Ghosts of Xhafer Deva’s House – the genesis of cooperation with the Third Reich

Source: Talas (The text is published with the permission of the author and the portal)

By Stefan Radojkovic

In early February of this year (cf. the text was originally published in November of 2022), there was a public reaction, and consequently a debate, concerning the renovation of the former house of Xhafer Deva in Kosovska Mitrovica. If we put aside the static sustainability of a rather dilapidated building, the problem rested in the future purpose of the house – a place of dialogue between the conflicting communities of the abovementioned town. My colleague at the time, Dr. Nenad Antonijevic, and I published a short piece on that occasion, where, using just three examples, we pointed out the potential dangers of promoting Deva, a Nazi Germany collaborator during World War II, as a symbol and his house as a place of reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians. Our efforts, with the reaction of the international public, bore fruit. UNDP gave up on the renovation.

After the attention of the public and the media on Deva dwindled, this spring, I bumped into Idro Seferi, a prominent journalist and writer from Pec, on the premises of the Museum of Genocide Victims. Together with my then colleague from the Museum, Ognjen Gogic, Idro and I started talking about the mentioned case. In short, like-minded on the role Xhafer Deva played during World War II, Idro expressed concern over the possibility that now, through Deva’s character and work, the entire Albanian population of Kosovo and Metohija can be seen and identified with him during the aforementioned war.

Of course, any kind of generalization (general conclusion) based on a sample of one person, his biography specifically, is as scientifically indefensible as it is morally undesirable. The same applies to the case of Deva. On the other hand, if his biography were to be taken as a starting point, or at least one of, for research questions – What was the attitude of the Albanian population of Albania, Kosovo, Metohija, and western Macedonia towards the Third Reich? Were there regional differences in attitudes? Why was the attitude of the Albanian population, depending on the findings, negative or positive towards Nazi Germany? What are the structural reasons behind such attitudes? How about ideational? Can certain theories explain certain attitudes? – could be used constructively not only for expanding our (scientific) findings but also for nuanced, argumentative dialogue about traumatic periods of common history.

In the aforementioned text from February, we provided summarized basic information about Deva’s accountability for crimes against Serbs, Albanians, and Jews. Chronologically speaking, we did not go further than September 1943. With this text, it is my intention to contextualize and more fully present the development of his relations with the Third Reich, without which even the mentioned crimes would not have been possible.

Early stages of cooperation

Deva is believed to have been in contact with the Abwehr since 1936, however, it was not his long-term ties with the German military intelligence service that recommended him to the post of the Minister of Interior within the government of Rexhep Bej Mitrovica in Tirana (1943- 1944). A document resulting from the work of the Yugoslav State Commission of Inquiry for the Confirmation of the Crimes of the Occupier and His Helpers completes the outline, as well as the list of reasons behind why he was chosen for the post:

„9/ As soon as the Germans came to Mitrovica [author’s note: April 1941], they immediately displayed the inscription „Judengeschäft“ on all Jewish shops, which meant that every German was free to plunder them. All Jewish members had red ribbons with the inscription „Jude“ on their arms. This inscription signified their racial separation and was at the same time a facilitating measure in finding Jews even on the street for jobs and shops that Germans incidentally needed. […] On May 20th, 1941, Xhafer Deva issued an order as per which all properties were confiscated from the Jews and passed into state hands. All Jewish property was placed under the Commissariat for Jewish Property. Commissioners were immediately appointed for all Jewish shops. […]”

Proving himself to be trustworthy in the first years of the Nazi occupation, Xhafer Deva’s jurisdiction, and therefore his power and influence in the area from Kosovska Mitrovica to Tirana, grew exponentially. For example, Hermann Neubacher, special envoy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nazi Germany for the „Southeast“, writes in his memoirs (2018, 182) that he met with Xhafer Deva and Vehbi Frashëri:

„Three weeks ago, while I was staying at the General Headquarters (with Hitler), I became fleetingly acquainted with the political situation in Albania. Until then, I had met only two Albanian politicians, and the two of them, as soon as Italy capitulated, immediately went to Belgrade to get in touch with me. […] Deva already had a political role in the former Serbian Kosovo, […]“

A slight digression is needed here for the sake of clarity. Originally, the German military-occupation zone „Southeast“ included the area around Thessaloniki, the territory of Banat, and the area from Belgrade to Podujevo and Kosovska Mitrovica. From September 1943, that is, after the capitulation of Fascist Italy, the German zone „Southeast“ expanded to include the largest part of the Balkan Peninsula, including the areas of Albania, Kosovo, Metohija, and western Macedonia.

