November 21st, 2008 Headsman
On an uncertain date in November 1942, this photograph of an SS unit executing anti-Nazi partisans in Belarus was taken.
Behind this striking but all too typical image of brutal field executions on the eastern front lies the sordid story of one of the strangest military formations in the Nazi service.
The Dirlewanger brigade was formed under a man whose fortuitous early enrollment in the NSDAP had enabled him to pull strings to get himself out of Dachau, where he had been sent after his second molestation conviction, and where unfolding events could have easily seen him on the other end of the firing squad.
Instead, Oskar Dirlewanger formed a unit of criminals and reprobates: poachers at first, and eventually, as it grew into the SS-Sonderbatallion Dirlewanger, men culled from the camps or soldiers condemned by the army, some literally trading the likelihood of execution themselves for service under one of the most disreputable commanders in the field.
Oh, and, just incidentally — it stuck them into a lawless environment where they could probably practice and refine their pathologies unchecked. Some “rehabilitation.”
As of this relatively early date, the convict floodgates weren’t yet entirely open, and the existing German volunteers were supplemented by a goodly portion of Soviet citizens recruited in the occupied territories. From 1942 to 1944, they hung around Belarus hunting guerrillas and doing to them — well, you know. (The original notion of using poachers was to exploit their ranger-like woodsman talents for anti-partisan warfare.)
Oh, and civilians. Tens of thousands of civilians. That almost goes without saying.
Sadly for Dr. Dirlewanger, events further south were undoing all his bloody work, for it was also in the November 1942 that the Red Army decisively turned the tide of the war with its counterattack at Stalingrad — in fact, it was this very date in 1942 that it completed its encirclement, stranding a quarter-million freezing Wehrmacht regulars on the banks of the Volga, only a handful ever to see Germany again.
The Dirlewanger brigade would have its own turn being minced by the Soviet war machine, though not before it had a notorious hand in drowning the Warsaw Uprising in blood.
Dirlewanger himself was tortured to death by Polish guards a few weeks after the war ended.
Part of the Themed Set: The “Ex” Stands For “Extrajudicial”.
On this day..
- 1887: Joseph Morley - 2016
- 1834: James Graves, Trail of Tears precursor - 2015
- 1721: Christiana Bell - 2014
- 1797: Figaro the Elder and Jean Louis, Charleston slaves of Dominguan exiles - 2013
- 2012: Ajmal Kasab, 26/11 Mumbai terrorist - 2012
- 1944: French collaborator in Rennes - 2011
- 1920: Bloody Sunday in Ireland - 2010
- 1803: Johannes Bückler, "Schinderhannes" - 2009
- 1944: An unknown Allied airman - 2007
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belarus,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guerrillas,History,Known But To God,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USSR,Wartime Executions