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Publication Date

Summer 6-15-2022


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The name Joachim (or “Jochen”) Peiper is instantly recognizable to any American with a passing knowledge of World War II. He was the commander of the Waffen-SS battlegroup held responsible for the “Malmédy massacre” of American prisoners of war during Hitler’s Ardennes offensive. At the time of his 1946 trial by a U.S. Army court, he was called “the most hated man in the United States.” Given the crimes of which he was accused – the slaughter of hundreds of POWs and Belgian civilians –this is easy to understand. Less so is the attention that this man- a relatively minor figure in the host of World War II villains-has attracted over the three-quarters of a century since its end. Peiper’s life and career have been the subjects of multiple biographies, some superficial, others the product of prodigious research, and have inspired a stage play by a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. This is due in part to the notoriety engendered by the much publicized Malmédy massacre, the worst atrocity committed by Nazi Germany against U.S. forces, and the war crimes trial that followed, the most controversial of the many trials conducted by the United States. But it is also the outgrowth of Peiper’s personality, one that some people who came in contact with him including, ironically, Americans, found appealing. He was intelligent and well-read, good-looking (a dead-ringer for the actor Ray Milland, one person who met him thought), and fluent in English, a vital advantage in his interactions with largely monolingual Americans. His mysterious death in a remote French village early on the morning of Bastille Day, 1976, has served to further stimulate public interest in Peiper.