Oskar Dirlewanger and the Islamic State

ISIS or the Sonderkommando Dirlewanger?
ISIS or the Sonderkommando Dirlewanger?

The ISIS people would like you to think that they are motivated by intense religious belief. It adds a certain integrity to their monstrous antics, I suppose, however alien it seems to us effete Westerners.

No doubt that is true of a number of them, foot soldiers, suicide bombers etc, however misguided they are. They are the mugs who will die, and who aren’t living it up.  Like nearly everyone, I have no time for Islamic militants, for whom Nazi comparisons are not far-fetched, but I don’t for one moment think that the real bad guys, including the moronic mumbler Jihadi John, are motivated by religious belief. They are simply indulging an appetite for violence, sadism, misogyny and notoriety without, as yet, personal risk to themselves. Islam does provide a very handy cloak for their actions, though.

More accurately, there is another neat comparison with the Nazis, and that is in the form of Oskar Dirlewanger.

Dirlewanger was an intelligent and educated man, with a very impressive record for bravery in WW1. He was also a violent psychopathic rapist and paedophile, who eventually got locked up in the interwar years. He ended up joining the SS and leading something akin to the penal battalion described in Sven Hassel’s entertaining, if historically confused novels. These were battalions composed of convicts, unstable people, criminals on the run and seeking a way out etc. They got the most unpleasant and dangerous jobs much of the time.

He ended up mainly in Poland and Byelorussia, with his zenith of evil in Warsaw in 1944. For Dirlewanger things couldn’t have been better. He got to murder, rape, torture and profiteer as much as he liked, with exceptional brutality.  Exceptional that is by Nazi standards, to the point where his own bosses, all the way up to Himmler, were uneasy with his behaviour, useful to them though he was. One extended quote gives you the idea:

In Warsaw, Dirlewanger participated in the Wola massacre, together with police units rounding up and shooting some 40,000 civilians, most of them in just two days. In the same Wola district, Dirlewanger burned three hospitals with patients inside, while the nurses were “whipped, gang-raped and finally hanged naked, together with the doctors” to the accompaniment of music. Later, “they drank, raped and murdered their way through the Old Town, slaughtering civilians and fighters alike without distinction of age or sex.” In the Old Town – where about 30,000 civilians were killed – several thousand wounded in field hospitals overrun by the Germans were shot and set on fire with flamethrowers. Reportedly, “the Dirlewanger brigade burned prisoners alive with gasoline, impaled babies on bayonets and stuck them out of windows and hung women upside down from balconies.” SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, overall commander of the forces pacifying Warsaw – and Dirlewanger’s former boss in Belarus – described Dirlewanger as having “a typical mercenary nature”; von dem Bach’s staff officer sent to summon Dirlewanger before him was driven off at gunpoint.

Not much different in nature to what these Yazidi girls reported. Or here, though don’t follow the link if you’re easily upset. It is the unvarnished truth however.  As General Guderian, an able commander, said of the Dirlewanger Brigade:

“What I learnt…was so appalling that I felt myself bound to inform Hitler about it that same evening and to demand the removal of the two brigades from the Eastern Front.”

So, fast forward 70 years and we find that even though the Pakistani Taliban have explicitly affirmed their support for ISIS, they’re a bit worried about their methods. The original bad boys Al Qaeda have also objected. Even terrorists have their limits. Hezbollah as Shi-ites call for Sunni/Shia unity in the fight against Israel, but they’re fighting ISIS too.

There is no moral to this, really, except that all this  evil, including the methodology, is nothing new. However, just as you couldn’t negotiate with men like Dirlewanger, you shouldn’t bother trying with the current incarnation of irredeemable badness. Even ‘routine’ bad guys think it’s beyond reasoning.

It’s Santayana redux: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”, or as Edmund Burke said before him: “People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors”

'John', even the poses are similar
‘John’, even the poses are similar
Dirlewanger on the right, having a day off





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