by Carl Savich The Bosnian Muslim Handschar Division was the first Muslim division in the Waffen SS. The division was also the first non-Germanic SS division. In this respect, the division was groundbreaking and revolutionary. Not only were Muslims admitted into the elite and racially pure Waffen SS, but also Slavs, the subhumans, die untermenschen. How was Heinrich Himmler able to form this iconoclastic and unique division? What was the impact of the division and what reaction was engendered by it in the German media during the war? How was the division perceived in the German media?
The Handschar division appeared in many of the most prominent magazines in the Third Reich. It was on the cover of the Cologne Illustrated Times, the Vienna Illustrated Times, and the Minsk Times. The division was also featured in the Berlin Illustrated Times. Heinrich Himmler was filmed in the Die Deutsche Wochenschau German newsreel reviewing the division. The German newsreel the Descheg Monatsschau also featured the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem reviewing the division.
The Bosnian Muslim Handschar Division broke new ground for the Waffen SS. The Waffen SS had never had an all-Muslim division before. Moreover, Slavs had been disallowed from membership because they were regarded as inferior racially. This all changed with the creation of the Bosnian Muslim Handschar or Handzar SS Division, the 13th Waffen SS Division formed during World War II. How was this accomplished? How were the racial and ideological barriers overcome to achieve this result?
What was the reaction to Himmler’s Bosnian Muslim division? Ante Pavelic, the Poglavnik of the NDH opposed the formation of a Muslim SS division. First, he opposed it on the grounds that such a German formation would violate Croatia’s sovereignty. Second, he opposed the creation of a “Bosnian” formation because the NDH was made up only of Croatians. Herbert von Obwurzer also objected to a strictly Bosnian Muslim formation as well, supporting Pavelic. Himmler reprimanded Obwurzer and was able to use his power to overrule Pavelic’s objections.
13. Gebirgs Division der SS “Handschar” Collar Tab. A Nazi swastika with a hand holding an Ottoman Turkish dagger, a handzar.
The German Connection to Islam
The German connection to Islam goes back to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, which was fought in the Balkans. The Russo-Turkish War resulted after the Serbian Orthodox uprising in Hercegovina spread to Bosnia, then to Serbia and Montenegro. Russia intervened in the war against Ottoman Turkey in 1877. This war resulted in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, Sultan Hamid requested German assistance in reorganizing and training the Ottoman Turkish Army. This was done to make the Turkish army competitive against the Russian Army. The key German military adviser was Baron Wilhelm Leopold Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, a Prussian Field Marshall known as Pasha Goltz. His goal was to modernize the Turkish army. His duty in Turkey lasted 12 years. After his military service, he acquired the title of Pasha to honor his contributions in improving and strengthening the Ottoman Turkish Army. In 1895 the Turks conferred on him the title of Mushir, or field marshal.
The results of German military training were positive and bore immediate fruit. Turkey was able to handily defeat Greece in the 1897 Greco-Turkish War.
The German connection to Islam had increased by the late nineteenth century when the growth of German influence in the Turkish Ottoman Empire increased dramatically. This was the result of the German policy of “Drang nach osten”, the March to the East. The German objective was to penetrate the Middle East and establish a military and economic presence. This expansionist policy threatened the interests of Great Britain, France, and Russia, who drew closer diplomatically and militarily as a result.
Emperor William II visited Palestine, Lebanon and Syria at the end of October and beginning of November in 1898. Ernst Hasse, the head of the Pan-Germanic Union, the Pan German League, a professor at the University of Leipzig and a member of the Reichstag, wrote in support of the Drang nach osten policy:
“Full steam ahead! Forward to the Euphrates and to the Tigris and to the Persian Gulf! And let us have the land route to India in the hands of those to whom alone it ought to belong — in the hands of Germans who rejoice in battle and in toil”.
The alliance with Germany became so strong that the Young Turk government of Turkey made the decision to ally with Germany during World War I as a member of the Central Powers.
During World War I, German Generalleutnant Otto Liman von Sanders was deployed to Turkey as an adviser and military commander for the Ottoman Empire. Erich von Falkenhayn was another key German commander deployed to Turkey where he assumed command of Turkish troops in Palestine. Sanders took command of Turkish troops during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. He was defeated by British troops under Edmund Allenby.
