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Carl Savich | Columns | serbianna.com The Holocaust in Bosnia-Hercegovina, 1941-1945

by Carl K. Savich

Bosnia-Hercegovina has for over a millennium been a battleground where the world's major religions, civilizations, cultures, and empires have clashed and collided: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the medieval Serbian, Croatian,and Bosnian Empires, the East and the West. Bosnia-Hercegovina was the dividing line between East and West, between Catholicism and the West and Orthodoxy, Islam, and Judaism and the East. The churches, the cathedrals,the mosques, and the synagogues are the remaining symbols of this battle and conflict between cultures and empires.

World War I began in Bosnia, one of the bloodiest and most horrific wars in the history of mankind, ushering in the twentieth century. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78Ýsprang from the 1875 insurrection in Bosnia-Hercegovina. During World War II, Bosnia-Hercegovina was one of the bloodiest battlefields of the war and of the Holocaust.

The Bosnian Serbs are representatives of the Orthodox Christian Church and of the Byzantine culture and are part of the larger Serbian nation. The Bosnian Croats are representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Austro-Hungarian culture and are part of the Croatian nation. The Bosnian Muslims are representatives of Sunni Islam and were part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and culture. The Bosnian Jews are representatives of Judaism and are mostly descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain following the Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews.

From 1941-1945, Bosnia-Hercegovina was part of the NDH, Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska, the Independent State of Croatia and was one of the bloodiest arenas of the Holocaust and battlefields of the war. With the assistance of Haj Amin el Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler, the Bosnian Muslim leadership undertook the systematic extermination of the Jewish and non-Muslim, non-Croat population of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Two Waffen SS Divisions and other Nazi and fascist formationsÝ were formed to advance the goals of the Third Reich and of Islam. The goal of the Muslims was to achieve autonomyÝ and independence for Bosnia-Hercegovina under Muslim rule. The period 1941-1945 is crucial in understanding and comprehending the Bosnian civil war of 1992-1995.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem

Haj Amin el Husseini fled to Europe in 1941 following the unsuccessful pro-Nazi coup which he organized in Iraq. He met Joachim von Ribbentrop and was officially received by Adolf Hitler on November 28, 1941 in Berlin. Nazi Germany established for der Grossmufti von Jerusalem a Bureau from which he organized the following: 1) radio propaganda on behalf of Nazi Germany; 2) espionage and fifth column activities in Muslim regions of Europe and the Middle East; 3) the formation of Muslim Waffen SS and Wehrmacht units in Bosnia, the Balkans, North Africa, and Nazi-occupied areas of the Soviet Union; and, 4) the formation of schools and training centers for Muslim imams and mullahs who would accompany the Muslim SS and Wehrmacht units. As soon as he arrived in Europe,the Mufti established close contacts with Bosnian Muslim and Albanian Muslim leaders. He would spend the remainder of the war organizing and rallying Muslims in support of Nazi Germany.

Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el Husseini was born in 1893 in Jerusalem, then the capital of Palestine, which was a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. In 1917, during World War I, the British occupied Palestine and established the Mandate. On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour announced that Britain was committed to establishing a Jewish homeland in formerly Ottoman Palestine, which was known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Husseini devoted his entire life and career to the destruction of a proposed Jewish homeland and the prevention of Jewish immigration into Palestine. His goal was to create an Arab state of Palestine with the concomitant extermination or marginalization of the Jewish population.

He formed a Society of Palestinian Youth and wrote anti-Jewish articles in Arab newspapers. On April 4, 1920, he was accused of inciting riots against Jewish crowds in Jerusalem. He was tried by a military court with incitement to violence. He subsequently absconded from his bail and was tried in absentia and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

On July 1,1920, Sir Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner for Palestine, assumed control. Samuel sought to reconcile with the Palestinian population by pardoning Husseini. Sir Robert Storrs, the then governor of the city, appointed him Mufti of Jerusalem. He was also the president of the Supreme Muslim Council, and, later, the Arab Higher Committee. He was thus the religious and political leader of the Palestinian Muslims. Husseini was one of the most influential and powerful leaders in the Islamic world because of the fact that Jerusalem was a holy city and contained many Islamic holy sites.

The Mufti instigated and organized Muslim riots against Palestinian Jews in 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936, which resulted in hundreds of deaths. Following the 1936 riots, fearing imprisonment, he fled to Lebanon.

In December, 1931, the Grand Mufti organized an All-Islamic Conference in Jerusalem. This would be the first time the Mufti would come in contact with Bosnian Muslim political and religious leaders. Present at the Muftiâs All Islamic Conference were Mehmed Spaho, the president of the Yugoslavian Muslim Organization or JMO, Uzeiraga Hadzihasanovic, hadzi-Mujaga Merhemic and other Bosnian Muslim political and religious leaders. The Mufti was elected president of the Conference.

