Josef "Sepp" Dietrich (28 May 1892 - 21 April 1966) was a German officer and Waffen-SS general, an SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer, and one of the closest men to Adolf Hitler. For his wartime services, he was one of only 27 men to be awarded the Knights Cross with Oak leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.
Sepp Dietrich was born in Hawangen, near Memmingen in Bavaria on 28 May 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, due to the mass unemployment, he took any employment he could and migrated from one job to another, including waiter, policeman, foreman, farm laborer, gas station attendant and customs officer. He joined the National Socialist 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 National socialist 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 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 SS-Panzerkorps in the Battle of Normandy. Because of his success, Hitler promoted him to command of the 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.
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 9 May 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 the U.S. Military Tribunal at Dachau ("United States of America vs. Valentin Bersin et al", Case No. 6-24), from 16 May 1946 until 16 July 16 1946 for the case of the "Malmedy Massacre". Although it later emerged that the "massacre" was a hoax, he was convicted of ordering the execution of U.S. prisoners of war anyway. 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 6 May 1957 until 14 May 1957 for his role in the killing of SA leaders in 1934. On 14 May 1957, he was sentenced to nineteen months for his part in the Night of the Long Knives and imprisoned at Landsberg again. 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 crimes it proclaimed the Leibstandarte had committed in Kharkov in 1943.
In 1966, Dietrich died of a heart attack in Ludwigsburg at the age of 73. Seven thousand of his wartime comrades came to his funeral. He was eulogized by former SS Obergruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich.
Dietrich was married twice. His first wife was Barbra Betti Seidl (b. April 24, 1896). They were married on February 17, 1921 and were divorced in April 1937. On January 19, 1942, Dietrich married Ursula Moninger-Brenner (born March 26, 1915 and died in 1983), a former spouse of SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Karl-Heinrich Brenner (they had married in 1935). Dietrich and Ms. Moninger-Brenner had a son, Wolf-Dieter Dietrich, who was born out of wedlock in Karlsruhe in 1939, before Brenner’s divorce was finalized. The two SS generals nonetheless remained friends. A second son, Lutz, was born in Karlsruhe on March 20, 1943 (Heinrich Himmler was his godfather). Dietrich's third son, Götz-Hubertus, was born in Karlsruhe on November 23, 1944 (again Himmler was a godfather).
SS Ranks and Decorations
- 1 June 1928: SS-Sturmführer
- 1 August 1928: SS-Sturmbannführer
- 1 August 1929: SS-Standartenführer
- 18 September 1929: SS-Oberführer
- 11 July 1930: SS-Brigadeführer
- 18 December 1931: SS-Gruppenführer
- 4 July 1934: SS-Obergruppenführer
- 1 October 1941: General der Waffen-SS
- 20 April 1942: SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS
- 1 August 1944: SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS
- Iron Cross (1914), Second (1917) and First (1918) Classes
- Austrian Bravery Medal in Bronze
- Bavarian Military Merit Order 3rd class with swords and crown (1918)
- Tank Memorial Badge (1921)
- Bavarian Long Service Award 3rd Class
- Silesian Eagle 2nd and 1st Class
- Blood Order-(Nr. 10) (1933)
- Golden Party Badge (1933)
- Honour Chevron for the Old Guard
- SS Honour Ring
- SS Honour Sword
- Golden Party Badge (1933)
- Cross of Honor (1934)
- Armed Forces Long Service Award
- Sudetenland Medal
- Anschluss Medal
- Wound Badge
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (25 September 1939) & 1st Class (27 October 1939)
- Eastern Front Medal (1942)
- Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds (1943)
- NSDAP Long Service Award in Silver
- Italian Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, Grand Officer
- Order of the Crown of Italy, Grand Cross
- Italian Military Order of Savoy, Grand Officer
- Order of the Crown of Romania, Grand Officer
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 4 July 1940 as SS-Obergruppenführer and commander of SS Infantry Regiment "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
- 41st Oak Leaves on 31 December 1941 as SS-Obergruppenführer and commander of SS Division Leibstandarte
- 26th Swords on 14 March 1943 as SS-Obergruppenführer and general of the Waffen-SS and commander of SS Division Leibstandarte
- 16th Diamonds on 6 August 1944 as SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer and commander of I SS Panzer Corps