THE STATUS OF THE WORK CAMP IN WARSAW UNDER THE CONCENTRATION CAMP MAJDANEK
In early September 1943 Pohl, Krüger, Globocnik and SS economist at the HSSPF Erich Schellin agreed, to put all labour camps with Jewish prisoners under the Administration of Majdanek within the Lublin Distrkt. (101) Globocnik was thus deprived of the access to these camps. The agreement secured for Pohl and the WVHA the disposal and availability of Jewish workers, in the combined Eastern Industries for their economic plans of the SS General Governement, who were previously excluded from mass murders. In a second step, not terminated by a date, all the labour camps in other districts of the General Governments should come under the control of the WVHA(Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt)=[Main Office of SS enterprises. 1942-1945 sic] .
The camp of Warsaw was by the restructuring of the management system in the General Government not initially affected, as it already was, since its inception, controlled by the central administrative of concentration camps. Despite this, it became sub-ordinate or a sub-camp to Majdanek by the end of April 1944, which was by then already in the process of being closed and in disarray. (102) With the change in camp administration was also an extensive personnel reshuffle in progress. The catalyst for these changes was proceeded from alleged corruption of higher camp staff and a subsequent scandal that led the SS for an internal investigation. For the camp SS to participate In the plunder of the ghettos despite explicit orders, was a criminal offence. The members of the guards had to acknowledge in writing the notice of the prohibition to acquire items from the ghetto. (103) Nevertheless, they extorted from the prisoners valuables of any kind and in most cases made use of willing prison functionaries in their privileged positions under their fellow working inmates. The immediate cause of the interference of the SS-jurisdiction are not known. It must be assumed the investigation was triggered during interrogation from escaped of prisoners. (104) The investigation was not led, as would have been proper, by SS Sturmbannführer Dr. Konrad Morgen, who prosecuted previously successfully against the commanders of Buchenwald and Majdanek, but by the WVHA (105) The court officer of the WVHA SS Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Schmidt-Klevenow was a close confidant of Pohl. At the investigation Schmidt-Klevenow, arrested its staff, SS Captain Dr. Hermann Korschenrich, the Camp Administrator of KZ Warschau, Commander Nicholas Herbet, the Protective Custody Camp Leader William Haertel, and the Camp Elder Walter Wawrzyniak. (106) Wawrzyniak entertained with Herbet a special relationship of trust, a prisoner referred to in a post-war statement the elder was a "confidant"(Vertauungsmann) of the Commander (107) All three were brought to KZ Sachsenhausen and interned there. After several months of fruitless investigation Herbet and Haertel were finally transferred back to the concentration camp services. Wawrzyniak was left in Sachenhausen and joined the Dirlewanger SS-Special Formation, which was formed from volunteering German KZ Inmates, mainly ex-criminals, and returned in August 1944 once again to Warsaw fighting there during the uprising of the Armia Krajowa( Polish Home Army)and was in their ruthlessness responsible for numerous crimes against the civilian population.
The subordination of "Labour Camp Warsaw" was ordered by Pohl on 24 April 1944 to be under the control of concentration camp Lublin-Majdanek. The takeover was completed on May 1st 1944. The arrangements were agreed upon with the Director of Administration of the Warsaw concentration camp, SS-First Lieutenant Henry Worster, in a "transfer-negotiation" later on 11 May 1944. The administrative staff of the Commandant of Majdanek took over all assets of the sub-camp Warsaw. The canteen fund and the prisoners' funds were transferred in cash, other valuables in a form of a (Scheinwechsel) "Letter of Credit" went to the administration of the concentration camp Majdanek. With the ongoing changes within the satellite camp, it had far-reaching organisational rearrangements to overcome. The command staff was disbanded. In its place of the commander, a camp leader was appointed, who was no longer directly reporting to the Office Group D of the Administrative Main Office in Oranienburg, but only to the commander of Majdanek. With the exception of the roll call officer (Rapportführer), SS Sergeant Franz Mielenz, all members of the Warsaw headquarters were replaced and the guard company was returned early May 1944 and sent back to Sachsenhausen. The necessary personal to fulfil vacancies at the satellite camp Warsaw was recruited from the command staff of the Totenkopfsturmbann (the skull and bone storm-troopers) of Lublin-Majdanek. SS First Lieutenant Frederick Wilhelm Ruppert was the first senior and experienced member of the SS Concentration Camp-Administration that arrived. Ruppert was continuously since 1933 in the service of concentration camps, first in Dachau in 1942, then in Majdanek, where he rose in the leadership corps [This so called "NS-Führerkorps" was a selected Membership of intelligent, extremely indoctrinated with the nationalistic dogma, men and women, to ensure the Party Line was followed and had no other functions, than political "Brain-Washing of a Unit., and watched any sign of discontent,sic] . Before his transfer to Warsaw, Ruppert had worked most recently as the Administration Camp Electrician. The new protective custody camp leader was SS Sergeant Heinz Villain. Villain began his career in 1938 at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen. Since 1941, he served in Majdanek, first as a block leader, then from May 1942 as a Feldführer (field leader).
