The 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as the SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger (1944),or simply the Dirlewanger Brigade, was a military unit of the Waffen SS during World War II. Composed of criminals expected to die fighting in the front-line, the unit was led by Oskar Dirlewanger .
Oskar Dirlewanger (26 September 1895 – 7 June 1945) was a German military officer who served as the founder and commander of the infamous Nazi SS penal unit “Dirlewanger”. His name is closely linked to some of the worst crimes of the war. He also fought in the first war, the post-World War I conflicts, and the Spanish Civil War. He died after World War II while in Allied custody, apparently beaten to death by his guards, age 49..
Dirlewanger is invariably described as an extremely cruel person by historians and researchers, including as “a psychopathic killer and child molester” “violently sadistic” , an expert in extermination and a devotee of sadism and necrophilia” and “a sadist. World War II historian Chris Bishop called him the “most evil man in the SS”, “in all the theaters of the Second World War, few could compete in cruelty” with Dirlewanger.
The 36th Waffen Grenadier Division originally formed for anti partisan duties against the Polish resistance; the unit eventually saw action in Slovakia, Hungary, and against the Soviet Red Army near the end of the war. During its operations it engaged in the rape, pillaging and mass murder of civilians.
The unit participated in some of World War II’s most notorious campaigns of terror in the east. During the organization’s time in Russia, Dirlewanger burned women and children alive and let starved packs of dogs feed on them. He was known to hold large formations with the sole purpose of injecting Jews with strychnine. Dirlewanger’s unit took part in the occupation of Belarus, where it carved out a reputation within the Waffen-SS for committing atrocities. Numerous Army and SS commanders attempted to remove Dirlewanger from the SS and disband the unit, although he had patrons within the Nazi apparatus who intervened on his behalf. His unit was most notably credited with the destruction of Warsaw, and the massacre of ~100,000 of the city’s population during the Warsaw Uprising; and participating in the brutal suppression of the Slovak National Uprising, an attempt to resist German troops that had occupied Slovak territory and to overthrow the collaborationist government of Josef Tiso, in 1944. Dirlewanger’s Division of the Waffen SS generated fear throughout Waffen-SS Organizations including the SS-Führungshauptamt (SS Command Headquarters) and earned notoriety as the most criminal and heinous SS unit in Hitler’s war machine.
In the Wola district, Dirlewanger burned three hospitals with patients inside, while the nurses were “whipped, gang-raped and finally hanged naked, together with the doctors” to the accompaniment of music. Later, “they drank, raped and murdered their way through the Old Town, slaughtering civilians and fighters alike without distinction of age or sex.”
In the Old Town – where about 30,000 civilians were killed – several thousand wounded in field hospitals overrun by the Germans were shot and set on fire with flamethrowers.
The Dirlewanger brigade burned prisoners alive with gasoline, impaled babies on bayonets and stuck them out of windows and hung women upside down from balconies.” SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, overall commander of the forces pacifying Warsaw – and Dirlewanger’s former boss in Belarus – described Dirlewanger as having “a typical mercenary nature”;
Dirlewanger was arrested on 1 June 1945 near the town of Altshausen in Upper Swabia by the French occupation zone authorities while wearing civilian clothes and hiding under a false name in a remote hunting lodge – reportedly recognised by a former Jewish concentration camp inmate – and brought to a detention centre
According to Rolf Michaelis, a Luftwaffe lieutenant named Anton Füssinger claimed he was Dirlewanger’s cell mate, and said that he witnessed Dirlewanger being gravely beaten by Polish guards in French service on the night of 4 to 5 June, resulting in his death. Dirlewanger was buried on June 19, 1945, but the French military authorities kept the secret so secret that the next 15 years Dirlewanger was observed all over the world, until in 1960 the corpse was dug up to prove his death.