World War II Country Trends: Albania

Figure 1.--While the world was focused on the Hitler's seizure of Czechoslovakia (March 1939), disregarding his pledge at Munich, Mussolini seized the small Balkan kingdom of Albania (April 1939). This press photo of an Albanian boy with a gun was captioned, "He'll live to fight another day: A very small boy with a very big rifle, but one day the small boy will be a big man and the chances are that he will take to the Albanian mountains to snipe, ambush and play guerilla for the country he is now fleeing. The photo was made at the Albanian-Yugoslav border where refugees crossed into friendly territory following the Italian coup that annexed the little Adriatic kingdom for Italy." The photograph was taken April 19, 1939."

Mussolini ordered the invasion of Albania as part of his efforts to build an Italian Empire in the Mediterrean (April 7, 1939). Although not given great attention at the time, because of the greater focus on the Germans and Czechoslovakia. The Italians deposed King Zog. There was no real Albanian resistance to the Italians. Albania did not participate in the war as an independent country because it was annexed to Italy (1940). Mussolini then used Albania to launch an invasion of Greece (1940). This was an action of some importance because it would then draw the Germans into the Balkans. The Greeks resisted and pushed the Italians back into Albania. The Italians were ultimately rescued by the NAZI invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece (1941). Under Italian occupation a ressistance movement dominated by the Communists. The Italians did not persue the Holocaust against Albania's small Jewish population. After the Italian surrendr and German occupation (1943) the Jews were argetted, but many were sheltered by Albanians. The Germans reeling from Red Army offensives withdrew from the Balkans (1944). Guerilla leader Enver Hoxa seized power and established a Communist dictatorship, one of the most reclusive of the post-War Communist countries.

Ottomon Rule

Durng the century of Ottomon rule, many Christian Albanians fled to southern Italy, Greece, Egypt, and elsewhere. Many who remained in Albania converted to Islam. Albanians who converted to Islam were able pursue careers in the Ottoman government and military. By the 18th cenntury, about two-thirds of Albanians had converted to Islam. This was to make Albania the only Muslim country in Europe. Ottoman control of the Balkans declined as a result of the 19th century Balkan Wars and the deterioration of the Ottomon state. The large Muslim population of Albania helped the Ottoman's retain control until 1913.

Independent Republic

Albania was an area without a clear, Goverment during World War I. Ahmed Bey Zogu led an armed rebellion and help found a republic. Albania became a republic.


Albania was not only Europe's only Moslem country. It was also Europe's poorest and most economically undeveloped country. Most Albanians were Moslem peasant farmers. The country even in the 1930s had virtually no industry. The hydroelectric potential was also undeveloped. The country's primary resource was oil. The Italians after seizing control in 1939 built a pipeline between the Kuēovė oil field and Vlorė's port expedited crude oil shipments Italian refineries after the Italians began running the oil-drilling concessions previously run by other foreign companies. Italy like Germany once the War began had trouble obtaining crude oil. Thus the Albanian oil was of some importance. Albania also offered other raw materials, including bitumen, lignite, iron, chromite, copper, bauxite, manganese, and some gold. Shkodėr had a cement factory; Korēė, a brewery; and Durrės and Shkodėr, cigarette factories that used locally grown tobacco.

King Zog

Albanian President Zogu in 1928 Zogu disolved the Albania Parliameng, even securing its approval. A constituent assembly made major changes to the country's constitution. Albania was made a king and Zogu became Zog I, "King of the Albanians." Most European governments recognized the new government. The new constiution abolished the Senate and created a unicameral legislture. The King dominated the Parliament and thus ruled with dictatorial powers. King Zog, after he was crowned, broke off his engagement to Shefqet Bey Verlaci's daughter. As a result, Verlaci began plotting against King Zog. The King continued to acquire enemies. In the clan dominated society of Albania, the King's enemies continued the tradition of blood feuds. The King vecame one of the most heavily guarded European leaders. King Zog's supporters attempted to disarm the Albania's tribes, except for his own Mati tribesmen and their allies, the Dibra. On a state visit to Vienna, Austria in 1931, the King was attacked and there was a gun battle on the steps of the Vienna Opera House steps.

