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Many men soldiers, and supporters of Hitler and his politics, helped Germany do the damage it did during World War II. One of those men was Joachim Peiper.
A young teenager when Hitler first rose to power in his home nation of Germany, Peiper joined the SS after serving as a member of the Hitler Youth. His rise to prominence within the Nazi Party occurred quickly, and he held important positions as a member of the SS by the ages of 18 and 19 years old. Peiper spent his adulthood rising through the ranks of the SS, and in doing so, racked up many accomplishments — and many deaths of his nation’s enemies.
Post-World War II, Peiper spent his years in prison and sitting on trial for his actions, leaving behind a legacy of war crimes. Yet Joachim Peiper lived a life filled with interesting moments and facts beyond his work as an SS official. These are ten facts about Peiper that offer insight into the man, the SS legend, and the war criminal.
Peiper earned more than 20 military awards and honors during his service as a member of the Nazi regime’s SS — and many of those achievements were accomplished before Peiper reached his mid-twenties in age. Almost as quickly as his career in the SS began, Peiper was earning both the admiration of his superiors and military awards.
He was honored for his skill and expertise in leading Nazi troops upon the battlefield, earning awards that included the Eastern Front Medal in September of 1942; the Infantry Assault Badge in Bronze in the fall of 1940; the Close Combat Clasp; and the prestigious Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Peiper also earned accolades for his success as an SS member, achieving accomplishments like the Sudetenland Medal in 1938; the SS-Honour Ring; two SS Long Service Awards for four and eight years of service; and the Panzer Badge.
Peiper acted as high-ranking SS official Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand man for many of his years, and the two maintained a close relationship even after the fall of the Nazi regime. During his very early years within the Nazi Party, Peiper formed a relationship, if not friendship, with Himmler that served him well during his years of service as an SS officer.
Soon after officially becoming a full-fledged member of the SS, Peiper was placed in the post of adjutant to Himmler, working in his anteroom alongside the highest ranking members of the SS. Himmler liked Peiper and took him under his wing. Once Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, Himmler began to bring Peiper everywhere he went on official SS business.
Peiper took on, even more, power under Himmler’s watch as he began to assist in the creation and implementation of policies intended to control the Polish populace. Peiper was present at the gassing of Polish psychiatric facilities; alongside SS troops at the Battle of France; and meetings of Reich leaders, during which Peiper was privy to Hitler’s plans for war.
As Germany’s quest for power intensified, Peiper opted to join the forces on the battlefront, and Himmler gave his young mentee permission to fight as a company commander in the 11th Company of 1st SS Division. Once the fighting died down, Peiper returned to Himmler’s side and accompanied his superior on meetings with international politicians and figureheads, and on inspections of Hitler’s concentration camps.
It wasn’t until the war with the USSR began that Peiper left Himmler’s employ for good, once again choosing to see combat.
Peiper never rescinded his support of Hitler, or his adherence to the Nazi mindset, and kept close ties to his former SS allies and friends despite undergoing mandated rehabilitation. Although Peiper faced great accusations, and significant judgment, for his actions while a member of the SS, he did not waver in his political stance or associations — he remained a man of the SS throughout his entire life.
After serving out his post-war sentence in a Belgium prison, Peiper was required to secure a job to prove that he was working towards rehabilitation. With the help of the SS allies, Peiper earned his first job at a car manufacturer. This, however, was not his last contact with his former SS friends. In his life after prison, and after the war, Peiper maintained regular contact with those in the SS whom he was close with, top-ranking SS officials like Kurt “Panzer” Meyer, Sepp Dietrich, and Paul Hausser.
Peiper even tried to help restore glory to the SS by hiding information about its dirtiest deeds. Perhaps most indicative of Peiper’s mindset, though, was a remark he once shared with a friend: “I personally think that every attempt at rehabilitation during our lifetime is unrealistic.”
Peiper was the man responsible for developing a particular enemy attack: he was the first to attack enemy-controlled villages from all sides during the dark cover of nightfall while simultaneously advancing his armored tanks at full speed and firing at all visible buildings. Thanks to this innovative battle tactic, which he first used in February of 1943, Peiper was awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold award in May of that same year.
When Peiper and his troops began to use this new strategy on a regular basis, they became known as the “Blowtorch Battalion” — they were recognized for setting large-scale fires in villages, torching them in their entirety and murdering the residents. This attack-on-all-sides method also became Peiper’s calling card and was believed to represent his “win at all costs” mentally in combat.
When World War II ended, Peiper was accused of a variety of war crimes committed in Germany, Italy, and Belgium. However, he escaped sentencing for many of these and served time in prison for only the crimes he committed while in Belgium.
Luckily for Peiper, the courts of Italy and Germany decided that the charges against him lacked enough evidence to allow for fair prosecution, and he escaped those trials unscathed.
Instead, he welcomed the charges — or, as he did in his older years, claimed he could not remember the facts of what, exactly, it was that he did. Over the course of his post-wartime trials, Peiper faced accusations of war crimes in the vein of POW murders, violations of wartime treaties, and even playing witness to some greater war crimes. He did not outright deny any of these charges; in fact, he took responsibility for both his actions and those of the men under his command.
Though he faced much questioning, and even torture tactics, by those conducting the investigation, Peiper admitted that he accepted all responsibility for the actions of the men under his command — even if it was brutal and uncalled for. In his later years, Peiper was called before trials and juries who wanted to convict other SS officials; instead of offering details or admonitions of guilt, Peiper claimed that his failing memory prevented him from recalling specifics, which the courts believed.
Sentenced to Death
Peiper was sentenced to death by hanging, but the sentence was never carried out. Truthfully, and with great fortune, Peiper evaded death; though he was convicted by a jury, controversy befell the court proceedings. Because of this, United States’ officials changed Peiper’s sentence from immediate death to lengthy imprisonment. It was thought that Peiper and other defendants had earned their “guilty” verdicts due to a flawed judicial process, so all of Peiper’s war crimes were commuted in their sentencing.
By the end of these trials and the time period, Peiper was required to serve 12 years in prison for his war crimes in Belgium alone.
8. Freelance writer and book translator
His work was published under the pen name, or nom de plume, Rainer Buschmann. After trying his hand as an automobile salesman and other professions, Peiper decided to publish written works under a fake name. He wrote for the French magazine Auto, Motor und Sport, and became a self–employed translator for French book publisher Stuttgarter Motor-Buch Verlag.