The German public and media thus were accustomed to Muslim allies. While in Turkey, German commanders wore the Ottoman Turkish fez.
Heinrich Himmler’s Bosniak SS Division
The creation of a Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak Waffen SS division originated with Heinrich Himmler. Together with SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Gottlob Berger, who headed recruiting for the Waffen SS, Himmler proposed the idea to Adolf Hitler on December 6, 1942. Himmler wanted to revive the German connection to Islam, in this case, to the Bosnian Muslim Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry formations of the Austro-Hungarian Army. These units fought in World War I as part of Austria-Hungary. Even before World War I, however, the Austrians sought to solidify their occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, occupied in 1878 following the Russo-Turkish War and the Treaty of Berlin, by integrating the Bosnian Muslim population into their armed forces. The Bosnian Muslim troops were allowed to wear the Ottoman Turkish fez and were given special privileges. The Austro-Hungarians attempted to bolster their occupation of Bosnia by winning the loyalty of the Bosnian Muslims. One way they did this was by creating an image of the Bosnian Muslims as loyal and brave soldiers. A result of this effort was the 1895 military march “Die Bosniaken kommen”, “The Bosniaks are Coming”, composed by Austrian composer Eduard Wagnes. It was this image that Himmler bought into. Himmler wanted to tap into the manpower that Bosnian Muslims could provide. German troop strength was devastated by losses on the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. The Waffen SS needed the manpower, it needed the warm bodies.
Himmler also regarded Islam as an ideal religion for a soldier. Himmler stated to Joseph Goebbels:
“I have nothing against Islam because it educates the men in this division for me and promises them heaven if they fight and are killed in action. A very practical and attractive religion for soldiers.”
There was resentment to the special privileges granted to the Muslim Bosnian troops. Their diet required that pork and alcohol not be served. They wore special headgear, a fez. They also observed Islamic prayer services at set times during the day. They were condescendingly described as “Mujos” by other Waffen SS troops.
Himmler was aware of this opposition and sought to confront it. In his letter to Artur Phleps of August 6, 1943, Himmler noted the opposition to the division within the Waffen SS itself. Himmler wrote Phelps to enforce his orders:
“I do not wish that through the folly and narrowness of mind of an isolated person, a single one of the tens of thousands of these brave volunteers and their families should suffer from ill humor and feel deprived of the rights which have been granted to them. …
Moreover, I forbid the jokes and facetious remarks about the Moslem volunteers which are so much enjoyed in groups of comrades. There will no longer be the least discussion about the special rights afforded to the Moslems in these circles.”
He told Phleps that any violations of his orders would be punished and reported to him. Thus, Himmler was able to push through his controversial plans to create a Muslim and non-Germanic division in the Waffen SS.
The Bosnian Muslims were the first Slavs in a Waffen SS Division. Slavs were regarded as subhuman and inferior in Nazi racial doctrine. How did Himmler get around this obstacle? Himmler merely classified the Bosnian Muslims as “Goths”, a Germanic tribe that had settled the Balkans. He disregarded the fact that the Bosnian Muslims spoke a Slavic language, were part of a Slavic culture, and exhibited Slavic racial traits. Himmler merely renamed them as Germanic. Himmler would do a similar thing with the 14th Waffen SS Division, the Galician Division made up of Ukrainian Slavs from Galicia. Himmler created a new ethnic group for these members, “Galizien”, Galician, a term that had been used for the northern section of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were not Slavs speaking a Slavic language but were “Galicians”. Himmler concluded that they were “more Aryan-like”. Another way Himmler sought to distinguish the Bosnian Muslim and Ukrainian SS divisions was by classifying them as “der SS”, or “of the SS”, meaning they were auxiliary formations of the SS. Inducting Muslims and Slavs into the Waffen SS created inconsistencies of racial doctrine and logic that were ridiculous and absurd and even delusional.
