SS Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen" or "Princ Eugen", then stationed in Bosnia-Hercegovina.The  Skanderbeg Division was made up of Albanian Muslims of the Bektashi and Sunni sects of Islam and several hundred Albanian Roman Catholics, followers of Jon Marko Joni.The total strength of the Skanderbeg Division was 8,500-9,000 men of all ranks.

 

The first commander of the Skanderbeg Division was SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum,from April to June, 1944. In June,1944, SS Standartenfuehrer August Schmidhuber, formerly an officer in the Prinz Eugen 7th  SS Division, was appointed division commander until August,1944, when SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Alfred Graf (or Graaf) assumed command of the remanants of the division until May,1945. The Skanderbeg Division engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Serbian Orthodox Christian and Jewish populations of Kosovo-Metohija and the Stara Srbija region.In Kosovo-Metohija, the Skanderbeg Division massacred unarmed Serbian civilians with impunity and indiscriminately in a systematic plan of genocide.The Skanderbeg Division sought to create an ethnically pure Kosovo-Metohija, "Kosova" or "Kosove", cleansed of Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, the untermenschen (subhumans) rayah targeted for extermination.The Skanderbeg Dision played a role in the Holocaust or Final Solution when, during its occupation of Kosovo-Metohija, it rounded up scores of Kosovo Jews and Orthodox Serbs, persons deemed enemies of the Third Reich, who were subsequently deported to concentration camps.

Before the action

With the surrender of Italy in 1943, Germany re-occupied Kosovo-Metohija and German occupation forces sought to strengthen Albanian nationalist groups and to recruit Albanians into German forces.On September 16, 1943, Dzafer Deva, a member of the Balli Kombetar, organized the Second League of Prizren  "in cooperation with the German occupation authorities" which intensified its efforts to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of Serbs and Jews and other non-Albanians. Attacks against Kosovo Serbs increased and intensified. Over 10,000 Kosovo Serbian families were driven out of Kosovo. The Balli Kombetar and the Second League of Prizren were instrumental in the creation of the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Skanderbeg", which was envisioned as advancing the cause of Greater Albania by making Kosovo ethnically pure, cleansed of Serbs and Jews.

Before the action

When Germany re-occupied Kosovo and Albania following the collapse of Italy in 1943, the German Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS sought to integrate the manpower into the German forces. Himmler wanted to use the Albanian manpower to form two Waffen SS Divisions. Moreover, "anthropological studies" by the Italians during 1939-1943 purported to show that the Ghegs of northern Albania and Kosovo-Metohija were Aryans, herrenvolk, the master race, who had preserved their racial purity for over two millennia. Thus, from a practical and theoretical standpoint, Himmler was determined to form two Albanian SS Dvisions.

Bedri Pejani, the president of the Second League of Prizen, wrote Himmler a letter of March 19, 1944, asking that Himmler organize Albanian military formations as part of the armed forces of the Third Reich:

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. ...
.... Bedri Pejani

Hans Lammers sent Pejaniís letter to Himmler, who wrote Lammers about the planned formation of the two 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

The 21st SS Division Skanderbeg was formed and trained in Kosovo and was made up primarily of Muslim Albanians from Kosovo, over two-thirds of the personnel were from Kosovo.





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