Joachim Peiper by Jens Westemeier, A Review

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pzrmeyer2

Joachim Peiper by Jens Westemeier, A Review

Post by pzrmeyer2 » Thu Oct 11, 2007 12:47 pm

sevreal of you have asked me to post my review of Jens Westemeier's latest book on Jochen Peiper, so here it is...

Joachim Peiper by Jens Westemeier


A Review
(originally posted on http://www.feldpost.tv)

As an active follower and participant in the ongoing debate to define and biograph Jochen Peiper, I eagerly awaited the release on what I was told to be the definitive biography of the Waffen SS leader. My copy finally arrived this past week and I jumped right in.

Unfortunately, though extensively researched and well sourced, "Joachim Peiper" again shows that the final word on Peiper is yet to be written. The problem I had with this book is not the amount of research and time the author devoted to the subject, but the overall bias and contemptuous tone Westemeier has for his subject and openly takes throughout the book, robbing it of its objectivity.

One can literally feel Westemeier's disgust and hatred of Peiper and the entire Waffen-SS organization, save perhaps Max Wünsche, oozing constantly through the pages. Indeed, even the author’s use throughout the book of the name “Joachim” instead of the subject’s preferred “Jochen” can be interpreted as disdain, given the overall tone of Westemeier's book. It is, as a poster on another forum website observed, the mirror opposite of Patrick Agte's book. Where one author paints a flowery picture of the determined and martyred Waffen-SS supersoldier wise beyond his years and never wrong, this account portrays him as a cold, calculating, and essentially incompetent opportunist virtually since birth.

Westemeier, a reserve Bundeswehr officer, begins by revealing that growing up in a Germany in need of heroes, he was initially a "fan" of Peiper. So, drawn to the Peiper "myth", as perpetuated by devious veterans, he set out to write a flattering biography of one of his idols. Along the way, he discovered more and more info that led him to construct a very different portrait of Peiper. And this is really the theme of the book: Westemeier's feelings of betrayal upon his apparent discovery that his idol, and the organization he belonged to, was criminal to the core.

Angered by this shocking revelation, and furious over the reactions and alleged threats he received from "right wing" neo-nazi Waffen-SS myth perpetuators, the apoplectic Westemeier proceeds to take out his rage on Peiper, powerless since 1945 and dead since 1976, and the entire Waffen-SS apparatus, including surviving vets, spouses, and family members. Any sources contradicting the image that Westemeier sets out to portray are contemptuously branded and dismissed as "SS apologists", rightwingers, unrepentant Nazis, or cunning old men who suddenly develop "memory gaps" when pressed on unflattering details about Peiper. No facts are allowed to speak for themselves. Negative adjectives accompany everything: all Waffen-SS men are "fanatics"...everyone "knew" about the KZs and approved...etcetera etcetera etcetera...

Viewed through Westemeier's filter, nothing remotely positive can be said about Peiper. Westemeier even manages to present the recollections of the wife of one of Peiper's military academy classmates that Peiper was keen on the music of Mendelssohn and on "degenerate art" (as the Nazis categorized 'Jewish' or 'contemporary' art) in the 1930s as part of a postwar whitewash to spare Peiper additional prison time. Positive comments by veterans about Peiper's leadership and performance are all slighted with asterisks relating to margin notes insinuating that these are Waffen-SS apologists who cleverly avoid self-incrimination by publicly supporting the politically correct view that Waffen-SS men were not "soldiers like any other".

Westemeier apparently sees any book or article that takes a balanced view of Jochen Peiper and the Waffen-SS in general as revisionist, as part of an extensive conspiracy to whitewash the Waffen-SS and misrepresent Peiper as a tragic martyr. Westemeier's "Joachim Peiper" consequently seeks to set the record straight but succeeds merely in imposing the author's personal views, which echo simplistic modern popular opinion that everything, down to the smallest detail, that happened was part of an evil master plan.

