30 January 1915|
Berlin, German Empire
|Died||14 July 1976
Traves, Haute-Saône, France
|Buried at||St Anna's Church
|Years of service||1933–45|
|Service number||SS #132,496|
|Unit||SS Division Leibstandarte|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
|Other work||Porsche and Volkswagen|
Joachim Peiper (German pronunciation: [ˈjoːaxɪm ˈpaɪpɐ]; 30 January 1915 – 14 July 1976), also known as Jochen Peiper, was a field officer in the Waffen-SS during World War II and personal adjutant to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler between November 1940 and August 1941.
Peiper fought on both the Eastern Front against the Red Army and the Western Front against the Western Allies, and was awarded by Nazi Germany the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords.
Peiper was convicted of war crimes committed in Belgium and imprisoned for almost 12 years. He was accused of war crimes in Italy, but Italian and German courts concluded that there was insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution.
After his release from prison, Peiper worked for both Porsche and Volkswagen, before moving to France, where he translated books from English to German under the nom de plume "Rainer Buschmann". Peiper was killed in France in July 1976, when unknown assailants burned his house to the ground.
- 1 Early life
- 2 SS career pre-World War II
- 3 Poland and France
- 4 Invasion of the Soviet Union
- 5 Italy and the village of Boves
- 6 Return to the Eastern Front
- 7 Belgium
- 8 Battle of Normandy
- 9 Battle of the Bulge
- 10 War crimes
- 11 Return to civilian life
- 12 Assessment
- 13 Awards
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes
- 16 References
- 17 External links
Peiper was born on 30 January 1915 into a middle class family from the Silesian region of Germany. His father, Captain Waldemar Peiper, served in the Imperial German Army and fought in the colonial campaigns in East Africa. In 1915, he retired from active duty for health reasons after contracting malaria. After the war, Waldemar Peiper joined the Freikorps and took part in the Silesian Uprisings.
Peiper did not obtain the grades needed to continue to university. In 1926, Peiper followed his other brother Horst and joined the Scout movement, developing an interest in a military career. Peiper’s brother Horst joined the SS, eventually reaching the rank of Hauptsturmführer.[page needed] Horst participated in the Battle of France with the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf before being transferred to Poland, where he died in an accident.
SS career pre-World War II
Peiper turned 18 years old on the day that Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. He volunteered to join the Hitler Youth (German: Hitlerjugend) together with his oldest brother Horst. Peiper wanted to join a cavalry division of the German Reichswehr. To gain skill at horseriding, he followed the advice of a family friend, General Walther von Reichenau, and enlisted in the 7th SS Reiterstandarte on 12 October 1933. On 23 January 1934, he was promoted to SS-Mann with SS number 132,496. In 1934, during the annual Nuremberg Rally, Peiper was promoted to SS-Sturmmann and later gained the attention of Heinrich Himmler. In his 1935 résumé, Peiper wrote: "As a result of a personal exhortation by the Reichsführer-SS, Himmler, I have decided to strive for a career as an active senior SS officer."
In January 1935, he was sent to a camp for Hitler Youth, SA and SS members near Jüterbog. After he completed the course, he was promoted to SS-Unterscharführer. In April 1935, Peiper enrolled in the newly created SS-Junkerschule Bad Tölz (English: SS officer's training school) under the command of Paul Hausser. He graduated from Junkerschule in January 1936; he then attended training at the Dachau concentration camp in February and March 1936. On 20 April 1936, Peiper was promoted to SS-Untersturmführer and was posted to the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler under the command of Sepp Dietrich. He remained with the unit until June 1938.
On 4 July 1938, Peiper was appointed to an administrative post as an adjutant to Heinrich Himmler, under the command of Karl Wolff. Peiper worked in Himmler’s anteroom in the SS-Hauptamt at Prinz-Albrecht-Straße. As a member of the Reichsführer-SS staff, Peiper was close to many high ranking SS officers. He became one of Himmler's favourite adjutants. Peiper later served on Himmler's personal staff and accompanied him on a state visit to Italy.
On his twenty-fourth birthday, Peiper was promoted to Obersturmführer. Around this time, he met Sigurd (Sigi) Hinrichsen, a secretary on Himmler’s personal staff and a close friend of Hedwig Potthast, Himmler’s mistress. Peiper and Hinrichsen were married on 26 June 1939 in a ceremony following SS customs. The couple lived in Berlin until the first allied air raids on Berlin, when Sigi was sent to Rottach, Upper Bavaria, near Himmler's second residence. The couple later had three children: Hinrich, Elke and Silke.
Poland and France
On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. As one of his adjutants, Peiper joined Himmler's entourage on board the Reichsführer-SS's special train. Peiper was with Himmler on 20 September in Bydgoszcz Blomberg when they witnessed the execution of 20 Poles. Peiper later wrote that the experience left Himmler "speechless" for several days. As Peiper later told Ernst Schäfer, Hitler had previously ordered Himmler to eliminate the Polish intellectuals.
After Poland was defeated, Peiper assisted Himmler in developing policies and plans for controlling the Polish population. Later, Peiper accompanied Himmler to Feldherrnhalle commemorative ceremonies in Munich on 9 October 1939. On 13 December 1939, Peiper and Himmler witnessed the gassing of a resident of a psychiatric facility in Owinsk near Poznań. In post-war interrogations, Peiper described the experience in a detached, factual manner.
