Hitler’s Muslim Legions

Radio 4

It was after Germany’s invasion of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union in 1941 that Hitler’s attention was first drawn to the potential for Muslim recruits to swell his ranks. For the many thousands of captured Soviet Muslims, the opportunity to serve in the Wehrmacht offered an escape from the brutality and starvation of the prison camps. Elsewhere, a major recruitment drive amongst Bosnian Muslims led to tens of thousands signing up for the Waffen-SS. Formed into exclusive Muslim units, these men fought in some of the most brutal campaigns of the entire war.

This programme investigates why Hitler and Himmler apparently cast aside their Nazi ideal of an Aryan master race, justifying the admission of Islam into their ranks. It asks what attracted these men to fight for the Third Reich, how they were treated by their German officers and how they conducted themselves in the bedlam of war. Were they hopeless soldiers who committed unspeakable atrocities; or did they fight bravely for the Fuhrer?

Presented by Julian O’Halloran.

A Juniper Production for BBC Radio 4