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September 11, 2010

“Peiper actually volunteered for classes in torture at Dachau”

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:18 am

The title of this post comes from a quote on a blog which you can read here.  Here is the full quote:

During his SS officer training, Peiper actually volunteered for classes in torture at Dachau inside the infamous Jewish concentration camp.

Joaquim Peiper in his SS dress uniform

Peiper was SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiper, 1st SS Panzer Division, Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler; he was prosecuted as a war criminal in the infamous Malmédy massacre case.  A caption under a photo on the blog cited above identifies the proceedings against Peiper as “The Nuremberg Trials 1946,” but Peiper was actually prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal  held at the Dachau garrison, next door to the the former Dachau concentration camp.

Tour guides at the Dachau memorial site routinely tell visitors that  prisoners were tortured at Dachau, but neglect to mention which prisoners were tortured. In June 1945, the former Dachau concentration camp became War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 where 30,000 accused German war criminals were held while they awaited trial by the American Military Tribunal. Most of  the Germans were never put on trial, but many of them were tortured at Dachau to obtain confessions before they were prosecuted.

The tour guides also tell visitors that  Dachau had a “School of Terror” where SS men learned how to torture prisoners, but neglect to tell visitors that it was the SS men, who were accused of being war criminals, that were tortured by the American interrogators.

Kurt Framm was accused in the Malmédy Massacre case

The photograph above shows Herbert Rosenstock, an American military interpreter, seated next to 2nd Lt. Kurt Flamm, an SS man, who is answering questions put to him by the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Burton F. Ellis, who is standing. Note the marks on the face of 2nd Lt. Flamm.  It looks like he might have cut himself shaving.  Or maybe he had just come from the torture chamber where he was worked over to prepare him for his testimony.

The Malmédy Massacre, which was the name given to the shooting of 84 American soldiers who had surrendered, took place on December 17, 1944, the second day of the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, during the summer of 1945, the US occupation authorities rounded up over 1,000 former soldiers in the 1st SS Panzer Division and interrogated them. Seventy-five of them were originally charged as war criminals in the Malmédy case.

The accused in the proceedings included General Josef “Sepp” Dietrich, commander of the Sixth Panzer Army, who was a long-time personal friend of Adolf Hitler.   Peiper was the commanding officer of “Kampfgrüppe Peiper,” the armored battle group which spearheaded the German attack in Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive, better known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge. Peiper’s rank was the equivalent of an American Lt. Col. when he was assigned on December 16, 1944 to lead the tank attack, but after the battle, he was promoted to Colonel. Peiper preferred to be called by his nickname, Jochen, rather than his real first name, Joachim.

One of those who were charged was 18-year-old Arvid Freimuth who committed suicide in his cell before the trial started. Charges were dismissed against Marcel Boltz after it was learned that he was a French citizen; France had made a law that no French citizen could be tried as a war criminal.  That left 73 men who were ultimately prosecuted by the American Military.  America had no law against prosecuting American soldiers who committed war crimes in World War II, but no American “war criminals” were ever prosecuted.

My favorite photo of Joaquim Peiper

The proceedings in the Malmédy Massacre case started on May 12, 1946 and the verdicts were read on July 16, 1946. All of the 73 men on trial were convicted and 42 were sentenced to death by hanging.

None of the convicted SS soldiers were ever executed and by 1956, all of them had been released from prison. All of the death sentences had been commuted to life in prison. As it turned out, the Malmédy Massacre proceedings at Dachau had become a controversial case which dragged on for over ten years, and had resulted in criticism of the American Occupation, the war crimes military tribunals, the Jewish prosecutors and interrogators at Dachau and the whole American system of justice.

Before the last man, who had been convicted in the Dachau proceedings, walked out of the Landsberg am Lech prison as a free man, the aftermath of the case had involved the US Supreme Court, the International Court at the Hague, the US Congress, Dr. Johann Neuhäusler, a Bishop from Munich, who was a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp, and the government of the new Federal Republic of Germany.

The accused SS men claimed that, before the court proceedings, they had already had a trial, which was conducted in a room with black curtains, lit only by two candles. The judge was an American Lt. Col. who sat at a table draped in black with a white cross on it. After these mock trials in which witnesses testified against the accused, each SS man was told that he had been sentenced to death, but nevertheless he would have to write out his confession. When all of them refused to write a confession, the prosecution dictated statements which they were forced to sign under threats of violence.

There was no question that these mock trials had actually taken place, since the prosecution admitted it during the investigation after the Dachau proceedings ended.

According to James J. Weingartner, the author of A Peculiar Crusade: Willis M. Everett and the Malmedy Massacre, Lt. Col. Peiper had presented to the American defense attorney a summary of allegations of abuse made to him by his soldiers. The SS soldiers claimed that they had been beaten by the American interrogators and that one of the original 75 accused men, 18-year-old Arvid Freimuth, had hanged himself in his cell after being repeatedly beaten.

A statement, supposedly written by Freimuth, although portions of it were not signed by him, was introduced during the proceedings as evidence against the other accused. As in the Nuremberg IMT and the other Dachau proceedings, the accused were charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, as well as with specific incidents of murder, so Freimuth’s statement was relevant to the case, even after he was no longer among the accused himself.

An important part of the defense case was based on the fact that the accused were classified as Prisoners of War when they were forced to sign statements incriminating themselves even before they were charged with a war crime.

As POWs, they were under the protection of the Geneva Convention of 1929, which prohibited the kind of coercive treatment that the accused claimed they had been subjected to in order to force them to sign statements of guilt. Article 45 of the Geneva Convention said that Prisoners of War were “subject to the laws, regulations and orders in force in the armies of the detaining powers.” That meant that they were entitled to the same Fifth Amendment rights as American soldiers.