Franz Reichert, the director of the Palestine branch of the Deutsches Nachrichten Buro (German News Bureau) from 1933 to 1938, established the first contacts between Nazi Germany and Muslim leaders in the Middle East. The Mufti approached representatives of the Nazi regime and sought cooperation on July 21, 1937, when he visited the German Consul in Jerusalem. He later sent an agent and personal representative to Berlin for discussions with Nazi leaders.

SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich was second in command to Heinrich Himmler in the SS hierarchy and was the chief of the Reich Security Head Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA) and was the head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the SS Security Service. In Septemper, 1937, Heydrich sent two SS officers, SS Hauptscharfuehrer Adolf Eichmann and SS Oberscharfuehrer Herbert Hagen on a mission to Palestine, one of the main objectives being to establish contact with the Grand Mufti. During this period Husseini received financial and military assistance and supplies from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.

After meeting Hitler and Ribbentrop in Berlin in 1941, the Mufti was made an SS Gruppenfuehrer by Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who in May 1943, sought to move him to the SS leadership main office where he would direct recruiting. The Grand Mufti was instrumental in the organization and formation of many Muslim units and formations in the Waffen SS and Wehrmacht. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims fought for Nazi Germany in the following formations and units: Two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions,an Albanian Waffen SS Division in Kosovo-Metohija, the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Skanderbeg", a Muslim SS self-defense regiment in the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia, the Arab Legion (Arabisches Freiheitskorps), the Arab Brigade, the Ostmusselmanische SS-Regiment, the Ostturkischen Waffen Verband der SS made up of Turkistanis, the Waffengruppe der-SS Krim and a Tatar Regiment der-SS made up of Crimean Tatars, and other Muslim formations in the Waffen SS and Wehrmacht, in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Balkans, North Africa, Nazi-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, and the Middle East. The Muslim Chechens of Chechnya in Russia joined the Nazi German military forces in large numbers and these Chechen troops were incorporated in the Nazi forces and formations occupying the Soviet Union.

The Nazi Protectorate of Bosnia-Hercegovina

On April 10, 1941, Slavko Kvaternik proclaimed the creation of the Independent State of Croatia, Nezavisn Drzava Hrvatska, NDH, following the German invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia. The NDH consisted of the territories of Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and parts of Serbia and was a Nazi-fascist puppet state created by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and ruled by the Ustashi ("insurgents"), Croatian Catholic nationalists and Bosnian Muslims. The President or Poglavnik of the NDH was Ante Pavelic, born in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the Vice-President, from November, 1941 to April, 1945, was Dzafer Kulenovic, a Bosnian Muslim born in Bihac. From April to November, 1941, the Vice-President had been his brother, Osman Kulenovic. The Minister of the Interior was Andrija Artukovic, born in Ljubuski,Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Minister of Justice was Mirko Puk; Slavko Kvaternik was Minister of Army; Mile Budak was Minister of Education and Cults.

Dzafer Kulenovic, the Bosnian Muslim Vice-President of the NDH, had been the president of the Yugoslavian Muslim Organization (JMO) and was the political leader of the Bosnian Muslims. Eleven Muslim political leaders of the JMO were invited to be part of the Ustasha NDH parliament in Zagreb. The Ustasha Commissioner for Bosnia-Hercegovina was Bosnian Muslim Hakija Hadzic. The NDH was a Croatian Catholic and Bosnian Muslim state which sought the extermination or genocide of the Jewish and Serbian Orthodox populations. The NDH adopted the Nuremberg racial laws and began the incarceration of Jews who were forced to wear a yellow band with the letter "Z", for Zidov, Jew.

On September 25, 1941, under decree-law, No. 1528-2101-Z-1941, the creation of assembly or work camps for undesirable and dangerous persons was authorized, which was the basis for the establishment of the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia.

From the beginning of the German invasion of Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Muslims had sought to convince the Germans that Bosnia-Hercegovina should be a Nazi Protectorate, that is, have an autonomous political existence. In 1941, over 100,000 Bosnian Muslim conscripts were available to fight in the military formations of the Third Reich. Bosnian Muslim soldiers were in the Ustasha death squads, the Domobranci (Home Guards), and the Croatian Army. Bosnian Muslim soldiers were also in the Nazi-Ustasha German-Croatian "Legion" units, such as the 369th, 373rd, andÝ392nd Infantry Divisions. In The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945, Leni Yahil remarked that the Bosnian Muslims even sent their soldiers to fight on the Russian front as part of the Nazi German forces:Ý "One of their units later joined the German forces fighting in Russia." The 369th Reinforced Croat Infantry Regiment, made up of Croats and Bosnian Muslims, fought at Stalingrad where it was destroyed. The NDH also sent the Italian-Croat Legion, attached to the Italian 3rd Mobile Division, to the Russian front where it was destroyed during the Don retreat.