National Socialism and Islam
Adolf Hitler saw in Islam a religion which fostered struggle and battle. He regarded Islam as superior to Christianity because it glorified war and power. Hitler expressed these views in a quote from August 28, 1942, Hitler’s Table Talk: 1941-1944, page 667, translated by N. Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, 1953:
“Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers – already, you see, the world had already fallen into the hands of the Jews, so gutless a thing Christianity! – then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies the heroism and which opens up the seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing so.”
Hitler reiterated this theme in a quote from chapter 6 of Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer, Germany’s Minister for Armaments from 1942 to 1945:
“Hitler had been much impressed by a scrap of history he had learned from a delegation of distinguished Arabs. When the Mohammedans had attempted to penetrate beyond France into Central Europe during the eighth century, his visitors had told him, they had been driven back at the Battle of Tours. Had the Arabs won this battle, the world would be Mohammedan today. For theirs was a religion that believed in spreading the faith by the sword and subjugating all nations to that faith. The Germanic peoples would have become heirs to that religion. Such a creed was perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament. Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. They could not have kept down the more vigorous natives, so that ultimately not Arabs but Islamized Germans could have stood at the head of this Mohammedan Empire.
Hitler usually concluded this historical speculation by remarking ‘You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?’”
Heinrich Himmler shared Adolf Hitler’s assessment of Islam as superior to Christianity because it extolled war and struggle above all else. War was the highest human pursuit and battle ensured that the fittest and strongest would survive.
Heinrich Himmler discussed the Bosnian Muslim Handschar Division in his October 6, 1943 speech reprinted in Heinrich Himmler, Secret Speeches: 1933 to 1945, and Other Addresses, Geheimreden: 1933 bis 1945 und andere Ansprachen, edited by Bradley F. Smith and Agnes F. Peterson, with an introduction by Joachim C. Fest, Propyläen Verlag, Frankfurt, 1974, page 181. Himmler stressed the role that the mullahs and imams would play in the division:
“Diese bosniakische Division wird eine rein muselmanische Division, und Sie werden sich wundern, das ist die Division, in der ich lauter Pfaffen habe, lauter Mullahs und Imame. Bei jedem Bataillon ist ein Imam. … Die Imame sind in diesem Falle für die Bosniaken und Albaner meine weltanschaulichen Schulungsleiter bei jedem Bataillon. Ich habe ein Interesse daran, dass sie streng gläubig sind.”
“This Bosniak division becomes a purely Muslim division, and you will be surprised, this is the division in which I have loud priests, loud mullahs and imams. With every battalion is an imam. … The imams are in this case for the Bosniaks and Albanians my ideological training leaders with every battalion. I have an interest in the fact that they are strictly religious.”
Both Hitler and Himmler saw the value of forming a purely Muslim SS Division because Islam would instill a warlike and combative temperament which would make it highly suitable as a formation in the Third Reich. Hitler approved the formation of the Handschar or Handzar SS Division on April 10, 1943.
Formation in Zagreb
The early stages in the formation of the Bosnian Muslim Handshar Division were recorded in a May, 1943 German newsreel, Descheg Monatsschau, Nr.15, or the Descheg Monthy Review. The formal creation ceremony of the Bosnian Muslim Handschar Division was featured in this newsreel. SS Standartenfuhrer Herbert von Obwurzer was shown speaking on a podium to the new members of the division. This was described as the formal takeover of the first Croatian SS volunteer organization in Zagreb. The SS members shown were German officers in the early formation stages of the division in Zagreb.
The induction into the Waffen-SS was shown as men of the Handschar division were sworn in at the Zagreb Festival Square on May 12, 1943. It was originally intended as the swearing in of the oath of loyalty to Ante Pavelic but it was not done. The oath of loyalty was sworn to Adolf Hitler instead. The Croatian authorities were outraged that the oath was not sworn to Ante Pavelic.
On the speech podium with Nazi swastika banners, from right to left, SS-Sturmbannführer Oskar Kirchbaum, SS-Standartenführer Herbert von Obwurzer, SS-Sturmbannführer Erich Braun, and SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Gotz Berens von Rautenfeld were shown. They are all giving the “Heil Hitler” salute. The members swore their oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler at this ceremony.