The guards responsible for the custody of prisoners at the demolition work in the ghetto and the outer protection of the camp had been compiled from all the companies of the Totenkopf Storm Troops-Lublin. The second company of the Totenkopf at the concentration camp Lublin was still under the command of the Guard Association of Lublin, by SS Captain Martin Melzer. The unit itself was commanded by SS-Master Sergeant Alfred Kramer, who since September 1941, was active in Majdanek, most recently as a staff sergeant (Spieß). The entire security staff of the Warsaw concentration camp consisted of 259 men and was higher than that of other satellite camps. By May 1944, it was almost consisted to a third of the entire SS Totenkopf-Lublin in "command" of Warsaw.
The guard company Warsaw replacing the previous Unit was mostly made up of "ethnic Germans"(Volksdeutsche) from southern Europe. They were fully aware, that their predecessors had been replaced because of a corruption scandal, which contradicted Himmler's demand of morality and "decency" for the SS. Despite the rigid penalties it changed nothing in the bartering between prisoners and the camp SS. Up to July 1944 the Camp Administration discovered on prisoners and members of the SS money and jewellery that came from the ruins of the ghetto. The valuables were transferred against a "revenue bill"(Einnahme Schein) to the administration of Majdanek.
Ref.:101-Pohl's work records of meetings on 7 September 1943, in Nbg. Doc No-599
Ref:-102 to the following: Andreas Mix, labour camp in Warsaw. The labour camp in Warsaw as a satellite camp of Majdanek concentration camp, in: Zeszyty Majdanka 23 (2005), pp 55-70
Ref.:-103 - APMM, Fol 167/XX, k 3 The members of the guards had also sign a "fact sheet" in which they were NOT to accept any "gifts" and other articles of detainees prohibited under penalty of fines, in : AS, DI II39, personal diary Ludwig Muth, page 32
Ref :104-volume entry in the day book of the SS-Sturmmann Ludwig Muth's, a German Prisoner succeeded in March 1944, to escape from the Warsaw concentration camp, in: AS, D1 II39, Ludwig Muth's personnel file, page 15 ff
Ref: 105 - In his testimony before the IMT at Nuremberg on 7 August In 1946, of Dr. Morgen, he also arrested the commander of Warsaw, but does not give any details, in: IMT. The process against major war criminals before the IMT, Nűrnberg 14 Nov.1945 to 01 October 1946 Page 533 Vol 20 1947-1949 Nuremberg
Ref: 106 - Testimony of Dr. Schmidt Klevenow 08.08.1947, in: GStA, Rep. 335 case IV Vol 298, Doc 30: Testimony of Dr. Hermann Korshenrich 11.8.1947, in: ibid, document 32, questioning Dr. Konrad Morgen, 08/22/1947, in: ibid, vol 50, page 6603-6680
Ref: 107 - statement 05/01/1972 Paul F., in: BArch Ludwigsburg, 162/153III B, page 437-447. Similar statements are made by former prisoners in the criminal case against Wawrzyniak before the district court of Leipzig
Crime Category: Other Mass Extermination Crimes, NS-Crimes in Detainment Centers
Wawrzyniak, Walter Life Sentence
LG/BG Leipzig 510601 Az.: 19StKs4/50
LG/BG Leipzig 500428 Az.: 19StKs4/50
OLG Dresden 500802 Az.: 21ERKs129/50
Country where the crime was committed: Poland
Crime Location: Warschau, HS KZ Warschau
Crime Date: 05.1943-44
Victims: Jews, Prisoners
Nationality: Polish, unknown
Agency: Detainment Center Staff KZ Warschau (Prisoner functionary)
Subject of the proceeding: Mishandling, plundering and killing of prisoners. Participation in the selection of Jewish prisoners. Searching for Jews who had survived the suppression of the ghetto uprising and lived in hiding.