Italy and Albania

Albania had a close relationship with Italy. The Italian Army trained Albania's small army, which although small (less than 15,000 men) was a major strain on the budget. The Italian presence also angered many Albanians. King Zog, as a check on the Italiands, used British officers in the Gendarmerie even though the Italians objected. The King in 1931 refused to renew the 1926 First Treaty of Tiranė. Feeling the impact of the worldwide Depression, Albania was unable to make payments on loans from the Society for the Economic Development of Albania. The Italian Government made a series of tough demands that would have essentially meant an end to independent Albania. The demands included: the Albanians appoint Italian directors to direct the Gendarmerie; enter into a customs union with Italy; grant control to Ilaly of the monoploies on the country's sugar, telegraph, and electrical monopolies; teach the Albanian schools in the Italian language; and permit the emmigration of Italian colonists. The King rejected the Italian demands. King Zog made major financial changes. He reduced the national budget by 30 percent to put the coyntry's finances on a better footing. He also defied Mussolini by dismissing the Italian military advisers in the Albanian Army. He also nationalized Italian-run Roman Catholic schools that operated in northern Albania. (Remember that Albania was Europe's obly Moslem country.) King Zog attempted to break Albania's economic dependence on Italy. The King by 1934, signed trade agreements with both neighboring countries, Yugoslavia and Greece. Mussolini's policies toward Albania swung back and forth from courting the King to military threats. Mussolini at first suspended all finacial payments to Albania. He then sent a naval squadron to intimidate the Albanians. He then attempted to purchase Albanian compliance and gave the government 3 million gold francs. Mussolini attempt to intimidate the Albanians failed. Also King Zog's ability to fight off two local rebellions apparently convinced Mussolini that the Albanian regime could not be easily dispalced. As a result, he reached a new agreement with the King. The Albanian government of young men headed by Mehdi Frasheri managed to obtained a commitment from Italy to meet financial commiments that Mussolini had made on new loans for harbor improvements at Durrės and construction projects that helped to support the economy. The lbanian Government began letting Italians take technical positions in Albania's civil service. The Government also began allowing Italian settlers enter Albania.

Italian Invasion (1939)

The world's attention in early 1939 was focused on the NAZI seizure of Czecholslovakia and the growing confrontation between Germany and Poland, Il Duce by 1939 was concerned that Italy was becoming a junior parner the evolving Axis partnership with Germany. Germany had demiliarized the Rhineland (1935), oversaw the Anschluss, annexed the Sudetenland (1938), and the rest of Czecheslovakia (1939). the Italian dictator set his eyes on Albania across the Adiatric from Italy. King Victor Emmanuel III criticized the plan as risky. Mussolini, however, demanded that King Zog accept Italian contol over his country, even offering money as an enducement (March 25, 1939). As a result, Italy invaded (April 7). Thre was some resistance, especially at Durrės, but the Ialian Army quickly gained control over the country. King Zog, Queen Geraldine Apponyi, and their small son Skander fled to Greece and then to London. Left with little choice, the Albanian parliament accepted union with Italy (April 12). King Victor Emmanuel III took the Albanian crown. The invasion was the second step in Mussolini's efforts to build an Italian Empire in the Mediterrean. King Victor Emmanuel III took the Albanian crown. Mussolini established a Fascist government under Shefqet Verlaci.

