By Saimir Lolja/
Laid out below is an inclusive analysis on the specifics of the “21. Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Skanderbeg”. The elucidation on this subject also utilizes Albanian archival data presented by Shaban Sinani in his publication in the Albanian language, “Jews in Albania: The Presence and Salvation, Naimi, Tirana, 2009”. This study has become necessary due to an oscillation in the “number of Jews deported or victimized in Kosova by Division Skanderbeg”, as reported in the publications of different authors. The oscillation itself is a corroboration of the lack of a comprehensive research in the Albanian archives and the full story of Division Skanderbeg, not to mention the perspectives of some authors who spend sleepless nights propagandizing against Albanians and anything Albanian. The cases wherein the “deeds” of Division Skanderbeg have been assigned outside the time limits of its existence and the cases of assigning photographs to Division Skanderbeg must be addressed.
From the time of the invasion of Yugoslavia by the German, Italian and Hungarian armies in April 1941 to November 1944, many of the Albanian-inhabited areas that had been previously taken away from Albania and given to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, such as the central and southern Kosova, western Macedonia, southern and southeastern Montenegro, joined Albania. Only the Southern Albanian province of Çamëria (occupied by Greece in March 1913) did not become yet part of Albania throughout WWII and remained under the authority of Greek government in Athens.
In direct involvement and relying on intelligence work of previous Yugoslav consulates in Albania, Yugoslav communist emissaries set up a front organization known as the Communist Party of Albania (CPA) on 8 November 1941. The seeds that Yugoslav communist envoys planted in Albania and the intelligence networks they established in the open until 1948 were so malicious that even now their fruits and buds leak poison and blood. On its side, the British WWII organization for “irregular warfare” known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE) operated in wartime Albania in accordance with British intelligence operations in pre-war Albania. The first group of British SOE officers entered Albania in late April 1943 and directly joined the partisan (communist) forces. In wartime Albania, the communist forces began gaining strength due to support and guidance by Yugoslav and British SOE emissaries. That assistance included continuous military supplies, weapons, clothes, training, communications, intelligence, air support, and money provided to them by British SOE.
On 2 August 1943, the Communist Party of Albania and the National Front (Balli Kombëtar) met at the village of Mukja in respect to the continuation of war against the occupying forces and the future of ethnic Albania. As advised, the CPA objected to the inclusion of Kosova into Albania at the end of WWII. However, for the sake of unity, a compromise was reached by allowing the population of Kosova after the war to decide by referendum which to join. As a result of guidance from both Yugoslav and British SOE agents, the CPA denounced the agreement some days later and sealed the act in the 2nd Conference of the National Liberation Front on 4-9 September 1943 in Labinot. Then, immediately, the communist forces began attacking the National Front forces. After that, all the nationalist forces and the German Army had a common enemy: the communist forces.
In such an atmosphere of national disunity and treachery, the Congress of the Second Albanian League of Prizren (2nd ALP) took place in Prizren from 16-19 September 1943. The Italian Army had just capitulated on 8 September 1943 and the 2nd ALP was against Nazi-Fascist occupiers. The 2nd ALP was on the same course as the First Albanian League of Prizren (10 June 1878 – 1881), which was formed by Albanians representing all Albanian lands. The 1st ALP fought for the protection of Albanian lands and population against the decisions of the Congress of Berlin (13 June – 13 July 1878) and the attacks by neighbors directly helped by the Russian Empire. Due to restrictions in time, the organizers of the 2nd ALP were mostly from Kosova, Sanxhak and Western Macedonia. The Albanian situation in 1944 was similar to that of 1878 and the 2nd ALP had as the first article in its program the permanent unification of all Albanian regions and their protection by the use of arms. The head of the organizing council of the 2nd ALP, Musa Shehzade, condemned the atrocities committed in Albania by the Italian occupiers and acknowledged the Albanian political and armed resistance against that occupation. Then, he defined the German Army as an occupying force in transit and requested that it would serve to the benefit of the Albanian national cause. Other speakers followed suit.
After the capitulation of the Italian Army on 8 September 1943, a provisory Albanian administration was established in Tirana. Its delegation, composed of Bedri Pejani, Rexhep Mitrovica, Xhafer Deva, Rrok Maloku, Xhelal Mitrovica, Mazhar Sopoti, etc., took part in the Congress of the 2nd ALP and delivered speeches. Rexhep Mitrovica underlined that the German occupation would end soon and called Albanians to be prepared politically for the peace conference that would follow the end of WWII. Tahir Zajmi brought fresh insight as to how grave was the danger coming from Yugoslav factions, no matter what the political force they belonged to. He recalled the massacre carried out on 5 January 1943 by Serb-Montenegrin Chetniks when they scorched the localities of Bihor and Rozhajë in Montenegro and horribly slaughtered 4700 Albanians of all ages; (a more appalling massacre was repeated in Bihor in May 1944). In the end, the Congress elected the Central Committee of the 2nd ALP with Chairman Rexhep Mitrovica, Deputies Musa Shehzade and Kolë Margjini, and active members Sheh Hasani, Asllan Boletini, Tahir Zajmi and Qazim Bllaca. The first mandate of the Committee would be to establish an organized military force that was critical for the protection of Albanian lands and population.