THE CLOSURE OF THE SUB CAMP WARSAW AND THE LIBERATION OF THE LAST DETAINEES
The evacuation of the Majdanek camp began in late March 1944. Several transports of prisoners were deported to concentration camps further west. The rapid advance of the Red Army after the collapse of army group(Mitte) centre, however, prevented the complete evacuation of the camp. Soviet troops liberated the concentration camp Majdanek which was the first Nazi-Camp on the 23 July 1944. At the same time the closure of the Warsaw-camp was initiated. In June 1944, a few days after the Allied landings in Normandy, Himmler had transmitted a command to the HSSPF(Höherer SS-und Polizeiführer) [which was Himmlers elite leaders, established to combine the SS and police force,sic] to give each command authority over the camp for the necessary force, in the "A" case. The HSSPF directly under Himmler were thus formally responsible for the closures of camps on the impending uprising of prisoners and the approach of enemy troops. For the closure of the Majdanek and Warsaw camps, HSSPF Wilhelm Koppe was responsible. July 20, 1944 SS Brigadier General Walther Bierkamp who was subordinate commander of the Security Police (Security Office), to him, ordered, to prevent at all costs, that "inmates" or Jews either WB (resistance movement) or the Red Army Prisoners, not be freed or fall alive into the hands of the enemy ".(115)
About the rapid advance of the Red Army, which had at the end of July 1944 reached the Vistula, the prisoners were informed through contacts through civilian workers during the ghetto demolition of events taking place. The demolition work in the Warsaw ghetto was halted in late July 1944, the Central Construction Office of the Waffen-SS on orders by Koppes was transferred to Kutno and a curfew was imposed on the camp (116) The remaining camp leadership had prisoners dig a trench and began to burn the files of the Prison Register.
During a roll call the inmates were informed in late July 1944 of the the impending evacuation. Those who were too weak to march by foot during the anticipated evacuation, transport by trucks would be provided. Experienced "Konzentrationäre"[old KZ imates,sic] reacted with suspicion to this offer. They rightly feared that this was a deception. Those unfit to march were sent to the infirmary and shot along with other prisoners there before the evacuation took place. The Camp Administration in this way eliminated by an estimate of other prisoners about 200 people, the bodies were burned by a prisoner commando in the ghetto area (117)
The security situation in de city of Warsaw and retreating units of the Wehrmacht Army Group Centre delayed the evacuation of the prisoners. Equipped with supplies from the storage magazines, with blankets and utensils, an estimated 4,000 prisoners, divided into several small columns, left on 28 July 1944, the city towards the west. The guarding of the prisoners on the evacuation march was the responsibility of the commander of the guards, SS Master Sergeant Alfred Kramer. The high number of a 250 SS-contingent, which included several dog handler, was due to"dangerous bandits" in the General Government and was in addition increased by members of the Wehrmacht.
This evacuation does not compare with the horrors of the death marches later in the second phase of concentration camp closures in the winter of 1944-45. Within a few days the physically debilitated prisoners walked at a slow pace in high summer temperatures nearly 120 kilometres from Warsaw to Kutno. The route ran along the railway line from Warsaw to Berlin, via Sochczew, Lowicz and Zychlin. Those that could not keep up the pace, the prisoners were shot by the guards. The corruption of the camp SS continued during the march. In order to improve the inadequate rations, prisoners exchanged their last valuables with members of the SS for food and water. When the prisoners at Sochaczew plunged into the Bzura[river,sic] to quench their thirst, the guards, fearing a mass escape shot into the running prisoners. (120) On the 1 August of 1944, the prisoners arrived at Kutno, then a transportation hub in the eastern part of the Warthegau. From here, they were transported in railway cattle-wagons to Dachau, where they arrived on 6 August 1944. The health condition of the 3863 men was so bad that the Dachau Commandant Edward Weiter complained to the transportation leader Kramer (121) The majority of the prisoners were then transferred in the following days and weeks into one of the many satellite camps of Dachau.
