Hiring collaborationists. Demonstration in support of volunteering for the German-sponsored Albanian SS division.


In Albania the fall of Benito Mussolini caused a prompt occupation of the country by the German troops from the XXI Army Corps deployed in Serbia. On 11 September 1943 in Tirana, together with the parachutists, who seized the local airfield, landed Gen. Lothar Rendulić, who conducted the disarmament of the Italian troops deployed around the capital, as well as in the Albanian ports. He did not encounter any resistance. He also had conducted the first political talks.

As the invaders changed, also changed the policy of the resistance movement. The conference of the National Liberation Front (created a year earlier) issued the proclamation calling to fight the Germans. The partisans called upon the commander of the Italian forces in Albania, Gen. Renzo Dalmazzo, to join the partisans. Dalmazzo decided to surrender to the Germans, but as many as 15 thousand Italians defected to the National Liberation Army of Albania, and 1500 of them created there the partisan battalion Antonio Gramsci. Also some state officials and the chief of the Albanian gendarmerie chose to join the partisans. In the area of Tetovo - Debar - Gostivar, incorporated by the Italians into Albania, broke out an uprising, and on 14/15 September 1943 the partisans attacked Djakovica and set free 7 thousand Italians imprisoned there. After Italy's capitulation the partisans seized enough weapons and ammunition to form three infantry divisions. They also controlled vast mountainous areas, as well as several smaller towns.

The collaborationist camp had also gradually consolidated and reproached with the new invaders, who declared a help against a danger allegedly coming from the Yugoslav partisans commanded by Josip Broz (Tito). Till June 1944 the collaborationist forces grew up to 14 thousand men. A particular role among them played the nationalist organization Balli Kombëtar. It was originally created as an anti-Italian force, and even co-operated to some extend with the partisans, but very soon it concluded a secret agreement with Gen. Dalmazzo concerning a cease-fire between the ballists and the Italians. Among its leaders was Abaz Kupi, a former Major of gendarmerie, co-chairman of the Supreme National Liberation Council and member of the staff of the National Liberation Front. In November 1943 he created a new underground organization - the monarchist and pro-British Legaliteti - and sought a possibility to use the Germans in the struggle against the communists. Connected with him were some of the most influential Albanian politicians: Mit'hat Frashëri, released from the internment in Italy and assigned by the Germans to the chairman of the National Assembly, and Mustafa Merlika of Kruja, a former prime-minister and an Anglophile. Now Kupi and Frashëri eagerly engaged in actions against the National Liberation Front and propaganda in favour of restitution of the monarchy to Ahmet bej Zogu. Balli Kombëtar considered the communists the enemy No.1 and, according to the German testimonies, never fought against the German forces, but rather sought a plane of temporary agreement with the invaders. As a result the Germans did not attack that organization; moreover - they supplied it with arms.

In Kosovska Mitrovica there was created a committee, which openly collaborated with the Nazis. Collaborationist organizations, like the League of Valiant Shqiptars, fostered influential politicians like Xhafer Deva. From those circles was coming the propaganda about a Yugoslav design to conquer Albania; they portrayed the partisan movement as a product of Serbian or Russian agents' actions, and disseminated anti-Bulgarian, anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy sentiments.

The German forces in Albania, built around two divisions, were under the command of the German Plenipotentiary General in Albania (Deutscher Bevollmächtiger General in Albanien). The post was consecutively held by Generals Hans Bessel, Theodor Geib, Otto Gullmann and SS-Gruppenführer Josef Fitzthum. Reported to them local commands, similarly like in Montenegro. In the spring 1944 field commands in those areas were subordinated directly to the OBSO, which increased the influence of Hermann Neubacher on the occupation policy through the military channels. German militarymen tried to win sympathies of the Albanians by claiming that they were Albanians' friends, who liberated them from the Italian yoke. In line with that claim the diplomatic relations were established and Dr. Martin Schliep, a former adviser to the embassy in Warsaw, opened the German legacy in Tirana. The rightist Albanian politicians, who expected an Allied landing in the Balkans and a prompt collapse of the III Reich, did not demonstrate much enthusiasm for the idea of an autonomy granted by German grace in return for collaboration. It was not until such collaboration was organized in Kosovo, that in Albania too more active engagement in the collaboration was noticed. The prime-minister of the government of German-occupied Albania became a Germanophile politician Ibrahim bej Biçoku. The National Assembly, made of the persons not compromised by earlier collaboration with the Italians, on 11 September declared dissolution of the union of Albania and Italy, and proclaimed independence. The Zoguist constitution and flag were re-introduced; also the Regency Council was created, which rallied mostly members of the Balli Kombëtar. After Biçoku, who did not live up to the expectations of his masters, the office of the prime-minister was held since the mid-November by Rexhep bej Mitrovica, who formed his government after the pattern of the Serbian one. His government formally declared neutrality, but on the other hand pledged an alliance with the German Reich and 30 thousand volunteers for the Eastern front. He also established relations with Belgrade and sought co-operation with Milan Nedić. An amnesty to political prisoners was proclaimed to win the sympathies of the population. Mitrovica's government survived till June 1944 when, after sharp tensions between rivalling collaborationist groups - Frashëri's and Deva's - another puppet government, of Fiqri bej Dino, was created. Such frequent and swift changes came out not only from contradictions among the persons involved in collaboration, but also from the lack of support in the society, which was under the influence of the partisans on one side and tribal chieftains on the other, from the lack of ideological engagement, impossibility to provide the administration with permanent income, as well as from the Allied warning, demonstrated through air raids (the first air raid on Tirana took place on 13 October 1944). Also Bulgaria's and Turkey's unanimous association with the Allies in the autumn 1944 had its tremendous impact on collaboration in Albania. Purges among the administrative staff did not improve the situation; administration remained idle and impotent to a large degree. In September 1944 only 10% of state employees were coming to work.