All SS members had to swear an oath to Adolf Hitler, based on the 1934 German law promulgated on August 20, the Oath of Loyalty Law, Berlin:
“Ich schwöre Dir, Adolf Hitler, als Führer und Kanzler des Reiches Treue und Tapferkeit. Ich gelobe Dir und den von Dir bestimmten Vorgesetzten Gehorsam bis in den Tod, so wahr mit Gott helfe.”
“I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Führer and Chancellor of the German Nation, loyalty and bravery. I vow to you and to my superiors designated by you obedience to the death. So help me God.”
SS members swore an oath of “meine Ehre heisst treue”, my honor is my loyalty, a blood oath. It was engraved on their dress daggers and on their uniform belt buckles.
SS Standartenfuehrer Herbert von Obwurzer was the first commander of the Handschar Division. He was originally the commander of a regiment of the 6. SS-Gebirgs-Division “Nord”. He was tasked with the formation of the Handschar division. He formally handed command of the division over to Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig on August 9, 1943 at Mede, France.
In the Media of the German Third Reich
The Bosnian Muslim troops in the Handschar division first appeared on the cover of the German publication The Cologne Illustrated Times, Kolnische Illustrierte Zeitung, December 16, 1943, issue Nr. 50. This issue featured the Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division Handschar on the cover although that name was not given to the division until the following year. The Nazi swastika and the Turkish dagger, the handzar, clearly stand out in the cover photograph.
The SS troops were shown holding rifles which were German Army issue bolt action Mauser Karabiner 98k. The caption was: “Das Gewehr ueber!” The meaning was, literally, “The Rifle Above!” or “The rifle is raised above the shoulders!” The picture description was: “Stabsjaeger der SS-Freiwilligen aus Bosnien und der Herzegowina”. “The security staff of the SS volunteers from Bosnia and Hercegovina.” Stabsjaeger literally meant “hunting staff”. The photographer was SS-Kriegsberichter Werner Mielke.
The Cologne Illustrated Times. Cologne, Germany illustrated magazine. Kolnische Illustrierte Zeitung. December 16, 1943 issue, number 50. Waffen-SS volunteers from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian Muslim Waffen-SS Division Handschar.
The next appearance of the Bosnian Muslim SS troops was on the cover of the Wiener Illustrierte, the Vienna Illustrated Magazine, Issue Nr. 2, Vienna. January, 12, 1944. This was the second major appearance of the Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division Handschar on a German magazine cover during the war. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, was shown reviewing the division. The price was 20 pfennig: Preis: 20 pf.
The original photo caption in German was: “Der Grossmufti von Jerusalem bei den bosnischen Freiwilligen der Waffen-SS.” “The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem with the Bosnian volunteers of the Waffen-SS.” The rifles are standard German Wehrmacht Mauser Karabiner 98k with bayonet attachment. Wiener Illustrierte, January 12, 1944, issue 2.
The cover photograph was taken by SS photographer Werner Mielke in November, 1943, in Neuhammer, Silesia, in eastern Germany. He was a Kriegsberichter, a German wartime news photographer. Mielke had been with the Legion Nederland in 1942, Handschar in 1943, II. SS-Panzerkorps in Normandy, Das Reich, Latvian elements, had served on a staff in Milan, was with SS female volunteers in 1943, and with the Wiking Division near Kovel in the spring of 1944. He was the holder of an Iron Cross II class. Not shown in the cropped cover photograph is SS Brigadefuehrer Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig who was on the far left. Behind Husseini is a man in civilian clothes.
The Handschar division was also on the front page of the Minsker Zeitung, The Minsk Times, January 26, 1944. This was a German newspaper published in the occupied-Soviet Union featuring a photograph of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, SS-Brigadefuehrer Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, the commander of the Handschar division, and behind them members of the Handschar division, top, right.
