German Force Savors ‘Moral’ Postwar Debut
For the German army, returning to Yugoslavia for the first time since World War II as part of a NATO peacekeeping force marks a final break with a terrible past.
The deployment of German combat troops and Leopard-2 tanks into Kosovo province means that the Bundeswehr at last has become a “full partner in NATO with all of the rights and responsibilities” of the other members, said Lt. Col. Dietmar Jeserich.
It is a proud moment for the Germans.
But many Kosovo Albanians sided with the Nazis during World War II, and today, some of them do not distinguish between the past and present German armies--both of which, to their way of thinking, accomplished the same feat: freeing them from Serbian rule.
“This is a second liberation,” said Ali Majo, 68, a native of this city in southwestern Kosovo. “I can’t describe how it felt when we saw German soldiers come to liberate us again.”
So much for moral victories in the Balkans.
Majo was 10 years old when the German Wehrmacht rolled into Prizren in April 1941. The Nazis arrived in the hills around town on motorcycles, looked through their binoculars and opened fire on a partisan artillery position, he recalled.
“After that, they came in and circled the town,” Majo said. “We all shouted, ‘Heil Hitler.’ We were proud of the German soldiers because they liberated us from the Serbs.”
Naim Poloshka, 72, remembers how one of the Wehrmacht soldiers gave him a chocolate and a ride on his motorcycle. They drove him around town so he could point out houses where partisans lived.
Like much of Prizren, Poloshka was stunned when he woke one morning to find that the Germans had hanged nine suspected partisans--five Serbs and four ethnic Albanians--in the center of town overnight.
But it did not dampen his enthusiasm for the Nazis.
“The enemy of your enemy is your friend,” Poloshka said. “We were occupied, and they liberated us.”
This historical baggage is lost on most of the Kosovars who welcomed the German NATO troops with flowers, kisses and tears of relief this week, as it may have been on the young German soldiers tossed into the air by those celebrating their arrival.
“For me, the German troops are welcome,” Gafur Musaj, 21, a member of the ethnic Albanians’ rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, said after posing for snapshots with a group of Bundeswehr soldiers. “They mean peace for our people.”
The German troops are happy to be appreciated and to be able to hold their heads high on a foreign mission that finishes what the leaders of the United States and Britain--their World War II enemies--described as a “moral war.”
German planes flew alongside British fighters during the 11-week North Atlantic Treaty Organization air war--the first time the Luftwaffe had engaged in battle since 1945. A squadron of Tornado jets took off from Piacenza, Italy, to fire missiles on key military targets.
Earlier this decade, the German government, still burdened by the country’s history of aggression, forced its army to sit out the Persian Gulf War and give only limited support to the peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina when the war there ended in 1995. They moved into Bosnia only “after the dirty work was done,” said a German officer.
This time, however, the Bundeswehr will contribute 8,500 troops to the peacekeeping mission. And the troops were among the first to move into Kosovo.
The first German contingent arrived in Prizren just after midnight Sunday morning, when the city was still under Serbian control and the situation unstable.
At the Morine border crossing with Albania that day, Gen. Helmut Harff negotiated the withdrawal of about 60 Serbian soldiers in front of a crowd of jeering refugees.
When the Serbian commander said he needed six hours to withdraw, the general replied: “You have 30 minutes. In fact, now you’ve got 29 minutes.”
The Serbs pulled back.