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. 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.
Induction into Waffen-SS
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, except for a period during the Battle of France (1940) in which he was detached for combat service.
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 returned to frontline duty in late 1941 during the war against the Soviet Union. he moved on to command various infantry and panzer units within the Leibstandarte, by now expanded to a full division.
Peiper was a skilled combat leader, and took part in several major battles on the Eastern Front, notably the battles for Kharkov -- where he earned particular distinction -- and the Kursk offensive of 1943.
Battle of the Bulge
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 as far as 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.
In the early days of this campaign, his unit was involved in firefight with an American unit, which gave rise to the "Malmedy massacre" hoax.
Post War Imprisonment
See full article at Malmedy massacre'
After the end of World War II, Peiper and other members of the Waffen-SS were tried for alleged crimes at Malmedy. Peiper volunteered to take all the blame if the court would set his men free; the court refused. Peiper as commanding officer 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.
Outpouring of Sympathy
The sentences generated significant controversy in Germany (with the church requesting his release) and in the USA. The commander of the U.S. Army in Germany was thus led to commute the death sentences of Peiper and his co-accused 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 subjected of a mock trial. His claims touched off a major scandal, eventually leading the U.S. 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 a 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 the night of July 13/14, 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.
Peiper himself remained unrepentant about his past to the end of his life, saying:
"I was a National-Socialist and I remain one...The Germany of today is no longer a great nation, it has become a province of Europe."
- "I recognize that after the battles of Normandy my unit was composed mainly of young, fanatical soldiers. A good deal of them had lost their parents, their sisters and brothers during the bombing. They had seen for themselves in Cologne, thousands of mangled corpses after a terror raid had passed. Their hatred for the enemy was such; I swear it and I could not always keep it under control."
- "Imagine yourself acclaimed, a decorated national hero, an idol to millions of desperate people, then within six months, condemned to death by hanging."
- "It's so long ago now. Even I don't know the truth. If I had ever known it, I have long forgotten it. All I know is that I took the blame as a good commanding-officer should have been, and was punished accordingly." -- Peiper on the Malmedy incident, excerpted from "A Traveler's Guide to the Battle for the German Frontier" by Charles Whiting
- "My men are the products of total war, grown up in the streets of scattered towns without any education. The only thing they knew was to handle weapons for the Reich. They were young people with a hot heart and the desire to win or die: right or wrong – my country. When seeing today the defendants in the dock, don't believe them to be the old Kampfgruppe Peiper. All of my old friends and comrades have gone before. The real outfit is waiting for me in Valhalla."
- "History is always written by the victor, and the histories of the losing parties belong to the shrinking circle of those who were there."