Marko Attila Hoare

Muslim Bosniak collaboration in World War II1





Case study 1


The Muslim Bosniak population of Bosnia-Hercegovina was in a state of ferment on the eve of Yugoslavia’s entry into World War II. The Cvetkovic-Macek ‘Sporazum’ (agreement) of 26 August 1939 had dealt a heavy blow to the traditional Muslim goal of autonomy for Bosnia-Hercegovina, by effectively partitioning the latter between Serbia and a newly established Croatian ‘banovina’ (province). This prompted the mainstream Muslim political elite to come together in the ‘Muslim Movement for the Autonomy of Bosnia-Hercegovina’, which demanded that a Bosnian banovina be established alongside the Croatian - a demand that was launched by Dzafer Kulenović, the president of the ‘Yugoslav Muslim Organisation’ (JMO) - the political party enjoying the support of the overwhelming majority of Bosnian Muslims. This movement brought together different political currents among the Muslims. Not least, this included formerly ‘pro-Serbian’ Muslims who had subscribed to the strategy of collaborating with the regime in Belgrade; a strategy that had been followed by the JMO leader Mehmed Spaho until his death in June 1939, but which had been completely discredited by the Sporazum, when the Belgrade regime sacrificed the Muslims to reach an agreement with the Croatian opposition. On the other hand, the small dissident ‘pro-Croatian’ Muslim current that had traditionally rejected collaboration with the Belgrade regime and that formed the ‘Muslim Branch of the Croat Peasant Party’ (MOHSS) now found itself paralysed by its adherence to a Croatian national movement that had turned its back on support for Bosnian unity. Yet Muslims generally were united in fear of the threat posed by the Great Serb reaction to the movements for Croatian and, above all, Bosnian autonomy, that took shape in the ‘Movement “Serbs Assemble!”’ - a precursor to the wartime Chetnik movement that would carry out a policy of genocide against Muslims.2

Following the Axis invasion and destruction of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941, a Great Croatian puppet-state was established - the ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (NDH) - under the fringe-extremist, fascist and terrorist Ustasha movement. The whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina was incorporated into the NDH, which in June was divided into twenty-two administrative units or 'Great Župas' (velike župe), each headed by a 'Great Župan'. This division was designed deliberately in order to erase the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, both administratively and in the minds of the people, in keeping with the Great Croatian nationalist ideology of the Ustashas.3 The Ustasha poglavnik (führer) Ante Pavelićƒ appointed prominent Bosnian Muslims and Croats to serve as window dressing for his regime; Osman Kulenović, Džafer's brother, was appointed deputy prime minister on 15 April. The Ustasha movement’s central body, the General Ustasha Council, was formally constituted in early May; in it, below Pavelićƒ, were the Doglavniks (Vice-Führers). They included two elderly Bosnian politicians from the pre-Yugoslav era, the Croat-oriented Muslim Adem-aga Mešić and the Croat Jozo Sunarić. Below the Doglavniks were the Poboćniks (Adjutants); they included Alija Šuljak and Hakija Hadžiƒć, formerly leaders of the MOHSS.

Hadžić was the leading Muslim Ustasha in Bosnia-Hercegovina. His purge from the state apparatus of the older, politically mainstream Muslim notables catalysed Muslim elite resistance to the NDH.4 In supporting the NDH project, the MOHSS leaders built upon their abandonment of any support for Bosnian autonomy, but upheld the traditional Muslim goal of support for Bosnian unity - albeit within a Great Croatian framework. Despite the Ustasha movement’s formal commitment to the traditional integral Croat nationalist view of the Muslims as Islamic Croats, in practice all levels of the NDH apparatus, its armed forces and the Ustasha movement would be wholly dominated by Catholic Croats, with the Muslims under-represented in all of them.5

The mainstream Muslim elite reacted from the start with reservation to the establishment of the NDH, but the form this reaction took differed according to political current. To a greater extent than either Serbs or Croats, politically conscious Muslims failed to split cleanly into ideologically pro- and anti-fascist camps and were relatively unwilling to fight other Muslims. This has prompted Šaćir Filandra to claim provocatively: 'The Bosniaks did not participate in World War II’.6 Political divisions among the Muslim elite were not primarily ideological, but were between conflicting strategies of how best to safeguard its position, and the Muslim population as a whole, in the face of two threats: the assimilationism and hegemonism of the Croat Ustashas and the genocide of the Serb Chetniks.

In the first weeks of the NDH's existence, a group of Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat politicians, who were anti-Ustasha but nevertheless ready to collaborate with the occupiers, delivered a memorandum to the German military government contesting the validity of the inclusion of Bosnia-Hercegovina in the NDH and demanding a direct German military administration over the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina. The initiative for this came from Uzeir-aga Hadžihasanovićƒ - a leading figure in the JMO and de facto leader of the pro-German but anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim elite. This effort at cross-confessional collaboration by members of the Bosnian elites against the Ustasha genocide came to an abrupt end when the Ustashas responded by arresting three of the four Serb signatories, all of whom were later executed, while the Muslims were strongly warned to desist from such activities.7

Hadžihasanović thereupon ceased lobbying the Ustashas directly and adopted a back-seat role in channelling Muslim autonomist opposition to the NDH. He and Džafer Kulenović summoned leading members of the former JMO to a meeting at a private residence in the north-Bosnian town of Doboj, some time in the summer of 1941, to adopt a new Muslim strategy. With Hadžihasanović's support, and despite the opposition of a majority of those present, Kulenovićƒ resolved to enter the NDH government in order to act as a counterweight to Hakija Hadžiƒć and the MOHSS, whose tampering with the institution of the Islamic Religious Community had been causing concern. On 14 August, a delegation of Muslim notables led by Kulenovićƒ and Hadžihasanovićƒ was received by Pavelićƒ and delivered to him a declaration of Muslim loyalty toward the NDH, after which Kulenovićƒ replaced his brother Osman as vice-president of the government in November. The formally pro-NDH wing of the Muslim elite would be henceforth divided into two hostile camps: the collaborationist wing of the former JMO and the genuine ideological Ustashas who had emerged from the MOHSS.8

The Serb rebellion that broke out in the NDH in the summer of 1941, in response to the genocidal anti-Serb policies of the Ustashas, itself assumed a pogromist character in many areas; rebels burned Muslim villages and slaughtered their inhabitants. One portion of the rebellion evolved into the Chetnik movement, whose policy towards non-Serbs, particularly Muslims, was actively genocidal. Consequently Muslims, like Serbs, responded to the threat of national extermination by organising their own paramilitary formations. Some joined Ustasha bodies: the Ustasha commander for Bosnia-Hercegovina, Jure Francetiƒć, organised mostly Muslim refugees from East Bosnia, who had fled before the Chetnik knife, in a ‘Black Legion’ for combat against the rebels. Numbering 1-1,500 highly motivated troops determined to defend their homes, the Black Legion routed both the Partisans and the Chetniks in East Bosnia in the spring of 1942.9 More commonly, Muslims deserted from the NDH’s regular army (the Home Guard) to join local Muslim militias set up to defend their homes in the localities where they were under threat. These militias were more motivated than the Home Guard, but their members frequently felt no loyalty whatsoever to the Ustasha cause, even viewing Ustashas as an alien enemy equivalent to the Serb rebels. In response to the desperation of the Muslim public and the failure of the NDH forces to offer protection, members of the Muslim elite were by the end of the year putting themselves at the head of this spontaneous Muslim movement of self-defence and organising autonomous Muslim military forces.

