By Carl Savich Crimea and Kosovo share a similar history in that both were subjected to plans of genocide during World War II. Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler planned to resettle Crimea and Kosovo. Crimea was to be settled by Germans and annexed to Germany. The Russian and Ukrainian populations were to be eliminated. Kosovo was annexed to Albania and was to be settled by ethnic Albanians. Serbs, Jews, and other non-Albanians were expelled. Both in Crimea and Kosovo, Germany implemented plans for genocide.
The Master Plan East for Crimea
Adolf Hitler revealed his plan for Crimea two weeks after the start of Operation Barbarossa. Hitler disclosed his vision of New Europe to his staff on July 5, 1941: ‘The beauties of the Crimea, which we shall make accessible by means of an Autobahn. For us Germans, that will be our Riviera … it’s the road that will bring people together. What progress in the direction of New Europe! Just as the Autobahn has caused the inner frontiers of Germany to disappear, so it will abolish the frontiers of the countries of Europe. To those who ask me whether it will be enough to reach the Urals as a frontier, I reply that for the present it is enough for the frontier to be drawn back as far as that. What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated … Moscow, as the center of the doctrine, must disappear from the earth’s surface, as soon as its riches have been brought to shelter. There’s no question of our collaborating with the Muscovite proletariat.'”
Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler, second from right, in Crimea, 1942.
Adolf Hitler explained his resettlement plan for Crimea on July 16, 1941 (Hitler Comments, Conference in Führer Headquarters, in Czesław Madajczyk, ed., Generalny Plan Wschodni: Zbiór dokumentów, Warszawa: Glówna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce, 1990, pp. 61-64). Hitler saw the occupied territories of the Soviet Union as “Lebensraum”, or “living space”, as first enunciated in Mein Kampf (1925). The Slavs, Jews, and non-Aryan populations were to be eliminated and the seized land settled by ethnic Germans.
The plan for the resettlement or colonization of the eastern teritories was known as Generalplan Ost, GPO, Master Plan East, developed in 1940 by SS Standartenfuehrer Hans Ehlich and Konrad Meyer, Chief of the Planning Office of Heinrich Himmler’s Reichskommissariat for the Strengthening of German Nationhood. The plan was created and implemented by the Reich Main Security Office, Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA, the security apparatus of the SS.
Civilians executed in Crimea by retreating German troops, 1942.
Hitler’s aims were to make the territories in the conquered east part of the German Reich: “The Crimea must be cleared of all [racially] foreign peoples, as must the parts of Galicia which formerly belonged to the Austrian Empire. …We must make a Garden of Eden out of the newly won eastern territories; this is important for our future existence; [overseas] colonies play a subordinate role. … All of the Baltic lands must be annexed to the Reich. Similarly, the Crimea, with a significant adjoining region (the region north of the Crimea) must become Reich territory. The annexed territory must be as large as possible. … The Reich must also annex the Volga Colony and the area around Baku.”
Before the new eastern territories could be annexed, however, they had to be depopulated, cleared of Slavs, Jews, and other non-Aryans. This policy entailed genocide.
Adolf Hitler elaborated in detail on his plan for the resettlement of Crimea on October 17, 1941 (Hitler Monologue, Führer Headquarters, in Madajczyk, Generalny, pp. 69-70).
Crimea was to be settled by Germans or Aryans. Roads were to be built connecting Germany to the Crimean coast. Hitler envisioned a long-term plan of resettlement and expulsion with the construction of German settlements along the route:
“The [eastern] region must lose the character of the Asiatic steppe, it must be Europeanized! It is for this purpose that we are building great highways to the southern tip of the Crimea and to the Caucasus. German cities established along these roadways will stretch like a string of pearls, and around these will be German settlements. The two or three million people we need [for this program] can be found quicker than we think. We will take them from Germany, the Scandinavian lands, Western Europe, and America. Chances are that I will not live to see this, but in twenty years twenty million people will inhabit this territory. In three hundred years we will have a blossoming parkland of extraordinary beauty!”
Both Jews and Russians were to be eliminated. Jews were to be expelled while Russians were to be gradually allowed to die: “As for the people indigenous to the area, we will be sure to select those [of importance]. We will remove the destructive Jews entirely. … We will not enter Russian cities, they must die out completely.”
German troops fire machine guns during the offensive in Crimea, 1941-1942.
