Jochen Peiper’s reaction to his death sentence

 

Oh coarse we know this is not how our man  met his fate, but he did not know at this moment, when the verdict was read, that he would avoid the gallows. A truly honorable soldier whom you can see clinches his jaw and pinches his lips but then turns and seems to be holding back a smile.

The trial took place at Dachau from 16 May to 16 July 1946 before a military tribunal of senior American officers, operating under rules established by the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal.

The 74 defendants included SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, 6th SS Panzer Army commanding general, his chief of staff SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Krämer, SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Prieß, I SS Panzer Corps commander, and Joachim Peiper, commander of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment (the unit to which the crimes were attributed).

Before the trial, occupation authorities reclassified the defendants from prisoners of war to Civilian Internees. The accusations were mainly based on the sworn and written statements provided by the defendants in Schwäbisch Hall. To counter the evidence given in the men’s sworn statements and by prosecution witnesses, the lead defense attorney, Lieutenant Colonel Willis M. Everett tried to show that the statements had been obtained by inappropriate methods.

Everett called Lieutenant Colonel Hal McCown to testify about Peiper’s troops’ treatment of American prisoners at La Gleize. McCown, who, along with his command, had been captured by Peiper at La Gleize, testified that wounded American soldiers in Peiper’s custody had received equal priority with German wounded in receiving medical treatment. He testified that during his occupation of the town, Peiper had at all times behaved in a professional and honorable manner.

Everett had decided to call only Peiper to testify. However, other defendants, supported by their German lawyers, wanted to testify as well. This would soon prove to be a huge mistake, for when the prosecution cross-examined the defendants, they behaved like “a bunch of drowning rats (…) turning on each other.”According to Everett, these testimonies gave the court enough reason to sentence several of the defendants to death.

The military court was not convinced by Peiper’s testimony about the murder of the POWs under the Kampfgruppe’s control. During the trial, several witnesses testified of at least two instances in which Peiper had ordered the murder of prisoners of war. When questioned by the prosecution, Peiper denied these allegations, stating that the allegations were obtained from witnesses under torture. When questioned about the murder of Belgian civilians, Peiper said they were partisans.  Although the court could not prove that Peiper had ordered the murders, Peiper nonetheless accepted responsibility for his men’s actions.

Together with 42 other defendants, Joachim Peiper was sentenced to death by hanging on 16 July 1946.

The sentences generated significant controversy in some German circles, including the church, leading the commander of the U.S. Army in Germany to commute some of the death sentences 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 subjects of mock trial. The turmoil raised by this case caused the Secretary of the Army, Kenneth Royall, to create a commission chaired by Judge Gordon A. Simpson of Texas to investigate. The commission was interested in the Malmedy massacre trial and in other cases judged at Dachau.

The commission arrived in Europe on 30 July 1948 and issued its report on 14 September. In this report, it notably recommended that the twelve remaining death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment. The commission confirmed the accuracy of Everett’s accusations regarding mock trials and neither disputed nor denied his charges of torture of the defendants. The commission expressed the opinion that the pre-trial investigation had not been properly conducted and that the members felt that no death sentence should be executed where such a doubt existed.

In response, General Lucius Clay commuted six more death sentences to life imprisonment. But he refused to commute the six remaining death sentences, including Peiper’s, though the executions were postponed. The turmoil caused by the commission report caused the U.S. Senate to investigate the trial.

A popular Wehrmacht ex-general Heinz Guderian actively campaigned for Peiper. For example, he wrote to one of his subordinates in 1951:

At the moment I’m negotiating with General Handy [Heidelberg] because [he] wants to hang the unfortunate Peiper. McCloy is powerless, because the Malmedy trial is being handled by Eucom, and is not subordinate to McCloy. As a result, I have decided to cable President Truman and ask him if he is familiar with this idiocy.

Ultimately the sentences of the Malmedy defendants were commuted to life imprisonment and then to time served. Peiper’s sentence was commuted to 35 years in 1954 and he was released in December 1956, the last of the Malmedy condemned to be freed.He had served 11 and a half years in prison.

HIAG, an organisation of former Waffen-SS members, had already helped Peiper’s wife find a job near the Landsberg Prison. They then worked to achieve the conditional release of Peiper himself. To obtain his release from prison, Peiper had to prove that he could obtain a job. Through the intermediary of Dr. Albert Prinzing, a former SS-Hauptsturmführer in the Sicherheitsdienst, he got a job at the car manufacturer Porsche.

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Published in: on June 25, 2017 at 5:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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