Tomislav Sunic’s useful reminder of the dark legacy of Islam in the Balkans (“The Ghost of Islam in the Balkans, Vital Signs, June) is in need of a few corrections.

While most members of other SS units were volunteers, the Yugoslav “Schwaben” belonging to the Prinz Eugen Division were not.  Heinrich Himmler wanted to turn the Balkans into an SS sphere of interest, and this was manifested in his imposition of exclusive authority over the Volksdeutsche in the southeast.  The fall of Yugoslavia provided an opportunity for unbridled SS recruitment of ethnic Germans, not only in German-occupied Serbia (Banat) but also in the “Independent State of Croatia.”  This enlistment was not voluntary for the Volksdeutsche in the former Yugoslavia: Their leaders made a collective declaration on behalf of the membership that was binding on all.

Dr. Sunic’s speculation about Kemal Ataturk’s Slavic origins is off the mark.  Mustafa Kemal was probably of Jewish ancestry.  He denied this for reasons easy to understand at the time of his radical onslaught against Islamic traditions in Turkey, but it appears that his family belonged to the Sabbetaians, Turkish Jews who took Muslim names and outwardly behaved like Muslims but kept carefully guarded prayers and rituals.  According to Jewish writer and publisher Itamar Ben-Avi, who met the young Turkish officer at the Kamenitz Hotel in Jerusalem in 1911, Kemal confided in him that he is a descendant of Sabbetai Zevi.  As related in the Jewish Post (January 28, 1994), during their second meeting, ten days later, after drinking many rounds of raki, Mustafa Kemal recalled the following words from his childhood: “Shema Yisra’el, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Ehad!

“That’s our most important prayer, Captain,” Ben-Avi said, impressed.

“And my secret prayer too, cher monsieur,” Mustafa Kemal replied cheerfully.

Finally, Pavelic’s construction of a mosque “in the center of Catholic Zagreb” did not reflect his multicultural liberalism but his sop to the Bosnian Muslims, whom he wanted to woo into accepting his claim that they were really “Croats of Islamic faith,” one of the basic tenets of Ustasa ideology.  It was also a prerequisite of practical politics, as only by asserting those Islamized Slavs’ Croatness could Pavelic lay a claim to Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The Wehrmacht representative in Zagreb, Gen. Edmund Glaise von Hostenau, knew better when he declared: “Bosnian Muslims would follow the Croats because they have the power
. . . but at all times they would certainly seek to protect their special Muslim interests.  Any assimilation of Muslims by Croats is out of the question, because a Muslim remains a Muslim.  Just as he was not really a Serb when he passed himself for one, he will not become a Croat now.”

Unlike their German-speaking counterparts from northeastern Yugoslavia, the Muslims of Bosnia were true and enthusiastic volunteers for the SS “Hanjar” Division.  By creating an SS division composed of Bosnian Muslims Himmler hoped to enhance relations with the Islamic world.  One of his closest aides, Obergruppenfuehrer Gottlob Berger, said that, with the creation of a Muslim SS division, “a link is created for the first time between Islam and National-Socialism on an open, honest basis.  It will be directed in terms of blood and race from the North, and in the ideological-spiritual sphere from the East.”

        —Srdja Trifkovic
Chicago, IL