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Josef Dietrich was a Nazi Waffen-SS general.
Josef "Sepp" Dietrich (May 28, 1892-April 21/22, 1966) was a Nazi Waffen-SS general, an SS-Oberstgruppenführer, and one of the closest men to Adolf Hitler. For his wartime services, he was one of only 27 men to be awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.
Early life and career
Sepp Dietrich was born in Hawangen, near Memmingen in Bavaria on May 28, 1892, son of Palagius Dietrich and his wife Kreszentia. He worked as butcher and hotel servant. In 1911 he joined the Bavarian Army for a short time. Volunteering at the beginning of First World War, he served with the artillery, as a paymaster sergeant and later in the first German tank troops.
After the war, Dietrich served briefly in a Freikorps against the Bavarian Soviet Republic, May, 1919. Thereafter, he migrated from one job to another, including waiter, policeman, foreman, farm laborer, gas station attendant and customs officer. He joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1928 and became commander of Hitler's Schutzstaffel (SS) bodyguard. He accompanied Hitler on his tours around Germany and received the nickname "Chauffeureska" from Hitler. Later Hitler arranged other jobs for him, including various SS posts, and let him live in the chancellery.
1930s and World War II
In 1930, Dietrich was elected to the Reichstag as a delegate for Lower Bavaria. By 1931, he had become SS-Gruppenführer. When the NSDAP took over in 1933, Dietrich rose swiftly through the Nazi hierarchy. He rose to the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer, commander of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, General of the Waffen-SS and member of the Prussian state council.
In 1934, Dietrich played an active role in the Night of the Long Knives. Hitler told him to take six men and go to the Ministry of Justice to execute a number of Sturmabteilung (SA) leaders. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to SS Obergruppenführer.
When World War II began, Dietrich led the Leibstandarte in attacks on Paris and Dunkirk. Dietrich remained in command of the Leibstandarte throughout the campaigns in Greece and Yugoslavia before being promoted to command of the 1.SS-Panzerkorps, attached to Army Group Center, on the Eastern Front. In 1943, he was sent to Italy to recover Benito Mussolini's mistress Clara Petacci. He received numerous German military medals but also became notorious for his mistreatment of prisoners of war.
Dietrich commanded the I.SS-Panzerkorps in the Battle of Normandy. Because of his success, Hitler promoted him to command of the 6.SS-Panzer-Armee as well. Dietrich commanded the 6.SS-Panzer-Armee in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. He had been assigned to that task because, due to the July 20 Plot, Hitler distrusted Wehrmacht officers. On December 17, SS units under his command executed from 77 to 82 U.S. prisoners of war near Malmedy, Belgium, in what is known as the Malmedy massacre. His knowledge of the massacre is disputed.
At this point, Dietrich began to protest Hitler's unwillingness to let officers act upon their own initiative. In April 1945, after the failure of Hitler's planned Spring Awakening Offensive at Lake Balaton, spearheaded by Dietrich's troops, a frustrated Hitler ordered Dietrich and his men to give up their unit cuff titles, but Dietrich refused to pass on the order.
Dietrich commanded tank troops in Vienna but failed to prevent Soviet troops from taking the city. Accompanied by his wife, Dietrich surrendered on May 9, 1945 to Master-Sergeant Herbert Kraus of the U.S. 36th Infantry Division at Krems an der Donau north of St. Pölten in Austria.
Dietrich was tried as Defendant No. 11 by U.S. Military Tribunal at Dachau ("United States of America vs. Valentin Bersin et al", Case No. 6-24), from May 16, 1946 until July 16, 1946. On July 16, 1946, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Malmedy massacre trial for ordering the execution of U.S. prisoners of war in Malmedy. Due to testimony in his defense by other German officers, his sentence was shortened to 25 years. He was imprisoned at U.S. War Criminals Prison No. 1 at Landsberg am Lech in Bavaria. Dietrich served only ten years and was released on parole on October 22, 1955. However, he was rearrested in Ludwigsburg in August 1956. He was charged by the Landesgericht München I and tried from May 6, 1957 until May 14, 1957 for his role in the killing of SA leaders in 1934. On May 14, 1957, he was sentenced to nineteen months for his part in the Night of the Long Knives and imprisoned at Landsberg. He was released due to a heart condition and circulation problems in his legs on February 2, 1959. By then he had already served almost his entire 19-month sentence. He then settled in Ludwigsburg where he devoted himself to HIAG activities and hunting. Dietrich was sentenced to death in absentia by a Soviet court in connection with alleged war crimes committed by Leibstandarte in Kharkov in 1943. In 1966 Dietrich died of a heart attack in Ludwigsburg at age 73. Seven thousand of his wartime comrades came to his funeral. He was eulogized by former SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich.
Summary of his SS career
Dates of rank
The only biography about Sepp Dietrich is the one by Charles Messenger. There are two versions [see below]. There is also a biography by the French historian, Jean Mabire. Additional information about Dietrich has to be pieced together from many separate sources, which are mostly in English and in German. The following are among the more relevant and accessible sources. They are obtainable through larger research libraries (and their Interlibrary Loan), or through online vendors.
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