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The Cruel Hunters: SS-Sonderkommando Dirlewanger Hitler's Most Notorious Anti-Partisan Unit (Schiffer Military History)

Jan Peczkis|Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I overlook any stylistic deficiencies of this work and focus on its historical content. The book begins with Dirlewanger's early life, service in WWI, etc. The account of his mid-1930's crime of statutory rape (pp. 28-29, 48-49) makes it unclear if the age of consent in Nazi Germany had been only 14.

     
   
       
 


MacLean refutes those who say that Dirlewanger's unit had not been part of the Waffen SS, an organization condemned as criminal at the Nuremberg trials. (p. 13). Dirlewanger's unit included some non-Germans, such as Ukrainians. (p. 74, 76). It has therefore been argued that Dirlewanger's unit was a "second class" one. To the contrary, many non-German-including (or entirely non-German) SS units, such as the Scandinavian-rich "Wiking", the Latvian-rich 19th SS Grenadier, and the Dutch "Nederland", had many recipients who had been awarded the Knight's Cross, Germany's highest honor for bravery and military achievement. (p. 262). By no stretch of the imagination were these second-class units!

Among Germans at least, admission into the SS was forbidden to anyone who had any trace of Jewish ancestry more recent than 1750. Interestingly, and in spite of this requirement, SS officer and executor of the Final Solution, Otto Bradfisch, had been a Mischlinge. (pp. 88-89).

During 1942 and 1943, Dirlewanger's unit was responsible for massive collective reprisals against Byelorussian civilians for guerrilla warfare. These mass murders, and those of Poles later, went far beyond any semblance of military necessity, and clearly partook of genocide. In fact, MacLean quotes General Adolf Heusinger, OKH, who said: "The treatment of the civilian population and the methods of anti-partisan warfare in operational areas presented the highest political and military leaders with a welcome opportunity of carrying out their plans, namely the systematic extermination of Slavism and Jewry." (p. 69).

MacLean includes a fine chapter on the Warsaw Uprising. In early August 1944, Dirlewanger's units burned several Polish hospitals with wounded soldiers in them. (p. 182). There were numerous cold-blooded massacres of unarmed Polish civilians. In addition, Polish civilians were forced to serve as shields around German tanks. The Polish insurgents (AK, or A. K.) fired at them anyway. In the first week of the Uprising alone, 40,000--50,000 Poles had been killed in combat or murdered (mostly the latter), primarily in Ochota and Wola, where Dirlewanger's Sonderkommando operated. (p. 187). Another unit--the Kaminsky Brigade--killed thousands of Poles, but much less than the Sonderkommando.

MacLean cites von dem Bach Zelewski's estimate that 10,000 German combatants perished during the Warsaw Uprising and 7,000 were missing. (p. 196). Some have interpreted the latter as a German reluctance to admit the full scale of German losses against the Poles. MacLean, on the other hand, suggests that the 7,000 missing were largely those Germans (especially the S.S.) who fell into Polish hands and were killed in reprisal for the earlier mass murders of Polish civilians.

Imprisoned by the French, mass-murderer Dirlewanger finally met his fate in early June 1945: "The French probably did murder him and have successfully covered up the facts of the incident; it could have been an interrogation that went too far or possibly Polish nationals, working for the French, could have spotted their old nemesis and meted our justice." (p. 259). There had been rumors that Dirlewanger had survived the war and was hiding in Egypt. To debunk this, MacLean discusses an investigatory exhumation that proved that the remains in his reputed grave are indeed those of Oskar Dirlewanger. (p. 254).
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