In April 1940, Peiper accompanied Himmler on trips to the Buchenwald and Flossenbürg concentration camps, followed by a visit to Poland to meet with SS and Police Leader Wilhelm Rediess and Brigadeführer Otto Rasch. In early May, Himmler, accompanied by Peiper, met with SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik in Lublin, with Peiper noting in Himmler's appointment calendar Globocnik's plans to use Jewish forced labor for a massive fortification project. On 17 May 1940, Peiper accompanied Himmler as he followed Waffen-SS troops during the Battle of France. In Hasselt, Peiper obtained permission to join a combat unit and became a platoon leader in the 3rd Battalion of the 11th Company of 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). After seizing an artillery battery on the hills of Wattenberg, Peiper was awarded the Iron Cross and promoted to Hauptsturmführer.
Rejoining Himmler’s personal staff
In October 1940, Peiper accompanied Himmler to Madrid where Himmler met with Franco. After passing through Metz, they stopped in Dax, where Himmler met with Theodor Eicke, the commander of the SS Totenkopf division. Shortly afterward, on 14 November 1940, Peiper was appointed first adjutant to Himmler. In January 1941, Peiper accompanied Himmler when he inspected Ravensbrück and Dachau concentration camps. In March 1941, together with Karl Wolff and Fritz Bracht, they visited Auschwitz.
Himmler and his staff then travelled to Norway, Austria, Poland, the Balkans and Greece. This trip included a visit to the Łódź ghetto, about which Peiper later wrote: "It was a macabre image: we saw how the Jewish Ghetto police, who wore hats without rims and were armed with wooden clubs, inconsiderately made room for us. The Jewish elders also presented Himmler with a bouquet of flowers."
Invasion of the Soviet Union
In February 1941, Himmler told Peiper about the German plan, Operation Barbarossa, to invade the Soviet Union. The operation began on 22 June 1941. Behind the front lines, the Einsatzgruppen, under the control of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office), conducted a war against "the Untermenschen", murdering communists, Jews, gypsies and partisans. Peiper's duties as first adjutant included providing Himmler with statistics from the Einsatzgruppen units about the mass killings on the Eastern Front.
During the later summer of 1941, Werner Grothmann became Himmler's first adjutant. Although Peiper was transferred to a combat unit, he remained in close contact with Himmler. In their ongoing correspondence through to the end of the war, Himmler addressed Peiper as "my dear Jochen".
Although no longer Himmler's official first adjutant, Peiper continued to write in Himmler’s diary until mid-September 1941. Peiper may have been dispatched to the LSSAH earlier as an observer for the Reichsführer-SS, but available records show that he formally transferred to the LSSAH before October 1941. When he rejoined the LSSAH, it was engaged on the Eastern Front near the Black Sea. Peiper spent several days at its headquarters when an injury to a unit commander gave Peiper an opportunity to take command of the 11th Company.
Transfer to combat unit
The 11th Company fought at Mariupol and Rostov-on-Don. Peiper was noted for his fighting spirit, although his unit suffered high casualties as a consequence of his aggressive tactics. The company killed a number of prisoners of war.
During its combat action, the LSSAH was followed by Einsatzgruppe D, responsible for organising the extermination of Jews and communists. Einsatzgruppe D continued its operations even when winter weather suspended active military operations. It shared the same winter quarters at Taganrog on the Azov Sea as the LSSAH and, on occasion, the division assisted Einsatzgruppe D with its operations.
In May 1942, Peiper learned of the death of his brother Hans-Hasso. During the same month, the LSSAH was transferred to France for rest and refit. En route to France, Peiper left his unit and met with Himmler at his headquarters on 1 June. The meeting included a dinner attended by Himmler's secretary Rudolf Brandt and Heinz Lammerding, a member of the staff headquarters of the SS Division Totenkopf. In July 1942, Peiper again met with Himmler and did not rejoin his battalion until August 1942.
During its stay in France, the LSSAH was reorganised into a Panzergrenadier division and Peiper was promoted to commander of its 3rd Battalion. At the end of 1942, Peiper received permission to visit his family. On 30 January 1943, he was promoted to SS-Obersturmbannführer. Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, the German situation had seriously worsened, especially in the Battle of Stalingrad. Peiper’s battalion left its quarters in France on 31 January 1943 for Lyubotin, near Kharkiv. It was immediately dispatched to the front.
Relief of 320th Infantry Division
During the Third Battle of Kharkov, Peiper led the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Panzergrenadier Regiment, which broke 48 kilometres (30 mi) through Soviet lines to rescue the encircled 320th Infantry Division. Leading the ambulances back to the German lines, he found his route blocked by a Soviet ski battalion that had destroyed the main bridge across the Udy River. His unit fought through the city and repaired the bridge, securing an exit route for the ambulances back to the German lines.:53 The repaired bridge, however, would not support the unit's heavy-armored half-tracks and assault guns. Peiper ordered his men back behind the Soviet lines to find another exit, and they returned to the German lines with few casualties.