The Bosnian Muslims formed purely Muslim formations as well, the most important of which was the Muslim Volunteer Legion, led by Mohammed Hadzieffendic. Other Muslim formations were the Zeleni Kadar (Green Cadres), Nazi formations created by deserters from the Home Guards (Domobranci), led by Neshad Topcic, the Muslim nationalist group, the Young Muslims (Mladi Muslimani), Huska Miljkovicâs Muslim Army, and the Gorazde-Foca milicijas (policing units).

The Bosnian Muslim political and religious leaders continued to argue for the establishment of a Nazi Protectorate for Bosnia. They interceded with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in Berlin to support their goal of creating a Nazi protectorate for Bosnia. The German commanders in Croatia, the NDH, Foreign Minister Siegfried Kasche and General Edmund Gleise von Horstenau, however, opposed the creation of a Protectorate for Bosnia, supporting instead a unitary NDH.

On October 15, 1942, the Bosnian Muslim religious and political leaders sent a delegation from Mostar to a meeting in Rome with the Grand Mufti and Benito Mussolini, who sought to gain influence in the Muslim countries and who assumed the title of 'Protector of Islam'. The Bosnian Muslim delegation consisted of the grand mufti of Mostar, Omer Dzabic, Ibrahim Fejic, hadzi-Ahmed Karabeg, and Oman Sehic. The goal of the delegation was to convince Mussolini to sponsor a Fascist Protectorate for Bosnia-Hercegovina. A Fascist Protectorate for Bosnia did not result.

The Bosnian Muslim leadership remained determined to secure political autonomy for Bosnia-Hercegovina by interceding with the Grand Mufti to use his influence to create a Protectorate. By 1943, the Mufti and the Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler became convinced that the Bosnian Muslims could be organized in Nazi formations to advance the objectives of the Third Reich and of Islam. Himmler sent the Mufti to Zagreb and to Sarajevo to prepare for the formation of the Bosnian Muslim units. Himmler's SS representative in the NDH, Konstantin Kammerhofer, was told to begin recruiting a Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Division of 26,000 men, which if realized, would make it the largest of all the SS Divisions.

In forming the Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Division, Himmler overruled the objections of the Pavelic regime, which considered such formations and infringement on the sovereignty of the NDH. Himmler, as the second most powerful leader in the Third Reich after Hitler, was able to create a de facto Protectorate for Bosnia. Two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions would be created by 1944.

The Jewish Question in Bosnia-Hercegovina

On July 22,1941, Mile Budak declared that the goal of the NDH was to create a Croat Catholic and Bosnian Muslim state by the extermination of 'foreign elements', which were Jews, Orthodox Serbs, and Gypsies. His statement is as follows: "The basis for the Ustasha movement is religion. For minorities such as Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, we have three million bullets." He emphasized in a speech on July 6, 1941, that the Bosnian Muslims were to be an integral part of the NDH: "The Croatian state is Christian. It is also a Moslem state where our people are of the Mohammedan religion." Synagogues and Orthodox churches were plundered and destroyed and Jewish rabbis and Serbian Orthodox priests were murdered.

On August 14, 1941, Ante Pavelic, in a speech in Vukovar, in Srem, announced the official policy of the NDH:

This is now the Ustashi and Independent State of Croatia, it must be cleansed of Serbs and Jews.There is no room for any of them here. Not a stone upon a stone will remain of what once belonged to them.

Pavelic's speech and the law passed in Srem were published in the Ustasha Hrvatski Narod newspaper of August 15 and 16, 1941.

In 1941, Pavelic declared: "The Jews will be liquidated within a very short time." Following the Wannsee Conference of January 20,1942, where the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" was formulated, the German regime proposed through SS Sturmbannfuehrer Hans Helm that the Croats transfer Jewish prisoners to German camps in the East. Eugen Dido Kvaternik, chief of the NDH security services,agreed that the NDH would arrest the Jews, take them to railheads, and pay the Germans 30 reichsmarks per person for the cost of transport to the extermination camps in the east. The Germans agreed that the property of the Jews would go to the NDH government...

SS Haupsturmfuehrer Franz Abromeit was sent to supervise the deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oswiecim-Brzezina). From August 13-20,1942, 5,500 Jews from the NDH were transported to Auschwitz of five trains from the NDH concentration camps at Tenje and Loborgrad and from Zagreb and Sarajevo. Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler was on a state visit to Zagreb in May, 1943 when two trains on May 5 and 10 transported 1,150 Jews to Auschwitz.

The largest concentration camp in Bosnia was the Kruscica camp near Travnik, established in April-May, 1941, where many of Bosnia's Jews were killed.

