Oskar Dirlewanger began his military career in 1913 in the Prussian Army where he served as a machine gunner in the Grenadier Regiment 123. During the First World War, he took part in the German invasion of Belgium, where he was wounded six times. He received the Iron Cross 2nd class and 1st class.
According to German biographer Knut Stang, the war was the contributing factor that led to the deterioration of Dirlewanger’s later mental state and personality. He became an alcoholic and developed sadistic sexual habits.
At the end of the war, he was described in a police report as a “mentally unstable fanatic alcoholic,” who would erupt into violence under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Thereafter, Dirlewanger joined different right-wing paramilitary militias to fight against German communists as well as Polish nationalists.
He helped suppressing an attempted ‘putsch’ during the German Revolution of 1918-1919.
In 1921, he commanded an armored train which moved towards Sangerhausen. It had been occupied by the Communist Party of Germany’s militia group of Max Hoelz, and they were attempting to inspire worker uprisings. Dirlewanger’s attack failed, and the enemies cut off his force. However, he was eventually reinforced by anti-communist troops, and the communists were forced to withdraw.
After the Nazi Party gained power, Dirlewanger became known as the town’s liberator from the “Red” terrorists, and he also received an honorary citizenship in 1935.
For a while, he studied at the Goethe University Frankfurt and obtained a doctorate in political science in 1922. The next year, he joined the Nazi Party and the SS. During this time, he held various jobs, including working as the executive director of a textile factory, working at a bank, and at a knit-wear factory.
He was convicted for illegal arms possession and embezzlement many times. In 1934, he was also sentenced for two years for the rape of a 14-year-old girl, who belonged to the League of German Girls. He lost his job, military honors, as well as his doctorate.
After his release, he went to Spain where he enlisted in the Spanish Foreign Legion during the Spanish Civil War.
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At the beginning of the Second World War, Dirlewanger volunteered for the Waffen SS. He was given the rank of Obersturmfuhrer (Senior Storm Leader). He was assigned a battalion that eventually became known as the Dirlewanger Brigade. Most of his soldiers were former poachers; later, he even recruited convicted criminals, mental asylum patients as well as political prisoners.
The unit was assigned to security duties initially in German occupied Poland, where he was a SS-TV commandant of a labor camp. Later, when the camp was investigated for abuse by the SS judge Georg Konrad Morgen, he accused Dirlewanger for murder and corruption.
He is known to have committed atrocities such as injecting strychnine into Jewish female prisoners, after whipping and undressing them. He would then watch them convulse to death in front of his eyes. All this was done purely for his entertainment.
He is said to have boiled dead Jewish women with horse meat in order to make soap. It is said that he killed hundreds of school children in Warsaw as well.
His unit was assigned for ‘anti-bandit’ operations in Belarus. He reportedly put civilians inside a barn, set it on fire, and shot anyone trying to escape with machine guns. At least 30,000 Belarusian civilians are believed to have been killed. Some estimates say that as many as 1,20,000 were killed.
Even though Heinrich Himmler knew about his crimes and atrocities, Dirlewanger received the German cross in December 1943 for extermination of ‘bandits’.
In mid-1944, Dirlewanger’s unit fought against the Soviet regulars. During the suppression of the ‘Warsaw Uprising’, he is known to have committed horrendous crimes again. In two days, he is said to have killed as many as 40,000 civilians during the Wola massacre.
He burnt down three hospitals with patients inside. The nurses were whipped, gang-raped and eventually hanged, along with the doctors.
During the Slovak National Uprising in October 1944, Dirlewanger was posted along the front lines of Hungary and eastern Germany to fight against the advancing Red Army. After some months, he was shot in the chest while fighting against the invading Soviets. He eventually went into hiding on 22nd April 1945.