On 16 October 1943, a National Assembly began in Tirana. It reestablished the Independence of Albania, declared Albania to be neutral and on 8 November 1943 it elected Rexhep Mitrovica as the Prime-Minister of Albania. As a result of that, Bedri Pejani was elected the Chairman of the 2nd ALP. Bedri Pejani, primarily a nationalist, also corresponded with Comintern. The Italian Army had Bedri Pejani jailed in south of Albania and he was released on 13 September 1943. Xhaferr Deva was the Internal Minister in the government of Albania between October 1943 and June 1944. The book “Rescue in Albania: One Hundred Percent of Jews in Albania Rescued from Holocaust, Brunswick Press, 1997” by Harvey Sarner confirms that Xhaferr Deva refused to give the list of thousands of Jews to Nazis when they so requested and even reminded them that such a request was interference with the internal affairs of Albania.
A meeting of Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill took place between 28 November and 1 December 1943 in Tehran, Iran. British and Soviet Armies had already occupied Iran between 25 August and 17 September 1941. Here, combined with the enthusiasm of Stalin, Churchill made possible the first decision of the Tehran Conference to supply equipment and commando operations to aid the communist forces of Yugoslavia. On 24 May 1944, in direct consultation with Yugoslav emissaries and British OSE officers, the CPA held a Congress in Përmet with the same organizing model and purpose as the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) did in Yugoslavia. It laid the foundations for the future communist Albania in complete imitation of what CPY in consultation with British OSE had done in Jajca, Bosnia, on 29 November 1943 [simultaneously with the Tehran Conference] for the future communist Yugoslavia or Yugoslavia Nr. 3. Among other decisions, the Congress of Përmet announced that the future communist Albania would recognize the borders preceding the occupation by the Italian Army on 7 April 1939. For any nationalist, that was the seal of national treachery by communists, because all the Albanian lands chopped off in 1913 would be left outside the Albanian border again.
A murky future was illuminating in the horizon with Yugoslav emissaries funneling the Albanian communists, under the patronage of British OSE officers, against the Albanian national cause. The British Foreign Service brokered Yugoslavia Nr. 1 before WW1 and Yugoslavia Nr. 2 in 1929 [that ceased to exist in 1941], and then brokered Yugoslavia Nr. 3 all through WWII. The first group of SOE agents was dispatched to ex-Yugoslavia on 20 September 1941. The British Foreign Secretary [and also Leader of the House of Commons] Robert Anthony Eden had declared in the House of Commons in December 1942 that after the Allies victory of the war, the independence of Albania would be recognized not beyond the borders of 1913 and even shearing its southern borders. To reach the objective, Albanians had to be kept inside the borders prior to the invasion by the Italian Army in April 1939 and all Albanian efforts for unifying Albanian provinces in one entity had to be shattered. The responsibility for implementing that policy was assigned to British investment entities in Southeast Europe. The communist forces executed the task in Yugoslavia Nr. 3 and Albania, whereas the National Republican Greek League (EDES) carried out the work in Çamëria, the Southern Albanian province occupied by Greece.
Between 31 December 1943 and 2 January 1944, the Kosova branch of CPY organized in Bujan of Gjakova a conference on the future of Kosova. British SOE officers attended and saluted the conference that gathered representatives from all peoples and regions of Kosova. The Resolution of the Bujan Conference, signed by all delegates (43 Albanians and 6 Serbs and Montenegrins), recognized that Kosova had the right of self-determination by disjoining Yugoslavia and joining Albania. Without delay, both CPY and CPA central committees nullified that resolution. Another seen closed gate for the Albanian cause was the rejection of cooperation by CPA and even betrayal to the Albanian forces and population in Çamëria.
Further, from collected intelligence and including Comintern channels through Bedri Pejani, the Albanian nationalists were also aware of the motives of the Soviet Union for helping the southern Slavs and moving 12 million Soviet soldiers (26 infantry Armies) into the heart of Europe. The events before and after the end of the bloody war confirmed their worries. Immediately after WWII ended for Kosova and with the help of Albanian communist divisions, the Yugoslav communist divisions massacred 50’000 Albanians in Kosova, first those who were directly involved with the 2nd ALP. Their massacres did not differ from those reported by journalist Leo Freundlich in 1913 in his series “Albaniens Golgotha”, at the time when Yugoslavia Nr. 1 was being brewed.