The pinnacle of cooperation

Following the instructions of Adolf Hitler – the establishment of an independent Albania on the basis of his own, Albanian, initiative – Neubacher proceeded to help create a representative national committee, resulting from negotiations between Ibrahim Bej Biçaku, from Elbasan, and Xhafer Deva from Kosovska Mitrovica. After being appointed the Minister of Internal Affairs in the government of Rexhep Mitrovica – Vehbi Frashëri became the Minister of Foreign Affairs – Deva, together with Neubacher, went on to build Albania’s security apparatus. Although the goal was to form a regular army and gendarmerie, Bernd J. Fischer, based on the analysis of documents from archives in Washington and London, points to the fact that Neubacher relied to the greatest extent on armed formations comprised of Kosovo Albanians.

To avoid any possibility of misinterpreting Fisher’s conclusions (1999, 184), we share his original quote:

„The most notable militia units proved to be battalion of six hundred to seven hundred volunteers from Kosova whom Neubacher hoped, because of their loyalty, could be relied upon to secure German lines of communication and perhaps even occupy Tirana. These troops, who were trained at Zemun and led by Lieutenant Colonel Adem Boletini, marched to Tirana at the end of September 1943 wearing their Italian uniforms. Their behavior, however, did the Germans more harm than good, as they ravaged the countryside like a conquering army of old. The same was true of the twelve hundred armed gendarmes that Deva brought from Mitrovica to Tirana in December. With Fitzthum, the SS chief in Albania, directing operations, the unit “arrested communists” and “sacked unreliable officials” along the way. […]“

In fact, Fischer (1999, 183-186) considers the use of the armed formations of Deva and Boletini (Adem Boletini) to be only the first phase in the German plan to develop Albania’s security infrastructure. The second phase was an attempt, although unsuccessful, to form a regular army consisting of 8,250 men and a gendarmerie comprised of 2,400 members. Due to the fact that the second phase was unsuccessful, and the Third Reich’s need for auxiliary military units did not wane, the third phase was launched with the full participation of the first man of the security and police apparatus of Nazi Germany:

„By February 1944, however, because of increasing pressure on the Germans and because the Albanian government itself favored the plan, Hitler gave Himmler his personal approval for the creation of the SS „Skenderbeg“ Division. Although this formation would remain under direct German control, its advertised agenda was to remain entirely Albanian. The „Skenderbeg“ Division was to serve only in Kosova and was to protect ethnic Albania.“

It is right here, despite certain problems Deva created for Neubacher and other German representatives in Albania – it seems that he released individuals, sympathizers of Enver Hoxha, for certain sums of money – that we see the culmination of cooperation with Nazi Germany. Referring to Bernhard Kühmel, Fischer (1999, 215) writes as follows:

„Neubacher bluntly informed Frashëri that the German army represented the only order in Albania and that Albanian independence had certain limits, which included the security of the German army and the maintenance of German war aims. Fitzthum saw the move as the creation of a Frashëri dictatorship with Zogist dominance, which posed a threat to the creation of SS “Skenderbeg”, for which Deva was recruiting. Schliep, following Neubacher’s instructions, and Fitzthum both insisted on Deva’s inclusion even if this drove Frashëri to resign. […]“

Although some publicists from Western Europe and North America insist on pointing out the lack of usability of the SS-Division „Skanderbeg“ in military operations, Robert Elsie comes to mind first, [6] trying to provide a romanticized and idealized image of life in Kosovo and Metohija during World War II, the fact remains that the mentioned division was also used for violence against civilians. In particular, the Jewish communities of Pristina and Prizren, Serbs, South Slavic Muslims, as well as unsuitable Albanians – a total of 789 persons – were deported to German camps in August 1944 with the help of the aforementioned division.

Final deliberations

In the meantime, until the situation is ripe for a broader type of dialogue, we can provide some final reflections on Deva’s relationship with the Third Reich as the end of the war neared.

Neubacher (2018, 201) writes in his memoirs: „Xhafer Deva intended to stay in the country following the departure of the German troops and to continue waging a guerrilla war. The German side failed to provide him with the necessary technical equipment, so he had no choice but to leave his homeland. He left very late through Croatian territory, and in December 1944, he arrived in Vienna. I greeted him in Kitzbühel, in Tyrol.“

Although it failed to provide ammunition and weapons to Deva, Nazi Germany did not forget its collaborators. On the contrary, Fisher (1999, 237) gives insight into the ways and reasons behind aid:

„As a final act the Germans did what they could for some of the Albanians who had compromised themselves and could expect execution if captured by the partisans. In December 1944 the German Foreign Ministry opened a special office in Vienna to deal with those people. Mehdi Frashëri [author note: Vehbi Frashëri’s father] and Xhafer Deva were provided with aid to settle in Italy. […]“

Deva’s life in exile, after the war, is not the subject of the article before you, but individuals may be interested in information about the available documents of the US administration on further travels, undertakings and intentions of one of the prominent collaborators of the Third Reich from the Balkans. Not coincidentally, US intelligence documents on Xhafer Deva, among others, have been made available and free to use under a statutory provision titled the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.

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Read more:


The director of the Museum of Genocide Victims wrote to the ambassadors regarding the restoration of Xhafer Deva’s house

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