After the evacuation, about 380 prisoners remained in Warsaw and some members of the SS in order to dismantle the rest of the camp and transport the remaining valuables to the Reich. The phasing out of the camp went parallel with the neighbouring Pawiak jail (122) from mid-July, the inmates were deported in several shipments into the Lower Silesian concentration camp Gross-Rosen or shot on site. One group of over one hundred Polish Jews, among them 23 women, was on 31 July 1944 from the Pawiak prison transported into this camp. The Revolt of the[Polish,sic] Home Army interrupted further evacuation of the prisoners. Already on 1 August 1944, during the first hours of the uprising, a unit of the Home Army was freeing during the attack on a depot of the Waffen-SS and had re-taken at the former "Umschlagplatz" a group of Hungarian and Greek Jews who were there engaged in loading operations. On 5 August, when German forces regained the initiative and the rebels withdrew from the western districts of Wola and Ochota towards the old town, a unit of the Pfadfinderbataillion[pathfinder-battalion, sic] "Zoska" under the command of Ryszard Bialous alias "Jerzy" after several days fighting, in which they used a captured German tank, they entered the sub-camp Warschaau (125)
Prisoners of the sub-camp Warsaw after their liberation by the battalion "Zoska" of the Polish Home Army on August 5th 1944. The women had been transferred few days prior from the Pawiak Jail into the camp.
During the defence of the camp, the SS approached and used German prison functionaries. Among the 348 freed inmates were mostly Hungarian, but also French, Belgian, Dutch, Czech, German, Polish, Lithuanian and Greek Jews. Due to lack of arms of the AK,(Polish Home Army) the insufficient military training and Polish language skills there were just a few of the prisoners that could join the insurgents. The majority worked until the liberation in workshops and hospitals or helped in the construction of barricades. About their fate during the uprising is little known. Apparently it was only a few individuals that succeeded to hide even after the surrender of the AK in the ruins of the city until the arrival of the Red Army on 17 January 1945.
Ref :115-This order is in a letter from the KdS Radom detachment [Commander of the Security Police and SD, sic] on 21 July 1944 to the Foreign Service Station(Außendienststellen) referred to in Tomaszow, in: ibid, L-053
Ref, 116- Telex from Kammler to Himmler, 29.07.1944, in: ibid, No-2515
Ref :117-Statement, Hans Werner A. 11/17/1965 in: BStU, MfS HA IX/11, RHE-West 441, Vol 12 page 16, statement Isaak Egon Ochshorn, 21.08.1945, in: Nbg. Doc. No-1934
Ref :120-The incident is described by several members of the SS. Joseph Hermer statement, 04.11.1946, in: DaA, 6589 AIPN, SAW 24, Gemmel process, page 23f.
