Joachim Peiper

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Joachim Peiper

Joachim „Jochen“ Sigismund Albrecht Klaus Arwed Detlef Peiper (b. 30 January 1915 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf; d. 13 July 1976 in Traves, France) was a German officer of the SS and Waffen-SS 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 Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler in the period April 1938 to August 1941.

Military Career

Joachim Peiper with his father Hauptmann (later Major) Woldemar Peiper (1878-1960) and his brother SS-Untersturmführer (finally SS-Hauptsturmführer) Horst Peiper (1912-1941) at Christmas in Berlin in 1939
SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Guhl, SS-Sturmbannführer Jochen Peiper and SS-Untersturmführer Werner Wolff in Reggio Emilia, Italy in August 1943
Tiger II of the 501st ss heavy panzer battalion from the Kampfgruppe „Peiper“; riding along are Fallschirmjäger of the Luftwaffe during the Ardennes Offensive.
Joachim Peiper with his wife Sigurd "Sigi", son Hinrich and daughter Elke (daughter Silke is probably taking the picture), c. 1970
Joachim Peiper and his comrade Fritz Kosmehl, his former tank radio operator (wounded and blind), c. 1970 (other sources state 1972)
Grave of the family in Unterschondorf am Ammersee, Landkreis Landsberg am Lech (Bavaria)

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.

Eastern Front

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 wrote about the Operation Greif after the war:

At dawn on the 17th [December 1944] we surprisingly penetrated to Honsfeld. An American reconnaissance unit was stationed at Honsfeld. The vehicles were standing in front of all the doors of all the houses in town and there were plenty of weapons around, particularly tank destroyer, but the troops were not at their weapons or their vehicles, but were in the houses asleep. For that reason there was hardly any fighting at all. The first moving spearhead, at the point of which 1st Lt. Preuss was driving, merely shot at some groups of houses for preventative reasons and the town was passed without any serious resistance. At that time, I was with the point. My own command group which was in march in the convey behind the group of Poetschke had remained behind and I myself decided to personally remain with the point in order to be able to take action rapidly, to be able to encourage the troops out front and in order to be able to evaluate the results of the reconnaissance performed by the units of Knittel and Hardieck (Skorzeny), both which were to pass by me [...] But after seeing Skorzeny in the pre-attack meetings and the seemingly receiving endless reminders about the codes to prevent troops from firing on the commandos in their American garb, Peiper lost sight of them as soon as he rushed from the start line. Weren’t they supposed to fan out and seize bridges for him? “They might as well have stayed home,” Peiper grumbled, “as they were never near the head of the column were they planned to be [...]”

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

Malmedy Trial

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.

Release

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 objective basis to prosecute Peiper, and the case was dismissed on December 23, 1968. As the unit was an elite unit used in pro-German propaganda, claims of atrocities by the unit also had great anti-German propaganda value.

After release from prison, Peiper worked for both Porsche and Volkswagen.

Assassination

In 1972, Peiper went to live in Traves, Haute-Saône, France, and supported himself as a translator of English-language military books into German. 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. Peiper received threats that his house would be burned down and his dogs killed. On receipt of these threats, Peiper, sent his family to Germany. He himself remained in France, arming himself with a shotgun and accompanied by his dog.

During the night of 13/14 July 1976 (Bastille Day), Peiper's home was attacked. In the ruins, Peiper's charred corpse was found. 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. The police investigation concluded that Peiper had died of smoke inhalation while attempting to save valuables and firing on his attackers. All three of Peiper's dogs had been wounded by the attackers. The armed gang, that murdered Peiper, calling itself "The Avengers", were never identified, but were suspected to be French Communists.

Family

Dorothee Peiper-Riegraf (1948–2019), son Hinrichs wife and mother of his children, Joachim's grandchildren.

Marriage

Jochen Peiper had two brothers: Hans-Hasso (1910–1942) and SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Horst Peiper (1912–1941). Jochen married his fiancée Sigurd "Sigi" Hinrichsen (1912–1979) on 29 June 1939 (other sources claim September 1939). Sigi was one of Himmler’s personal secretaries and a close friend of Hedwig Potthast, Himmler's mistress. They had three children:

  • Elke (b. 7 July 1940), Linguist and Professor in Munich
  • Hinrich (b. 14 April 1942), Lawyer, among others places at Dresdner Bank in Frankfurt am Main; from 2003 "General Manager of the New York Branches" and thus direct contact of Dresdner Bank for the US supervisory authorities; ∞ Dorothee Riegraf (1948–2019); hoems in New York, Frankfurt, Berlin, they finally lived in 88175 Scheidegg (Am Sonnenhang 5), a licensed Kneipp cure spa and open-air health resort, and were renowned art collectors and museum sponsors.
  • Silke (b. 7 March 1944), lived in Hamburg and was a businesswoman in Frankfurt; ∞ textile merchant in 1972

Quotations

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."

SS-Promotions

WWII

Awards and decorations

Pre-war

WWII

  • Iron Cross (1939)
    • 2nd Class (31 May 1940)
    • 1st Class (12 July 1940)
  • Infantry Assault Badge in Bronze (7 September 1940)
  • SS Long Service Award (SS-Dienstauszeichnung), 4th and 3rd Grade for 4 and 8 years
  • Panzer Badge (Panzerkampfabzeichen des Heeres) in Silver (50, maybe 75)
    • Though there is no documentation of him receiving this award for 75 engagements, there are several formal photographs of him wearing the award as an Obersturmbannfuhrer. One of Peiper's uniforms, on display at the Virginia War Museum, bears the Tank Badge with "50". This uniform bears the rank insignia of an Obersturmbannführer, so Peiper could have earned a higher grade of the award before the war was over.
  • Eastern Front Medal (Ostmedaille) on 1 September 1942
  • 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.(gepanzert)/SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 2 "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
      • According to Scherzer as commander of the III.(gepanzert)/2. Panzergrenadier-Regiment "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
    • 377th Oak Leaves on 27 January 1944 as SS-Obersturmbannführer and commander of SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
    • 119th Swords on 11 January 1945 as SS-Obersturmbannführer and commander of SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"

Further reading