On February 26, 1942, NDH Interior Minister Andrija Artukovic, gave a speech before the NDH Parliament or Sabor in Zagreb in which he claimed the Jewish question had been settled in the NDH:

The Croatian people, having re-established their independent state of Croatia, could not do otherwise but to clean off the poisonous damagers and insatiable parasites - Jews, Communists, Freemasons. The independent state of Croatia, as an Ustashi state settled the so-called Jewish question with a decisive and healthy grasp.

The total Jewish population of Bosnia-Hercegovina was approximately 14,000 in 1941, 10,500 of whom lived in Sarajevo. In the 1931 census,there were 73,000 Yugoslav Jews; in 1941,there were 80,000 Jews, including over 4,000 Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and other countries. The Jewish population was broken down as follows:Ý 60% were Ashkenazic and 40% were Sephardic. Interwar Yugoslavia had a thriving and vibrant Jewish community which was organized under the Union of Communities based in Belgrade, Serbia, which had a population of 11,000 Jews. German - occupied Serbia had a population of 16,000 Jews. The NDH had a total population of 40,000 Jews, 11,000 of whom lived in Zagreb.

The overwhelming majority of Bosnian Jews were Sephardic, many fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and the Reconquista in Spain and settling in Ottoman Turkish Bosnia by way of Salonika. The first documented Jewish presence in Sarajevo is from 1565. Sarajevo had a special Jewish quarter and a synagogue erected in 1577. The Sephardic Jews spoke their own language, Ladino, and functioned mainly as merchants and traders. The first synagogue,completed in 1581, was called Il Cal grande. By 1800, there were 1,000 Jews in Bosnia. The occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878 saw the influx of Ashkenazim. The Sephardic synagogue in Sarajevo, built in 1927-31, was the largest in the Balkans.

On April 17, 1941, Sarajevo was occupied by the Germans. The Sephardic synagogue was destroyed by German, Croat, and Bosnian Muslim forces, according to Leni Yahil in The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945:

Bosnia and Herzegovina were annexed to newly independent Croatia. Sarajevo, the ancient Sephardic Jewish center, was captured by the Germans on April 17, 1941, and the Croats and the Germans immediately burned down the ancient and renowned synagogue.The Moslems collaborated in this (one of their units later joined the German forces fighting in Russia). The first concentration camp was already established in May 1941.

Martin Gilbert, in The Holocaust: A History of the Jews in Europe during the Second World War, described the destruction of the Sephardic synagogue of Sarajevo as follows: "On April 16, German forces entered Sarajevo, and, with local Muslims, plundered and destroyed the main synagogue." In Atlas of the Holocaust, Gilbert offered the following description:

Between the wars, during the 'Yugoslav era', the Jews of Bosnia enjoyed full civil liberties. But disaster struck from the first days of the German occupation, with the burning down of the synagogue by German troops and local Muslims.

Entire Jewish and Serbian communities in the Sarajevo region were destroyed and Jewish and Serbian men, women, and children were massacred by Bosnian Muslims and Croats. Numerous massacres occurred in the Bosnian towns of Bihac, Brcko, and Doboj. Even the Germans began protesting the bestiality and brutality of these massacres against Jews and Orthodox Serbs. Synagogues and Orthodox churches were plundered and destroyed and rabbis and Orthodox priests were tortured and brutally murdered.

A large percentage of the Bosnian Jewish community was deported between September and November, 1941, to Jasenovac, and Djakovo, and the Loborgrad camp for women from the Kruscica camp, located south of Zenica and Travnik in central Bosnia. From the Kruscica concentration camp,which functioned as a collection and transit camp, Jews, mostly from Sarajevo, were transported to the northern extermination camps of the NDH, Jasenovac, Loborgrad, Stara Gradiska. Surviving Jews were later transferred to Auschwitz where they were gassed.Ý A small number survived this first spree of killing by escaping to the Italian zone of occupation or by joining the guerrilla movements. Those Jews who remained alive in the NDH concentration camps were later transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps in the east.

Bosnia-Hercegovina during the Holocaust

In April, 1943, the Grand Mufti came to Sarajevo, where he was greeted by cheering crowds and where he was photographed on the balcony of the presidency building with Bosnian Muslim leaders, to organize the formation of the Muslim SS Division. Husseini met with prominent Bosnian Muslim leaders Uzeiraga Hadzihasanovic and hadzi-Mujaga Merhemic and spoke in the Begova Djamija or Beg Mosque, exhorting Muslims to join the Waffen SS.Bosnian Muslim muftis and imams, such as Mustafa and Halim Malkoc, harangued Muslims in front of mosques to volunteer to join the proposed Muslim Waffen SS Division.