Ref: 121- With the Transport 3863 men reached the camp. The transport list also reported 89 deaths. ITS, ANF, KL folders 27 and 28, access point Dachau. Statement Alfred Kramer, 01.11.1945, in: DaA, 6589
Ref: 122-Leon-Wanat, "Behind the walls of the Pawiaks". Regina Domanska, Pawiak. The prison. "Chronicle of the Years 1939-1944, Warsaw 1978, pages 482-493"
Ref :125-The Liberation is one of the best-documented aspects of Warsaw AL: Report of Feliks Cywinski, in: sygn AZH. rel. 301/6297, page I [and many others, sic]
UTILISATION OF THE CAMP AND PROSECUTION OF OFFENDERS
The Warsaw camp was, like many other concentration camps, after the war, initially used as a detention facility. From January to May 1945, the NKVD[Soviet Secret Police,sic] detained in the camp at ul Gesia members of the[Polish,sic] Home Army and German prisoners of war. In the summer of 1945 it became a prisoner of war camp, the Polish Ministry for public safety assumed security. Until the closure of the camp in 1949 there were over 5,500 prisoners of war, but also Reichsdeutsche and "ethnic German" civilians interned (129) They continued in practical terms with the work of the KZ Inmates, were they had left off. The prisoners had to remove and secure building material from the destroyed ghetto, exhumed bodies and worked in the camps own workshops. After closure of the POW camp in 1949, on the grounds of the ul Gesia a jail was built in winch the Polish Security Service detained political opponents (130) It was disbanded in the De-Stalinization period of 1956. The heavily damaged former headquarters building of the Warsaw concentration camp, during the Warsaw Uprising was demolished in 1963. Along the ul Gesia which was to commemorate the commander of the Jewish uprising, Mordechai Anielewicz was re-named ul Anielewicza in 1948, and during the fifties and sixties, a socialistic new type housing complex in the neighbourhood was built.
The investigation of crimes committed in the Warsaw concentration camp were set into motion immediately after the war with processes the Allies are still continuing up till to this date. In the Nuremberg succession of prosecutions, which was conducted in 1947 against employees of the WVHA (Administrative Main Office) (case IV) for the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto was one of the charges against Pohl.
Members of the Headquarters and the guards of the camp Warsaw who had arrived in August 1944 at Dachau had previously been brought before American military tribunals. Among the defendants in the first Dachau trials which was made up with three members of the Warsaw camp SS, including the last camp leader Ruppert. All three were indicted but only because of its crimes committed in sub-camps of Dachau in December 1946 and sentenced to death. In some of the Dachau subsequent processes other members of the Warsaw camp SS went on trial, including two camp doctors, Dr. Heinrich Schmidt and Dr. Wihelm Jobst. Polish courts accused and convicted between 1947 to 1952 a total of 51 members of the Warsaw camp SS and two trusties. (131) They had been previously delivered by the Allies in accordance with the Moscow agreement to the Polish authorities. Among these people were mainly members of the guards who came with the evacuation to Dachau. Indicted and convicted, they were mostly for crimes they committed at Majdanek or on the evacuation march from Warsaw to Kutno.
Before a German court only one person had to answer for the crimes committed in the Warsaw concentration camp. The camp elder Walter Warwzyniak was tried and convicted by the Regional Court in Leipzig for crimes against fellow inmates committed in Warsaw, initially sentenced to death and subsequently during renegotiation to life imprisonment (132)
Poland, carried out a total of three investigations regarding the Warsaw concentration camp. As early as May 1945, a judicial commission commenced the inspection of the former headquarters building located and examined it at the ul. Gesia[street,sic]. This revealed 40 cans [empty or full is not indicated, sic] of what was used at the extermination camp Auschwitz of cyanide pellets, Zyklon B. Bullet holes in the walls were examined on the walls and several pits opened containing the ashes of cremated corpses (134) The Commission also inspected the unfinished crematorium behind the headquarters building and heard witnesses (135 )
Ref :129-Jerzy Kochanowski, In Polish captivity. German Prisoners of War in Poland 1945-1950. Osnabrück 2004, pages 98-104. Boguslaw Kopka, labor camps in Poland from 1944 to 1950. An encyclopaedic guide, Warsaw 2002, page 164ff. The camps not only held prisoners but also Reich and "vollksdeutsche" civilians were interned. Approximately 1,100 people died in the camp.
Ref :130-Kopka, Obozy, page 165, trans., Concentration camps, page 116
Ref :131-Elzbieta Kobierska-Mota, the extradition of war criminals to Poland from the four occupation zones of Germany from 1946 to 1950 Vol 2, Warszawa 1991/1992. The majority of the processes took place in courts of Warsaw and Lublin.