Hitler based his plan of resettlement and genocide on the removal of the Native American inhabitants of North America by European settlers as his model. The Russians, the other Slav populations, the Jews, Gypsies, and other non-Aryans were regarded like Native Americans as primitive and backward peoples who lost their rights and possession of the land through conquest. Germany had conquered and occupied the territory. Therefore, Germany could dispose of the territory as it so desired. Resettlement and relocation were seen as measures which were available to the conquering power. Germany had sovereignty and legal authority achieved through conquest to make whatever disposition of the territory it saw fit and appropriate.
Hitler explained the policy of “Germanization” of the eastern territories:
“There is only one task: Germanization through the introduction of Germans [to the area] and to treat the original inhabitants like Indians. … I intend to stay this course with ice-cold determination. I feel myself to be the executor of the will of History. What people think of me at present is all of no consequence. Never have I heard a German who has bread to eat express concern that the ground where the grain was grown had to be conquered by the sword. We eat Canadian wheat and never think of the Indians.”
In 1942, Hitler ordered the deportations of Russians and Ukrainians from the Crimea as analyzed in Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political and Economic Planning for German Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union, 1940-1941 by Alex J. Kay (Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2006). Hitler envisioned the annexation of Crimea by Germany. Moreover, he also planned to annex into the Third Reich the former Soviet Baltic republics, Galicia in western Ukraine, the Kola Peninsula in northern Russia, Baku in Azerbaijan, and the region of Saratov, and the Bialystok area of Poland. The Saratov region on the Volga was part of the German Volga Republic which had been a region of Russia settled by ethnic Germans.
In late 1942, the German plan was to establish a resettlement area in the Zhitomir and Vinnitsa area in German-occupied Ukraine. Volksdeutsche or ethnic Germans indigenous to Ukraine, would be resettled in this area. This was to maintain their security from attacks by Soviet Partisans. In Crimea, measures were put in place for the resettlement of ethnic Germans from Italian Tyrol and then British-occupied Palestine after the war. The SS-Krimkommando was also established.
Under the plan, the population of Crimea was to be reduced from 790,000 to 680,000.
The quota for settlers under the GPO was 10 million Volksdeutsche and Germanic settlers or Aryans for the colonization of the eastern territories. The regions to be resettled included Crimea and the surrounding region, Poland, the former Soviet Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the provinces of Zhitomir, Kamieniec Podolski, and a segment of Vinnitsa in Western Ukraine, the Leningrad region or Ingermanland, and the bend of the Dnieper River or Dnieprbogen. This region was made of 45 million people who the Germans planned to resettle and deport. The resettlement would be organized under a feudal structure and based on state or government ownership of the land.
Two communication routes were to be set up in the east. One was to traverse the area from Germany to the Leningrad region, consisting of Königsberg-Leningrad and Wilno-Leningrad. The other was to lead from Germany to Crimea, consisting of Warsaw-Lublin-Rowne or Cracow-Lwow-Rowne and Biala Cerkiew-Krivoi Rog-Nikokajew. There was even a plan to construct a motor road from Germany to Crimea.
In Himmler´s speech to the leaders of the SS and the police at Zhitomir in southern Russian sector on September 16, 1942, he stated that Crimea, the former Soviet Baltic republics, Byelorussia, or Ostland, and the Leningrad region would be Germanized and colonized. Poland would be colonized. Himmler also announced that resettlement bases would be set up along the Don, Volga, and the Urals.
Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler, left, in Crimea in 1942, after its seizure by German troops.
Heinrich Himmler reiterated the German resettlement plan for Crimea on June 9, 1942 (Heinrich Himmler: Geheimreden 1933 bis 1945 und andere Ansprachen. Edited by B.F. Smith and A.F. Peterson, Frankfurt/Main: Propyläen Verlag, 1974, pp. 145-161).
On January 12, 1943, Himmler sent a letter to Konrad Meyer that the resettlement plan for the east should not only include Crimea, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, the Leningrad region, and the Chersonese, but also White Russia, Belarus or Byelorussia.
Like Hitler, Himmler sought to implement a plan of “Germanization” in Crimea. Crimea was to be settled by Germans: “This war makes no sense if afterwards … Bohemia and Moravia, the German eastern districts of southeast Prussia, Danzig-West Prussia, the Warthegau, Upper Silesia, the General Government, the Ostland (inc. the Baltic States and Belorussia), the Crimea, and Ingermanland aren’t completely settled with Germans within twenty years.
This is the task that we have set out to accomplish, for as long as we still live, once peace is established … the land is Germanized when the populace is German.”