In Bijeljina in north-east Bosnia, the initiator of this enterprise was Murat-beg Pašiƒć, an independently-minded local Ustasha commander of Muslim-autonomist bent; according to one of his enemies within the Ustasha movement, he agitated 'in favour of Bosnia coming under German administration on the grounds that the NDH is not competent to administer Bosnia.'10 His support for the formation of autonomous Muslim armed forces was in line with this activity. In nearby Tuzla, already in September 1941, the Great Župan Ragib Čapljiƒć advocated the formation of an autonomous Muslim military force; he reportedly said during a visit to the town of Kalesija, near Tuzla: 'This [area] is neither Serb nor Croat'. The Tuzla merchant Muhamedaga Hadžiefendić, who had served as an officer in both the Austro-Hungarian and Yugoslav armies, began to organise armed Muslim resistance to the rebels in November, when he successfully repelled an attack on the Muslim village of Puračiƒć. After receiving permission from Zagreb, he summoned on 20 December a gathering of local and village Muslim leaders of the region to begin organising a Muslim legion. On 22 December, the 'Volunteer section of the people's uprising of Major Hadžiefendić' was formally proclaimed in Tuzla.

By the spring of 1942, there were five thousand troops under Hadžiefendićƒ's command, covering an area from Gračanica in the west and Orašje and Bosanski Šamac in the north to Zvornik and Bijeljina in the east and Kladanj to the south. In July, they assumed the name 'Volunteer Home Guard Regiment', frequently abbreviated to 'Domdo'', and by the end of the year six Domdo battalion staffs were set up, located in Bijeljina, Brčko, Gračanica, Puračiƒć, Živinice and Tojšiƒce and all subordinate to Hadžiefendićƒ's command in Tuzla.11 The Domdo legions were largely recruited haphazardly from among the Muslim peasantry of north-east Bosnia, and their discipline and behaviour tended to resemble that of the rebels they were fighting against. Domdo legionnaires plundered the homes even of peaceful Serb villages, beating and occasionally killing the inhabitants. They were aggressive and contemptuous toward the NDH's regular army and police and to Croats generally, treating their area of operations as Muslim territory in which they as Muslims were in charge.12

Hadžiefendićƒ himself was a dedicated Muslim autonomist whose Islamic, non-Croat rhetoric increasingly earned him the disfavour of the Ustashas.13 The Muslim autonomists of Sarajevo and other towns attempted to extend Hadžiefendićƒ's legion to their own area or to set up Muslim militias of their own. They sought to employ El-Hidaje, an organisation that had been set up in 1936 by members of the ulema (Islamic clergy) with the aim of preserving the authority of Islamic law and institutions over the Bosnian Muslims, as a front organisation for this purpose. Their long-term goal was the separation of Bosnia-Hercegovina from the NDH. Among those involved in this project in Sarajevo were Hadžihasanovićƒ, Hafiz Muhamed efendi Pandža, director of the 'Merhamet' philanthropic society and member of the Ulema medžlis or High Islamic Council, and the city mayor Mustafa Softić, Hadžihasanovićƒ's son-in-law; in Banja Luka the former Radical politician Suljaga Salihagić; in Mostar, the former mufti Omer Džabić and others. They included veterans of the Muslim movements for autonomy under Austria-Hungary of 1899-1909 and under Yugoslavia of 1939-41. In Sarajevo five Muslim militias were formed: at Vratnik, Hrasnica, Nahorevo, Jarčedol and Kotarac.14

In eastern Hercegovina, Muslim alienation from the NDH coupled with the mortal threat posed by the Chetniks, backed by the Italians, gave rise to a form of Muslim militia that sought to accommodate itself to the Italian-Chetnik order and that was specifically directed against the Ustashas and Partisans: the Muslim National Military-Chetnik Organisation. This was a variation on the theme of the Muslim militias that appeared elsewhere in Bosnia, but one that reflected peculiarly Hercegovinian conditions. One section of the Hercegovinian Muslim political world had traditionally been Serb-oriented, ever since the Serb-Muslim collaboration against Austria-Hungary; its most eloquent and radical Muslim spokesman had been the poet Osman Đikiƒć. At the same time, the Muslim population of Hercegovina from 1941 faced particular danger in what was the most distant and demographically Serb-dominated part of the NDH, where anti-Muslim chauvinism was strongest. This tradition and this danger produced the Muslim Chetnik phenomenon in Hercegovina. This was in part an expression of Italian policy that aimed to mobilise the population of Italy's zone of the NDH into its auxiliary Volunteer Anti-Communist Militia.

Among the principal representatives of the pro-Chetnik Muslim current were Ismet Popovac, Mustafa Pašiƒć and Major Fehim Musakadiƒć. Popovac and Pašiƒć had joined the Serb rebels in 1941;15 they then declared for the Chetniks. Popovac, the former mayor of Konjic, thereupon built a Muslim Chetnik militia through collaboration with the Italians.16 On 21 July 1942, Popovac wrote to Draža Mihailovićƒ to assure him that 'the Muslims have never as a whole, or via any kind of qualified forum, recognised the Croatian state', and to urge that 'the Muslims be gathered in either a joint or a specific Chetnik detachment'. To assist in the mobilisation of Muslims in the Chetniks, Popovac suggested to Mihailovićƒ that he 'adopt a prominent Muslim, who has a good voice and political roots among the people, and give him an appropriate rank as Muslim representative and advisor on all questions that relate to the areas in which Muslims live.'17 Mihailović eventually appointed Musakadiƒć, former Sarajevo chief of police, as the commander of his Muslim Chetnik forces, and another Muslim, Mustafa Mulaliƒć, as vice-chairman of the Chetniks' Central National Committee.18

Popovac's Muslim Chetniks remained nationally conscious Muslims despite their Serb colouring; they pursued the traditional Muslim goals of survival and autonomy through collaboration with the Chetniks, just as their pro-Croat counterparts did through collaboration with the Ustashas. It was the opinion of Vladimir Zečeviƒć, one of Mihailovićƒ's agents in Hercegovina, that Popovac's 'main goal was to protect the Muslims, rather than to struggle for the Serb nation and Serb affairs.'19 This assertion is supported by the fact that Popovac was in close contact with Suljaga Salihagiƒć, one of the authors of the Muslim Memorandum to Hitler of November 1942. Popovac saw Salihagiƒć, a former member of the Serb-nationalist People's Radical Party, as a logical choice for organiser of Muslim Chetnik formations in Bosanska Krajina; that there could be collaboration between the pro-Chetnik Popovac and the pro-German Salihagiƒć indicates the extent to which the solidarity among members of the Muslim elite overrode differences of political orientation.20 Indeed, the Muslim Chetnik leaders declared in December 1942 that 'the Muslims of Bosnia-Hercegovina and in all parts of the country are an integral and indivisible part of Serbdom', but also that their goal was a state 'organised on the principle of democracy and social rights in which the Muslims will be equal citizens.'21 They announced in early January 1943 their goals as 'the organisation and arming of the Muslims in Bosnia-Hercegovina and other parts of Yugoslavia' and 'the unity and organisation of all Muslims on the basis of all for one and one for all.'22

Popovac held talks with Mihailovićƒ's officers Petar Baƒčoviƒć and Dobroslav Jevđeviƒć in late September or early October 1942 and agreed to form a Muslim Chetnik organisation.23 This was eventually legalised by the Italian military authorities in Hercegovina as a section of their Volunteer Anti-Communist Militia. That month Popovac issued an appeal to the Muslims in the Partisan ranks on a Serb nationalist and anti-Croat basis, calling upon them to desert and to join his forces.24 This Muslim collaboration with the Chetniks on an anti-Croat basis did provide a degree of protection for the Hercegovinian Muslims, who were enrolled in the Italian-Chetnik militias, while the Croats were forced to flee.25 Popovac and Pašić convened a meeting of the Muslim Chetnik leaders in late November 1942 which resolved that its goal was, in the words of an Ustasha secret police report, 'that the Muslims enrol in the Chetniks, supposedly as a Muslim militia, to protect the Muslim element.'26