Representatives of the German Reich tried to avoid anything that might look like a formal occupation of the country. SS-Brigadeführer (later SS-Obergruppenführer) Fitzthum was authorized by Neubacher to advise in the matters of policing and helped to create collaborationist police forces. From Berlin were coming Albanian passports, documents, legal tenders, postal stamps etc. Albanians - former soldiers of the Italian or Yugoslav army - were released from prison. In 1944 was formed the 21st Division of Waffen-SS, which was named after Skanderbeg - the legendary hero of the fights with the Turks. That division, officially classified as a Moslem division, was created upon consent from Tirana. It had to fight the partisans, but failed: partly because it suffered heavy casualties, partly because it was haunted by desertions. Also failed the Albanian gendarmerie, and the collaborationist police forces, armed by the occupation authorities, collapsed.

The main mechanism of the occupation system in Albania in 1943-1944 was the imposed collaboration (National Assembly, Regency Council, government, political organizations and police), which had no grassroot support. In order to restore the old social and political system, together with the monarchy, collaborationists were willing to intensify fratricidal struggle. Independence and neutrality, as well as Germans' presence as guests, were faked. Nevertheless Third Reich's activities in that area were closely watched both in the Allied camp and in Turkey.

Estimation of the influence of the collaborationist circles, expressed by the German plenipotentiary General after nine months in office, was devastating. He expressed doubts whether it was worth to undertake attempts to realize the concepts of a "sovereign" Albanian state. The time had brought the answer to that question. In the Albanian society grew the resistance against the invaders and their collaborationists, as well as the influence of the underground government led by Mehmet Shehu. In Croatia local Albanian emigrants created a "government", which was supposed to be an alternative both to the government in Tirana and the underground government. In those circumstances fascists resorted to the terror. For each act of sabotage they would shoot 30 hostages, for each killed or wounded German - 10 hostages. Possession of firearms or propaganda materials was also imperilled by death. A concentration camp was created in Kosovo. In January and February intensified major operations, which aimed at destruction of the resistance movement. They brought bloody reprisals; till June as many as 4000 peasants were killed and many villages were burnt. The Germans less and less considered the "independence" of Albania; they pursued their own goals, which were security of their positions in Balkans in view of a possible Allied landing, struggle with the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation and its executive committee, armed struggle with the partisans, and exploitation of the natural resources. They trusted less and less to the nationalists from Albania and replaced them with nationalists from Pristina.

In August 1944 the chief of the police and SS Fitzthum concentrated in his hands the political leadership and the military command, but it remained without significance as in September-November 1944 Albania was liberated by the partisan forces. Since October the withdrawal of the German troops was was conducted in heavy fights with attacking partisans. On 22 October in Berati was brought into being the Provisional Democratic Government, and on 17 November the troops of the Albanian National Liberation Army, after 20 days of fights, liberated Tirana. Some collaborationists managed to flee together with the Germans, but the post-war justice was dispensed to the former prime-minister Biçoku, former deputy chairman of the National Assembly, Prof. Selaudin Toto, and a former member of the Regency Council Anton Harapi, who was a Franciscan priest and collaborated with the invaders upon a consent of the Vatican. At the final stage of the occupation also the British intelligence tried to make a contact with the German intelligence to enable landing of the British special forces in Albania, but those operations were way belated. The overall wartime population losses of Albania are estimated for about 29 thousand killed and missing, and over 12 thousand deported and imprisoned; the year 1944 brought the bloodiest casualties.