Italian Occupation

Mussolini established a Fascist government under Shefqet Verlaci. Ironically, after the the Germans invaded and partioned Yugoslavia in 1941, the Albanians for the first time founded themselves united with the Albanians in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. We do not have a great deal of information about the Italian occupation. Nominallthe Albanian state ciontinued to exist. Italain King Victor Emanuel III became the King of Albania. The Italans attemprted to create Italian institutiions like the Allbanian Fasist Party and a Baillia-like youth group--the Albanian Lictor Youth (Gioventł del Littorio Albanese --GLA). Italian occupation, ended when they signed an armistace with the allies (September 1943). The Germans invaded Italy and seized control of Albania and other Italian-occupied regions of the Balkans.seized control.


Although not given great attention at the time, because of the greater focus on the Germans and Czechoslovakia. The Italians deposed King Zog. There was no real Albanian resistance to the Italians. Albania did not participate in the war as an independent country because it was annexed to Italy (1940). Mussolini then used Albania to launch an invasion of Greece (1940). Although it possessed some oil, Albania had little strategic impotance. This was an action of some importance because it would then draw the Germans into the Balkans. This delayed Barbrossa and was one of NAZI actions which dispersed German troops

Italian Invasion of Greece

Mussolini in October 1940 used Albanian base to launch an attack on Greece. Mussoline never discussed the attack with Hitler. (Hitler never discussed his major attacks in advance with Mssolini. The far larger Italian Army, however, not only failed, but were driven back into Albania by the Greeks. The Italians were ultimately rescued by the NAZI invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece (April 1941). Mussolini was able to retain control of all Albania and eventualy areas of Yugoslavia and Greece. The resistance to the Italian occupation during World war II came primarily from Communist forces led by Enver Hoxha.

Greater Albania (1941-44)

Just what was Albania became a little complicated after the NAZI invasion of Yugoslavia (April 1941). For political reasoons in carving up Yugoslavia, the Italians creayed a greater Albania. They added Kosovo-Metohija to Albania, forming in effect a Greater Albania. Kosovo was called the “New Albania”. was a part of Albania from 1941 to 1944. Other areas in southern Serbia, southern Montenegro, and western Macedonia (Illirida) were also added. Jews in Yugoslav reas of Greater Albania did not fare as well as the Jews in pre-War Albania. Here some JHews were abused by local people and not just the NAZIs. I am not sure just why this was nor do I have details on just who attacked Jews in Kosovo and other areas of Greater Serbia. At the time the population of Kosovo was primarily Serbian, although there was a substantial Albanian minority. The Interior Minister of Albania was Xhafer Deva, Kosovar Muslim. Deva appears to have been one of the most influential Albanians with both the Italians and subsequently the Germans.

Balli Kombetar (BK)

The Balli Kombetar (BK) was an ultra-nationalist Albanian group. They appear to have cooperated with both Italian and German occupation forces. Here the situation is somewhat confused. Many groups organized in Yugoslavia to resist the Axis invasion, but as the war progressed began cooperatin with the Italians and Germans, more than fighting them. The Balli Kombetar was at first noncommital after the Axis occupation. Eventually some important members committed to cooperating with the NAZIs, mny curiously and a farly late stage of the War. Three BK members joined the Rexhep Mitrovica cabinet (January 1944). [Fischer] Mitrovica was a Kosovar Albanian appointed as Prime Minister in the NAZI puppet Greater Albania regime. He was subsequentlyreplaced by Fikri Dine. a King Zoy loylist. Xhafer Deva, a Kosovar Muslim, was the interior minister. Notably BK members played a major role in the NAZI puppet state. Also notably Kosovars played a major role in the administration of Greater Albania. British liaison officers in occupied Yugoslavia reported that resistance grous was having trouble attack the Germans because of BK screening units serving with the Germans (February 1944).

