The definitive biography of the fearsome and controversial German SS tank commander of “Hitler’s Own” Panzer Division.
by Danny S. Parker
Joachim Peiper, generally referred to at the time and after the war as Jochen Peiper, was a key figure in the German SS and police organization from 1935 to the end of Nazi rule in Germany as well as in postwar trials and connections between former higher SS officers. He had both a professional and a personally close tie to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the German police apparatus. The professional tie was that Himmler’s attention had been drawn to Peiper who was assigned to Himmler’s headquarters as a result. The personal tie was that of the two key secretaries of Himmler, one became Himmler’s mistress and the other Peiper’s wife. The two women were close friends and remained so, and thus Peiper learned about events in headquarters after he left it. In this book, therefore, the reader can obtain a realistic sense of how the top of the German police apparatus operated before and during World War II and also the extent to which Himmler seriously believed some of the weirder notions he acted on like the connection of so-called Aryans to Tibet.
What distinguishes this book is that the author combines an extraordinarily careful search for new sources as well as the existing literature with a general fairness in his judgments about the individuals and events in Peiper’s life. After leaving Himmler’s headquarters, Peiper participates in the fighting on the Eastern Front, in Italy, and in the West. It is in connection with the Battle of the Bulge and the murder of a substantial number of surrendered American soldiers near Malmédy in Belgium that Peiper has come to appear in American literature on the war. He was captured and tried by the Americans in the famous or notorious Dachau trial. Anyone accused of killing lots of Jews and surrendered American soldiers was of great interest to Senator Joseph McCarthy who saw to it that the Dachau cases were redone, and all defendants, including Peiper, got off easy.
The author explains in this very well-written book how Peiper was involved in several later trials and interacted with other former SS officers from his new home. That was a house he purchased in the village of Traves in eastern France. His death there in 1976 remains an open case, but this reviewer finds the author’s explanation that he died while fighting a fire in that house set by local youngsters a most likely one. From the special ceremony when Peiper is sworn into the SS to the arguments over the burial of his charred remains, the book offers a full and thoughtful account of an important figure in the Nazi political and military system.