Massacre of civilians
The rescue culminated with a fiery battle with the Soviet forces at the village of Krasnaya Polyana. Upon entering the village, however, Peiper's troops made a terrible discovery. All the men in his small rearguard medical detachment left there had been killed and then mutilated. An SS Sergeant in Peiper's ration supply company, Otto Sierk, claimed that Peiper responded in kind: "In the village, the two petrol trucks were burnt and 25 Germans killed by partisans and Soviet soldiers. As a revenge, Peiper ordered the burning down of the whole village and the shooting of its inhabitants". (Sierk's testimony was obtained on 17 November 1944 by the Western Allies, and has just been recently declassified).
On 6 May 1943, Peiper was awarded the German Cross in Gold for his achievements in February 1943 around Kharkov, where his unit gained the nickname the "Blowtorch Battalion". Reportedly, the nickname derived from the torching and slaughter of two Soviet villages where their inhabitants were either shot or burned. Ukrainian sources, including surviving witness Ivan Kiselev, who was 14 at the time of the massacre, described the killings at the villages of Yefremovka and Semyonovka on 17 February 1943. On 12 February Waffen-SS troops of the LSSAH occupied the two villages, where retreating Soviet forces had wounded two SS officers. In retaliation, five days later LSSAH troops killed 872 men, women and children. Some 240 of these were burned alive in the church of Yefremovka. 
In August 1944, when Sturmbannführer Jacob Hanreich was captured south of Falaise in France and interrogated by the Allies, he stated that Peiper was "particularly eager to execute the order to burn villages". Hanreich had previously served with Leibstandarte but was with SS Division Hitlerjugend at the time of his capture. The blowtorch became an unofficial symbol of the unit and was painted on the battalion's vehicles.:53
In Nazi propaganda
On 9 March 1943, Peiper was awarded Germany's highest decoration, the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Himmler sent personal congratulations over the radio: "Heartfelt congratulations for the Knight's Cross my dear Jochen! I am proud of you!" During this period, the Nazi propaganda praised Peiper as an outstanding leader. The official Waffen-SS newspaper, Das Schwarze Korps ("The Black Corps"), described Peiper's actions in Kharkiv in glowing terms such as "the master of the situation in all its phases" and extolled Peiper's "quick decision making", "caring" attitude and "bold and unorthodox orders" backed by "intellectual work and instinctive safety". The paper noted the "unconditional trust of his men" and emphasized that he was "a born leader, one filled with the highest sense of responsibility for the life of every single one of his men, but who [was] also able to be hard if necessary".
The descriptions of his tactical skills propelled Peiper to become an icon of the Waffen-SS after the war, with former battalion members describing him in glowing language. Peiper was seen as an officer who obeyed orders without much discussion and expected the same from his men.
In July 1943, the LSSAH took part in Operation Citadel in the area of Kursk, with Peiper's unit distinguishing itself in the fighting. After the failure of the operation, on 17 July, the LSSAH was withdrawn from the Eastern Front and transferred to the area of Cuneo in Northern Italy.
Italy and the village of Boves
After Italian forces capitulated to the Allies, the LSSAH was moved to Italy for two months to assist in disarming the Italian military and prevent them from attacking German forces. Beginning in August, Peiper’s battalion quarters were near Cuneo. On 10 September, they received orders to disarm Italian garrisons in Alessandria and Asti.
On 19 September, partisans in the village of Boves captured two of Peiper's men. Faustino Dolmazzo, an advisor to the partisans, reported that when Peiper arrived in Boves, the Germans appointed two Italians, one the village priest, to arrange the men's freedom. Peiper promised the Germans would not engage in any reprisals.
The two men were freed, but the Germans then set fire to the houses in the village and killed 22 men when they tried to flee. The burned bodies of the two Italian intermediaries were found among the victims.
Peiper himself reported on the action, now known as the Boves massacre: "I am of the opinion that our action to free our encircled comrades in Boves nipped in the bud the Italian army's attack, for the army fell apart and no attack ever took place on Cuneo or Turin. However regrettable the consequences of our action was for the affected residents of Boves, it should not be overlooked that our one-time intervention prevented further immeasurable casualties which would have resulted from continued Italian attacks." In 1968, an Italian court concluded there was "...insufficient suspicion of criminal activity on the part of any of the accused to warrant prosecution". On 23 December 1968, a German District Court in Stuttgart reached the same conclusion, terminating any potential prosecution of Peiper for his activities in Italy.
Return to the Eastern Front
Beginning November 1943, Peiper’s unit arrived on the Eastern Front, where it took part in combat in the area of Zhytomyr. On 20 November, Georg Schönberger was killed in action, and Peiper took his place as commander of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment; a position he held until the end of the war. Under his command, the regiment fought through the winter and was engaged in numerous night assaults against the Red Army. His panzer unit played an essential role in stalling the Soviet offensive in the area of Zhytomyr. Peiper led actions by attacking the rear of enemy lines and captured four division headquarters. For this action he was awarded the Oak Leaves of the Knight's Cross.
Peiper's aggressiveness and regiment command appointment caused resentment by some against him. In the mean time, brutal combat involving his unit continued. On 5 and 6 December 1943, the unit killed 2280 Soviet soldiers and took only three prisoners. During heavy fighting, the village of Pekartschina was completely burned with flamethrowers and its inhabitants killed.
