MarketInsight | The Bizarre Story of Joachim Peiper
(Warning: This story may shock and anger you.)
By late 1944 it was obvious to everyone that Germany was going to lose the war. Obvious to everyone, that is, but Adolph Hitler. The Fuhrer, who had four months left to live, conceived an audacious plan to turn the tide of war. His troops would take the offensive on the Western Front, driving out of the Ardennes and then turning north to seize Antwerp and split the Allied armies in two. The plan was a replication of the 1940 attack that had knocked France out of the war. This time the result would be different.
SS General Sepp Dietrich was assigned to command the attack, which began on Dec. 16, 1944, in the midst of bad weather. Another SS officer, Colonel Joachim Peiper, spearheaded the operation. He was ordered to keep moving. Time was of the essence. He was given a map of U.S. fuel depots to refuel his tanks. Dietrich would allegedly commit a series of war crimes. He dressed some of his men in American uniforms and, more significantly, his troops massacred prisoners along the way to save time. The most infamous of these massacres occurred at a spot called Malmedy on Dec. 17. It was there that the Germans executed 83 American POWs. They used machine guns and left the dead bodies in the snow.
The decision to murder unarmed prisoners cost the Germans. As word leaked out, the Americans famously dug in at places like Bastogne and Ambleve. At Bastogne, soldiers of the 101st Airborne, under the command of General McAuliffe, held off the German advance for more than a week until they were eventually relieved by units of Patton’s Third Army. In the United States, we remember the heroic actions of these soldiers as the Battle of the Bulge.
After the war, Joachim Peiper was one of hundreds of Germans who were tried for war crimes. His trial took place at Dachau, sight of an infamous Nazi death camp. The trials at Dachau were less famous than the ones held at Nuremberg. Seventy-three members of Kampf Gruppe Peiper were put on trial for 13 separate massacres involving 373 prisoners of war and 111 civilians. Forty-three, including Peiper himself were sentenced to death by hanging. That should have been the end of the story. It wasn’t.
Following the trials, the Germans complained their confessions had been obtained under torture. Peiper’s sentence was commuted to life and then to 35 years and ultimately, he was released in 1956 having served 12 years for one of the most heinous war crimes of all time. Joachim Peiper, now 41 years old, was offered a job working for Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche, son of the man who helped Adolph Hitler design the original Volkswagen. Ferry promised to promote Peiper, but when workers at Porsche’s factories in Italy began to complain about Peiper’s involvement in a different massacre, one that took place in 1943, Ferry let him go.
Peiper sued for wrongful termination, arguing that he had never committed any atrocities. When the case was settled out of court in Peiper’s favor, it was seen as a vindication and added to the former SS officer’s cult status amongst right-wing Europeans. Peiper was not done. He took a job with Volkswagen training salesmen to sell cars. In 1972, Peiper retired to a small town in France. Several years later word got out that the town was housing a war criminal. Local communists, on Bastille Day in 1976, attacked his villa and set it on fire. Peiper’s charred body was found the next day. No one was ever charged with the crime.
Scott A. Grant is a local author, historian, columnist, and speaker. He is president of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.