The Handschar Division also appeared in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, the Berlin Illustrated Times in 1943. Bosnian Muslim troops in the Handschar Division were photographed during training at the Neuhammer camp in Silesia, Germany, in November, 1943. The caption read in German: Amin al Husseini bei bosnischen SS-Freiwilligen. Der Großmufti von Jerusalem bei den bosnischen Freiwilligen-Verbänden der Waffen-SS. Der Grossmufti ist auf dem Truppenübungsplatz eingetroffen und schreitet die Front der angetretenen Freiwilligen mit erhobenem Arm ab. In English: Amin al Husseini with the Bosnian SS volunteers. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem with the Bosnian volunteer unit of the Waffen-SS. The Grand Mufti has arrived at the training area and walks past in front of the assembled volunteers with upraised arm.
The photographer was again Werner Mielke, a member of an SS Propaganda Kompanie (SS-PK) assigned to the Handschar Division.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung. Berlin Illustrated Times. November 27, 1941, Nr. 48. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on the cover. “Under the Brandeburg Gate: The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.”
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had first appeared on the cover of The Berlin Illustrated Times in 1941 in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Haj Mohammed Amin el Husseini (1893-1974), Grossmufti von Jerusalem, a Palestinian Arab, had fled to Germany in 1941 after his escape from Iraq where he helped to organize a coup against the British. British General Archibald Wavell, the commander of British forces in the Middle East, set a 25,000 British-pound bounty on his head.
The Grand Mufti was instrumental in the formation of the division. He even traveled to Sarajevo via Zagreb in 1943 to promote and to sponsor the division. SS-Gruppenführer Gottlob Berger sent a report to Himmler regarding the Mufti’s 1943 visit to Zagreb and Sarajevo to assist in the Handschar recruiting effort. The report is dated April 19, 1943. Himmler initialed the first page. The report is from the NARA RG 242, Microcopy T-175, Roll 125, ff2650998.
Berger described the Mufti’s visit to the NDH:
“About the visit itself: Aircraft Ju 52 TUBO, captained by Hauptmann Schrader. Also present, in addition to the Grand Mufti and his escort, were SS-Sturmbannführer Schulte and SS-Untersturmführer Rempel from the SS-Hauptamt and, from the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, SS-Hauptsturmführer Herrmann with two members of the Gestapo….”
During the flight from Zagreb to Sarajevo, two members of the Croatian government and Italian General Castellani were also present, as was Melani, the leader of the Italian government’s Arab Section.
The Mufti had first met with Adolf Hitler on November 25, 1941 and became an ally, fully supporting Germany during the war. He worked closely with Himmler in recruiting Muslims for the SS ranks, in occupied regions of the USSR and in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia and Kosovo, then annexed to a Greater Albania, first under Italian, then German, control.
In early 1944, an SS officer was assigned as the official liaison officer between the Mufti and the SS, Hstuf. Eckehard Wangemann.
The Bosnian Muslim Handschar Division was featured in a German newsreel showing Himmler reviewing the division. This was the Die Deutsche Wochenschau, The German Weekly Review, the major German newsreel of World War II. The German newsreel was Nr. 692, released on December 8, 1943. The narrator described the newsreel footage as showing Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler reviewing Muslim volunteers from Southeastern Europe. The footage was shot in November, 1943 at the Neuhammer Camp.
Die Deutsche Wochenshau was the major German newsreel during World War II. Following the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the four German newsreel companies, Ufa-Tonwoche, Deulig-Tonwoche, Tobis-Woche, Fox-Tönende Wochenschau, were amalgamated into one wartime newsreel, Die Deutsche Wochenshau, The German Weekly Review. After June, 1940, the four companies no longer used their individual company names to introduce the newsreels. Die Deutsche Wochenschau became the title for all the newsreels after June, 1940 to 1945. The newsreels were similar to Fox Movietone News, The March of Time, and RKO Pathe newsreels, featuring footage from the war fronts and the home front. Footage from the series was also used in films such as Der Ewige Jude and Feldzug in Polen. The series was narrated by German actor Harry Giese. The Descheg Monatsschau newsreel provided summaries on a monthly basis.
Adolf Hitler and the Grand Mufti first met in 1941 in Berlin at the Reich Chancellery. The meeting between Adolf Hitler and the Grand Mufti was featured on the December 10, 1941 Deutsche Wochenschau newsreel, No. 588. The narrator described the scene as follows: The Fuhrer receives the Grand Mufti Mohammad Amin el Husseini of Jerusalem in Berlin.
