A portrait in black and white from 1940 showing Max Simon from head to torso. He is wearing glasses and his SS uniform: the skull on his cap identifies him as a member of the SS Totenkopf division. His collar patches show that he was an SS-Standartenführer at the time the photo was taken.
Portrait of Max Simon as SS Standartenführer in 1940. Simon was commander of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division ”Reichsführer-SS” in Italy from late May to early November 1944. © BArch, Bild 101III-Cantzler-042-16 / Fot. Cantzler / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Max Simon

* " 6 January 1899" – Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland)
† " 1 February 1961" – Lünen (Unna, North Rhine-Westphalia)

Starting in 1943, Max Simon commanded the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Reichsführer-SS". Under his command, between May and Nov. 1944 the unit perpetrated numerous grave massacres of Italian civilians, in Sant’Anna di Stazzema and near Marzabotto among other places. 

Simon came from a Prussian lower middle-class family. He began his long military career as a non-commissioned officer in the Reichswehr’s calvary. In 1931, he joined the Nazi Party and in 1934 the SS. After his transfer to the newly created concentration-camp inspectorate, he was initially Kommandant of the guard troops in Sachsenburg. In 1937, he took over command of the 1st SS Totenkopf (‘death’s head’) ‘Upper Bavaria’ Regiment in Dachau. Between 1939 and 1940, he led the 1st SS Totenkopf Infantry Regiment, then fought in France and on the Eastern Front until 1941. He was one of the most important officers in the Totenkopf Division, known for excesses of violence and a fanatic fighting spirit. In 1947, a military court in Padua sentenced Simon to death for crimes committed in Italy. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment; after serving seven years, Simon was released.

1917-1919 German Army
1919-1929 Reichswehr
1934-1945 Politische Bereitschaften and SS Totenkopf units; Waffen-SS
Army branch
Deutsches Heer Waffen-SS
Joined the NSDAP
Armed force
3. SS-Panzerdivision "Totenkopf"
16. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division "Reichsführer-SS"
XIII SS-Armeekorps
Years of service
1917-1929 / 1933-1945
Austrian Anschluss
Occupation of Czechoslovakia
Invasion of Poland
Western Front
Invasion of Soviet Union
Eastern Front
Occupation of Italy 1943-45
Fighting in Germany in war’s final phase
Confirmed Massacres

As Kommandeur, Max Simon was responsible for all massacres perpetrated by his division: Pisa, San Rossore, Lago di Massaciuccoli, Sant 'Anna di Stazzema, Bardine di San Terenzo, Valla, Vinca, Laiano di Filettole, Camaiore, Massa, Bergiola Foscalina, Fosse del Frigido, Monte Sole, Casalecchio di Reno, San Cesario sul Panaro, and Vignola.

Post war period

Trial before a British military court in Padua; death sentence 1947. Commuted to life imprisonment in 1951 and incarceration in Werl military prison. Early release in 1954.

1954-1960: Trial on account of Brettheim events of 1945

Training and war experience

Theodor Eicke, Kommandant of Dachau, assigned Simon to the concentration camp’s newly established inspectorate. A form of training especially conceived for camp personnel was developed here: the so-called Dachau School. The personnel were meant to be distanced and disciplined while at the same time treating prisoners with utmost severity and an absence of any allowance. Many of the later battalion and company commanders of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division 'Reichsführer-SS' went through this training.
Eicke left no doubt that Simon corresponded in every respect to his ideal picture of the ‘political soldier’ who tied ‘extraordinary severity’ with ‘inner heartfulness’. The mix of such severity with paternal care for the soldiers indeed constituted Simon’s personality. The mix guaranteed that Simon’s men would be prepared to ‘go through fire’ for him.
  • The black-and-white photo from 1944 shows Max Simon standing at the edge of a sports field, in front of a covered grandstand full of soldiers. He has turned his right side to the camera and is looking straight ahead at the sports field. His arms are folded behind his back. He is wearing glasses and his uniform and cap.
    A sports field in Oradea (Romania), April 20, 1944. The commander of the 16th SS Division, Max Simon, as he waits for the start of a sports festival at which he will decorate a group of soldiers. © Archives Priv. Nils Olger, Vienna © Private Archive. Nils Olger, Vienna
  • The shot in black and white shows two soldiers with helmets from behind. In front of them is Max Simon, who is just awarding them. He is wearing glasses and his uniform. The skull of the SS Totenkopf division can be clearly seen on his cap.
    A sports field in Oradea (Romania), April 20, 1944. Commander of the 16th SS Division, Max Simon, distributes decorations to SS soldiers from Walter Reder's scouting unit. © Archivio Priv. Nils Olger, Vienna

Participation in massacres of civilians

Under his command, the ‘Reichsführer-SS division lost thousands of men at the front. The division murdered appr. 2,000 Italian civilians, mainly women and children; it is presently viewed as by far the most violent division among the occupying forces in Italy.

The postwar years

A black and white photograph showing Max Simon in the Werl prison, Westphalia. He is sitting on a bench and holding a watering can with both hands, from which water is running out. His gaze is turned downwards and he looks unhappy. He wears glasses and a wristwatch on his left wrist.
Max Simon in Werl military prison, Westphalia. He was released in 1954, after seven years. © Stadtarchiv Werl, Nachlass 10


The main sources for reconstructing Max Simon’s biography are his personnel files as an SS officer and documents produced by both the defence and prosecution for his trials. The study of Franz Josef Merkl, mentioned in the literature list, cites source material from 30 archives located throughout Europe. For the personnel files, see Bundesarchiv in Berlin (German Federal Archives in Berlin), R 9361-III/194365; R 9361-III/556921; R 601/2389. For documents related to the investigations and trials see the Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen in Ludwigsburg (Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg) and Bundesarchiv in Koblenz (German Federal Archives in Koblenz), the state archives in Augsburg and Nuremberg, the National Archives in Kew (London), and the U.S. National Archives in College Park (Maryland). 


Carlo Gentile, Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS im Partisanenkrieg: Italien 1943-1945, Paderborn, Ferdinand Schöningh, 2012, pp. 286-290.  

Franz Josef Merkl, General Simon, Lebensgeschichte eines SS-Führers. Erkundungen zu Gewalt und Karriere, Kriminalität und Justiz, Legenden und öffentlichen Auseinandersetzungen, Augsburg, Wißner, 2010.

Authorship and translation

Author: Carlo Gentile

Translated from German by: Joel Golb

© Project ‘The Massacres in Occupied Italy (1943-1945): Integrating the Perpetrators’ Memories’


Text: CC BY NC SA 4.0