Expulsions and Resettlement of Kosovo
Like with Crimea, Kosovo and Metohija, known as New Albania, was to be subjected to resettlement and elimination. Following the April 6, 1941 Axis invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia, the country was dismembered by Germany and the other Axis allies. Kosovo and Metohija were annexed to a Greater Albania under Italian control. Kosovo Albanian leaders immediately announced a plan for the elimination of the Serbian population, as well as Kosovo Jews and other non-Albanians.
Albanian prime minister Mustafa Kruja, in a June, 1942 speech made in Kosovo, proclaimed:
“The Serbian population of Kosovo should be removed as soon as possible…All indigenous Serbs should be qualified as colonists and as such, via the Albanian and Italian government, be sent to concentration camps in Albania. Serbian settlers should be killed.”
Kosovo Albanian and German troops in the 21st Waffen SS Division “Skanderbeg”, 1944.
The pre-war Muslim Jemiet party founded a new political organization with an irredentist orientation called the Lidhja Kombetare Shqiptare, whose goal was to Albanize and Islamicize the province of Kosovo-Metohija.
Ferat-bey Draga, another Kosovo Albanian leader, pronounced that the “time has come to exterminate the Serbs” and that “there will be no Serbs under the Kosovo sun.”
Hermann Neubacher, the German plenipotentiary for southeastern Europe, explained the policy of genocide by Kosovar Albanian political leaders: “Shqiptars were in a hurry to expel as many Serbs as possible from the country. From those expelled local tyrants often took a gift in gold for permission to emigrate.”
The Italian diplomat Carlo Umilta, the civilian aide to the commander of the Italian military occupation forces, stated that “the Albanians are out to exterminate the Slavs.” An Italian army report stated that the Albanians are “hunting down Serbs” and that the “Serbian minority are living in conditions that are truly disgraceful, constantly harassed by the brutality of the Albanians, who are whipping up racial hatred.”
After Italy surrendered on September 8, 1943, Germany reoccupied Kosovo-Metohija and Albania with the XXI Mountain Corps under the command of General Paul Bader consisting of the 100th Jaeger Division, the 297th Infantry Division, and the 1st Mountain Division.
German policy in Kosovo was to support the plan of genocide against the Serbian population. In this way, they would obtain and secure the support of the Kosovo Albanian population.
A Kosovo Albanian member of the 21st Waffen SS Division “Skanderbeg”, 1944.
The strategy that Germany used to recruit Kosovo Albanians in the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS was to lend support to the Albanian policy of a Greater Albania, with the elimination of the Serbian population and its resettlement by Albanians.
The way the German occupation forces did this was by reviving the 1878 First League of Prizren with the creation of the 1943 Second League of Prizren. The First League of Prizren established the Albanian nationalist ideology of Greater Albania, the goal to unite Albania proper with all Albanian-inhabited regions of the Balkans, which included not only Kosovo-Metohija, but Western Macedonia or Illirida, northern Greece or Chameria, southern Serbia, and southern Montenegro.
On September 16, 1943, Kosovo Albanians Bedri Pejani and Xhafer Deva, a member of the Balli Kombetar, BK, National Union, with the aid of the German emissary Franz von Schweiger, formed the Second League of Prizren. Bedri Pejani was the president of the Second League of Prizren from January to June, 1944. The Second League of Prizren organized the mass expulsions or ethnic cleansing of an estimated 40,000 Serbs from Kosovo by April of 1944.
Attacks against Kosovo Serbs increased and intensified during the German occupation of Kosovo. Over 10,000 Kosovo Serbian families are estimated to have been driven out of Kosovo.
The 1943 Second League of Prizren, the Albanian Kosovo Committee, and the Balli Kombetar were crucial in the creation of the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg”.
On March 29, 1944, Bedri Pejani, the president of the Second League of Prizren, wrote Heinrich Himmler a letter requesting that Himmler organize Albanian formations in the Waffen SS. Himmler sought to recreate the Albanian Legion of the Austro-Hungarian Army. Himmler wanted to revive the German-Albanian alliance from the Habsburg period when Austria-Hungary had been a sponsor of Greater Albania. Himmler planned to form two Waffen SS Divisions made up of Kosovo Albanians.
A company of the Kosovo Albanian 21st Waffen SS Division “Skanderbeg” in Pec, 1944.
Bedri Pejani wrote a letter to Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler requesting that he induct 120,000 to 150,000 Kosovo Albanians in the Waffen SS:
“Prizren, 29 March 1944
The President of the Central Committee
of the Second League of Prizren
for the Defense of Kosovo
The Central Committee of the Second Albanian League of Prizren has asked me to submit the following for Your Excellency’s kind attention:
Mobilization of Kosovo and the liberated Albanian regions under German leadership.