Popovac's Muslim Chetniks formed part of a broader Hercegovinian Muslim autonomist circle. On 6 October 1942, a conference of Muslim notables was held in Mostar which resolved to send a delegation to Italy's General Santovito to express the loyalty of the Muslims of Hercegovina to the Kingdom of Italy and to demand weapons for Muslim self-defence. A second conference on 8 October resolved to collaborate with Popovac's Muslim Chetnik faction so as to win Italian confidence, and to send a delegation directly to Rome. The delegation included the former Mufti Omer Džabiƒć, whose uncle Ali Fehmi had led the Hercegovinian Muslim autonomist movement of 1899-1909, as well as a representative of Popovac's Muslim Chetniks. It resided in Italy in the second half of October and held talks with the Italian government and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. The Italians agreed to arm the Muslims on condition the latter fight only under the Italian Army. The delegation may also have sought the establishment of an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina under Italian protection and to have done so with the blessing of Hadžihasanovićƒ's Sarajevo-based autonomist faction.27 Nevertheless, the extreme anti-Muslim nature of the Chetnik movement ensured that the Muslim Chetnik project would enjoy very little success. When in July 1943 the Partisan 10th Hercegovinian Brigade reentered Hercegovina, it succeeded in killing Popovac and Musakadiƒć, two of the three principal Muslim Chetnik leaders; the organisation thereupon effectively disintegrated.28

The most notorious expression of Muslim resistance to the Ustashas, and of Muslim collaborationism vis-a-vis the Nazis, was the Muslim Memorandum to Hitler of November 1942. This represented the culmination of activity on the part of the pro-German, anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim autonomist movement. Up until the summer and autumn of 1943, Muslim autonomist activity aimed predominantly at direct collaboration with the Germans to bypass the Ustashas. On 29 May, a group of Banja Luka notables met to establish a council for the purpose of organising an independent Muslim battalion for action against the Partisans. At the same time, they resolved to send a memorandum to Berlin to demand autonomy for Bosnia-Hercegovina. This move was provoked by a long-running power struggle between the Banja Luka Muslim community and the anti-Muslim Ustasha administration of the town.29 Muslim discontent heightened with the Chetnik massacres of Muslim civilians in the summer of 1942, widely seen as the consequence of Ustasha persecution of the Serbs, so that the Ustashas and Chetniks were viewed as a joint threat, much as they were by the Partisans. At the annual assembly of El-Hidaje held on 16 August 1942, many of the participants expressed concern at the threat posed to the existence of the Muslims from both the Ustashas and the Chetniks.30

The campaign for an autonomous Muslim military force across the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina was from August 1942 taken up by 'National Salvation', an umbrella organisation grouping representatives of the various Muslim societies and associations in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Spurred by the massacre of Muslims in Foča earlier that month, the founding conference of National Salvation was held in Sarajevo on 26 August, presided over by Safet Bašiƒć, representative of the Reis ul-ulema, the Muslim religious community's most senior figure, and attended by about three-hundred Muslim notables. The opening speech was delivered by Muhamed Pandža, who raised the demand for an independent Muslim armed force to enable the Muslims to defend themselves. The conference denounced the failure of the NDH authorities to protect the Muslims of East Bosnia, called for the Muslims to appeal over and above the NDH to the Germans, the Italians, the Allies and the Islamic world, and resolved in favour of 'the joint cooperation of the entire population of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the complete unity of Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics’.

The leadership of National Salvation that was then elected consisted of Mehmed Handžiƒć, Uzeiraga Hadžihasanovićƒ and five other Muslim notables. It formed the unofficial national leadership of the Muslim nation at that time and aspired both to an independent foreign policy and to the financing and arming of Muslim resistance to the rebels. This group worked actively to inform the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Kings of Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the President of Turkey as well as the British, Americans and Soviets of the plight of the Muslims of Bosnia-Hercegovina.31 A forty-eight member Council of National Salvation was elected at this time, including the former politicians Šefkija Behmen, Zaim Šarac and Hamdija Karamehmedoviƒć. According to a UNS report, 'the goal of the leading Muslim figures is to remain further in the position of leading figures, that is they wish that the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Muslims guarantee them a majority. Their attempts at achieving this are various and one of the most important, which is being constantly drawn out across several years, is the autonomy of Bosnia.'32

Following a second massacre of Muslims by Chetniks at Višegrad, a new seven-member 'Council of National Salvation' was elected, headed by Handžiƒć and Pandža, to defend Muslims under threat in Bosnia-Hercegovina and to care for refugees.33 El-Hidaje in March 1943 took over the extremist 'Young Muslim' organisation, in what represented a closing of ranks between the conservative and radical wings of the Muslim autonomist movement. National Salvation sought to extend the system of autonomous Muslim armed forces begun by Hadžiefendić in Tuzla in 1941. Pandža visited Pavelićƒ on 30 October 1942 to suggest the formation of a force of Muslim legions across the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina, with Hadžiefendić, Sulejman Filipovićƒ or Šefket Hasandedić as possible commanders. The request was then presented to the German military authorities. However, the Ustashas were hostile to the Muslim-autonomist character of the legions and limited them to the Tuzla region.34

The Muslim autonomist campaign for autonomous Muslim military forces thereupon grew into a demand made directly to Hitler for Bosnian autonomy under the Reich. On 1 November 1942, a group of leading Muslim politicians, going by the name of the 'National Committee', presented their Memorandum to Hitler, or 'Our Führer !', as they warmly addressed him. Other than Hadžihasanovićƒ, its authors appear to have been Softić, Salihagićƒand, according to one source, Pandža.35 The Memorandum claimed: 'Nobody, not a single ethnic group, not a single tribe, likewise not a single nation in all Europe has with greater devotion felt and understood your gigantic movement to establish a new order in Europe as have we Bosnians, Muslims of Bosnia. We have in the principles of National Socialism, your movement, felt that it alone brings justice, order and peace to Europe, which has been blighted and ruined by democracy.' The Memorandum made every effort to appeal to Hitler in a language that he would understand, claiming that the Bosnian Muslims were in origin 'Goths, i.e. a Germanic tribe named 'Bosnia''. It denounced Pavelićƒ's commissioner for Bosnia, Božidar Bralo, as a protector of the Jews: 'He thwarted your intentions and order regarding the Jews, beginning immediately to accept many Jews in Bosnia into the Catholic Church, particularly in Sarajevo, where they are very numerous and very rich. In that way he attempted to protect them from what, after the victory and occupation of this country, had to happen.' It was the Jews, claimed the Memorandum, who were responsible for the Serb rebellion, for under Ustasha protection they 'began once again their treasonous work. They began to organise Chetnik and rebel bands and generously to assist them materially.' Nevertheless, the Memorandum referred to the fact that 'the Jewish problem amongst us has finally been solved...'.36

So far as Bosnia-Hercegovina was concerned, the Memorandum spoke of Pavelićƒ's violation of 'the historical right of Bosnia to its separateness' and complained that the civil war was the product of the illegitimate Ustasha rule: 'If Bosnia had been treated as we had expected, if the Muslims had been organised and armed under the leadership of the German armed forced and been called upon to collaborate in the administration, in Bosnia it would not have come to all this.' The Memorandum therefore requested: 'That now within the Croatian state, on the territory of Bosnia, a political-administrative authority be formed named the 'Župa of Bosnia', with its seat in Sarajevo. The chief of this župa would be appointed solely and exclusively by you, our Führer.' All Muslims currently serving in the Ustashas and Home Guard on NDH territory were to be withdrawn and formed into a 'Bosnian Guard', based on the existing Muslim Legions and under the command of Hadžiefendićƒ: 'Because, for the short period of existence of the Croatian state, we have come to the complete realisation that only a Bosniak can defend and protect his Bosnia'.

The Memorandum demanded that the Ustasha movement be abolished in Bosnia-Hercegovina. It requested instead: 'That the foundation of a National Socialist Party be enabled on the territory of Bosnia.' Following the German victory, the Memorandum requested from Hitler 'that you include your territory, our Bosnia, in the camp of other European communities under your protection and give it the same independence that our neighbours will have.' The Muslims were to be guaranteed an absolute ethnic majority in Bosnia-Hercegovina through the cession of Serb- and Croat-majority borderland areas to neighbouring countries and through population exchanges with them.37 In this way the Muslim autonomists sought, through the Memorandum, a rump Bosnia-Hercegovina with an ethnic Muslim majority under the protection of a foreign power. Be that as it may, and despite the obsequious Hitlerite window-dressing, the Muslim Memorandum was expressing traditional Muslim autonomist demands that found similar expression in other political currents.