Italian Armistace (September 1943)

Marshall adoglio announced an armistice with the Allies (September 8). Fearing reprisals from the Germans, Badoglio with the King promply fleed Rome to reach Allied lines. The actual Armistice was signed on Malta. Most of the Italian Army was left without orders. A few units managed to stand together. Some went over to the Allies, such as the garrisons of Sardegna and Corsica. Others units stood with the Germans. A virtual Civil occurred within the military and the Fascist Government between pro-Axis cause and pro-Allied forces. The bulk of the Army wanted nothing more to do with the war. The Germans managed to disarm them and ship them north to POW camps in Germany before the Allies could land in force. Fascist Italy was the first Axis partner to fall to the Allies. The Armistice was unusual, because the Allies saw it as surrender, the Italians as an armistace. The most unusual part of it was usually an armistace ends the fighting. For the Italian people it was in many ways just the beginning of the fighting.

NAZI Takeover (September 1943)

The Germans seized control after the Italian surrender (September 1943). The Germans dropped paratroopers into Tiranė before the Albanian guerrillas could seize the city. The Wehrmacht quickly droce the guerrillas back into the hills and to the south. The NAZIs announced plans to create a neutral Albania and proceeded to set up an Albanian puppet government, including police and military forces. The German approach in Albania was different than in most other occupied areas. This presumably reflects the rapidly deteriorating German military situation. Rather than dictate to the Albanians, they set up a government with a surprising degree of autonomy. And attempted to attract popular support by supporting populasr causes, especially union with Kosovo that had a substantial Albanian population. As a result the nationalist Balli Kombėtar units cooperated with the Germans in actions against the partisans (Communist resistance). In fact BK members were given prominent positions in the puppet givernment. The NAZIs to rule Albania created an Albanian National Committee. This Committe created a Regency that finctioned as a puppet government for Greater Albania created by the Italians.

The Holocaust

The Italians did not persue the Holocaust against Albania's small Jewish population. After the Italian surrendr and German occupation (1943) the Jews were argetted, but many were sheltered by Albanians. SS Brigadefuehrer Jozef Fitzhum (1896-1945) was the highest ranking SS officer in Albania after the NAZIs seized control. He was in charge of internal security and the police (Hoherer SS und Polizeifuehrer, HSSPF). Fitzhum was charged with internal security (primarily the war against the resistance) and rounding up Jews for the Final Solution. By the time Fitzhum began operations, however, the Albanian Jews were too dispursed and well hidden for the NAZIs to have much success in finding them. Earlier Fitzhum had been police chief in Vienna following the Anschluss (1938-40). Here Jews were concentrated in Vienna and he had no difficulty finding them. With limited troops under his command, it was Fitzhum who created the 21st SS Division (Skanderbeg) Muslim Division. Fitzhum ordered the Albanian Regency authorities to provide him a list of Jews (Spring 1944). The Albanians refused to comply. Albanians took Jews from the cities and hid them in the countryside. The Jews were saved mostly by individual Albanians sheltering individuals and whole families. Albanians stole identity cards from occupation authotities. Jews could use these to hide in the general population. One source claims that the Albanian Resistance made it clear that collaborators turing in Jews would be targeted. I am not sure to what extent this is accurate. Other sources reports that not a single Jew was deported or killed in NAZI occupied Albania. [Sarner] Another source writes, "The German occupation forces imposed anti-Jewish laws in Kosovo. Kosovo Jews wore “J” for “Juden” or “Jew”. Kosovo Jews wore white armbands with the word “Jude” in black letters. ID cards were stamped with a red “J”." [Savich] Not only did the Albanians protect their own Jews, but they provided a refugee for Jews from neighboring ountries. Given the small number of Jews involved, the lack of cooperation from the local population, and the deteriorating military situation, it just was not worth their while for the NAZIs to expend resources tracking down Albanian Jews. Essentially by the time the Germans seized control of Albania, the country's Jews were beyond their reach. And shortly after seizing control, the Germans to begin planning for a retreat from the Balkans, giving them only limited time to find Jews in Albania. The NAZIs did, however, manage to seize some Jews in the Yugoslav areas of Greater Albania. NAZI puppet authorities suggested arresting some Jews. "According to our investigation the Jews listed below are dangerous because they are propaganderizing [sic] against the Axis (Rome-Berlin) and they want to organize and hold meetings. We think these people should be taken away from here as soon as possible to one of the concentration fields, because their staying here could be dangerous to the regime." (June 1943). The NAZIs transported 400 Jews from the Yugoslav areas of Greater Albania to Bergen-Belsen (April 1944). [Sarner] Only about 100 survived.

