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Oskar Paul Dirlewanger (26 September 1895 – c. 7 June 1945) was a German Schutzstaffel officer and war criminal who served as the founder and commander of the Nazi Party SS penal unit "Dirlewanger" during World War II. Serving in Poland and in Belarus, his name is closely linked to some of the most notorious crimes of the war. He also fought in World War I, the post-World War I conflicts, and the Spanish Civil War. He reportedly died after World War II while in Allied custody. According to Timothy Snyder, "in all the theaters of the Second World War, few could compete in cruelty with Dirlewanger".
Oskar Dirlewanger was born in Wurzburg on 26 September 1895. During World War One, he reached the rank of lieutenant and won the Iron Cross. Between 1919 and 1921 he was involved in the suppression of communist risings in the Ruhr and Saxony, also serving in the Freikorps in Upper Silesia.
In 1922 he obtained a degree in political science and a year later joined the Nazi Party, and ran a knit-wear factory in Erfurt for a few years before becoming an SA leader in Esslingen in 1932. After serving a two-year sentence in 1934 for molesting a minor, Dirlewanger joined the Condor Legion in 1937, fighting for Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
By 1939 he had risen to the rank of SS- Obersturmführer in the Waffen –SS and a year later, in September 1940, he initiated with Gottlob Berger the creation of a special SS detachment of convicted criminals, murderers and convicted poachers. This SS-Sonderkommando Dirlewanger provoked revulsion in some SS circles, by its cruelty and murderous havoc it created in combating partisans and Jews in Poland and White Russia.
Dirlewanger served for a time in the Lublin district supervising the building defence fortifications along the Bug River at Belzec and the Jewish concentration camp at Dzikow Stary. The SS and Police Leader for the Lublin district Odilo Globočnik recommended him for promotion on 5 August 1941, for his activities in this field of work. An investigation into its activities was launched in August 1942 and its findings submitted to an SS court, but on Heinrich Himmler’s orders no action was taken against Direlwanger. In 1943 Dirlewanger was decorated with the German Cross in gold and a year later promoted to SS-Standartenführer in the Waffen-SS.
His unit was active in the suppression of the Polish uprising in Warsaw which commenced in August 1944. By the 5 August Dirlewanger had sixteen officers and 865 men in Warsaw. While the fighting was in progress the unit was expanded with 2,500 troops of which 1,900 came from the SS Prison Camp at Matzkau near Danzig. At the end of the uprising Dirlewanger had only 648 men left.
On 5 August Dirlewanger SS barbarians advanced about 1,000 yards, in the Wola district of Warsaw. In every single street in Wola recaptured by the Germans, far behind the frontline, the inhabitants were ordered to leave their homes, induced by promises of evacuation. As soon as large groups of civilians assembled on the streets, they were not taken to evacuation points but were herded together in cemeteries, gardens, back yards, factory forecourts or squares, soldiers then fired machine gun bursts into the human mass until there were no further signs of movement.
On the 5 August no one was spared – everyone perished innocents, old men, women and children, as well as members of the Polish AK - the soldiers piled the corpses in large heaps, poured petrol over them and set them on fire. Hospitals in the Wola and Ochota areas suffered worst of all that day. The “good fellows” as Himmler called them, with Dirlewanger at their head, stormed into the wards, shot the sick and wounded where they lay. Nurses, nuns, helpers and doctors suffered the same fate.
After Warsaw the Sonderkommando Dirlewanger saw further action in the Slovak national uprising in October 1944 where they again acted with their customary brutality. In May 1945 Dirlewanger’s men were taken into Soviet captivity but he fled westwards and was arrested in Altshausen, by the French Occupation forces. Dirlewanger died on 7 June 1945, after being recognised by Polish Prisoners of War, and beaten so hard, he died of a fractured skull.