After being held in prison for an average of five months, the SS  men had been charged as war criminals on April 11, 1946, a little over a month before their case before the American military tribunal was set to begin. By virtue of the charge, they were automatically reduced to the status of “civilian internee” and no longer had the protection of the Geneva Convention.

Lt. Col. Rosenfeld, who was the “law member” of the proceedings against the SS men, ruled against a defense motion to drop the charges; he ruled  that the men, accused in the Malmédy case, had never been Prisoners of War because they became war criminals the moment they committed their alleged acts and were thus not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention of 1929.

On March 10, 1945, an order signed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower had reduced the status of all German POWs to that of “disarmed enemy forces,” which meant that they were no longer protected under the rules of the Geneva Convention after the war.

Moreover, as the law member of the panel of judges, Lt. Col. Rosenfeld ruled that “to admit a confession of the accused, it need not be shown such confession was voluntarily made….” Contrary to the rules of the American justice system, the German war criminals, who were prosecuted by the American Military Tribunal, were presumed guilty and the burden of proof was on them, not on the prosecution.

The prosecution case in the Malmédy masssacre proceedings hinged on the accusation that Adolf Hitler himself had given the order that no prisoners were to be taken during the Battle of the Bulge and that General “Sepp” Dietrich had passed down this order to all the  commanding officers in his Sixth Panzer Army. This meant that, in the eyes of the Americans, there was a German conspiracy to kill American prisoners of war and thus, all of the accused were guilty because they were participants in a “common plan” to break the rules of the Geneva Convention. Yet General Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army had taken thousands of other prisoners who were not shot. According to US Army figures, there was a total of 23,554 Americans captured during the Battle of the Bulge.  The alleged “Hitler order” to kill all the Allied POWs was never found.

The main evidence in the prosecution case was the sworn statements signed by the accused even before they were charged with a war crime, statements which their American defense attorney claimed were obtained by means of mock trials and beatings in violation of the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929. The war crimes with which they were charged were likewise violations of the Geneva Convention of 1929, a double standard which didn’t seem right to their defense attorney, Lt. Col. Willis M. Everett.

Another double standard that bothered Everett was that there had been many incidents in which American soldiers were not put on trial for killing German Prisoners of War, but the defense was not allowed to mention this. Any of the accused men who inadvertently said anything about American soldiers breaking the rules of the Geneva Convention were promptly silenced and these comments were stricken from the record.  The killing of SS soldiers who had surrendered when the Dachau camp was liberated was unknown at that time because the US Army had kept this a secret for more than 40 years.

Following the defeat of the German Army in World War II, the Judge Advocate Department of the Third US Army had set up a War Crimes Branch which conducted 489 court proceedings in which 1,672 German war criminals were charged. This was apart from the proceedings against the major German war criminals before an International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Most of the secondary proceedings conducted by the American occupation forces were held at Dachau, between November 15, 1945 and 1948.  No Allied soldiers were ever prosecuted for war crimes committed during World War II.

I would like to know what kind of torture methods Peiper learned at Dachau.  Water boarding maybe?  He certainly got a lesson in torture methods when he was a prisoner at Dachau before he was prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal.

The training school at Dachau was for concentration camp administrators; Peiper probably did not take any classes at Dachau, since he had nothing whatsoever to do with the concentration camps.

The photo above shows Lt. Virgil Lary in the courtroom, as he identifies  Pvt. 1st Class Georg Fleps, a Waffen-SS soldier from Rumania, who allegedly fired the first two shots with his pistol in the Malmedy Massacre.

Some versions of the story say that Fleps fired a warning shot in the air when several prisoners tried to make a run for it. Other versions say that he deliberately took aim and shot one of the Americans. Panic ensued and the SS soldiers then began firing upon the prisoners with their machine guns.

The exact number of American soldiers who surrendered to the Germans is unknown, but according to various accounts, it was somewhere between 85 and 125. After the captured Americans were herded into a field, they were allegedly shot down by Waffen-SS men from Peiper’s Battle Group in what an American TV documentary characterized as an orgy, motivated by German “joy of killing.”

Forty-three of the Americans taken prisoner that day managed to escape and lived to tell about it. One of them was Kenneth Ahrens, who was shot twice in the back. Seventeen of the survivors ran across the snow-covered field, and made their way to the village of Malmedy where they joined the 291st Engineer Battalion.

The massacre occurred at approximately 1 p.m. on December 17th and the first survivors were picked up at 2:30 p.m. on the same day by a patrol of the 291st Engineer Battalion. Their story of the unprovoked massacre was immediately sent to General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the war in Europe, who made it a point to disseminate the story to the reporters covering the battle.

The Inspector General of the American First Army learned about the massacre three or four hours after the first survivors were rescued. By late afternoon that day, the news had reached the forward American divisions. In his book , entitled The Ardennes, The Battle of the Bulge, Hugh Cole wrote the following:

Thus Fragmentary Order 27 issued by Headquarters, 328th Infantry on 21 December for the attack scheduled for the following day says: “No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoners but will be shot on sight.”

In his book called The Other Price of Hitler’s War: German Military & Civilian Losses Resulting from WW 2, author Martin Sorge wrote the following regarding the events that took place after the massacre:

“It was in the wake of the Malmedy incident at Chegnogne that on New Year’s Day 1945 some 60 German POWs were shot in cold blood by their American guards. The guilt went unpunished. It was felt that the basis for their action was orders that no prisoners were to be taken.”

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