The SS-Sonderkommando Dirlewanger (also known as SS-Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger and Sonderkommando der Waffen-SS Lublin) was formed from Wilddiebkommando Orienburg, a small anti-partisan units made up of poachers, SS disciplinary prisoners and Osttruppen, that was trained by SS-Totenkopf-Standarte 5. The strength was later increased with convicts (military and civilian) and volunteers from the concentration camps (mainly political prisoners).
It was stationed in Poland but in January SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüge, Höhere SS und Polizeiführer Ost, threatened "[Unless] this bunch of criminals disappears from the Government General within a week, I will go myself and lock them up." (1) and the unit was transferred to Belorussia soon after.
It was upgraded to SS-Regiment Dirlewanger in August 1944.

Heinrich Himmler said in August 1944:

In 1941 I organized a ‘poachers’ regiment’ under Dirlewanger ... a good Swabian fellow, wounded ten times, a real character - bit of an oddity, I suppose. I obtained permission from the Führer to collect from every prison in Germany all the poachers who had used firearms and not, of course, traps, in their poaching days - about 2.000 in all. Alas, only 400 of these ‘upstanding and worthy characters’ remain today. I have kept replenishing this regiment with people on SS probation, for in the SS we really have far too strict a system of justice ... When these did not suffice, I said to Dirlewanger ... 'Now, why not look for suitable candidates among the villains, the real criminals, in the concentration camps?' ... The atmosphere in the regiment is often somewhat medieval in the use of corporal punishment and so on ... if someone pulls a face when asked whether we will win the war or not he will slump down from the table ... dead, because the others will have shot him out of hand'. (2)


Heinrich Himmler wrote an internal memo in February 1944 on the matter of jurisdiction:

The Einsatz-Battalion Dirlewanger consists of German men who have been previously convicted of poaching. This nucleus is considered to be good and even very good: concentration camp inmates who are suitable for the assignment; former members of the SS, who, after having served their time, are assigned for rehabilitation purposes to front service.

1. In combat the commander has jurisdiction over life and death of all members of these battalions, which consist of these different components.

2. The rehabilitation of the former poachers will be undertaken, without participation of the SS Court Main Office, through SS Lieutenant General Berger and SS Major General Nebe in the Reich Security Main Office through the Reich Ministry of Justice.

The accomplished rehabilitation will be reported by SS Lieutenant General Berger to the SS Court Main Office.

3. The commander of the battalion, SS Lieutenant Colonel Dirlewanger, will have jurisdiction over life and death of the concentration camp inmates in rest area and field garrison.

4. The poachers will be under SS jurisdiction after their rehabilitation. As long as they have not been rehabilitated, the commander has also the power over life and death in rest area and field garrison.

5. Former SS men, assigned for rehabilitation, are under SS jurisdiction in rest area and field garrison.

[Signed] H. Himmler. (3)

 

Known war crimes

This unit took part in numerous atrocities in Poland and the USSR.

On 22 March 1943 the village of Khatyn in Belarus (not to be confused with Katyn in Poland where Poles were killed by the Soviet NKVD) was burned down and 149 civilians killed by soldiers from SS-Sonderkommando Dirlewanger and the attached Schutzmannschaft Bataillon 118.

Commanders     

SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger (? 1940 - ? Aug 1944)

Area of operations  

Poland (General Government) (1 Sep 1940 - 17 Feb 1942)
Belorussia (Anti-Partisan) (17 Feb 1942 - 5 Aug 1944)

Holders of other notable badges & decorations

See 36. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS

Notable members

Oskar Dirlewanger (Infamous founder of the unit)

In fiction

The 1985 Soviet movie "Idi i smotri" ("Come and See") directed by Elem Klimov deals with the massacre at Khatyn.
The 2009 video game "Velvet Assassin" developed by Replay Studios feature soldiers from this unit.

Memorial to the victims of the Khatyn massacre
memorial-khatyn
(Courtesy of Veenix)

Footnotes

1. "Thanks God that's gone to the butcher 2000 quotes from Hitler's 1000-year Reich" by French L. MacLean, page 232.
2. "Thanks God that's gone to the butcher 2000 quotes from Hitler's 1000-year Reich" by French L. MacLean, page 128.
3. Document NO-345, in Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10. Vol. 13: United States of America v. Ernst von Weizsaecker, et al. (Case 11: 'Ministries Case'). US Government Printing Office, District of Columbia: 1952. pp. 531-532.

Sources used

Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10. Vol. 13: United States of America v. Ernst von Weizsaecker, et al.
Martin Dean - Collaboration in the Holocaust: Crimes of the Local Police in Belorussia and Ukraine, 1941-44
Terry Goldsworthy - Valhalla's Warriors: A history of the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front 1941-1945
Colin Heaton - German Anti-Partisan Warfare in Europe 1939-1945
Peter Hoffmann - Hitler's Personal Security: Protecting the Führer 1921-1945
French L. MacLean - The Cruel Hunters: SS-Sonder-Kommando Dirlewanger Hitler's Most Notorious Anti-Partisan Unit
French L. MacLean - "Thanks God that's gone to the butcher" 2000 quotes from Hitler's 1000-year Reich
Andrew Mollo - Uniforms of the SS: Collected Edition
James Pontolillo - Murderous Elite: The Waffen-SS and its complete record of war crimes
Eirik Veum & Geir Brenden - De som falt: Nordmenn drept i tysk krigstjeneste

Reference material on this unit

Christian Ingrao - The SS Dirlewanger Brigade: The History of the Black Hunters
Hans-Peter Klausch - Anti-faschisten in SS Uniform: Schicksal und Widerstand der deutschen politischen KZ-Haeftlingen, Zuchthaus-und Wehrmachtsgefangenen in der SS-Sonderformation Dirlewanger
French L. MacLean - The Cruel Hunters: SS-Sonder-Kommando Dirlewanger Hitler's Most Notorious Anti-Partisan Unit
Rolf Michaelis (ed.) - The SS-Sonderkommando "Dirlewanger": A Memoir
Rolf Michaelis - Das SS-Sonderkommando Dirlewanger: Ein Beispiel deutscher Besatzungspolitik in Weißrussland
Rolf Michaelis - Die SS-Sturmbrigade „Dirlewanger“: Vom Warschauer Aufstand bis zum Kessel von Halbe (Winkelried-Verlag, Dresden 2006)

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