The Handschar Division and the Mufti were featured in the Descheg Monatsschau newsreel, Nr. 22, December, 1943. In this German newsreel, the Descheg Monthy Review, number 22, The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem reviews Muslim troops of the German armed forces featuring Bosnian Muslim troops of the Handschar SS Division.
The Grand Mufti was filmed giving a Nazi “Heil Hitler” salute as he passed by the Bosnian Muslim troops in the division lined up on a street in Neuhammer.
The Grand Mufti and SS-Brigadefuehrer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig (1899-1946), der Divisionskommandeur der 13. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS “Handschar” (kroatische Nr. 1), in Neuhammer, Germany, reviewing the Handschar Division. Descheg Monatsschau Nr. 22, December, 1943.
Bosnian Muslim troops in the Handschar Division during review by the Grand Mufti. Descheg Monatsschau Nr. 22, December, 1943. Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division Handschar in a German newsreel.
Arrival in Eastern Bosnia
The Handschar division was also featured in a second issue of the Wiener Illustrierte, Vienna Illustrated on May 24, 1944, issue umber 21, when the division arrived in eastern Bosnia, although they were not on the cover in this issue.
The Bosnian Muslim SS troops were described as SS-Freiwilligen bosnisch-herzegowinischen Gebirgsdivisionen, SS volunteers from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mountain division. The caption for the May 24, 1944 story in the Wiener Illustrierte magazine entitled “They come back, prepared for the battle!” read: “Leaflets flutter ahead in front of the Homes. ‘We return to our homeland to release it from the Soviet Terror!’ … They announce: ‘We come as courageous, free, and brave Soldiers of the SS, together with our German Comrades. The Fuehrer has promised the best Arms: We got them! With our Arrival begins a new Time! We greet the Homeland and all of You!'”
The series of photos were shot by SS war correspondent Eugen Nonnenmacher (PBZ). SS-Unterscharführer u. -Kriegsberichter Eugen Nonnenmacher was born on July 22, 1913. He was from the SS-Standarte “Kurt Eggers” and was a participant of the German officer training school, the 3. Lehrgang für germanische Offiziere on the SS-Junkerschule Tölz. He also covered the Prinz Eugen SS Division in German-occupied Yugoslavia. Nonnenmacher had to leave the Lehrgang or training in Bad Tölz, and was commanded to another Lehrgang, 11. Kriegs-Reserveführungsanwärter-Lehrgang, Wartime Reserve Command trainee, at SS-Pz.Gren.Schule Prosetschnitz, beginning on January 10, 1944.
He was not allowed to finish the course in Bad Tölz, as he arrived late from the front and missed the start of the course.
A Bosnian Muslim member of the Handschar SS Division, left, is shown talking to an elderly Bosnian Muslim after the division arrived in Bosnia from Germany. The machine gun is a German MG 42. Wiener Illustrierte, May 24, 1944, issue number 21.
Bosnian Muslim civilians greet members of the Handschar division with Nazi “Heil Hitler” salutes, on right, as the division arrives in Bosnia. Some of the Bosnian Muslim civilians on the right are wearing Ottoman Turkish fezzes. Wiener Illustrierte, May 24, 1944, issue number 21.
Imam in the Waffen SS
The Handschar divisional imam was Bosnian Muslim Husein Efendi Dzozo (1912-1982). Dzozo had the rank of SS Haupsturmfuehrer, or captain. Dzozo was photographed in 1943 wearing an SS collar tab denoting an officer’s rank in the SS. He also wore the specially made Waffen SS fez with the skull and crossbones insignia of the SS under the Reichsadler, the national emblem or Hoheitzeichen of Nazi Germany, depicting an eagle holding an oak wreath containing a Nazi swastika. Dzozo was one of the highest ranking Bosnian Muslim members of the Handschar division.