Among the Nazi leadership the greatest interest in the idea of an autonomous Muslim army under German command was shown by Heinrich Himmler, who viewed the Islamic world as a potential ally against the British Empire and for whom the NDH was a 'ridiculous state'.38 At Himmler's suggestion, Hitler approved in February 1943 the establishment of an SS Division made up of Bosnian Muslims. The Ustasha functionary Alija Šuljak arrived in Tuzla at the end of March 1943 with the goal of mobilising the Muslim population behind the formation of a Bosnian SS Division. For this purpose he held, with the assistance of the German SS, rallies in Živinice and Gračanica where he called upon the Muslims to join the Division. From 30 March until 10 April 1943, at the request both of Himmler and of leading Muslim notables, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini toured Zagreb, Sarajevo and Banja Luka in order to meet with Muslim notables and agitate for the formation of a Bosnian SS Division. Following the failure to attract the required number of volunteers, the Germans turned to conscription and plundered the NDH armed forces for recruits, decimating several units of the latter in the process. Eventually, three thousand Muslims were released from service in the NDH armed forces to serve in the Division, at great cost to Home Guard and Ustasha morale.39 The name eventually chosen for the Division was the '13th SS Volunteer Bosnian-Hercegovinian Division (Croatia)', an attempt to reconcile the feelings of both its Croat and Muslim members.40 Yet it was more commonly known as the 'Handschar Division'.

The formation of a Muslim SS Division was supported by elements within the Muslim elite who hoped that it could be used to achieve their own national goals. Pandža later claimed during his interrogation by the Partisans in the autumn of 1943 that 'at the time of the foundation of the Muslim SS Division it was assured us that the Division would act only as a guardian of peace and order on the territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina and that it would not leave that territory.' He said that he had been promised by al-Husseini that 'this division would definitely remain in Bosnia-Hercegovina, that it would be formed and trained there and that its sole task would be to defend the Muslims from those who would attack Muslims.' Pandža also said that he had been told that 'that division would enable the separation of Bosnia-Hercegovina from the NDH and the establishment of an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina that would be included within the German new order.’41

The widespread Muslim warmth toward the Germans, prior to autumn 1943, was a product of their fear of the Great Serbian threat. According to a report from the German 114th Hunting Division, in April 1943: 'The Muslims are in large part amicably disposed toward the Axis. They say of this, that the defeat of Germany would mean their ruin, because in the new Great Serbia they would not be able to achieve their right.' Furthermore, 'The political goal of the Muslims is the autonomy of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Some express the will also to be a German protectorate.'42 However, in the autumn of 1943, the Germans turned toward increased collaboration with the Chetniks and quisling Serbia, and this heightened the Muslim alienation from all Axis and quisling factions. The Muslim attitude in this period rapidly changed under the combined impact of Chetnik genocide, NDH collapse and the formation of the Handschar Division, and this brought the Muslim militias toward the Communist-led People’s Liberation Movement (NOP), which agitated on the platform of Bosnian self-government and unity.

Hadžiefendićƒ appears to have hoped his Legion would form the nucleus of a Muslim army that would enable Bosnia-Hercegovina to achieve autonomy. As such, he was ready to transfer his hopes to the Handschar Division as a more powerful Muslim armed force inspired by the autonomist ideal. Yet in this instance, the ambitions of the Muslim autonomists and the desire of ordinary Muslims simply to protect their homes diverged, for the Handschar Division was a regular military unit that could not play the role of local defence force for the north-east Bosnian Muslims. The authorities' efforts to recruit members of the Domdo forces for the Handschar Division thus acted as a catalyst for the subversion of the former by the NOP. The Communists in Tuzla waged a propaganda campaign to dissuade Domdo officers from joining the Handschar Division. Hadžiefendićƒ therefore supported the establishment of the Handschar Division at the expense of his political standing among his officers and rank-and-file, many of whom consequently turned toward the Partisans. The recruitment of volunteers for the Handschar Division also had a deleterious effect on the Home Guards as well as on the Ustashas, many of whom abandoned their units to join the better-paid SS.43

A string of defections of Domdo officers and soldiers to the Partisans occurred across north-east Bosnia in May 1943, among them Hadžiefendić’s adjutant Omer Gluhić, Lieutenants Daut Filipović and Osman Gruhonjić, and Professor Meša Selimović (subsequently the famous novelist). The defections of the legionnaires revealed the unwillingness of the Muslims of north-east Bosnia either to fight for the NDH or to join the SS. The defection of Hadžiefendićƒ's adjutant Gluhić was particularly damaging and provoked the NDH's dismissal of Hadžiefendić himself.44 This in turn discredited the NDH further, divided the Muslim autonomists among themselves and prepared the terrain for the Partisans' adoption of the autonomist mantle.45 During the summer and autumn of 1943, the trickle of defections to the Partisans among Muslim collaborationist officers, soldiers and local notables became a flood. These defections were an essential element in the Partisans’ ability to capture Bosnian cities and towns, consequently, in their ultimate victory.

Meanwhile, as the NOP gained steam in Bosnia-Hercegovina, troops of the Handschar Division stationed in the town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue in southern France staged a futile but spectacular mutiny in September 1943, a precursor of larger revolts to come back home. The Division's long period of organisation and training in Germany and France meant its removal from Bosnian soil, leaving its soldiers' homes undefended from the Chetnik threat. At the same time, the Muslim and Croat officers and soldiers resented their subordinate position vis-a-vis the German officers. Among the Croat troops of the Division, there was dissatisfaction at its Muslim autonomist character and at German favouritism toward the Muslims, and desertions among Croats were therefore higher than among Muslims.46 The rebellion began on 17 September 1943, in response to news that the Division was to be transferred back to Germany, which was presumed to be a prelude to its relocation on the Russian front. The rebellion involved about five-hundred Muslim and Croat troops and involved the execution of five German officers.47 Estimates of the number of Muslim and Croat SS troops killed by the Germans during and after the suppression of the rebellion range from about twenty to two hundred. A further 825 troops of the Handschar Division were 'purged' as unreliable and sent to Dachau concentration camp.48

A watershed was represented by the Partisans’ first liberation of Tuzla in north-east Bosnia in early October 1943. Among the Muslim elite in Tuzla, a pro-Serb political orientation had traditionally been strong, and this inclined it towards resistance to the NDH. Those who did collaborate with the NDH tended to reject the Ustashas' genocidal policies, and under Mayor Seadbeg Kulović (before 1941 a member of the MOHSS) and Great Župan Ragib Čapljić, the Tuzla Serbs were safer than elsewhere in the country.49 The Partisans launched their decisive assault to capture Tuzla on the night of 1-2 October. The outcome was decided when about seventy Home Guard officers under Colonel Sulejman Filipović, Commander of the 8th Home Guard Regiment and consequently the senior NDH commander in the region, with whom the Communists had been negotiating, took the decision to surrender, after which the Home Guard rank-and-file abandoned its weapons and positions en masse.50 Among the fifty-five individuals executed by the Partisans following their victory in Tuzla was Major Hadžiefendić.