Ref :132-judgments published in: DDR Justiz and Nazi crimes. Summary of some East German Nazi criminal sentences for murders. Volume 5 Munich 2004, pages 357-368
Ref :134-facsimile of the minutes of the local reports, in: Kopka, concentration camps, page 609-621
Ref :135-log of the site visit, 29.05.1945, in: AAN, 212/II-4, AIPN, NTN, 163/63, page 112-136. The interrogation logs: Kopka, concentration camps, page 149-210
Historiography Warschau KZ
The Polish prosecutor Maria Trzcinska published information about the Warsaw concentration camp and described it as "extermination camps in the centre of Warsaw". She claimed that the concentration camps had spread over five camp complexes throughout the city. There were in an underground tunnel between October 1942 to August 1944 gassings by Zyklon B carried out. A total of 200,000 Poles in the Warsaw concentration camp had been murdered.
These propositions met with opposition. Thus, there are no statements of prisoners, which refer to gassings. Andreas Mix judges in a 2008 paper published in the theses, Mary Trzcinskas are "not scientifically reliable and have been criticized by historians." Nevertheless, the allegations found in the Polish "national Catholic milieu" echo.
The claim that the road tunnel in the Wola district worked as a gas chamber, were 200 000 were gassed in Warsaw, was officially recognised by the Institute of National Remembrance (Instytut Pamieci Narodowej, IPN) in the negative. Nevertheless, the National Catholic activists demand that the City Council of Warsaw, commence with the construction of a monument at state expense next to the tunnel. All the doubters are branded as traitors.
The Last Camps
With the Soviet army nearing the Polish border, the Germans also sped up the liquidation process in the camps. Most of the inmates were murdered on the spot while some were evacuated to the west. The elimination of the Jews in the camps of the Lublin area began in November 1943, under the code name “Erntefest”, meaning harvest festival. After the wave of deportations in summer 1942 the remnant of the Jewish communities of central Poland was concentrated in such ghettos as Radom, Kielce, Czestochowa, and Piotrkow Trybunalski. By mid-1943 all had been liquidated. Able-bodied workers were confined in the labor camps around Czestochowa and Piotrkow. These camps were evacuated to camps in Germany in late 1944.
The 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, better known as the SS-Sturmbrigade "Dirlewanger" (often referred to as the Dirlewanger Brigade), was an infamous military unit of the Waffen-SS during World War II. Originally formed for anti-partisan duties against the Polish resistance, it eventually saw action against the Soviet Red Army near the end of the war. During its operations it engaged in mass murder of civilians, pillaging and rape.
The history of the Dirlewanger Brigade is inextricably linked to the life of its commander, Oskar Dirlewanger. After winning the Iron Cross first and second class while serving in the Imperial German Army during World War I, Dirlewanger joined the Freikorps and took part in the vicious street fighting against communist revolutionaries. When the revolution had failed, he returned to university and obtained a PhD in political science. Joining the NSDAP in 1923, he was soon expelled and forced to reapply to join that organisation once more.
After completing his PhD, Dirlewanger went on to hold a teaching job. In 1934, he was convicted of sexually assaulting a female minor. He lost his position and was forbidden from returning to teaching. After serving a two-year jail sentence, Dirlewanger was released. Soon after, he was again accused of sexual assault and thrown into a concentration camp. Desperate, Dirlewanger contacted Gottlob Berger, an old Freikorps comrade now working closely with Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS. Berger secured his comrade's release and an appointment for him with the Legión Cóndor, a German volunteer unit fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the side of Franco's Falange Española. Dirlewanger fought bravely during this campaign, being wounded three times.
Returning to Germany in 1939, Dirlewanger was granted admission to the Allgemeine SS and given the rank of SS-Untersturmführer. Berger organized the creation of an elite Communist-hunting military unit which would include some men convicted of poaching.
On 14 June 1940, the Wilddiebkommando Oranienburg (Oranienburg Poacher's Command) was formed. On 24 June 1940, Himmler admitted Dirlewanger into the Waffen-SS to be commander of this newly formed unit. By 1 July 1940, it numbered 84 men.
Initially a unit of convicted poachers, it became over time composed of increasing numbers of common criminals. In contrast to those who served in the German penal battalions for minor offences, the volunteers sent to the "Dirlewanger" were convicted of major crimes which would be considered criminal in civilian courts. While the theory was that service in the "Dirlewanger" would rehabilitate the criminals, it in fact provided them with the opportunity to continue committing criminal acts with no repercussions. Some Nazi officials romanticized the unit, viewing the men as "pure primitive German men" who were "resisting the law".