On 20 January 1944, Peiper was withdrawn from the front and left his unit. He went directly to the headquarters of Hitler, who presented him with the Oak Leaves to be added to his Knight's Cross. Shortly afterwards, on his 29th birthday, Peiper was promoted to Obersturmbannführer. However, Peiper was physically and mentally exhausted. A medical examination carried out by SS doctors in Dachau reached the conclusion that he needed rest. Therefore, he went to see his wife in Bavaria.
In March 1944, the LSSAH was withdrawn from the Eastern Front. The transfer of all its units was not completed before 24 May. Peiper joined his unit in April. The battles in the east had caused heavy losses of men and materiel. The new recruits were not of the same caliber as the pre-war volunteers, who'd been recruited according to strict criteria.
In Belgium, five young recruits accused of stealing poultry and ham from civilians were sentenced to death by a court-martial. The verdict seemed out of proportion to the offence, especially when looking at similar cases. Peiper ordered the five shot on 28 May 1944 and had the other young recruits marched past the corpses; but the executions actually had a negative impact on the morale of the regiment. The stay in the Belgian Limburg was devoted mainly to drills and refit, made more difficult due to the lack of materiel and gasoline.
Battle of Normandy
The Allied landing in Normandy necessitated the return of the LSSAH to the Western Front. On 17 June, the division began its move to the area of Caen, but some parts of the panzer regiment had to stay in Belgium awaiting new tanks. Furthermore, the move of the division was made under difficult conditions due to the trains transporting Hungarian Jews to the concentration camps and Allied air attacks which caused disruptions in the rail traffic. The whole division did not reach its rally zone before 6 July 1944. On 28 June, the 1st SS Panzer Regiment of Peiper arrived at the front and was immediately engaged in combat. As with the other German units of the area, they essentially fought a defensive battle until the Avranches breakthrough at the end of July and beginning of August. Having gone to the front with 19,618 men, the LSSAH lost 25% of its men and all its tanks. As with most of the Waffen SS divisions engaged in Normandy, the LSSAH lost its operational ability and was described in the official tables of the available units prepared by the OKW on 16 September 1944 not as a division but as a Kampfgruppe.
Peiper was not in command of his panzer regiment during the counter-attacks near Avranches. Suffering from a nervous breakdown he had been discreetly evacuated to a military hospital in the area of Sées at 70 km of the frontline. According to the official diagnosis, he was suffering from jaundice. He would eventually be dispatched to the rear and from September 1944 forward was in a military hospital near the Tegernsee in Upper Bavaria. This was not far from his family home. He stayed there until 7 October.
Battle of the Bulge
During the autumn, the German forces had to counter the attempts of the Western Allies to cross the Westwall, while Hitler was looking for an opportunity to seize the initiative on the Western Front. The result was the Operation Wacht am Rhein. In a desperate attempt to defeat the Allies on the Western Front, the German armies were to break through the US lines in the Ardennes, to cross the River Meuse and take Antwerp, cutting the Allied forces in two.
The main role in the breakthrough was devoted to the 6th Panzer Army under the command of Sepp Dietrich. He would have to pierce the American lines between Aachen and the Schnee Eifel and seize bridges on the Meuse on both sides of Liège. Within the 6th Panzer Army a mobile striking role was assigned to the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) under the command of SS-Oberführer Wilhelm Mohnke. The division was split into four Kampfgruppe with Peiper commanding the most substantial, which included all the armored sections of the division. Peiper was given the use of the newest tank, the 70 ton Tiger II or King Tiger, which would be taking part in its third battle on the western front since its introduction, and with its 7 inches of armor made it impervious to allied anti-tank weapons. However, the King Tiger had a high consumption of fuel (1/2 mile to the gallon) along with mechanical defects (mainly the tank's suspension system), which would continuously hinder Peiper's ability to reach his assigned objectives in Operation Wacht am Rhein. His unit was to break through the U.S. lines along a route designated B through Spa, Belgium and to take bridges on the Meuse between Liège and Huy.
Peiper's assigned route, or Rollbahn, had many hairpin turns and traversed steep hillsides that delayed his already slow-moving towed artillery and bridging trains. It included narrow, in many places single-track, roads which forced units of the Kampfgruppe to tail each other, creating a column of infantry and armor up to 25 kilometres (16 mi) long. Peiper complained that the road assigned to his Kampfgruppe was suitable for bicycles, but not for panzers. Fritz Krämer, Chief of Staff for the 6th Panzer Army responded, "I don’t care how and what you do. Just make it to the Meuse. Even if you’ve only one tank left when you get there." Peiper's unit had only a quarter of the fuel that it needed. The plan counted on the capture of Allied fuel depots and keeping to an ambitious timetable.
Initial advance stalled
Kampfgruppe Peiper was initially delayed by more than 16 hours when the 1st Battalion, 9th Fallschirmjäger Regiment, 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division took most of 16 December to defeat 18 men of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, 394th Regiment, 99th Infantry Division who blocked the route near the tiny village of Lanzerath, Belgium in the Battle of Lanzareth ridge.
Peiper’s mechanized column did not reach his first day's objective until midnight that same day. As a result, Peiper first attacked shortly before daybreak on 17 December 1944, almost 18 hours later than expected. Hustling through the remains of the American front lines, he quickly took Honsfeld.