A considerable section of the Muslim collaborationist forces and a significant number of Muslim notables defected to the NOP in the autumn of 1943. For many Domdo officers and soldiers, this reflected their readiness to seek physical protection from the Chetniks and Ustashas in the ranks of the Partisans, rather than in the ranks of a specifically Muslim militia. The circle of Muslim notables ready to seek salvation in collaboration with the NOP included Sulejman Filipovićƒ, Muhamed Pandža, Muhamed Sudžuka, Hamdija ‚Ćemerliƒć and Zaim Šarac. These were largely individuals whose political orientation had from the start made them reluctant citizens or collaborators of the NDH: Filipović had been a loyal officer of the royal Yugoslav army; Ćemerlić, Sudžuka and Šarac had been members of the pro-Serbian Muslim cultural society ‘Gajret’; Šarac had also been a politician of the primarily Serb and pro-Yugoslav Independent Democratic Party. Sudžuka was deputy Great Župan of Pliva and Rama; a veteran of the pre-war Muslim Movement for the Autonomy of Bosnia-Hercegovina, former editor of the JMO newspaper Pravda and member of the General Council of Gajret, who despite his pro-Yugolav orientation enjoyed close links to the Young Muslim organisation before and possibly after his defection to the Partisans.51 As a prominent former collaborator with considerable local standing, he was a particularly valuable recruit to the NOP.

However, not all the new recruits to the NOP would remain loyal. Ismet Bektaševiƒć was a pre-war parliamentary delegate for the Srebrenica District and member of the JMO General Council. In 1941, Bektaševiƒć had formed a Muslim militia and eagerly participated in the confiscation of weapons from the Serb population and arrest of local Serb politicians.52 He nevertheless went over to the Partisans on 15 October 1943 following the liberation of Tuzla, and was selected to be a member of the Presidium of ZAVNOBiH and councillor at the Second Session of AVNOJ. With Bektaševićƒ's help, the Partisans mobilised former Muslim legionnaires into the Srebrenica, Kladanj and Tuzla Detachments, though only the last of these reached any size in this period. However, in December 1943, the Ustashas captured Bektaševiƒć, who thereupon resumed collaboration with them.53 Setting up his office in Bratunac, he coopted NOP supporters, and helped to recruit Muslims into the Handschar Division.54 He was subsequently executed by the Partisans.

Similarly, Hafiz Muhamed efendi Pandža left Sarajevo on 20 October 1943 in the company of about twenty members of the Young Muslims to form a 'Muslim Liberation Movement' that would fight against both the Ustashas and the Chetniks independently of the Partisans. Drawing his first recruits from among the Muslim militias in the area to the south of Sarajevo, he succeeded in raising a militia of 4-500. Pandža was captured by the Partisans on 10 November, and promised to collaborate with the NOP on the basis of the shared goal of Bosnian autonomy. He even assured his captors that when the Handschar Division - that he himself had helped to recruit - arrived in Bosnia following its training abroad, it 'would not serve the occupiers but would serve the people.’55 However, according to Partisan sources, when Pandža was soon recaptured by the enemy, he allegedly resumed collaboration with them, though there is some doubt as to whether this was genuinely the case and, if so, whether or not it was voluntary. Certainly, his deposition to the Ustasha policy in Zagreb on 21 January 1944, in which he apparently expressed his devotion to the NDH and to Croatian nationalism, was out of character with his politics since the start of the war, which had initially been strongly pro-German but nevertheless anti-Ustasha.56

With the destruction of Hadžiefendićƒ's Domdo Legion and the defection of a large part of it to the NOP in the summer and autumn of 1943, there remained a hard core of local Muslim leaders and their constituents committed to the struggle against the Partisans. These included former Muslim legionnaires as well as Muslim militias that had existed independently since the start of the war. In July, the Muslim militia commander Nešad Topčić founded, in the region of Kalesija near Tuzla, the so-called '10th Mountain Group of Bosnian Highlanders', a couple of hundred strong. This group then linked up with other Muslim militias, such as the independent militia of the village of Teočak that had successfully defended itself from the Chetniks and Partisans since 1941, to become the so-called 'Green Forces' - the 'green' referring to the fact that they were an army of the forests. Although they were formally included within the Home Guards from January 1944, they remained in practice wholly independent in both organisation and command, their ideology explicitly Islamic and their fezzes adorned with the Islamic crescent rather than the Croatian chequerboard or the Ustasha 'U'. These then assumed the leadership of the Muslim autonomist resistance to the Partisans and Chetniks in north-east Bosnia.

Unlike the Domdo Legion, the Green Forces were largely a backwoods militia that resembled its Chetnik opponent rather than an autonomous wing of the NDH armed forces. Out of necessity, they were tolerated by the Ustashas but scarcely looked upon favourably. According to a UNS report, Topčićƒ 'was in his time a very good Croat nationalist and Ustasha' and 'continues to claim that he is a Croat whose only goal is to destroy the Chetniks and the Partisans', but in reality he 'follows the path exclusively of purely Islamic politics and its true realisation in the goal of the Autonomy of Bosnia-Hercegovina under the Green banner.' [emphasis in original].57 The Ustashas disliked Topčić for his military structure's independence from the NDH armed forces; for his recruitment of Muslim Partisan-deserters; for his purely token loyalty to the Ustasha state; and because he allegedly maintained relations with his Partisan and Chetnik opponents.58 As the brittle and overextended Partisan 'state' in East Bosnia crumbled under the weight of the German counterattack in late 1943 and early 1944, considerable numbers of Muslims abandoned the Partisans and joined the Green Forces.59 During the so-called Sixth Enemy Offensive, the Green Forces fought with considerable success against the Partisans, inflicting several defeats upon them. Numbering about 8-10,000 men thanks largely to desertions from the Home Guards and to a lesser extent from the Partisans, the Green Forces represented a major military obstacle to the Partisans in East Bosnia.

Draža Mihailovićƒ's Chetnik leadership, in this period, sought to compensate for its weakening military and political position by toning down its aggressively Great Serbian image and attempting to appeal to non-Serbs. In Bosnia-Hercegovina, this meant above all a turn toward the Muslims. Mihailovićƒ consequently began to attempt to mobilise the Muslim population in the Chetniks; his propaganda increasingly spoke of the need for 'brotherly love and cooperation' between the Muslims, Serbs and Croats.60 Meanwhile, in July 1943, a meeting of the 'Ravna Gora kernel', comprising prominent Muslim residents of Belgrade, resolved to send Mustafa Mulalić, a former politician of the Yugoslav National Party,ƒ to join Mihailovićƒ's staff, so that 'in proximity to him, he can influence the Chetnik commander not to carry out the mass extermination of the Muslim population' in Bosnia-Hercegovina.61 Mulalićƒ's move was also in part the work of Hadžihasanovićƒ, who sought to moderate the Chetnik movement's anti-Muslim agenda and ensure that the Muslims had a foot in each camp.62 In September 1943, Mulalićƒ established contact with Mihailovićƒ.

Given the change in Mihailovićƒ's view of the Muslim question, Mulalićƒ was quickly accepted into the leadership of the movement, from where he attempted to use his personal contacts with other Muslim notables to draw them in too. Through his contacts in Tuzla, he attempted to elicit from the Domdo commander Muhamedaga Hadžiefendićƒ a declaration of loyalty to King Peter II.63 Mulalićƒmet with Sarajevo mayor Mustafa Softićƒat the village of Nahorevo near Sarajevo, and sought the Sarajevo Muslim elite's support for the Chetniks.64 Nothing came of these talks, however, and Softić subsequently edged toward collaboration with the NOP. The Chetniks’ 'Congress of St Sava' of 25-28 January 1944, held with the tacit acquiescence of the German authorities at the village of Ba near Ravna Gora in western Serbia, upheld the principle that Bosnia-Hercegovina would join the Serbian federal unit in the projected post-war Yugoslavia, with the Muslims enjoying merely religious autonomy. Mulalićƒ thereupon launched a Muslim Chetnik newspaper entitled 'Mašrik' ['The East'], in which he propagandised in favour of the idea that 'all conditions for the renewal and development of Bosnia are to be found within the framework of Serbia’.65