On Page 35, for example, the author writes: "On March 1, 1938, Joachim Peiper was accepted as a member of the NSDAP, receiving membership number 5.508.134. This number appears on no SS seniority list, and Peiper disputed ever having been a member of the party. Especially after the war, when he created the picture of apolitical soldier, he must have totally forgotten to ask the NSDAP for his membership, as he seemed to have forgotten nearly ‘1000 years of the III Reich’. His father also wrote after the war to whitewash Joachim, that his son had never been a party member. The Leibstandarte submitted the application. On April 27, 1939, the NSDAP office in Munich received a message from the Berlin office, which stated that the Reichsfuhrer-SS thought it very important that a man in his inner circle, like Peiper, be a party comrade. The response from Munich was to say that they were surprised that the man in question had not yet a membership card in his possession, as it had been sent to the SS LAH local branch. Peiper applied for his membership while serving with the Leibstandarte. Peiper paid no dues, and there are no photos of him wearing a party badge. The SS Dienstaltersliste did not, but the NSDAP clearly listed him as a Party member, and Peiper’s SS file held his NSDAP membership card No. 5.508.134.

"Himmler is said to have approached Bormann in an effort to obtain a low party member for Peiper to avoid the opportunistic nature of a higher number. This story, however, is open to interpretation. With or without a party badge, Peiper was a dedicated National Socialist…”

Is it possible that Peiper's party membership application form was submitted on behalf of Himmler or someone in the LAH command structure without Peiper's knowledge? It seems plausible, given the author's own findings as related in the book but that is not what Westemeier infers. If Peiper himself did not even know that he was an NSDAP member, doesn’t that exonerate Woldemar Peiper’s writings? No, is the author’s contention. It is simply all part of a conspiracy to hide the truth.

Here is another extract showing how the author’s opinion overrides his own findings: "On 4 July 1938 Peiper was assigned to the Reichsfuhrer-SS personal staff for service in the adjutant’s office. Heinrich Himmler believed this posting should be a normal part of an SS leader’s career to provide junior SS leaders with insight into the complete scope of SS activities…for Joachim Peiper, the assignment to Himmler’s staff presented a great career opportunity. The anti-Semitic and unjust character of the NS system, the concentration camps led and guarded by the SS, were already part of Peiper’s SS perspective. He was not accidentally pulled into the swamp of crime. He actively stepped into it, and never saw and recognized the NS crimes as wrong"

If Peiper's appointment as an adjutant was just "a normal part of an SS leader's career", how can Peiper be guilty of “actively stepping into a swamp of crime”? Was the SS a criminal organization in 1938? Westemeier seems to be allowing his retrospective judgement to cloud historical objectivity. By whose criminal code was Peiper guilty of "actively stepping into a swamp of crime”? Who railed about the "unjust character of the NS system” at the time? It should also be remembered that Peiper was neither a maker nor an executor of policy. He was merely an adjutant and a young officer in Germany's Praetorian Guard.

No stone is left unturned in Westemeier's efforts to diminish the subject of his biographical opus. Westemeier even heaps scorn and ridicule upon Peiper's relationship with his wife, Sigurd: "To Joachim, Sigi was ‘my best comrade’. From today’s perspective, this is not a term of affection that a loving wife would wish to hear”. This is quite a presumptuous statement to make, particularly as Westemeier is himself a reserve officer in the Bundeswehr. I would argue that many a soldier in many an army would apply the same moniker to an army wife, suffering through the loneliness and worry of their spouse’s combat deployments.

The following passage is another excellent example of the melodramatic opinion that Westemeier passes off as fact throughout the book. The laughable prose, filled with redundant cliché’s, is more resemblant of Soviet-era publications than a modern, serious historical work. It shows quite clearly that Westemeier is too emotionally involved and opinionated to render an objective telling of the facts:


pg 52-53.

"Unlike any other SS leader, Joachim Peiper was shaped directly by his Reichsfuhrer. The apologetic literature transfigures Peiper as an "icon of the Waffen SS" and a victim of the victor's justice, which seeks to disguise his job under Himmler. Peiper was not the apolitical front soldier, but rather the perfect manifestation of the race warrior molded by Himmler's ideology. Joachim Peiper was not a murderer in the concentration camps during the execution of the final solution, but a product of and participant in the SS system, and at least a bright and shining gear in the SS destruction apparatus. Without the people and careers like those of Joachim Peiper, millions of murders by the SS regime would not have been possible.
"The Final Solution was no secret in the circles of the Leibstandarte; the SS leaders knew what was happening with the "Untermenschen" behind the front. And since the "Day of Metz" in September 1940 even the most naïve SS leaders clearly knew that the Ss carried out the extermination of people for ideological reasons.
"But the SS leaders rarely spoke freely and openly, or at least this is the image SS veterans created after the war. Peiper spoke with the Ss-Standartenfuhrer Albert Frey (198) about his Adjutant duties under Himmler; he was also a witness to shootings of Jews (199)."

notes:
198 Ss-Standartenfuhrer Albert Frey...he was eyewitness of the mass murder of Jews in 1941, and after the war fled temporarily to Argentina. He was very active in the HIAG and by 1968 was in the committee of the veteran organization of the Leibstandarte.