Peiper had planned to advance through Losheimergraben, but the 12th and 277th Volksgrenadier Divisions failed to gain control on the first day as planned. In the early morning of 17 December, they quickly captured Honsfeld and 50,000 US gallons (190,000 l; 42,000 imp gal) of fuel for his vehicles.
Alternative route chosen
Peiper advanced towards Büllingen, keeping to the plan to move west, and then turned south to detour around Hünningen. He continued west on his assigned route until he had to deflect shortly before Ligneuville because the assigned road was impassable. This bypass forced him towards the Baugnez crossroads where his armored units encountered a lightly armed column of U.S. artillery observers, who were quickly neutralized.
Peiper's unit became infamous for the murder of U.S. prisoners of war at the crossroads in what became known as the Malmedy massacre as noted below. Moving ahead, he crossed Ligneuville and reached the heights of Stavelot on the left bank of the Amblève River at nightfall of the second day of operation Wacht am Rhein. While the little city was defended only by a few U.S. troops and could have been easily taken the same day, for reasons unknown he held back and assaulted at dawn of the next day. Valuable time was lost, allowing the Americans to reorganise. After heavy fighting, his Kampfgruppe eventually managed to cross the bridge on the River Amblève, and from there he found the going increasingly difficult.
The US forces regrouped themselves and blasted the bridges on the Amblève and the River Salm that Peiper needed to cross in order to continue on a direct road to the Meuse. On 18 December, United States Army Corps of Engineers blasted the bridges in front of him that he needed to reach his objective, trapping him in the deep valley of the Amblève, downstream from Trois-Ponts. The weather had also improved, permitting the Allied Air Forces to operate. Several P-47 squadrons attacked his column spread over 20 kilometres (12 mi). The air strikes destroyed or heavily damaged numerous vehicles of his Kampfgruppe and made some parts of his itinerary impracticable, slowing down his progression. Peiper was unable to protect his rear, which enabled American troops to recapture and destroy the bridge on the Amblève in Stavelot, cutting him off from the only possible supply road for ammunition and, above all, fuel, which he lacked. In spite of these problems, Peiper continued his progress towards Stoumont before American resistance forced him to retire to La Gleize. Short of fuel, men and ammunition he held out during six days of US Army bombardment and counterattacks. Without supplies and with no contact with other German units behind him, Peiper decided on 24 December to abandon his vehicles and march through the woods to escape. He left with the remaining 800 men and 36 hours later he reached the German lines with 770 men, having covered 20 kilometers by foot in deep snow and freezing temperatures.
End of the war
In January 1945, the Swords were added to his Knight's Cross. The proposal was drafted by Wilhelm Mohnke. The great fame of Peiper as a Waffen-SS commander during the "Battle of the Bulge" was born. At the end of January 1945, Peiper was in the Berlin area. On 4 February, he met for the last time with Himmler at his provisional headquarters. Peiper then went to the Panzergrenadier school in Krhanice until 14 February. From there he joined his unit in the southwest of the area of Farnad. His unit took part in Operation Spring Awakening which failed. Although Peiper’s unit inflicted a large number of casualties, due to his aggressive style of command he lost many men and numerous old companions.
On 1 May, as other units of the LSSAH were forced to retreat into Austria, the men were informed of Adolf Hitler’s death. A few days later, all SS units were ordered to retreat to the west. On 8 May, the LSSAH received the order to cross the Enns River and surrender to the American troops. Accompanied by Paul Gühl, Peiper tried to escape captivity and make his way home. On 22 May, Peiper and Gühl were captured near Schliersee. Through July 1945 he was held in a POW camp at Feuchtwangen in Bavaria. Although he was actively sought by American forces (due to his alleged involvement in the Malmedy massacre), Peiper was not identified until 21 August 1945. This was the day after he was transferred to the interrogation camp of the 3rd US Army in Freising.
During the 1st SS Panzer Division's advance on 17 December 1944, his armored units and halftracks confronted a lightly armed convoy of about 30 American vehicles at the Baugnez crossroads near Malmedy. The troops, mainly elements of the American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, were quickly overcome and captured. Along with other American POWs previously captured, they were ordered to stand in a meadow when for unknown reasons the Germans opened fire on the prisoners with machine guns, killing 84 soldiers, and leaving the bodies in the snow. The survivors were able to reach American lines later that day, and their story spread rapidly throughout the American front lines.
Author Richard Gallagher reported that during the briefing held before the operation, Peiper clearly stated that no quarter should be given nor prisoners taken and that no pity should be shown towards the Belgian civilians. However, Lieutenant Colonel Hal McCown, commander of the 2nd Battalion 119 Infantry Regiment, testified about the treatment his unit was given after being captured on 21 December by Peiper's Kampfgruppe at Froidcour between La Gleize and Stoumont. McCown said he met Peiper in person and based on his observations, American prisoners were at no time mistreated by the SS and the food given to them was nearly as good as that used by the Germans themselves.
Other murders of POWs and civilian population were reported in Büllingen, Ligneuville, Stavelot,[Note 1] Cheneux, La Gleize, Stoumont, and Wereth on 17, 18, 19 and 20 December. On 19 December 1944, in the area between Stavelot and Trois-Ponts, while the Germans were trying to regain control of the bridge over the Amblève River (crucial for allowing reinforcements and supplies to reach the Kampfgruppe) men of Kampfgruppe Peiper killed a number of Belgian civilians. Kampfgruppe Peiper was eventually declared responsible for the deaths of 362 prisoners of war and 111 civilians.