Hence, the 2nd ALP fervently needed support in the form of a strong military force for the sole intention of the defense of Kosova. However, the options and time for that purpose were too thin. The only solution was to establish a military force with the help of the German Army. The 2nd ALP assigned its Chairman Bedri Pejani to negotiate with German representatives for this. After intense negotiations, it was concluded that Germans would form a division of the SS named “Skanderbeg” that would be armed, fed, dressed, trained and commanded by the Waffen-SS. Its order of formation was issued in Berlin on 17 April 1944. Bedri Pejani tried to convince Germans that 150’000 volunteers 18-24 years old would be ready to enlist into the Division Skanderbeg. The German authorities did not believe him because such a number was demographically impossible. In a communiqué of 5 May 1944, Herman Neubacher, the Reich III representative in the region, called Bedri Pejani “not a normal person” and noted “the only intention of Albanians was to defeat Serbs and Montenegrins”.
The Division Skanderbeg was one of the 44 divisions fielded during WWII as part of the Waffen-SS, out of which 28 were composed of non-German recruits. At the time when Division Skanderbeg began forming, there were already in operation three other Waffen-SS Divisions in ex-Yugoslavia filled with local recruits: “7. SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen” with a majority of German recruits from Vojvodina along with Serbs, Croatians, Hungarians and Romanians, totaling 21120 men; “13. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS Handschar (Kroatische Nr. 1)” with 90% of recruits from Bosnia and 10% from Croatia, totaling 21065 men; and “23. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS Kama (Kroatische Nr. 2)” with recruits from Bosnia, totaling 2199 men. In Greece, the German Army engaged 22000 recruits from the defeated Greek Army and equipped, dressed, trained and organized them in units known as the Security Battalions. Those were extensively engaged both in the holocaust and fighting against communist forces known as the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS).
SS-Brigadeführer Josef Fitzhum commanded the Division Skanderbeg from mid to end of April 1944 and SS-Brigadeführer August Schmidthuber and his Deputy SS-Obersturmbannführer Alfred Graf commanded it from early May to early November 1944, at which time the Division Skanderbeg was disbanded. Though Division Skanderbeg was under the complete authority and direct command of Waffen-SS officers, the heads of the 2nd ALP were hopeful of a military unit with Albanian soldiers on the ground to protect Kosova and ready for any eventualities that might arise after the war. However, things did not go as they wished.
In total, from April to November 1944, there were 11389 potential recruits, but more than half were not accepted due to their health conditions. As part of the agreement, 4000 Albanian prisoners (Bedri Pejani requested 8000) were released from the Dachau concentration camp for the purpose of mobilization into Division Skanderbeg. They arrived in Prishtina on 10 May 1944. A few thousand German sailors from the “Kriegsmarine – Navy” who had lost their ships also became part of the Division Skanderbeg and constituted its trusted operational core. Less than 2000 Albanian recruits from “13. Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Handschar” in Bosnia were also pulled into Division Skanderbeg; these later deserted as did all other recruits. After the disbandment of Division Skanderbeg, its remaining German soldiers and officers joined the “7. SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen”.
The first military order “to care for the security of Kosova” was given to Division Skanderbeg on 29 April 1944. Units of Division Skanderbeg participated in fighting only in the military operation “Draufgenger” in Montenegro in July-August 1944. There is no document ordering Division Skanderbeg to conduct arrests (including those of May-June 1944), deportations or killings. Division Skanderbeg was yet in recruitment and formation process in May 1944 and 4000 emaciated Albanians had just arrived on 10 May 1944 in Prishtina from Dachau concentration camp with the intention of enlisting to Division Skanderbeg. Those 4000 Albanians required thousands of Albanian guards to be managed militarily and friendly for joining Division Skanderbeg.
Throughout its existence, desertions of Albanian recruits were commonplace and constituted the main cause for the demobilization of Division Skanderbeg. Its units were not stable enough to complete training and become operational. In a report dated 30 June 1944, Herman Neubacher wrote: “SS forces (not the Albanian authorities) are trying to recruit Albanians into Division Skanderbeg”. In early September 1944, Division Skanderbeg had 6491 volunteers – truly volunteers because most of them never ventured from their homes. By the end of September 1944, desertions brought the number to 3994 recruits, some of whom were even unarmed. In a report dated 2 October 1944, Herman Neubacher called the formation of this Division a terrible mistake, because, as he wrote, “…they [Albanians] do not know any discipline. They only register for taking the arms that adore a lot and then go away with them to their homes…”.