The Chetniks and Green Forces tended to join forces against the Partisans. This represented less of an ideological alliance against Communism than an exhaustion of the politics of chauvinism and a desire for a return to normality after the pogroms and destruction of the previous years. On 18 December 1943, The Trebava Chetnik Detachment concluded an agreement with local Green Forces for a joint struggle against the Partisans; the Green Forces put Chetnik cockades on their fezzes.66 The Sarajevo Chetnik Dejan Kočović recalls the collaboration of Chetniks and Green Forces in south-west Bosnia: 'Thus, entire inter-village non-aggression pacts were occasionally formed. For example, if neighbouring Muslim and Serb villages made a pact between them and formed village militias, they always monitored each other's activities, for after all there could not be complete trust. Thus, they sullenly measured and observed each other through field-glasses, but sense and the desire for peace remained strong. Both knew that the war must one day end, but they did not know with whose victory.'67

In mid-February 1944, the Handschar Division finally returned to the NDH. It received its baptism of fire in actions against the Partisans in Srem, where it massacred hundreds of Serb civilians.68 Yet the Division, like its Partisan opponents, employed political as well as military tactics, based on its Bosnian and Muslim autonomist ideology. It crossed from Slavonia into East Bosnia at Br…ko on 15 March, whereupon its commander Colonel Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig told his troops in an open letter: 'Not only do you [have these weapons given to you by the Führer] in your hands, but above all you have an idea in your hearts - to liberate the homeland'.69 A leaflet distributed in the Žepče district by the Germans on behalf of the 'SS soldiers of the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Division' in April addressed itself to the 'Men and women of Herceg-Bosna !', claiming: 'We have returned to our homeland, to liberate it from terror'. It concluded: 'Our leader Adolf Hitler promised us the best armaments. We have received them. He has made of us soldiers, honourable fighters for the homeland. We defend every inhabitant of the Bosnian homeland. With us arrives a new age. We greet the homeland; we greet all of you!'70 The Germans apparently attempted to recruit more East Bosnian Muslims into the Handschar Division in this period, 'by telling them that they would be a 'Bosnian army' and that they would get their own 'Bosnian state'.'71

The 21,000-strong Handschar Division greatly outnumbered the Partisans in East Bosnia. Following fierce fighting, the SS troops expelled most of the Partisan forces from Majevica, Semberija and part of Posavina and penetrated into Birač and Romanija, systematically massacring the inhabitants of villages taken from the Partisans. The Handschar Division maintained an alliance with Chetnik warlords such as Radivoje Keroviƒć and did not aim to exterminate or expel the entire Serb population. Rather, the massacres were intended to uproot and destroy the Partisan movement in East Bosnia. But according to one Ustasha report of this period, the SS troops' brutality against even the non-Serb population of reconquered areas was such that it drove many Muslims to seek refugee back with the Partisans.72 The Division's operations against the Partisans began on 23 April 1944 and continued throughout the spring. By mid-June, Sauberzweig claimed Partisan losses amounted to 4,526 confirmed dead, 3,766 presumed dead and 1,246 prisoners (including six US airmen).73 Under Sauberzweig's leadership, the Handschar Division set up what was effectively a quisling Bosnian Muslim state in north-east Bosnia, violating the 'sovereignty' of the NDH and provoking outrage in Zagreb. The NDH administration was suspended and the Division established its own military, civilian and economic administration.

The Cazinska Krajina region in the extreme north-west of Bosnia, despite traditionally looking towards Croatia, had proven difficult for the Ustasha regime to digest, on account of the fiercely autonomist and conservatively Islamic orientation of its population. Its two most important notables were Nurija Pozderac and Hasan Miljković: the former, a pro-Croatian former member of the General Council of the JMO, had been the NOP’s most prominent non-Communist Muslim supporter at the time of the First Session of AVNOJ in November 1942, and was among the Partisans killed at the Battle of Sutjeska. Miljković was mayor of Velika Kladuša and a former politician of the Croat Peasant Party; he collaborated first with the Ustashas, then went over briefly to the Partisans following Velika Kladuša’s liberation in February 1942, then resumed collaboration with the NDH. The independently minded Home Guard commander Huska Miljković, a defector from the Partisans and subsequently a successful and merciless commander against them, won the permission in 1943 to form a Muslim militia in Cazinska Krajina, linked to Hasan Miljković, which the latter allegedly hoped to use to bring about the establishment of an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina within the NDH.74

Huska Miljkovićƒ built his militia as a coalition of former Ustashas, HSS supporters and deserters from the Partisans and Home Guards, numbering about three thousand by late 1943. While the Ustasha authorities viewed 'the activities of Huska Miljkovićƒ as hostile to our state', the Germans were pleased by his successes against the Partisans and endeavoured to build up his authority in the region.75 However, aware that the Germans were losing the war, Huska defected to the Partisans on 2 February 1944, which formed the basis for the Partisans’ new ‘Una Operational Group’, with Huska as commander and the Communist Šukrija Bijedićƒas political commissar.76 Huska nevertheless continued to play a double game, maintaining elements of collaboration with the Germans and Ustashas even as he formally fought with the Partisans. He was subsequently assassinated by pro-Ustasha elements from within his former militia’s ranks.

In the spring of 1944, as the Partisans approached victory, the Muslim autonomists continued with their own, quieter, resistance to the Ustasha regime. On 28-29 April 1944, during his visit to Sarajevo, NDH Prime Minister Nikola Mandićƒ received a delegation of Muslim notables who wished to complain about Ustasha policies, above all about the Ustashas' killing of individual Muslims, their incarceration in concentration camps and the lack of significant Muslim participation in the organs of the state. The delegates were Zaim Šarac, whose son Džemil was a Communist; Šefkija Behmen, formerly number two in the JMO; Hamdija Kreševljaković, a leading member of the former National Salvation; Asim Ugljen, president of the Supreme Court; Hifzija Gavrankapetanovićƒ, vice-president of the Croatian State Parliament; and Ismetbeg Gavrankapetanoviƒć, a member of parliament. This group of Muslim notables thereupon grew to form an informal lobby representing the Muslim population before the Ustasha regime.77 Meanwhile, according to one source, in early May 1944, the Green Forces commander Nešad Topčićƒ, accompanied by some former Handschar Division officers, visited Berlin, where he was suspected by the Ustashas of requesting from the Germans the establishment of an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina.78

The Muslim autonomists continued to seek the separation of Bosnia-Hercegovina from the NDH. Behmen in this period invited the Green Force leader Nešad Topčićƒ, head of the most powerful remaining independent Muslim military force, to visit Sarajevo at this time. Topčić then made further visits to Berlin, in June and November of 1944, to lobby the Germans for Bosnian autonomy.79 In late May, Ustasha forces were prevented by the Germans from entering Goražde in East Bosnia at the request of a local Muslim militia leader, who warned the Germans that he would otherwise consider them his enemies.80 On 29 July 1944, Mehmed Handžiƒć, president of El-Hidaje and author of the Sarajevo Muslim Resolution of 1941 against Ustasha policy, unexpectedly died at the age of thirty-eight following a routine operation at the Koševo Hospital in Sarajevo. It has been suggested that this was an assassination carried out by the Communists, which, given the NOP's infiltration of the Sarajevo medical profession, is not impossible.81 Whether by accident or assassination, the most powerful opponent of both the Partisans and the Ustashas among the Muslim autonomists thereby left the historical stage. Following the death of Uzeiraga Hadžihasanovićƒ the previous year, the Muslim autonomists were now left without any leaders of prime stature; the Partisans were rapidly becoming the only credible Muslim resistance movement above the regional level.