The Bosnian Muslims formed two Nazi SS Divisions during World War II, the 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Handzar" (or "Handscha" in German) from the Turkish hancher, "dagger", and the 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS "Kama", from Turkish kama, "dagger, dirk". During the war, Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the "architect of the Holocaust", was photographed and filmed reviewing the Handzar Division in a famous German newsreel in 1943 while the division was being formed and trained in Silesia, at the Neuhammer Waffen SS Training Camp in Germany. The Bosnian Muslims had 20,000 - 25,000 men in the Waffen SS and police, roughly 4% of their total population, one of the highest ratios of membership in the Nazi ranks as a percentage of total population during the war.

The Schutzstaffel or SS, meaning "protective rank" or "defensive squadron" in German, was a branch of the German National Socialist Workerâs Party (National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei), the NSDAP,or Nazi party. The SS was originally formed in 1925 as an elite bodyguard to Hitler and the other Nazi leaders and was a part of the SA or Sturmabteilung ("storm troopers" in German) which was headed by Ernst Roehm. In 1929, Himmler became the leader of the SS. On June 30, 1934,Ý the "Night of the Long Knives" ("die Nacht der langen Messer"), Himmlers SS troops executed Roehm and the top leaders of the SA, destroying the power of the SA while making the SS the key organization in the Nazi Party. The SS was a complex evolving organization divided into the Allgemeine (General) Group, and the Waffen (Armed) Group. The Waffen SS,established in 1940, was the combat wing of the SS. The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which tried war criminals after the war, declared the SS a criminal organization and every individual member of the SS to be a war criminal guilty ofÝ "planning and carrying out crimes against humanity."

The approximately 20,000 Bosnian Muslim troops in the 13th Waffen SS Gebirg's DivisionÝ "Handzar" and the several thousand in the 23rd Waffen SS Gebirgs Division 'Kama' wore a field-green fez, while officers wore a red or maroon fez. On the fez itself appeared the Totenkopf (Death's Head) insignia of the SS and the Hoheitszeichen (a white or silver eagle and the Nazi swastika). While Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Kemal Pasha, had outlawed the fez in 1925 for Turkey in the Hat Law, the Bosnian Muslims, continued to wear the fez.

The Muslim Handzar and Kama Divisions were organized on the model of the Bosnian Muslim regiments of the Austro-Hungarian Army. The divisional names are derived from the Turkish words 'hancher' and 'kama', which in Turkish mean 'dagger'. The handzar and kama were Turkish daggers which the Ottoman Turkish Zaptiehs or police customarily carried as weapons when Bosnia was under Turkish Ottoman rule. Thus, the names of the divisions were meant to revive the historical traditionsÝ of the Bosnian Muslims as the rulers and masters (begs or aghas) of Bosnia-Hercegovina over the non-Muslim rayah or untermenschen or mistmenschen, the subhumans, Jews and Orthodox Serb Christians. This was the meaning and symbolic significance of the names 'handzar' and 'kama'.

While the official, final designation of the Handzar or Handschar Division was 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS (the 13th Armed Mountain Division of the SS), the Division was known by other names during its formation stages, when it was under the control of SS Standartenfuehrer Herbert von Obwurzer: Croat SS Volunteer Division (Kroatische SS Freiwilligen Division), SS Division "Bosnien-Herzegowina" (SS Div.BH), Muselmanen Division (Muslim Division), 13.SS-Bosniaken-Gebirgs-Division, Bosnisch-Herzegowinische SS Gebirgsdivision "Kroatien", and various other names.

These two Muslim SS Divisions were conceived as the armed forces of the de facto Nazi protectorate which the Muslims sought to create for Bosnia-Hercegovina. Adolf Hitler ordered the creation of the Handzar Division of February 10,1943.Ý The Handzar Division would be commanded by SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS, Karl Gustav Sauberzweig, and at its peak strength by the end of 1943 would consist of 21,065 men, making it the third largest of the approximately 40 SS Divisions formed during the war.

In June, 1944, Sauberzweig was promoted to Generalleutnant and assumed command of the IX SS Mountain Corps.ÝSS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Desiderius Hampel replaced him as commander of the Handzar Division.

The Division had at least nine Bosnian Muslim officers, the highest ranking of whom was SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Hussein Biscevic-Beg. Initially, the Handzar Division was formed around the core of the Muslim Volunteer Legion, led by Mohammed Hadzieffendic, which was close to divisional strength itself.

Adolf Hitler approved the formation of the second Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Division, 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS 'Kama', on June 17, 1944, although transfers and recruitments for the cadre personnel had been begun on June 10. The objective was to recruit a Waffen SS Division of over 19,000 troops but by September 10, 1944, the number of men in the still forming division was 126 officers, 374 NCOs, and 3,293 men, 3,793 men in all. The Kama Division was commanded by SS Standartenfuehrer Helmut Raithel, who had earlier commanded the 28th Regiment of the Handzar Division. The Kama Division was formed and trained in the Bacska region, formerly part of Yugoslavia, at that time annexed by Hungary.