In view of the nerve-racking phase in which the Albanian problem finds itself due to the current military situation, the Central Committee of the Second Albanian League of Prizren, in agreement with the government and the population, has decided to call for the general mobilization of Kosovo and all Albanian regions that were annexed to Albania as a result of the armed intervention of the German Army in 1941, in order to ensure the definitive liberation of the Albanian people, side by side with the German Reich, in the current fighting.
The aim of this mobilization is to set up an army of 120,000-150,000 volunteers capable of opposing and successfully defeating the Serbo-Montenegrin partisans for as long as the current war lasts and, under all circumstances, of defending Albanian national interests after the war in any difficult or perilous situations that might arise.
The three basic conditions for such a mobilization are:
1. Modern military weaponry and a modest amount of other modern equipment.
2. The provision of a number of commissioned and non-commissioned officers to organise, instruct and command the various components of this army.
3. A rectification of the current Albanian borders with Montenegro and Serbia for strategic reasons.
Neither the Albanian State nor the Albanian people are in a position to provide the support needed to enable the Albanian League to fulfill these three conditions because Albania has no arms industry at all and the Albanian State is too poor to finance the equipment and uniforms of its own accord.
The Second Albanian League of Prizren is aware that plans were made to begin setting up an SS Division with Albanian fighters in April of this year, but these would only make up a small proportion of the 120,000-150,000 able men needed in Kosovo.
With regard to the provisional border with Montenegro and Serbia, as agreed in 1941 between the German Reich and Italy, it is disadvantageous for Kosovo not only from a purely strategic perspective but also for demographic and historical reasons.
With the border as it is, it would be very difficult for Kosovo and Albania to defend themselves from a Serbo-Montenegrin attack either during this war or thereafter.
The Central Committee of the Second Albanian League of Prizren has asked me to appeal to you since only Your Excellency is in a position to raise an army, with the Second League of Prizren, that could provide comprehensive defense for the borders of Kosovo and the liberated regions.
In the hope of attaining a satisfactory solution from Your Excellency both for the German Reich and for Albania, I would ask Your Excellency to accept the expression of my profound respect.
The President of the Second Albanian League of Prizren for the Defense of Kosovo:
(L.S.) signed Bedri Pejani”
Bedri Pejani, Kosovo Albanian president of the 1943 Second League of Prizren.
Hans Heinrich Lammers, chief of the Reich Chancellery, forwarded Bedri Pejani’s letter to Himmler, who informed Lammers about the planned formation of the two new Kosovo 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,
Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler planned to create two Albanian Waffen SS Divisions and two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions. In a May 22, 1944 letter to Artur Phleps, the former commander of the 7th SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”, Himmler explained his plans to form two Albanian SS Divisions:
“My goal is clear: The creation of two territorial corps, one in Bosnia, the other in Albania. These two corps, with the Division ‘Prinz Eugen’, as an army of five SS mountain divisions, are the goal for 1944.”
Following the 1943 Second League of Prizren and the revival of the Greater Albania ultra-nationalist program by Germany, Kosovo Serbs were again targeted for mass murder and deportation. A new wave of killings and expulsions and seizures of Serbian property occurred.
An estimated 10,000 Serbian families were driven out of Kosovo by the Kosovo Albanian Skanderbeg SS Division. Like in Crimea, there was a resettlement plan. Albanian settlers and colonists from northern Albania were brought in to take over the Serbian land. In Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo, Miranda Vickers detailed the plan of resettlement and genocide:
“Until the first months of 1944 there were continued waves of migration from Kosovo of Serbs and Montenegrins, forced to flee following intimidation… The 21st SS ‘Skanderbeg Division’ (consisting, as already mentioned, of two battalions) formed out of Albanian volunteers in the spring of 1944, indiscriminately killed Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo. This led to the emigration of an estimated 10,000 Slav families, most of whom went to Serbia…replaced by new colonists from the poorer regions of northern Albania.”
A World War II U.S. intelligence report concluded that 10,000 Kosovo Serbs had been killed from 1941 to 1942. The World War II Commissariat for Refugees in Belgrade registered 70,000 Kosovo Serb refugees during the Italian and German occupations of Kosovo.
During World War II, Crimea and Kosovo were subjected to organized and systematic plans of genocide. Expulsions, resettlement, mass murders, and ethnic cleansing were the results. An estimated 10,000 Kosovo Serbs were killed and 100,000 were expelled. Crimea was to be resettled by ethnic Germans and annexed to the Third Reich. The Russian, Ukrainian, and Jewish populations were to be eliminated.