Despite its successes against the Partisans following its appearance in north-east Bosnia in early 1944, the Handschar Division was unable to crush Partisan resistance in Birač or conquer south-east Bosnia. On 19 June, a second Bosnian SS division, the 23rd SS Division 'Kama' was established by the Germans, but by September this had only two thousand troops. By the autumn of that year, the Handschar Division began to show signs of disintegration. In the period 1-20 September, two thousand Bosnian troops deserted from it. Consequently, on 16 September, the Division commanders proposed either dissolving the Division or stiffening it with German personnel to bring the German-Bosnian ratio within it up to 1:2.82 Nevertheless, the disintegration of the unit continued. The increase in support given by the Germans to the Chetniks, in particular the provision of arms to Chetnik bands that then used them to attack Muslim and Croat villages, helped to discredit the Germans in the eyes of the Division's troops.83 In the contemporary words of Muhidin Begiƒć, who served in the 16th Muslim Brigade: 'Under the blows and the pursuit of the fighters of the People's Liberation Army, the 13th SS Division is collapsing, with segments of it turning on their own initiatives against their German officers and joining the People's Liberation Army.'84 The final German withdrawal from Tuzla in September proved to be a particular catalyst for SS troops to join the Partisans; at this time, former SS troops comprised the largest component of new recruits to the Partisans’ 27th East Bosnian Division.85

The collapse of the Handschar Division, as the flagship Muslim autonomist force, in turn catalysed the collapse of other Muslim quisling armed formations. In September, the Partisans and Green Forces held negotiations in the vicinity of Vis in East Bosnia to discuss the possibility of the Green Forces' absorption into the Partisans. The Partisan delegation was headed by Abdusalem Basara, a former Domdo commander. While the Partisans demanded that the Green Forces be subsumed wholly within the Partisan military structure, the Green Force representatives rejected the idea of fighting away from their localities and for Partisan military goals. They offered instead to act as a local Partisan militia that would remain in the area under its own commanders. This was unacceptable to the Partisans and the meeting ended unsuccessfully. Hostilities were thereupon resumed, but the Green Forces were increasingly unwilling fighters. When Partisan forces entered the town of Gradačac in East Bosnia in October, the Muslim militia defending it failed to offer any resistance.86 Members of the Green Forces in this period were joining the Partisans more readily than former Chetniks. The Oblast NOO for East Bosnia reported on 23 November 1944: 'It is necessary only to note that this process among the Chetniks is taking place more slowly, for, while the Green Forces lost support and perspective with the collapse of the 13th SS Division, and are massively joining the P[eople's] L[iberation] Army in which they see the sole force [sic], the Chetnik leaders are still succeeding, by means of lies, in deceiving one part of the uninformed masses.'87 On 15 December, Partisans dressed as Home Guards entered Nešad Topčićƒ's hotel room in Modriča, dragged him out and shot him dead. This effectively ended the Green Forces as a functioning army in Bosnia-Hercegovina, though in some localities they continued to resist the Partisans until the end of the war and beyond.88

With Muslim SS soldiers deserting in large numbers to the Partisans, the 13th and 23rd SS Divisions began to be redeployed in northern Croatia in October 1944 to resist the Soviet advance from Serbia. This move away from the Bosnian homeland brought about massive desertions among the troops. On the 17th, the day after the redeployment was ordered, the Bosnian troops of the 23rd Division mutinied and the latter was thereupon dissolved. On the 25th, the Germans began to disarm the 13th Division, with 70% of its Bosnian troops released from service. What remained was a smaller unit of equal numbers of Germans and Bosnians that followed other German units in retreat to Germany.89 Meanwhile, hundreds of former SS soldiers joined the Partisans. By late December, the Oblast Committee of the KPJ for East Bosnia reported that a total of two thousand troops from the Handschar Division had joined the Partisans.90

The final Partisan victory in Bosnia-Hercegovina in the first half of 1945, involving the liberation of Mostar, Sarajevo, Zenica, Banja Luka and other major cities and towns, was made possible by the large scale support for the NOP among part of the Bosnian Muslim population, including many former Muslim collaborationist troops; the liberation of these cities was greatly facilitated by further large-scale desertions from among the quisling forces. For many former quislings, this was not simply a matter of joining the winning side, but of continuing the struggle by other means, for the NOP shared the Muslim autonomists’ goals of resisting the forced assimilation of the Muslims by the Ustashas, their extermination by the Chetniks, and of establishing Bosnia-Hercegovina as a self-governing unit - this time within the new Yugoslav federation. For many Muslim autonomists who did not become sincere supporters of the new Communist-dominated order, it was merely a question of a new form of collaboration. Politican tensions between the new regime and non-Communist Muslim political elements would continue following the end of the war.









1 This article is based on my monograph, Marko Attila Hoare, The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History, Hurst, London, 2013.

2 Marko Attila Hoare, The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Saqi, London, 2007, pp. 128-135.




3 Fikreta Jelić-Butić, Ustaše i Nezavisna Država Hrvatska 1941-1945, Sveučilišna Naklada Liber, Zagreb, 1978, p. 105; Hrvoje Matković, Povijest Nezavisne Države Hrvatske, Naklada Pavičić, Zagreb, 1994, p. 70.




4 Istorija građanskih stranaka u Jugoslaviji, vol. 2, SUP, Belgrade, 1952, pp. 111-112.

5 Mehmedalija Bojić, Historija Bosne i Bošnjaka (VII-XX vijek), TKD Šahinpašić, Sa-rajevo, 2001, pp. 200-202; Jelić-Butić, Ustaše i NDH, pp. 99-100.




6 Šaćir Filandra, Bošnjačka politika u XX. stoljeću, Sejtarija, Sarajevo, 1998, p. 157.




7 Rasim Hurem, 'Pokušaj nekih građanskih muslimanskih političara da Bosnu i Hercegovinu izdvoje iz okvira Nezavisne Države Hrvatske', Godišnjak Društva istoričara Bosne i Hercegovine, no. 16, 1965, pp. 197-198; Filandra, Bošnjačka politika u XX. stoljeƒću, pp. 172-173; Enver Redžić, Bosna i Hercegovina u Drugom svjetskom ratu, Sarajevo, OKO, 1998,
p. 303.




8 Istorija građanskih stranaka u Jugoslaviji, vol. 2, pp. 112-114; Redžić, BiH u Dru-gom svjetskom ratu, p. 302; Milica Bodrožić, 'uloga i držanje građanskih stranaka i grupa tokom 1942. godine i prvo zasjedanje AVNOJ-a', in Slavko Odićƒ (ed.), Prvo zasjedanje Antifašističkog vijeća narodnog oslobođenja Jugoslavije, Muzej AVNOJ-a i Pounja, Bihać, 1967, p. 338.




9 Marko Attila Hoare, Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, pp. 169-172.




10 Historical Museum of Bosnia-Hercegovina (HMBiH), Sarajevo, Collection UNS, box 2, doc. 284.




11 Adnan Jahić, Muslimanske formacije Tuzlanskom kraju u Drugom svjetskom ratu, 'Zmaj od Bosne' and 'Preporod', Tuzla, 1995, pp. 36-47.

12 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 2, doc. 306.

13 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 5, doc. 1532.




14 Hasan Ljubunčić, 'Dani nevolja i previranja', in Sarajevo u revoluciji, Istorijski arhiv Sarajevo, Sarajevo, 1976-1981, vol. 3, p. 614.




15 Milan Vučković, Dobrovoljac (srećna nova 1941), Dialogue, Paris, 1996, p. 53.

16 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 2, doc. 471.

17 Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilačkom ratu jugoslovenskih naroda, Vojnoistorijski institut Jugoslovenske narodne armije, Belgrade, 1949-1986, pt 14, vol. 1, doc. 126, pp. 456-458.

18 Lucien Karchmar, Draža Mihailovićƒ and the Rise of the Chetnik Movement, 1941-1942, Garland Publishing, New York and London, 1987, vol. 2, p. 598.




19 Zbornik dokumenata pt 14, vol. 1, doc. 151, p. 566.

20 Zbornik dokumenata pt 14, vol. 1, doc. 194, p. 716

21 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 3, doc. 876.

22 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 3, doc. 632.




23 Zbornik dokumenata pt 14, vol. 1, doc. 174, pp. 656-657.

24 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 2, doc. 607.

25 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 2, doc. 498.

26 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 2, doc. 599.




27 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 2, docs 559 + 608; Hurem, 'Pokušaj nekih građanskih muslimanskih političara da BiH izdvoje iz okvira NDH', pp. 215-218; Redžić, BiH u Drugom svjetskom ratu, p. 329.