In January, 1944, the Mufti made a second visit to and spent three days with the Handzar Division, which would arrive in Bosnia from Germany later that month. In a speech to the Division, he made the following declaration of principles which was to guide not only Bosnian Muslims, but Muslims throughout the world:

This division of Bosnian Muslims established with the help of Greater Germany, is an example to Muslims in all countries. There is no other deliverance for them from imperialistic oppression than hard fighting to preserve their homes and faith. Many common interests exist between the Islamic world and Greater Germany, and those make cooperation a matter of course. The Reich is fighting against the same enemies who robbed the Muslims of their countries and suppressed their faith in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Germany is the only Great Power which has never attacked any Islamic country. Further, National-Socialist Germany is fighting against world Jewry. The Koran says: "You will find that the Jews are the worst enemies of the Muslims." There are also considerable similarities between Islamic principles and those of National-Socialism, namely in the affirmation of struggle and fellowship, in stressing leadership, in the idea of order, in the high valuation of work. All this brings our ideologies close together and facilitates cooperation. I am happy to see in this division a visible and practical expression of both ideologies.

The Donauzeitung newspaper of December 31, 1942 reported that the Mufti had donated over 240,000 Kuna, the currency of the NDH regime, to the Muslim charity organization in Sarajevo from the coffers of Nazi Germany. In the spring of 1944, in a German radio broadcast from Zittau, Germany, he issued a call to Bosnian and Yugoslav Muslims to hold Islamic prayer services for 7 days to pray for the success of Hitler's forces.

The Bosnian Muslim Handzar and Kama Divisions were indoctrinated to kill Jews and Orthodox Serbs, who made up the bulk of the guerrilla and resistance movements, and who were associated with the enemies of the Third Reich, Communism and England,or as Heinrich Himmler termed it, the "common Jewish-Anglo-Bolshevik enemy". On March 1, 1944, the Grand Mufti issued from Berlin the following call to all Muslims: "Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion. This saves your honor. God is with you."ÝMoreover, the Mufti called upon Bosnian Muslims to "take revenge and to punish" Bosnian Serb Orthodox Christians. Numerous eyewitness accounts testified that the Handzar Division committed the "worst atrocities against the Serbian population." In a photograph of troops of the Division, members are seen reading the pamphlet Islam und Judentum (Islam and Jewry), which explained the Nazi position on the Jewish Question and how it related to Muslims. These were prepared from the Mufti's schools and training centers in Germanythe Dresden school for Muslims in the Waffen SS, and the Goettingen school for Muslims in the German Wehrmacht.

Heinrich Himmler was determined to create the two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions, although he met with opposition from the NDH regime and from sources within the SS itself. In a letter to Konstantin Kammerhofer, his SS representative in the NDH, he urged that 'strong steps' be taken to convince the NDH regime that is was supposed to be a puppet regime: "I expect to receive, by August 1, 1943, your report that the division, at a strength of about 26,000 men, is completely ready." Himmler ordered Gottlob Berger to send Kammerhofer two million Reichsmarks to fund the recruiting effort for the Handzar division. Unlike most SS officials, Himmler was convinced of the fighting ability of the Bosnian Muslims, partly from his understanding of the role of the Bosnian Muslims as soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army before and during World War I and his belief that Islam was an ideal religion for a soldier. Himmler stated to Joseph Goebbels that he hadÝ '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!'

The Bosnian Muslim troops in the Waffen SS Divisions were accorded the same privileges they had enjoyed in the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army: special rations and the observance of Islamic religious rites.Each battalion in the Divisions had an Imam and each regiment a Mullah. Following the 1878 occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, four infantry regiments were recruited from the Muslim population: the Bosnia-Hercegovina Regiment No. 1, recruited around Sarajevo; the Regiment No. 2, recruited around Banja Luka; the Regiment No.3, recruited around Tuzla; and the Regiment No.4, recruited around Mostar. Following the outbreak of World War I, these Muslim regiments in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army would be thrust against the Serbian Army. The Handzar and Kama Divisions were modeled on these earlier Austro-Hungarian Muslim regiments, as Gerald Reitlinger explained in The SS: Alibi of a Nation: "These Moslems were the traditional enemies of the Christian Serbs, and in 1941 their religious zeal had urged them to join in the massacres of Serbs. As pillage was followed by discipline, the energy of the Mujos was canalised into the Waffen SS. The Mujos were organised on the lines of the Bosnian regiments of the old Imperial Austrian army, with officers and even N.C.O.s of German race, but they wore the Turkish fez with their SS runes and.. each battalion had an Imam.''