After the surrender of the German armies, some war crimes during the "Battle of the Bulge" were attributed to Kampfgruppe Peiper, resulting in American investigative teams searching POW camps for its men. Jailed in Freising, Upper Bavaria, Peiper underwent his first interrogations. Investigators quickly found that the SS men, including Peiper, although hardened soldiers, were not trained to withstand interrogation. Some men freely gave the requested information, while others only did so after having been allegedly subject to various forms of torture such as beatings, threats and mock executions. Peiper took command responsibility for the actions of the men under his command.
In December 1945, Peiper was transferred to the prison at Schwäbisch Hall, where 1,000 former members of the Leibstandarte were assembled. On 16 April 1946, approximately 300 prisoners were moved from Schwäbisch Hall to Dachau, where they were put on trial.
The 74 defendants included SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, 6th SS Panzer Army commanding general, his chief of staff SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Krämer, SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Prieß, I SS Panzer Corps commander, and Joachim Peiper, commander of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment (the unit to which the crimes were attributed).
Before the trial, occupation authorities reclassified the defendants from prisoners of war to Civilian Internees. The accusations were mainly based on the sworn and written statements provided by the defendants in Schwäbisch Hall. To counter the evidence given in the men's sworn statements and by prosecution witnesses, the lead defense attorney, Lieutenant Colonel Willis M. Everett tried to show that the statements had been obtained by inappropriate methods.
Everett called Lieutenant Colonel Hal McCown to testify about Peiper's troops' treatment of American prisoners at La Gleize. McCown, who, along with his command, had been captured by Peiper at La Gleize, testified that wounded American soldiers in Peiper's custody had received equal priority with German wounded in receiving medical treatment. He testified that during his occupation of the town, Peiper had at all times behaved in a professional and honorable manner.
Everett had decided to call only Peiper to testify. However, other defendants, supported by their German lawyers, wanted to testify as well. This would soon prove to be a huge mistake, for when the prosecution cross-examined the defendants, they behaved like "a bunch of drowning rats (...) turning on each other." According to Everett, these testimonies gave the court enough reason to sentence several of the defendants to death.
The military court was not convinced by Peiper’s testimony about the murder of the POWs under the Kampfgruppe's control. During the trial, several witnesses testified of at least two instances in which Peiper had ordered the murder of prisoners of war. When questioned by the prosecution, Peiper denied these allegations, stating that the allegations were obtained from witnesses under torture. When questioned about the murder of Belgian civilians, Peiper said they were partisans. Although the court could not prove that Peiper had ordered the murders, Peiper nonetheless accepted responsibility for his men's actions.
Together with 42 other defendants, Joachim Peiper was sentenced to death by hanging on 16 July 1946.
The sentences generated significant controversy in some German circles, including the church, leading the commander of the U.S. Army in Germany to commute some of the death sentences to life imprisonment. In addition, the Germans' defense attorney, U.S. military attorney Lt. Col. Willis M. Everett, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that the defendants had been found guilty by means of "illegal and fraudulently procured confessions" and were subjects of mock trial. The turmoil raised by this case caused the Secretary of the Army, Kenneth Royall, to create a commission chaired by Judge Gordon A. Simpson of Texas to investigate. The commission was interested in the Malmedy massacre trial and in other cases judged at Dachau.
The commission arrived in Europe on 30 July 1948 and issued its report on 14 September. In this report, it notably recommended that the twelve remaining death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment. The commission confirmed the accuracy of Everett's accusations regarding mock trials and neither disputed nor denied his charges of torture of the defendants. The commission expressed the opinion that the pre-trial investigation had not been properly conducted and that the members felt that no death sentence should be executed where such a doubt existed.
In response, General Lucius Clay commuted six more death sentences to life imprisonment. But he refused to commute the six remaining death sentences, including Peiper's, though the executions were postponed. The turmoil caused by the commission report caused the U.S. Senate to investigate the trial.
Investigations were opened in the early 1950, including several Senate committees, on one of which was Joseph McCarthy, prepared to launch his sensationalist career. Receiving encouragement and information from right-wing and anti-semitic circles, MacCarthy dominated the proceedings and grabbed headlines. He was also probably encouraged by the right-wing, anti-semitic judge, LeRoy van Roden, who saw the trials as being a Jewish effort to take revenge on the Germans, and who also served on the investigating commissions.
In its investigation of the trial, the Senate Committee on Armed Services came to the conclusion of improper pre-trial procedures, including a mock trial, but not torture as sometimes stated, had indeed affected the trial process. There was little or no doubt that some of the accused were indeed guilty of the massacre.
Release from prison
At the moment I'm negotiating with General Handy [Heidelberg] because [he] wants to hang the unfortunate Peiper. McCloy is powerless, because the Malmedy trial is being handled by Eucom, and is not subordinate to McCloy. As a result, I have decided to cable President Truman and ask him if he is familiar with this idiocy.
Ultimately the sentences of the Malmedy defendants were commuted to life imprisonment and then to time served. Peiper's sentence was commuted to 35 years in 1954 and he was released in December 1956, the last of the Malmedy condemned to be freed. He had served 11 and a half years in prison.