SS Muslim Divisions

The SS was initially conceived by Himmler as an Aryam brotherhood. Elaborate checks of ancestry back to the 18th century were initially required. This changed of course with the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union and the NAZIs began to experience battlefield losses. Perhaps the best example of this was the the 21st SS Division “Skanderbeg” recruited primarily from Kosovar Muslims. The Axis appoointed Xhafer Deva as the Muslim Interior Minister in Greater Albania. He worked closely with SS Brigadefuehrer Jozef Fitzhum in setting up the 21st Waffen SS Division “Skanderbeg”. The Division was involved in terrible massacres of Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia. They also targetted Jews, but the number of Jews in Kosovo and Bosnia was fairly limited. They also targeted Serbian Orthodox churches and priests. There was also an Albanian (Kosovo) Muslim Battalion of about 300 men in the Bosnian Muslim 13th Waffen SS Gebirgs Division der SS “Handschar/Handzar”. Rudi Sommerer commanded the Albanian Battalion in this division. Kosovar Albanian Muslim Nazir Hodic was a prominent member of the Albanian Battalion in Handzar. This Albanian (Kosovar) Battalion would later form the core of the Skanderbeg Nazi SS Division. Note that the Moslem recruits for these SS units were mostly from Kosovo and Bosnia and not from lbania itself which was also occupied by Axis forces. We are not entirely sure why this was. We suspect that Muslims in both Kosovo and Bosnia had experinced descrimination by the Serb dominated Yugoslav Government before the War as well as attacks by Serb and Croatian militia groups while this was not the case of more ethnically homogeneous Albania itself. This the Muslims tended to see the enemu as the Serbs and Croats and not the Germans. Actions against the much smaller number of Jews was more an artifact of their NAZI leadership than any heart-felt prejudice on the part of the Kosovo and Bosnian Muslims. This may have gradually changed as the Frand Mufti of Jeursalem got involved with the units.

Greater Islamic State

Bedri Pejani was another Kosovar Albanian active in the NAZI pupper Government. Pejani conceived of a Greater Islamic State to be made up of pre-War Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, and the Sandzak/Rashka region of Serbia. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, had taken refuge in Berlin. The NAZIs used him for propaganda in the Middle East. Husseini conferred with the SS leadership involved in the Holocaust and urged them to step up the killing process. Husseni approved of the Pejani plan hen he learned of it. He saw it as being in the interests of Islam. The NAZIs meaning Hitler, however, thoughtbotherwise. Hitler did endorse Greater Albania seeing it as a way of gaining Muslim support in the Balkans and weakening the Serbs whi were strongly anti-NAZI. Hitler was expert in giving away other people;s territiry to buy support. As far as I can tell this achieved some success in Kosovo and Bosnia, but I do not see evidence of much success in Kosovo itself.

NAZI Withdrawl (November 1944)

The National Liberation Movement (NLM) partisans were active in Albania. This was especially true after the Italian surrender when they managed to gain control over some of the Italian weapons. The Communists were the main force behind the National Liberation Movement (NLM). Legality, a third resistance organization, led by Abaz Kupi formed (December 1943). Legality was an anticommunist, anti-German royalist organization. It was particularly strong in the northern mountains. It was centered on Geg guerrillas. They withdrew from the NLM after the Communists renounced Albania's claims on Kosovo. (This was necessary because Tito's Partisans in Yugoslavia maintaned their clasim on Kosovo. The guerills harassed the Germans, but some groups esoecially the BTK cooperated with them. It was the overall military situation that forced the Germans out of Albania. The German military situation deteriorated significamtly in the Summer 1944. Rome fell (June). The Allied landed in Normandy (June) and smashed the German armies in France (July). And even greater disaster occurred in the East. The Red Army devestated Army Group Central (July), opening the way for a drive into Poland and soon after the very heart of the Reich. In such circumstances it made no sence for the Germans to maintain more than a miliion men in the Balkans, in fact, Soviet armies driving into Romania and Hungary threatened to cut them off. The Germans finally begun evacuating Greece (September 1944). Soon thereafter the Germans began noving out of Albania. The last Germans were gone (November 29, 1944). Cold War

