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Joachim Peiper (January 30, 1915 - July 13, 1976) more often known as Jochen Peiper from the common German nickname for Joachim, was a senior Waffen-SS officer in World War II and a convicted war criminal. By the end of his military career in 1945, Peiper was the youngest regimental colonel in the Waffen-SS, holding the rank of SS-Standartenführer. He also served as personal adjutant to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, in the period April 1938 to August 1941.
Peiper was born in Berlin. His father was an Army officer who fought in East Africa during World War I, and he had two brothers, Hans-Hasso and Horst.
World War II
Peiper was recruited into the SS-Verfügungstruppe in 1933. Sepp Dietrich reviewed his application and admitted him into the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) honour guard regiment. In 1935 Peiper attended the SS officer's training school (Junkerschule) at Braunschweig and was commissioned the following year. Peiper was appointed adjutant to Heinrich Himmler in April 1938 and held this position until August 1941, save for a period during the Battle of France in which he was detached for combat service. After returning to frontline duty in late 1941 he moved on to command various infantry and panzer units within the Leibstandarte, by now expanded to a full division.
While on Himmler's staff, Peiper met and married his wife, Sigurd, with whom he had three children: Heinrich, Elke, and Silke. Himmler was particularly fond of Peiper and took a keen interest in his ascension towards command. By age 29, Peiper was a full colonel of the Waffen-SS, well respected and a holder of one of wartime Germany's highest decorations, the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves and Swords personally awarded to him by Adolf Hitler.
Peiper was a skilled combat leader and took part in several major battles of the war. On the Eastern Front, he fought in the battles for Kharkov and the Kursk offensive of 1943, earning particular distinction in the former. In 1944, he commanded Kampfgruppe Peiper of the Leibstandarte division (assigned to the Sixth SS Panzer Army under Sepp Dietrich) during the Battle of the Bulge. Peiper advanced to the town of La Gleize, Belgium, before running out of fuel and coming under heavy fire from American artillery and tanks. He was forced to abandon over a hundred vehicles in the town, including six Tiger II tanks, and made his way back to German lines with 800 men on foot.
During its move from Lanzerath, Belgium to La Gleize, the kampfgruppe killed some 300 American POWs at several places, most notably in the neighbourhood of Malmedy. Moreover, in the area of Stavelot, more than 100 Belgian civilians (including women and children) were killed by units under Peiper’s command.
After the war
After the end of World War II, Peiper and other members of the Waffen-SS were tried for war crimes in the Malmedy massacre trial. Peiper volunteered to take all the blame if the court would set his men free; the court refused. Peiper was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, as were many of his men. He then requested that his men be executed by firing squad; this request was also denied.
The sentences generated significant controversy in some German circles, including the church, leading the commander of the US 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 a mock trial. His claims touched off a major scandal, eventually leading the Senate to become involved.
In its investigation of the trial, the Senate Committee on Armed Services came to the conclusion that improper pre-trial procedures (including mock trial, but not torture as sometime stated) had harmed the process and, although in some cases there was little or no doubt that the accused were indeed guilty of the massacre, the death sentences could not be applied.
Ultimately the sentences of the Malmedy defendants were commuted to life imprisonment and then to time served. Peiper himself was released from prison on parole at the end of December 1956, after serving 11 and a half years.
Peiper has also been accused of, but never prosecuted for, the Boves massacre in Italy on September 8, 1943. In 1968 the German Minister of Justice declared that there was no reason to prosecute Peiper, and the case was dismissed on December 23, 1968.
In 1972 Peiper went to live in Traves, Haute-Saône, France, and supported himself as a translator of English-language military books into German. He sent his wife to safety in Germany following explicit death threats, but himself remained in France, arming himself with a shotgun and accompanied by his dog. He was killed on July 13, 1976 in a fire bomb attack on his house by an armed gang calling itself the "Avengers". The "Avengers" were never identified, but were suspected to be French Communists or former Résistants.
Peiper remains a controversial figure. On the one hand, he was a highly competent soldier, and he was 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.
Indeed, from a purely military point of view Peiper was an excellent example of a dedicated and honorable officer, who never wavered in the line of fire. While he may have been guilty of excesses, historians have accepted the fact that the Eastern Front was a uniquely savage environment, where both sides routinely committed atrocities on each other. For example, in one incident outside Kharkov, 23 captured troops from Peiper's command were savagely tortured by a Soviet Siberian division, some soldiers being castrated and all having their eyes cut out with knives.
Nevertheless, Peiper garnered for himself and his men a unique reputation for callousness, even among the ranks of the Waffen-SS, an organisation itself noted for its brutality. In the east his unit had gained the nickname "the Blowtorch Battalion", after burning several Russian villages and killing their inhabitants (although Peiper claimed it was unrelated to these events, and that the blowtorch epithet came from its use as a tool to unfreeze vehicles in the Russian winter). Furthermore, his troops continued to commit such acts even after being transferred to the west, where such incidents were far less common. It was not the only Waffen-SS unit to do so; Peiper may also have been aware that captured Waffen-SS troops had previously been shot out of hand by British, Canadian and American soldiers. In any case, this would eventually culminate in incidents such as the Malmedy massacre and related crimes against Belgian civilians.
As Himmler's adjutant until late 1941, Peiper would also have been well-acquainted with the planning and staffwork behind Operation Barbarossa; in particular, he could not have been unaware of the anticipated operations the SS would undertake, for example the einsatzgruppen. Peiper himself remained unrepentant about his Nazi past to the end of his life.
Summary of SS career
Dates of rank
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