SS Haupsturmfuehrer Dzozo was born in Bare in the Gorazde district of Bosnia. He graduated from Al-Azhar University in Cairo. He studied Islamic theology and Sharia law. He was a member of the El Hidaja Organization in Bosnia. He volunteered for the Handschar Division in June, 1943, becoming an imam in the division. He was photographed with the Grand Mufti when he inspected the division. He spoke Arabic fluently.
Husein Dzozo personally wrote Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler a letter in German thanking him for the donations made to the Bosnian family members, for an increase in troop rations, and the establishment of an Imam school.
“These deeds signify the great benevolence for us Muslims and for Bosnia in general. I therefore consider it my duty to extend our thanks to the Reichsfuhrer-SS in the names of the division’s Imams as well as an in the names of the hundreds of thousands of Bosnia’s poor in that I pledge that we are prepared to lay down our lives in battle for the great leader Adolf Hitler and the New Europe.”
Narcissism of Minor Differences: Lessons
Heinrich Himmler exploited and manipulated Islam to achieve the strategic geopolitical objectives of Germany. The policy was one of divide and conquer, divide et impera. He exploited the differences in the occupied countries and territories to turn one religious group against another, one culture against another, one nation against another. British anthropologist Ernest Crawley termed this separation or division based on small differences as “the narcissism of minor differences”. Sigmund Freud later developed this concept as “the narcissism of small differences” in Civilization and Its Discontents (1917). There is a universal human need to find and then to exaggerate differences so that a consciousness of separateness and self can be maintained. Hitler and Himmler exploited the narcissism of small differences to create enmity between the peoples of Europe.
In the Balkans, the Bosnian Muslims, like the Serbs and the Croats, were Slavs who shared a common language and a common culture. They lived within the same country. Himmler was able to exploit the minor differences between the three groups to create enmity and conflict. He did this by exaggerating and focusing on religion in Bosnia. Major powers are deterred by unity. As a result, what they first target and exploit are differences and divisions within a society or a country. A divided target is much more weakened and vulnerable than a united one. This is the way power can be projected. This is how control is maintained.
One reason presented for the formation of the division was that the Bosnian Muslims were victims during World War II? Is this accurate? Only the Serbian Orthodox population of Bosnia and Croatia, the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), was the victim and target of a systematic, planned, and organized genocide. Only the Serbian population was the victim of genocide. What occurred was retaliation and the emergence of a civil war. Bosnian Muslims were the perpetrators of the genocide against the Serbian Orthodox population. The NDH was a joint Croatian Roman Catholic and Bosnian Muslim state. The Vice-President of the NDH was Bosnian Muslim Dzafer beg Kulenovic.
Why was the division formed? Heinrich Himmler simply needed manpower. The German military disaster at Stalingrad depleted German troop strength. The German troops at Stalingrad represented the most elite units of the Wehrmacht. Staggering German losses on the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union forced Himmler to turn to manpower where he could find it. Even if it meant torturing and manipulating and even abandoning the racial doctrines of the SS. Himmler needed warm bodies. He needed recruits for the Waffen SS.
Both Hitler and Himmler exploited Islam to achieve the goals of Germany, to expand their power and level of control. They did this by exploiting the differences. There are always similarities and common bonds which unite all of us. There are always minor differences that separate us. These minor differences can always be exploited and manipulated to divide us and to defeat us.
The Bosnian Muslim Handschar Division was extensively covered in the media of the Third Reich during World War II. The Handschar division was featured in German magazines, newspapers, newsreels, and on the radio. The Bosnian Muslims were portrayed as victims who were being protected by Germany. They were presented as “volunteers” and allies who supported the Nazi cause during the war. In return, Germany would protect and foster their national ambitions. Heinrich Himmler would achieve for them de facto autonomy within the NDH or a Bosnian Muslim statelet. The division broke new ground as the first Muslim SS division and the first non-Germanic SS division, an SS division made up of Slavs. It was a revolutionary and groundbreaking formation during World War II.
The creation of the division demonstrated how differences could be exploited and manipulated to create enmity and conflict and to turn people against each other. Hitler and Himmler exploited Islam to achieve and to advance the geopolitical objectives of Germany. The modus operandi is one that has always been used to project power and to maintain control. Real and imagined differences are exaggerated and exploited. What results is war and conflict.