On June 23, 1943, Himmler prepared a special SS oath for the Bosnian Muslim troops which read as follows:

''I swear to the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, as Supreme Commander of the German Armed Forces, to be loyal and brave. I swear to the Fuehrer and to the leaders whom he may designate, obedience unto death.''

Himmler included a clause pledging the Muslims to swear to "always be loyal" to the NDH and to Ante Pavelic, which was meant to prevent any conflict between Muslims and Croats and the NDH regime, which opposed the formation of the Division. The Handzar and Kama Divisions were listed as "Kroatische No.1 and No.2" respectively to appease the Ustasha NDH regime. In fact, there were at most only several hundred Catholic Croats in either division, although initially several thousand Croat recruits were planned for the divisions. Along with mullahs and imams, Croat Roman Catholic chaplains were also initially planned to accompany the divisions. The divisions were Croat in name only,that is,nominally. Ante Pavelic opposed the formation of the divisions because they violated the sovereignty of the NDH. Pavelic sought to sabotage the division, or to at least have some knowledge of its movements and activities on the soil of the NDH. Some German officers even wore the Ustasha checkerboard symbol, but Muslim leaders and the troops in the division perceived the divisions as a Bosnian Muslim one.

When Handzar occupied eastern and northern Bosnia in the spring and summer of 1944, it assumed control over its own munitions, without consulting NDH officials, placed civilian authority under Muslim control, and 'liquidated' organs of the NDH Ustasha regime. There was a direct challenge and conflict to and negation of the sovereignty of the NDH.

On August 6, 1943, Himmler wrote the following letter to his representative in the NDH, SS Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant der Polizei Konstantin Kammerhofer and to Artur Phleps, commander of the Vth SS Mountain Corps outlining guidelines for the enlistment of Muslims in the Waffen SS and police:

All Moslem members of the Waffen SS and police are to be afforded the undeniable right of their religious demands never to touch pork, pork sausages nor to drink alcohol. I hold all commanders and other SS officers, responsible for the most scrupulous and loyal respect for this privilege especially granted to the Muslims. They have answered the call of the Moslem chiefs and have come to us out of hatred for the common Jewish-Anglo-Bolshevik enemy and through respect and fidelity for he who they respect above all, the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler. There will no longer be the least discussion about the special rights afforded to the Moslems in these circles.
Heil Hitler!
(signed)
H.Himmler

The Handzar and Kama Divisions, stationed in the Bosnian towns of Brcko, Bijeljina, Tuzla, Gradacac and Zvornik engaged in a policy termed by the Nazis as 'pacification' of the population, which consisted of genocide and ethnic cleansing of Jews and Serbs in eastern and northern Bosnia. Irit Abramski-Bligh, in a biography of the Grand Mufti, stated the the objective of the Waffen SS Divisions was as follows: "They participated in the massacre of civilians in Bosnia and volunteered to join in the hunt for Jews in Croatia." The Muslim SS Divisions followed a policy of cleansing (ciscenje, in Serbo-Croat), "cleansing the land of bandits and ethnic enemies" from a directive for the divisions. In the Brcko and Bijeljina regions of northern and eastern Bosnia, units of the Handzar Division "butchered everyone not wearing a fez" ("klali su sve sto nije nosilo fes") based on eyewitness accounts. The Muslim Waffen SS troops, raped, pillaged, and massacred Orthodox Serbs and Jews without regard for age or sex. The Divisions were exhorted in their 1944 directives to "exterminate enemies, exterminate the community, but leave intact the houses, land and effects of the enemies." Unarmed Jews and Serbs, not murdered in the first great wave of genocide, were massacred and ethnically cleansed in Rogatica, Vlasenica, Srebrenica, and Visegrad. Ethnically pure Muslim settlements were created (''cistih narodnih naselja'' in Serbo-Crat, from a 1944 report).

The two Muslim SS Divisions were assisted in their 'pacification' program by the Nazi formation, Zeleni Kadar ("Green Cadres" in Serbo-Croat), consisting of at least 6,000 Bosnian Muslim deserters from the Ustasha Domobranci. The Zeleni Kadar was led by Neshad Topcic, a rabidly pro-Nazi Muslim who advocated the extermination of the Serbian population of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Topcic advocated the creation of a 'united Muslim phalange' or phalanx organized against Jews and Serbs, consisting of a union of Bosnia, Albanian, and Rashka (Sandzak) Muslims.

Bedri Pejani, the Muslim leader of the Albanian National Committee, presented a plan to the Grand Mufti calling for the extermination of the Serbian population of Kosovo-Metohija and a union of Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina,and the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia into a Greater Islamic State. The Grand Mufti approved the Pejani plan as being in the interest of Islam, but the Germans rejected the plan.