HIAG, an organisation of former Waffen-SS members, had already helped Peiper’s wife find a job near the Landsberg Prison. They then worked to achieve the conditional release of Peiper himself. To obtain his release from prison, Peiper had to prove that he could obtain a job. Through the intermediary of Dr. Albert Prinzing, a former SS-Hauptsturmführer in the Sicherheitsdienst, he got a job at the car manufacturer Porsche.
Return to civilian life
Following his release from Landsberg Prison, Peiper was careful not to associate too closely with former Waffen-SS men and their organization, HIAG, at least publicly. However, privately, he maintained contact with and was closely involved with many former SS members. In 1959, for example, he attended the national meeting of the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients. He drove down with HIAG's official historian Walter Harzer with the express hope of seeing Kurt "Panzer" Meyer. He missed Meyer, but was able to see Sepp Dietrich and Heinz Lammerding at the closed-door meeting.
He was often seen at the funerals of personalities such as Meyer, Dietrich and Paul Hausser. Peiper assisted the efforts of these organizations to rehabilitate the Waffen-SS's reputation by hiding the more ruthless aspects of their past and exalting their military achievements, claiming that the SS were just like other soldiers. Peiper once told one of his friends: "I personally think that every attempt at rehabilitation during our lifetime is unrealistic, but one can still collect material."
On 17 January 1957, he began work at Porsche in Stuttgart in its technical division. He would later represent the company at car exhibitions. He was later put in charge of auto exports to the United States but his wartime criminal conviction prevented him from obtaining a visa for travel to the United States. This would not allow him to maintain this new position.
As he advanced within Porsche, he was accused by Italian union workers of the Boves Massacre in Italy during World War II. Ferry Porsche personally intervened and promised Peiper a senior management position, but this offer was derailed by the trade unions, who objected to allowing persons convicted of war crimes to serve in the upper management of the company. The strong antipathy to Peiper, his association with Ferry Porsche and the related negative impact on sales in Porsche's biggest market, the United States, forced Porsche's management to dismiss him. On 30 December 1960 Peiper filed suit to compel Porsche to fulfil its promises.
In court documents Peiper’s attorney stated that Peiper was not a war criminal and that the Allies had used the trials to defame the German people. He asserted that the Nuremberg trial and the "Malmedy massacre" trial were merely propaganda. Citing documents published by the anti-Communist activist and McCarthyist, as well as controversial scholar and Holocaust denier, Freda Utley, he asserted that the Malmedy massacre trial defendants had been tortured by the Americans. At the request of the court, Porsche and Peiper reached an agreement to terminate the employment contract, and Peiper received six months of wages as compensation. HIAG's official periodical Der Freiwillige capitalized on the award and wrote that Peiper had been "unfairly sentenced" for war crimes. Peiper became a car sales trainer for Volkswagen.
At the beginning of the 1960s the perception that the public opinion had of the Nazi crimes started to change. The German economic recovery did not allow SS men to hide themselves, and holding a high position in society could raise questions that people like Peiper preferred to avoid. The Eichmann and Auschwitz trials in the first half of the 1960s (which got a large audience in West Germany) put a new light on this period. The prosecution was now initiated by the West German authorities themselves, and no longer by the Allies. On the other hand, the statute of limitations for the prosecution of Nazi crimes had been extended several times, which made those who had been involved in these crimes uncomfortable.
In the early 1960s, Peiper's name came up several times in war crimes trials in Germany. He was mentioned in the proceedings against Karl Wolff, Himmler's senior adjutant, which began in early 1962 and concluded in 1964 with a 15-year sentence. Werner Grothmann, Peiper's successor as Himmler's adjutant, was also under investigation. In both of these proceedings, the court heard testimony from notorious former SS member Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski covering Himmler's pre-invasion designs to "rid Russia of 30 million Slavic people" or his pronouncements, following the Minsk killings, that he was "determined to eliminate the Jews" (Peiper was with Himmler at that time, but had gone to a field assignment following his brother's death).
In 1964, Peiper learned that the village of Boves had installed a memorial naming his command as perpetrators of the massacre. He immediately got in touch with others from his unit to coordinate a defense strategy. Mostly it consisted of blaming the Communists for manufacturing false accusations and insisting that the destruction of the village was due to a fierce battle with partisans. In the course of the investigation, they had to file statements.
Peiper claimed his unit massacred no civilians in Boves. He stated that he sent members of his unit to search for the two kidnapped officers taken by partisans into the nearby Bisalta mountains. A platoon was ambushed and, while attempting to rescue it, the Germans came under heavy fire from the partisans. It was the response of the German artillery to this fighting that triggered the fires reported in the village. Peiper claimed that the artillery section remained in Boves to destroy the remaining weapons and ammunition.
On 23 June 1964, criminal charges were filed against Peiper at the Central Office of the State Justice Administration for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg to do with the Boves massacre. The charges included statements from two former Italian partisans who recognised Peiper from a book on the Battle of the Bulge and a photograph of Peiper taken as the village burned below his position. The plaintiffs were represented by Robert W. Kempner, who had been a member of the American council of prosecutors during the Nuremberg trials.
