The roots of radical Islamist and Nazi collaboration
Discussions of the relationship between radical Islamists and National Socialism typically began with a discussion of Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
During the Second World War, Al-Husseini embraced the goals and aspirations of Nazi Germany and Adolph Hitler. Appointed by British Commissioner of Palestine, Herbert Samuel (a Jew), in 1921, Al-Husseini organized riots against Jewish settlements and was eventually dismissed in 1936. Finding himself increasingly irrelevant to the politics of the moment, he decided to curry favor with Hitler. He came to Berlin and lived throughout the war in a suite at the Adlon, a famous luxury hotel on the Pariser Platz.
With Hitler’s blessing he recruited Muslims to fight Tito’s partisans in the bloody Yugoslavian guerilla war. Muslim recruits fought alongside ethnic Germans and Croatians in the 13th Waffen SS (Shutzstaffel) Mountain Division, known as the Handschar Division. Kosovar Albanians manned the division’s best trained and equipped battalion. This battalion served as the foundation for a second SS division, the 21st (Skanderbeg).1
Both divisions were involved in the brutal fighting and many Serbs have held the Muslim Albanians responsible for the ethnic cleansing in what is today Kosovo. Ghosts of these crimes were evident in the anti-Kosovar, pro-Serbian propaganda generated by Slobodan Milosevic’s government between the disintegration of Yugoslavia, beginning in 1992 with the war in Bosnia, and ending with the peace plan that brought the fighting to an end in Kosovo in 1999.
However, it should be noted that not all Albanian or other Muslims were in cahoots with the Nazis and the Croatian nationalist Ustase death squads. Many Muslims in Albania tried, at the risk of their own lives, to smuggle and hide members of the local Jewish population.2
1George Lepre, Himmler’s Bosnian Division: The Waffen-SS Handschar Division (Schiffer Publishing, 2000)
2Norman H. Gershman, Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II (Syracuse University, 2008)