28 Šemso Tucaković, Srpski zločini nad Bošnjacima-Muslimanima 1941-1945, El-Kalem, Sarajevo, 1995, pp. 148-155.




29 Dušan Lukač, Banja Luka i okolica u ratu i revoluciji 1941-1945, SUBNOR opštine Banja Luka, Banja Luka, 1968, pp. 258-259.

30 Hurem, 'Pokušaj nekih građanskih muslimanskih političara da BiH izdvoje iz okvira NDH', pp. 200-203.




31 Vladimir Dedijer and Antun Miletić (eds), Genocid nad Muslimanima, 1941-1945: Zbornik dokumenata i svjedočenja, Svjetlost, Sarajevo, 1990, pp. 205-209; Filandra, Bošnjačka politika u XX. stoljeću, pp. 166-169.

32 Jahić, Muslimanske formacije, p. 52; Redžić, BiH u Drugom svjetskom ratu, pp. 327-328.




33 Hafiz Mahmud Traljić, 'Handžić kao društveni i javni radnik', in Zbornik radova sa znanstvenih skupova o hadži Mehmed Handžiću održanih u Sarajevu i Zenici, El-Hidaje, Sarajevo, 1996, p. 49.

34 Jahić, Muslimanske formacije, pp. 43-55; Hurem, 'Pokušaj nekih građanskih muslimanskih političara da BiH izdvoje iz okvira NDH', pp. 205-206.




35 The SS officer Karl von Krempler. See Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2001, p. 495n.

36 Dedijer and Miletić, Genocid nad Muslimanima,
pp. 250-254.




37 Ibid, pp. 253-264.




38 George Lepre, Himmler's Bosnian Division: The Waffen SS Handschar Division 1943-1945, Schiffer Military History, Atglen, 1997, pp. 17-18.

39 Ibid., pp. 41-50.

40 Ibid., pp. 59-60.




41 Archive of the Military-Historical Institute (AVII), Belgrade, Collection NOR, box 1111, facs. 4, doc. 9.




42 Zbornik dokumenata pt 12, vol. 3, doc. 56, pp. 245-246.




43 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 4, doc. 1290.

44 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 5, docs 1638 + 1869; Esad Tihić, 'NOP u Tuzlanskoj oblasti u zimu i proljeće 1943.', in Tuzla u radničkom pokretu i revoluciji, Univerzal, Tuzla, 1984, vol.2, pp. 893-894; Asim Mujkić, 'Uloga Muslimanskog bataljona u formiranju 16. NOU brigade', in Tuzla u radničkom pokretu i revoluciji, vol.2, pp. 1022-1023; Jahić, Muslimanske formacije, pp. 62-64.

45 Jahić, Muslimanske formacije tuzlanskog kraja, pp. 59-65.




46 Lepre, Himmler's Bosnian Division, pp. 59-60.

47 Ibid., p. 131.

48 Zija Sulejmanpašić, 13. SS divizija Handžar: Istine i laži, Preporod, Zagreb, 2000, p. 183.




49 Jahić, Muslimanske formacije tuzlanskog kraja, pp. 21-23.

50 Miloš Zekić, 'Prelomna jesen 1943.', Istočna Bosna u NOB, Vol. 2, Vojnoizda-vački zavod, Belgrade, 1971, p. 96.




51 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 7, doc. 2681.




52 Antonić, Zdravko (ed.), Zapisi Pere Đukanovića: Ustanak na Drini, SANU, Belgrade, 1994, p. 36.

53 Dokumenti centralnih organa KPJ, NOR i revolucija, Komunist, Belgrade, vol. 16, 1986, doc. 149, p. 494.

54 Ahmet Đonlagić, 27. Istočnobosansko divizija, Vojnoizdavački zavod, Belgrade, 1983, p. 178.




55 AVII Collection NOR, box 1111, facs. 4, doc. 9.

56 Tomasevich, Occupation and Collaboration, str. 503-304.




57 Zbornik dokumenata pt 4, vol. 19, doc. 165, p. 521.

58 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 4, doc. 1300.

59 Jahić, Muslimanske formacije tuzlanskog kraja, p. 108.




60 HMBiH Collection UNS, box 6, doc. 2226.

61 Bojić, Historija Bosne i Bošnjaka, p. 219n.

62 Bosna i Hercegovina od najstarijih vremena do kraja drugog svjetskog rata, Štab Vrhovne Komanda Oružanih Snaga Republike Bosne i Hercegovine, Sarajevo, 1994, p. 283.

63 Rasem Hurem, 'Koncepcije nekih muslimanskih građanskih političara o položaju BiH u vremenu od sredine 1943. Do kraja 1944 godine’, Prilozi, godina 4, br. 4, 1968, pp. 536-537.

64 Savo Pređa, 'Slom i rasula Četnika', in Sarajevo u revoluciji, vol. 4, p. 106.

65 Redžić, BiH u Drugom svjetskom ratu, p. 354.




66 Esad Tihić and Omer Hamzić, Gračanica i okolina u NOB i revoluciji, Komisija za istoriju Opštinskog komiteta SKBiH i opštinski odbor SUBNOR Gračanica, Gračani-ca, 1988, p. 238.

67 Vučković, Dobrovoljac, p. 104.

68 Jeremija Ješo Perić, '13. SS “Handžar” divizija i njen slom u istočnoj Bosni', in Istočna Bosna u NOB vol. 2, p. 591.

69 Lepre, Himmler's Bosnian Division, pp. 151-152.

70 HMBiH Collection UNS, unsorted, doc. 672, 22 April 1944.

71 HMBiH Collection UNS, unsorted, doc. 192-194, 3 June 1944.




72 HMBiH Collection UNS, unsorted, doc. 767, 29 April 1944.

73 Lepre, Himmler's Bosnian Division, pp. 222-223.




74 Vjekoslav Vrančić, Branili smo državu: Uspomene, osvrti, doživljaji, vols 1-2, Knjižnica Hrvatske Revije, Barcelona - Munich, 1985, vol. 2, pp. 390-391.

75 Croatian State Archive, Collection 487 (Ministarstvo oužanih snaga NDH), box 2, doc. 716.

76 AVII Collection NOR, box 428, facs. 9, doc. 2.




77 Hurem, 'Koncepcije nekih muslimanskih građanskih političara o položaju BiH', p. 545; Redžić, BiH u Drugom svjetskom ratu, p. 359.

78 Hasan Delić, 'Raspad “Handžar-divizije”', NIN, 17 April 1992, p. 58.




79 Hurem, 'Koncepcije nekih muslimanskih građanskih političara o položaju BiH’, pp. 546-547.

80 HMBiH Collection UNS, unsorted, doc. 617, 31 May 1944.

81 Ismet Kasumagić, 'Hadži Mehmed ef. Handžić - život i djelo', in Zbornik radova sa znanstvenih skupova o hadži Mehmedu Hadžiću, pp. 19-20.




82 Lepre, Himmler's Bosnian Division, p. 252.

83 HMBiH Collection UNS, unsorted, doc. 152, 26 September 1944.

84 Muhidin Begić, 'Borbeni put 16. Muslimanske brigade', in Istočna Bosna u NOB, vol. 2, p. 301.

85 Ahmet Đonlagić, 27. Istočnobosanska divizija, Vojnoizdavački zavod, Belgrade, 1983, p. 283.




86 HMBiH, Collection UNS (unsorted - 1944), doc. 577.

87 Zemaljsko antifašističko vijeće narodnog oslobođenja Bosne i Hercegovine - Dokumenti, vol. 1, Veselin Masleša, Sarajevo, 1968, p. 769.

88 Jahić, Muslimanske formacije, pp. 116-118.




89 Lepre, Himmler's Bosnian Division, pp. 268-271.

90 Archive of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Sarajevo, Collection PK KPJ BiH, 1941-1944, box 1 (formerly 25), doc. 93.











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