As the news spread of the new formation, hundreds of concentration camp prisoners applied for service with the unit. By September 1940, the formation numbered over 300 men. With the influx of criminals, the emphasis on poachers was now lost, and those convicted of other more severe crimes—including assault, burglary and rape—joined the unit. Accordingly, the unit name was changed to Sonderkommando "Dr. Dirlewanger" (Special Command "Dr. Dirlewanger"). As the unit strength continued to grow, it was placed under the command of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (the formation responsible for the administration of the concentration camps) and it was redesignated SS-Sonderbatallion "Dirlewanger" (it became a Waffen-SS unit again in late 1944).
In January 1942, to re-build its strength, the unit was authorised to recruit Russian and Ukrainian volunteers. In its final phase, Dirlewanger's men came to include, besides common criminals, increasing numbers of political prisoners, homosexuals, Gypsies (likely recruited from Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps) and patients from psychiatric hospitals, as well as others considered unfit to serve in normal military units.
On 1 August 1940, the "Dirlewanger" was assigned to anti-partisan duties in the General Government region in Poland, and was answerable only to Heinrich Himmler himself. During the battalion's service in Poland, it was involved in numerous cases of corruption, rape, indiscriminate killings and looting. Desertion was also common. The General Government's Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer Friedrich Wilhelm Krüger was disgusted with the behaviour of the "Dirlewanger", his complaints resulted in its transfer to Belarus in February 1942.
In Belarus, the unit came under the command of Central Russia's Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer, Erich von dem Bach. The "Dirlewanger" resumed anti-partisan activities in this area, working in cooperation with the Kaminski Brigade for the first time. Dirlewanger's preferred method of operation was to gather civilians in a barn and set it on fire and shoot with machine guns anyone who tried to escape; the victims of his unit numbered about 30,000.
On 17 August 1942, the expansion of the "Dirlewanger" to regimental size was authorized. Recruits were to come from more criminals, Eastern volunteers (Osttruppen) and military delinquents. In September 1942, the unit mass murdered the remaining 8,350 Jews in Baranovichi ghetto and proceeded to kill a further 389 people labeled "bandits" and 1,274 "bandit suspects"
The second battalion finally arrived in February 1943 and the regiment's strength reached 700 men, 300 of whom were anti-Communists from Soviet territory. The unit was now redesignated SS-Sonderregiment "Dirlewanger". In May 1943, the ability to volunteer for service in the regiment was extended to all criminals and 500 men convicted of the most severe crimes were absorbed into the regiment. May and June saw the unit taking part in Operation Cottbus, an anti-partisan operation. In August 1943, the creation of a third battalion was authorised. With its expansion, the "Dirlewanger" was allowed to display rank insignia and a unique collar patch (at first crossed rifles, later crossed stick grenades). During this period, the regiment saw heavy fighting, Dirlewanger himself led many assaults, winning several awards for bravery.
In November 1943, the regiment was committed to front-line action with Army Group Centre in an attempt to halt the Red Army advance. The regiment, untrained and ill-equipped for such combat, performed poorly and suffered heavy casualties. By the end of the year the "Dirlewanger" could muster only 259 men. Large numbers of amnestied criminals were sent to rebuild the regiment and by late February 1944, the regiment was back up to full strength. It was however decided that Eastern volunteers would no longer be admitted to the unit, as the Russians had proved to be particularly unreliable in combat. Anti-partisan operations continued until June 1944, when the Soviets launched Operation Bagration, which was aimed at the destruction of Army Group Centre. The "Dirlewanger" was caught up in the retreat and began falling back to Poland. The regiment performed several rear guard actions and reached Poland, decimated, but in good order.
