Though largely ignored in most histories of World War II, Nazi Germany’s use of ethnic Muslim populations significantly affected the course of events during the war in a number of areas. Some of the relationships that developed between Muslim activists and residual elements of the Third Reich have had a lasting and profound effect on the post-war world. In particular, the Nazis’ formation and operation of a number of Muslim Waffen SS divisions echoes today in the Balkans.
Utilizing the versatile Haj Amin Al-Husseini (self-styled “Grand Mufti of Jerusalem,” Nazi espionage agent, SS Major and Palestinian nationalist leader), the Waffen SS successfully recruited from among Muslim populations in the Balkans, Middle East and Soviet Union. Stressing anticommunist and nationalist themes, the Grand Mufti tapped anticolonial sentiment among Muslims in those areas.
In addition, Al-Husseini drew on anti-Zionist sentiment among Palestinian Arabs, whose resentment of Jewish indignation meshed effectively with Nazi ideology. In the Balkans, the Nazis formed a Bosnian Muslim division, the 13th Waffen SS Division (named Hanjar or Handzar.)
Serving in the ranks of Hanjar and recruiting for the division as well, was none other than Alija Izetbegovic, the first President of Bosnia. (His participation in the Hanjar is also discussed in FTRs 2 and 147.) After reviewing information about Izetbegovic’s service with Hanjar, the program focuses on his resurrection of the Hanjar division after becoming President of Bosnia!
Trained by veterans of the Afghan conflict and composed largely of ethnic Albanians, the new Hanjar division was explicitly named after and specifically and overtly patterned on the 13th Waffen SS division of Izetbegovic’s youth. In addition to serving as a Praetorian guard, administering to the personal security of Izetbegovic and other members of the leadership in Sarajevo, Hanjar functions as a “special forces” division, backing up other units and working closely with Mujahadeen formations.
The discussion highlights observations by UN personnel serving with peacekeeping forces in areas where the Hanjar operated. Noting the large ethnic Albanian representation in Hanjar, one observer expressed the fear in 1993 that the fighting might very well spread to Kosovo. (Subsequent events have borne out his fears.) By 1995, elements of Hanjar were infiltrating into Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.
The program concludes by looking at the Skanderbeg Division, a Waffen SS division composed of ethnic Albanians, largely from Kosovo. Many members of the KLA are the sons and grandsons of men who fought with the Skanderbeg Division, and the KLA has sustained much of its fascist heritage.
Never much of a fighting unit, Skanderbeg helped round up Kosovo’s Jewish population, fought against the Yugoslavian Partisans and helped safeguard the successful German retreat from Greece and Albania. In light of the fact that German intelligence actively supported the KLA in the mid-to late 90’s, it is not irrelevant to ask whether some of the Waffen SS connections to the area may have figured in the shaping of events there. In this context, one should bear in mind that the Waffen SS has its own branch of the ODESSA network, abbreviated FRIAR. (The ODESSA is the post-World II SS underground, inextricably linked with U.S. and German intelligence, as well as the deadly Bormann Organization.) (Recorded on 7/11/99.)