Members of the Nazi Skanderbeg SS Division with an Albanian Ushtar or gendarme.
The historical and political precedents for the creation of a greater Sqiperia or Greater Albania was set during World War II when the Kosovo and Metohija regions along with territory Southwest of lake Skutari from Montenegro and the western region of Southern Serbia, or Juzna Srbija (now part of Macedonija), 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 to dismember and to destroy 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 Balkan.
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 formally annexed into the Kingdom of Italy under the Italian king Victor Immanuel and established a military government and viceroy. The Italian began a program to colonize the country when thousands of settlers emigrated to Albania. An Albanian Fascist Party was established with Albanian Black skirts based on 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 tree German mountain divisions to Albania by air and sea. Instead German 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, 1941, 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 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 Old Serbia). This Kosovo-metohija region and the surrounding territory annexed to Greater Albania was called "New Albania".
To create an ethnically pure Shqiptar Kosovo, which Albanian called "Kosova", the Shqiptari (Albanians) launched a widescale campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Ethnic Serbs in the Kosovo-Metohija regions were massacred, and their homes were burned, and survivors were brutally driven out and expelled in policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
The Balli Kombetar (BK or National Union) was an Albanian nationalist group led by Midhat Fresheri and Ali Klissura whose political objective was to in incorporate Kosovo-Metohija into a Greater Albania and to ethnically cleanse the region of Orthodox Serbs
The Abanian Committee of Kosovo organized massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian inhabitants of Kosovo- Metohuja. 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 helpless settlers in their homes and villages. According to the most reliable sources, the Albanian burned many Serbian settlements, killing some of the people and driving out others who escaped to the mountains. At present other Serbian settlement are being attacked and the property of individuals and of communities is either being confiscated or destroyed. It is not possible to ascertain at the present time the exact number of victims of those atrocities, but it may be estimated that at least between 30.000 and 40.000 perished.
Bedri Pejani, the Muslim leader of the Albanian National committee, called for the extermination of Ortodox Serbian Cristians in Kosovo Metohija and for a union of a Greater Albania with Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia, into a great Islamic state. The grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Husseini was presented to Pejani a plan which he approved as a 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 German were now forced to occupy Albania with the collapse of the Italian forces. The Germans sent the 100th Jaeger Division from Greece and the 297th Infantry Division from Serbia and the German 1st Mountain Division to occupy Albania. These troops were organized into the XXI Mountain Corps which was under the command of General Paul Bader.
Additional security forces for the interior were needed, however, to free up Germans troops for defense of the coastline. The decision was made to form an Albanian SS mountain division for this purpose. In April in 1944, recruitment for the Albanian SS division began under direction of the newly formed Albanian Nazi party, which has been formed through the efforts of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Acting upon instructions of Reichsfuehrer SS Henrich Himmler, the SS main office ordered the formation of an Albanian volunteer mountain division on April 17, 1944. SS Brigadefuehrern and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum, who Headed the Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, oversaw the forming and training of the division.
The SS high Command planed to create a mountain division of 10.000 men. The Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, in conduction with the Albanian National Committee, listed 11.398 possible recruits for the Waffen SS mountain division. Most of these recruits were "kossovars", 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 Nazi forces were the so-called Kossovars, ethnic Shqiptars from the Kosmet of Serbia. The Nazi German-sponsored Albanian gendarmes, special police and para-military units were made up by Kossovars. The Kossovars 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 Kossovars. There were only a small number of Albanians from Albania proper in the division. 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 Albanian were chosen and inducted into the Skanderbeg Division. To this Albanian core were added veteran German troops primarily Reichdeutsche from Austria and Volkdeutcshe officers, NCOs, and enlisted men, transferred from the 7th SS Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen" which was stationed in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Kosovo Albanian 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Skanderbeg" consisted in total of 8.500 - 9.000 men of all ranks. The 6.491 Shqiptar 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 "Skanderbeg" (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 of Albania. The word "Skanderbeg", embroidered in white, appeared above the eagle and was warn on the left sleeve. The right collar patch consisted of a helmet with a goat's head on top, the helmet supposedly worn by George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, after whom the division was named. The Shqiptars 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 (death's head) insignia sewn on the front below the Hoheitszeichen (the national symbol of Nazi Germany, consisting of a white eagle over a Nazi swastika).
Division was named after George Kastrioti, or Gjergj Kastriota, also as Kastriotis (1405-1468), national hero of Albania, who fought for the Ottoman Turks. As a child, Kastrioti was given as a hostage to Sultan Murat II to be brought as a Muslim at Adrianople (Edrine). Kastrioti became an officer in the Ottoman Turkish army and led the Turkish forces in many victories over Christian troops. Murat II was impressed with his valor and bravery in his battle for Islam and gave him the name Iskander Bey in Turkish, from "Iskander", Aleksander the Great, or prince Aleksander, and "bey", master. The name was shortened to Skanderbeg, beg being the local variant of bey. Later Kastrioti renounced Islam and converted to Christianity and attacked his former Ottoman Turkish masters. He captured the Albanian capital Kroja 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 Turkish forces, which besieged Kroja but could not capture it. Kastrioti died in 1468. Kroja surrendered in 1479 and the Turks occupied Albania.
The Albanians in the Skanderbeg Division were mostly Muslims, of the Bektashi and Sunni sects of Islam. The division contained several hundred Albanian Catholics, followers of Jon Marko Joni.