The Muslim Waffen SS Divisions were known for their atrocities against civilians and for their bestial acts against anti-Nazi guerillas. Himmler's liaison officer at Hitler's headquarters, SS Brigadefuehrer Hermann Fegelein, described to Hitler the fanaticism and bestiality of the Bosnian Muslim troops, which even appalled the SS leaders, as follows:

The enemy takes off [abhauen] with all its things when they [the Bosnian Muslims] move in. They kill them only with their knives.There was one man who was wounded. He allowed his arm to be bandaged and then went on to finish off 17 more of the enemy with his left hand. Cases also occur where they [the Bosnian Muslims] cut the heart out of their enemy.

Hitler was angered and dismayed at this graphic description which interrupted a high-level military conference. Hitler dismissed Fegeleinâs account with, "Das ist Wurst" (German, literally, "that is sausage", meaning, "I do not care at all").

The Aftermath

Of the 10,500 Jews of Sarajevo before the war, only about 800 survived the Holocaust. Of the approximately 14,000 Jews of Bosnia-Hercegovina, about 12,000 would perish. Most Bosnian Jews did not survive the initial wave of killings. The survivors joined the guerrilla movements or escaped to the Italian zone. Those Jews who were part of the pre-war Yugoslav Army became German POWs, and survived the war, later returning to Sarajevo after the Holocaust.

The Jewish community of Bosnia-Hercegovina was reconstituted after the Holocaust, but most survivors immigrated to Israel in 1948-49. R. Menahem Romano organized religious services in the surviving Ashkenazi synagogue and social and cultural activities of the Jewish community resumed. The 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Jews to Bosnia-Hercegovina was commemorated in 1970 with delegates from Israel and the U.S. That same year, a monument to the victims of the Holocaust was erected at the Jewish cemetery at Kovacica. Before the start of the Bosnian civil war of 1992-1995, the Jewish population of Bosnia-Hercegovina numbered over 1,000.

The number of Bosnian Serbs murdered during the Holocaust was several hundred thousand. For in conjunction with the extermination of the Jews of Bosnia, as we have seen, Orthodox Serbs, as well as Gypsies, were also victims of a planned and systematic program of genocide. This fact is crucial in understanding and comprehending the Bosnian civil war of 1992-1995. The Holocaust in Bosnia-Hercegovina, from 1941 to 1945 revealed the fragile and precarious ethnic, religious, and cultural balance and the incompatible and conflicting ethnic, religious, nationalist, and political agendas of the population of Bosnia.

World War I began in Sarajevo, one of the bloodiest and brutal wars in the history of mankind,ushering in the twentieth century.During World War II, Bosnia- Hercegovina was one of the bloodiest killing fields of the Holocaust and of the war. And yet, in 1992, still another conflagration enveloped Bosnia, which lasted for nearly four years, and which resulted in horrific carnage and human suffering, with millions of refugees from all ethnic groups.

Bosnia-Hercegovina is an excellent test case of whether humanity has ever learned anything from history. Georg Hegel, in the Philosophy of History (1832) concluded as follows: "What experience and history teach is this - that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it." In August 1939, Adolf Hitler asked, "Who remembers now the extermination of the Armenians?"

The Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, who developed the concept of 'genocide' and was instrumental in post-war efforts to create international legislationÝ that would prevent and punish genocide,sought to dedicate his efforts so that mankind would learn from the experiences of history. The Genocide Convention of 1948 resulted.

The word 'genocide' was coined by Raphael Lemkin in Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944) because 'mass murders' and 'denationalization' did not encompass the magnitude of the crime. In 1933, Lemkin proposed at the Fifth International Conference for the Unification of Criminal Law, sponsored by the League of Nations, that genocide be regarded an international crime. His proposal was rejected. Lemkin described how he coined the word 'genocide' as follows:

This word is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, clan) and the Latin suffix cide (killing)... Genocide is the crime of destroying national, racial or religious groups... The conscience of mankind has been shocked by this type of mass barbarity.

Lemkin argued that genocide must be made an international crime because "a state would never prosecute a crime instigated or backed by itself."

In August,1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill lamented in describing the German systematic destruction and mass murders of European populations as follows: "We are in the presence of a crime without a name." Today, that crime is called genocide. What occurred during 1941-1945 in Bosnia-Hercegovina,Ý the systematic and planned mass murders and extermination of the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Jewish populations, would be termed genocide under present international law and the Genocide Convention.

Bosnia-Hercegovina is a failure to learn from history. Like the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust, it is a failure we must all share in; we are all guilty. That is, it is a failureÝ to learn from the past. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905), stated that "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Bosnia presents us the challenge of whether we can learn from the past, whether we progress or regress, whether we remember and learn from the past, or whether we are condemned to repeat it.


Carl Savich
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