Post-War Communist State

The Germans, after the Italian surreder to the Allies in World War II, occupied Albania (1943). The resistance to the Italian and German occupation during World War II came primarily from Communist Partisan forces led by Enver Hoxha. Reverses in the East and West forced the Germams to withdraw from the Balkans (1944). Hoxa and the Partisans were the only organized military force in Albania. Thus Hoxa in the wake of the German withdrawl became head of an Albanian government. Hoxa and the Communists declared a people's republic (1946). The Communists confiscated private land holdings and nationalized the country's limited industries. Hoxha proved to be a paranoid renegade in Stalin's post-War Eastern European empire. Hoxha made Albania into one the most reclusive and repressive countries in the world. Albania before the War had been a relatively poor area of Europe. Under Hoxha it became even poorer. Marshal Tito and the much stronger Yugoslav Army was in a position to control Albania. When Yugoslavia left the Soviet bloc in 1948, Albania broke its ties with that country and became first an ally of the Soviet Union. This essentially protected him from a possible Yugoslav invasion. Hoxha joined the Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact when it was formed (1955). Albania under Hoxa was throughly Stalinist. The most renowned modern Albanian author is Ismail Kadare. He was once asked if he could be described an Albanian Solzhenitsyn. Kadare replied, "dissidence was a position no one could occupy, even for a few days, without facing the firing squad. On the other hand, my books themselves constitute a very obvious form of resistance." Hoxha subsequently broke with the Soviets and became a Chinese ally when the two Communist superpowers split (1961). China's primary advantage in Hoxa's eyes was thst it was far away. Ties with China were severed in 1978. Hoxa proved to be the longest serving (ruleing is perhaps more accurate at the time of his death in 1985. Hoxha was the longest-serving head of a Communist country. Albania was a poor country before World War II. Hoxa's Communist economic policies made it even poorer. He turned Albania into a hermit kingdom. Under Hoxa and Communism the economy became a disaster. Even commecial relations with neigboring countries with discouraged. Vast amounts of money were spent on pointless military projects preparing for an invasion that never came. Concrete pill boxes still litter the countryside. He maintained a policy of isolation until he died (1985). His principal achievement was leaveing the country desperately poor--the porest in Europe. His successor was Ramiz Alia who slowly began to moderate Albania's isolation and reengage with Europe. Alia established diplomatic relations with many countries. Albania began to participate in Balkan affairs. By this time, however, Communism in Eastern Europe had begun to lose power. The process accelerated after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). After decades of disaterous Communist rule, Albania was an ecomonic basket case. Once Communist police state border controls were lifted, thousands of Albanians fled accross the Adriatic to Italy seeking jobs (August 1991). The Italians returned most of them to Albania. Sali Berisha, a heart surgeon, was elected Albania's first non-Communist president since World War II (April 1992). In perhaps the last chapter of the Cold war, Serbia conducted ethnic cleansing military operations in Kosovo (a Serbian province) driving Kosovars (ethnic Albanians) out of Kosovo into Albania (1999). More than a million Kosovars were displaced. After American-led NATO actions, the Serbs withdrew from Kosovo and the Kosovars were able to return to their homes.


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Created: 11:13 AM 11/4/2005
Last updated: 2:15 AM 5/17/2019