Separate charges were filed against Peiper in December 1964 by Simon Wiesenthal. The investigations, led by the Attorney General of Stuttgart, involved Peiper being accused of having arrested Jews in Borgo San Dalmazzo and of having deported Jews from Northern Italy.
However, neither Klempner nor Wiesenthal were ever able to present the evidence claimed by the Attorney General. In 1967, the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Peiper was later called as a witness during the Werner Best trial. He did not deny having had close contact with Himmler, but he managed to avoid being directly implicated in Nazi war crimes by claiming memory failure.
In 1969, Peiper was a freelance contributor to the magazine Auto, Motor und Sport. In 1972 he moved to Traves in Haute-Saône, France, where he owned property. At that time he was a self-employed translator for the publisher Stuttgarter Motor-Buch Verlag. Under the pen name of "Rainer Buschmann", he translated books devoted to military history from English to German.
Last years and death
Residing in France since 1972, Peiper led a quiet and discreet life; however, he continued to use his given name. In 1974, he was identified by a former Communist resistance member of the region who issued a report for the French Communist Party. In 1976, a Communist historian, investigating the Gestapo archives, found the Peiper file. On 21 June, tracts denouncing his presence were distributed in Traves. A day later, an article in the left-wing publication L'Humanité revealed Peiper's presence in Traves and he received threats that his house would be burned down and his dogs killed.
On receipt of these threats, Peiper, who remained in Traves, sent his family back to Germany. During the night of 13/14 July 1976 (Bastille Day), Peiper's home was attacked. In the ruin, Peiper's charred corpse was found together with a .22 caliber rifle and a pistol. The perpetrators were never identified.
Investigation found that intruders had cut a wire fence between the house and neighboring properties. All three of Peiper's dogs had been wounded. Traces of shot and spent shell casings consistent with the rifle, shotgun and revolver Peiper had to protect himself with were found outside, suggesting he had fired at the intruders from outside the house. But if they had had guns of their own they may not have fired them at all since no bullets or shot was found at the places Peiper had fired from.
Instead, the attackers had thrown firebombs, including at least one Molotov cocktail, at the house to start the fire, which arson specialists found had been set in three locations at once. Just outside the house they found some clothing belonging to Peiper's wife as well as some personal papers, including his last letter to her, and a pair of binoculars. Peiper's body, burnt down to a mere 60 centimetres (24 in), was found in the remains of his study where the papers would have been kept.
Based on the evidence, investigators with the Dijon Police Judiciaire concluded that Peiper had heard the intruders enter his property and left the house to fire at them. When that did not prevent the firebombing, he returned to the house in an attempt to save his and his wife's valuables by throwing them out the study window, continuing to fire at the attackers outside. While the body was too badly burned to determine the exact cause of death, the official conclusion was that he died of smoke inhalation in the attempt and not at the hands of the attackers.
Erwin Ketelhut, a former Leibstandarte artillery captain who had rented the house to his wartime commander, identified the remains the morning after the fire. Sigurd Peiper wanted her husband's body buried in Germany, so it was transported back there, where by law an autopsy had to be performed. His head was initially missing; when it arrived later it had been cut into sections, splitting the only remaining tooth. Joachim Peiper is buried with his family at St. Anna's Church in the Bavarian village of Schondorf am Ammersee.
A group calling itself The Avengers claimed responsibility for his death; the charred remains of the house briefly became a visitor attraction. The circumstances of his death have led to allegations that it was faked.
Because of the murders perpetrated by his unit at Malmedy and other locations, his death sentence and subsequent release, Peiper remained a controversial figure while he lived and after his death. He was a competent, personally courageous soldier and highly respected among his peers. His men were fiercely loyal to him, and he was considered by many to be a "charismatic leader". After the end of the war, he continued to be held in high regard by his surviving comrades, many of whom talked of Der Peiper with admiration and respect. The respect he had garnered among his SS peers helped him to obtain his release from prison after the war ended and to obtain employment.
Historians Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies note that Peiper is "one of the heroes of the Americans who romanticize the Wehrmacht, and especially the Waffen-SS." Within the framework of the Cold War and the McCarthy era, he had been "transformed from villain to hero." His behavior at trial, his physical appearance and his decorations all aided in the process. Smelser and Davies conclude: "Here in the flesh was the perfect mythical man – both a tragic and heroic figure."
- Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (31 May 1940) & 1st Class (12 July 1940)
- Infantry Assault Badge in Bronze (7 September 1940)
- German Cross in Gold on 6 May 1943 as SS-Sturmbannführer and commander of the III. SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 12 "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
- Tank Destruction Badge (21 July 1943)
- Close Combat Clasp in Bronze (7 September 1943) & in Silver (20 October 1943)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- Knight's Cross on 9 March 1943 as SS-Sturmbannführer and commander of the III. SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 2 "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
- Oak Leaves on 27 January 1944 as SS-Obersturmbannführer and commander of SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
- Swords on 11 January 1945 as SS-Obersturmbannführer and commander of SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
- "Here, as had happened before in Baugnez and Ligneuville, without knowledge of their commander, they found a savage outlet of frustration. They dragged civilians from houses on the bank of the river and, as anguished friends and relatives on the other side of the Amblève watched helplessly, twenty-two men, women, and children were murdered."
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