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,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 formations were formed to advance the goals of the Third Reich and of Islam.The goal of the Muslims was to achieve autonomy and independence for Bosnia-Hercegovina under Muslim rule. The Bosnian Muslims formed two Nazi SS Divisions during World War II,the 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Handzar” (or “Handschar” 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 Worker’s Party (National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei),the NSDAP,or Nazi party.The two Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS Divisions, Handzar and Kama, were radical departures from the racial theories heretofore applied by the SS.Before Handzar, SS members had been either German or Germanic,that is,Aryan or Nordic,the herrenvolk (the master race),and were Christians. Thus, inclusion of the Slavic Muslims represented a revolutionary and radical departure for the SS at that time. The approximately 20,000 Bosnian Muslim troops in the 13th Waffen SS Gebirgs Division “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. 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. SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Desiderius Hampel replaced him as commander of the Handzar Division. 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! 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. 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. ” 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.