When the Armia Krajowa initiated the Warsaw Uprising on 1 August 1944, the "Dirlewanger" was sent into action as part of the Kampfgruppe of SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinfarth, again alongside Bronislav Kaminski's forces. While some of the regiment's more severe actions were criticized by von dem Bach and the sector commander, Generalmajor Günter Rohr, Dirlewanger was recommended by Reinefarth for the Knight's Cross and promotion to SS-Oberführer der Reserve. The "Dirlewanger" fought against the insurgents in Warsaw, suffering extremely high losses. The regiment arrived in the city numbering 881 officers and men; during the course of the two-month urban warfare it received reinforcements of some 2,500 soldiers and lost 2,733. Thus, total casualties numbered 315% of the unit's initial strength. During the fighting in Wola and Ochota district in Warsaw the unit engaged in an orgy of violence, rape, and murder, as well as simple thievery, with its men often under influence of alcohol; all together, 10,000 civilians were murdered.
By 3 October 1944, the Poles had surrendered and the depleted regiment spent the next month guarding the Vistula line. During this time, the regiment was upgraded to brigade status, and redesignated SS-Sonderbrigade "Dirlewanger" (SS Special Brigade Dirlewanger). In early October, it was decided to upgrade the "Dirlewanger" again, this time to a Waffen-SS combat brigade. Accordingly, it was redesignated 2.SS-Sturmbrigade "Dirlewanger" and soon reached its complement of 4,000 men.
When the Slovak National Uprising began in late August 1944, the newly formed brigade was committed to action. The conduct of the brigade played a large part in putting down the rebellion, and by 30 October the crisis was averted. With the outcome of the war no longer in doubt, large numbers of communist and socialist political prisoners began applying for the "Dirlewanger" in the hope of defecting to the Soviets. SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Schmedes, disgraced former commander of the 4th SS Polizei Division, was assigned to the "Dirlewanger" by Himmler as punishment for refusing to carry out orders. With his extensive combat experience, Schmedes became the unofficial advisor to Dirlewanger on front line combat.
In December, the brigade was sent to the front in Hungary. While several newly formed battalions made up of communist and socialist volunteers fell apart, several other battalions fought well. During a month's fighting, the brigade suffered heavy casualties and was pulled back to Slovakia to refit and reorganize.
In February 1945, orders were given to expand the brigade to a division; however, before this could begin it was sent north to the Oder-Neisse line in an attempt to halt the Soviet advance. On 14 February 1945, the brigade was redesignated 36.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS. With its expansion to a division of 4,000 men, the "Dirlewanger" had regular Heer units attached to the formation: a Grenadier regiment, a Pionier brigade and a Panzerjäger battalion. Individual Sturmpionier demolition engineers had already been attached to the force during the fighting in Warsaw.
When the final Soviet offensive began on 16 April 1945, the division was pushed back to the northeast. The next day, Oskar Dirlewanger was seriously wounded in combat for the twelfth time. He was sent to the rear and Schmedes immediately assumed command. Dirlewanger would not return to the division. Desertion became more and more common. When Schmedes attempted to reorganize his division on April 25, he found it had virtually ceased to exist. The situation was highly fluid, with men of the 73rd Waffen Grenadier Regiment of the SS lynching their commanding officer Ewald Ehlers (the former commandant of Dachau concentration camp, he had been convicted of corruption). On 1 May 1945, the Soviets wiped out all that was left of the 36. Waffen-Grenadier-Division in the Halbe Pocket. The small remnant of the division that managed to escape attempted to reach the US Army lines on the Elbe river. Schmedes and his staff managed to reach the Americans and surrendered on 3 May. Only about 700 men of the division survived the war.
At the end of the war, Dirlewanger was captured by the western Allies. On 1 June 1945, Polish soldiers, former forced laborers serving in the French occupation forces in Germany, took him to Altshausen jail. Over the next few days Dirlewanger was beaten and tortured. He died from injuries inflicted by the Polish guards around 5 June. Dirlewanger was buried on 19 June, but the French Military suppressed the news at the time. Over the next 15 years, many bogus sightings of Dirlewanger were made around the world. His body was exhumed in November 1960, to prove that he was dead.
On 17 April 2009, Polish authorities claimed to have identified three surviving members of "Dirlewanger" living in Germany and announced their intent to prosecute the men.
Your blog is amazing. Thank you for posting all this interesting history.ReplyDelete