The first commander of the Skandereg division was SS Brigadefuehrer Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitshum, who commanded the division from April to June 1944. After the Juli 20, assassination plot against Hitler, Fitzhum was appointed supreme commander in Albania. In June, SS Stardentenfuehrer August Schmidhuber was appointed division commander, a post 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 Brigadefuhrer. SS Oberstrumbannfuhrer Alfred Graf commanded the reorganized remnants of the Skanderbeg Division from August 1944, to May, 1945.
The Shultzstaffel or SS was created in the period 1923-1925 and was initially known as the Stosstrupp (Shock troop) "Adolf Hitler". On January 16, 1929, Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler leader of 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 "composed of the best physically, the most dependable, and the most faithful men in the Nazi movement. 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 divisions made by Germans, those made up of ethnic Germans outside the Reich, and those made up of non-Germans. "Divisions 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 at the Jewish Problem, what became known as the Holocaust. The SS Economic and administrative Main Office or WVHA, run 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. Reichfuehrer 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 Wafen SS was his "private army", the black angels".
In June,1944, The Skanderbeg Waffen SS Mountain Division engaged in large-scale field maneuvers in the area between the towns of Berane and Adrijevica in Monte Negro (Crna Gora). Garrisons of Skanderbeg division were established in Kosovo towns of Pec, Jakova, Prizren, and Pristina. Further training of the division 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, 144 in Kosovo. In September, 1944, the Skanderbeg division occupied the Southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija) region now part of the communist created republic of Macedonia, and helped to garrison the region. The Skanderberg division was ordered into the areas surrounding the towns Skoplje (or Skopje), Kumanovo Presevo and Bujanovac. Sanderbeg operated in Stara Serbija (old and Ancient Serbia) region, in the towns of Pec, Gnjilane,Djakovica, Tetovo Gostivar, and Kosovska Mitrovica, then part of Kosovo Metohija and Southern Serbia.
In November, 1944, when the German armies in the Balkan were retreating from Yugoslavia and the Balkans, the Skanderbeg division remnants were reorganized into Regimentegruppe 21 SS Gebirgs "Skanderbeg" and was transferred to Skoplje, according to one account of the movements of the Battle group. This SS Kampfgrupe "Skanderbeg", along with the prinz Eugen Divisin, defended the Vardar valley. The battle group "Skanderbeg" and Prinz Eugen held the Vardar area because it was the sole corridor of escape for the retreating German armies in Alexander Loehr's Army Group E, which was retreating from Greece and Aegean Islands.
The Skanderbeg Battle Group along with the Prinz Eugen Division retreated to the to the Brcko region of Bosnia-Herzegovina by mid-January 1945. At this time the remaining Skanderbeg personnel were incorporated into the 14th SS Volonteer 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 Christian populations of the regions under occupation by the division in Kosovo Metohija, Montenegro, and southern Serbia. Balkan Historian Robert Lee Wolff, in the "Balkans in Our time", described the genocide committed against Kosovo Serbs by the Shqiptar 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Skenderbeg 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.H. Stavrianos, in "The Balkan Since 1453", described the genocide committed against Orthodox Serbs by the Shqiptar 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 if European Jewry, by rounding up scores of Kosovo Jews in a group roughly 500 persons deemed enemies of the Third Reich when the division occupied Prizren in Kosovo Metohija. The division sought to create ethnically pure Kosovo, ethnically cleansed of Orthodox Serbs, Jews and Gypsies the untermenschen (subhuman), who were targeted for extermination.
The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal declared the Shutzstaffel or SS criminal organization and every individual member of SS was found to be a war criminal guilty of "planning and carrying out crimes against humanity". The Shqiptar Kosovars in the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division "Skanderbeg" committed war crimes and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian population of Kosovo. The Shqiptar planned and carried out crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Orthodox Serbians of Kosovo were the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide. This genocide would contribute in the Shqiptar goal and policy to create an ethnically pure, Shqiptar Kosovo, in an attempt to create a greater Shqiperia or greater Albania. Following World war II, the Yugoslav Communist dictatorship allowed the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbs to continue, and indeed, gave greater impetus and legitimacy to the policy.
During World War II, the Axis powers dismembered and occupied Yugoslavia and created a greater Albania by annexing the Serbian region of Kosovo-Metohija by Nazi Germany, Germany formed a Shqiptar "Kosovar" Waffen SS Division, the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Skanderbeg" which engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian population of Kosovo. The result was that the Shqiptars, with the help of Germany, were able to virtually exterminate the Serbian and Jews populations of Kosovo, thereby creating an ethnically pure, Nazi German-sponsored Greater Albania or Greater Shqiperia.
Bosnian Muslim SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Husein Efendi Dzozo on far left, with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, and SS Brigadeführer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, eating at a table under a large Nazi swastika and a banner of the SS runes. 1943.
Bosnian Muslim SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Husein Efendi Dzozo, the divisional imam, second from left, in his Waffen SS uniform, with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, with members of the Handschar SS Division, Neuhammer, Germany, 1943.
Bosnian Muslim SS Hauptsturmfuehrer and divisional imam Husein Efendi Dzozo second from right. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in center. Neuhammer Training Center, Germany, November, 1943. Volksdeutsche Waffen SS Standartenfuehrer Franz Matheis is on the far right. Members of the Handschar reconnaissance battalion set up the base plate for their mortar.
Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Hauptsturmfuehrer and divisional imam Husein Efendi Dzozo is in center. The Grand Mufti is to the right. They are inspecting Waffen SS troops in Neuhammer, Germany, 1943. German SS officer Emil Kuhler is on the far left. The two Waffen SS troops in front are mortarmen.