Referring to www.axishistory.com, the date of formation of the “XXI. Gebirgs-Armeekorps” as part of “2. Panzerarmee” was 25 August 1943 and its first Order of Battle came on 5 September 1943. Only the following three Orders of Battle reveal Division Skanderbeg and its actual situation:
Order of Battle (15 May 1944)
2. Regiment “Brandenburg”
Order of Battle (15 June 1944)
2. Regiment “Brandenburg”
SS-Polizei-Regiment 5 (in Serbia)
Feldkommandantur 1040 (in Montenegro)
21. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS “Skanderbeg” (Albanische Nr. 1) (forming)
Order of Battle (15 July 1944)
2. Regiment “Brandenburg”
21. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS “Skanderbeg” (Albanische Nr. 1) (forming)
Order of Battle (31 Aug 1944)
21. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS “Skanderbeg” (Albanische Nr. 1) (forming)
In the Order of Battle on 15 May 1944 and prior, Division Skanderbeg did not exist. In the Order of Battle on 28 September 1944 and afterward, the Division Skanderbeg had already ceased to exist. As seen, Division Skanderbeg was continually in a state of “being formed” and as such it was militarily unreliable. In early November 1944, Division Skanderbeg was fully disbanded.
There is an original German Army document, dated 13 July 1944, which states in one small paragraph only: “The SS-Div., between 28 May and 5 July 1944, arrested 510 Jews, communists, helpers of partisans and suspicious persons in political respect. They were taken in custody in Division’s prisoner camp and 249 of them transported to Germany for labor”. This document does not specifically refer to Division Skanderbeg. Also, by definition, an “SS Division” was made up of Germans or other Germanic peoples, while a “Division of the SS” was made up of non-German recruits.
According to the records in “The House of the Wannsee Conference” (www.ghwk.de/poln/katpol8.htm), it is written: “The German XXI Corps arrested 510 persons in May 1944”. Here, it says the “XXI Corps” and not the “21. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS Skanderbeg”. Referring to the aforementioned Orders of Battle, the “XXI Corps” had no Division Skanderbeg in its Order of Battle of May 1944 and other units of “XXI Corps” handled the arrests. In the Order of Battle on 15 June 1944, two more experienced units were part of “XXI Corps” whilst Division Skanderbeg was still under formation.
The arrested persons waiting for transportation by train can be checked by name, birthday, place of arrest, job, date of arrest and cause of arrest on the original documents known as the “Transportenliste” of August 1944. The “Transportenliste” have been published for the first time in the book “Jews in Albania: The Presence and Salvation, Naimi, Tirana, 2009” by Shaban Sinani. The “Transportenliste” can be consulted either in this book or at the Central Archive of Albania under the reference “Fund 153, Year 1944, Dossier 172, Pages 10-38”. All through its existence, the Division Skanderbeg received no orders to arrest or kill anyone, including Jews, because though it was under total Waffen-SS command, it was not reliable or ready for operations. It was assigned primarily to guarding duties to mineral mines and once its trusted operational core took part in combat against ex-Yugoslav communist forces in Montenegro. Therefore, the only orders it received were the following orders for guarding 801 persons transported by train from Prishtina to Sajmishte near Beograd. The date of order of implementation was 18 August 1944. The information about the “Transportenliste” follows:
|List||Date of writing
|Transportation Date||Total persons||Jews|
|Annex I to List I||13.08.1944||No date||13||0|
Of the 42 Jews noted on the lists, two Albanian women were noted as “Ihr Man ist Jude – Her husband is Jewish”, two are noted as “Sohn – Son” and three as “Tochter – Daughter”. Thus, there were only 35 Jews in the “Transportenliste” of August 1944. The rest were communists, partisans and helpers of partisans, bandits and political opponents, Albanians and ex-Yugoslavians. Of the 42 Jews, only six were resident Jews living in Kosova before April 1941. The lists also indicate that the arrests of the 801 persons had been made in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosova, Macedonia and inner Albania, and covering a time span from May 1942 to August 1944. In addition, the arrests had been general in terms of persons, location and time. The majority of the arrests were carried out during June-July 1944, which was the period that the German Army was conducting big military operations throughout wartime Albania and surrounding countries.
The Division Skanderbeg neither took part in the holocaust nor was it intended to do so. The German Army accepted its formation as a fighting force against partisan (communist) forces and the leaders of 2nd ALP intended it to become a military force in training, capable of being used after the war for the protection of Albanian lands and population. Yet, both plans failed to materialize during the existence of Division Skanderbeg. Moreover, the Albanian administration had no command or authority over the fragile Division Skanderbeg. After the German Army occupied all of Kosova in September 1943, it was absolutely unsafe for Jews to live there. The years of war had shown them a safer place and Jews had already been relocated there: to inner Albania.
Caption: Stalin-Roosevelt, Churchill, Soviet Embassy, Tehran, 1, December, 1943