199 Communication Albert Frey to the author on 2/18/94. Albert Frey did not want to comment on the subject of the conversations: "I could matter of factly tell you everything that you would like to know. But can I really? How should I know if my dead war comrade, Jochen, would approve of it, if I revealed his personality, his innermost feelings, and thoughts that were known to me? He can no longer tell me; therefore, I must restrict myself from sharing with you that which you could otherwise discover, as well". The author unfortunately received the answer that Albert Frey preferred not to discuss the topic anymore. As in his written memoirs, Frey avoided any indication of his knowledge of the mass murder by the SS.


And there’s the rub: Westemeier is enraged that an 80+ year old man who he does not know personally doesn’t wish to relive those times with him, and given the fact that others were still being sought and put on trial as late as 2004 (Priebke, etc) doesn’t wish to risk incriminating himself and risking trial and prison to someone who would no doubt run immediately and eagerly to professional “nazi hunters” in and out of governments and indict him.
Moreover, it seems astonishing to me that an Army officer like Westemeier cannot grasp the concept of the “Band of Brothers”, and the “Wall of Silence” that men forged in an environment of combat, blood, fear, and death, who fought and endured unspeakable hardships together for years would so quickly reveal their innermost thoughts to a total stranger with ambiguous intentions. As a former officer myself, I knew much about the deeds and misdeeds of several NCOs and soldiers who were killed in action or in accidents, but I certainly wouldn’t besmirch their names posthumously to a muckracking journalist.


And as far as “apologetic literature” and “Waffen SS icon” etc etc, How can Peiper, again, dead since 1976, be responsible for books or articles written some 25 years after his death that allegedly glamorize him?


This is the fundamental flaw of Westemeier's book: the reader is denied any opportunity to make up his own mind as to what type of a man Peiper was in the context of his times. Westemeier swings such a heavy hammer of contempt that it becomes hard to picture Peiper without horns and a tail. Had he presented his findings and his extensive research in a more even-handed manner, this book could have closed the door on any myths surrounding Jochen Peiper. Instead, it simply adds to the controversy. At this point, my recommendation would be to read this book, read Patrick Agte's book, and try to draw your own conclusions, using commonsense, when it comes to the gifted but flawed Jochen Peiper.




Addendum to the original review

In an angry, private correspondence to another critic of the book, one in which criticisms of Westemeier’s impositions of personal opinions intertwine with facts are dismissed as comments made by “SS buffs” who have never read real books, only comics, he claims “It was not PC that changed my perspective, it were{sic} the sources and findings in the archives. So after the sources could not be questioned, the attacks are named at the author”. But it is not the critics making personal attacks, it is Westemeier, who routinely calls anyone that disagrees with him and his narrative of events as a “neo-nazi”, an “SS groupie”, or an SS myth perpetuator.

One of the most contentious points in the book is that readers are invited to believe that Peiper lied about or attempted to conceal his NSDAP membership to construct an image as an apolitical soldier. If true, this would suggest a moral weakness and intrinsic dishonesty on Peiper's part, a weakness of character. Now, why would someone who had already spent time on Death Row - on trumped-up charges based on confessions extracted by torture - and done hard time in jail for his wartime service try to conceal his NSDAP membership when he was so unequivocal about his Nazism in a newspaper interview over twenty years after the end of the war?

Again, the fact that Peiper was an NSDAP member is not questioned, nor is Peiper’s admission a 1967 interview with an Italian journalist that “I was a nazi and I remain one… ” What is questioned is the conspiracy inference that the author makes that a) Peiper knew he was a party member, and b) that he denied it and willfully tried to conceal it in later years and the way in which Westemeier deals with the question in his narrative.
.
Peiper could have been a National Socialist in spirit without wishing to join a party widely seen as run by fat, corrupt "Golden Pheasants" by many young men, particularly the generation who passed through the SS-Junkerschule at Tölz and Braunschweig in the late 1930s. That Himmler had to make an issue of party membership in relation to LSSAH and SS-VT officers is quite illuminating in itself. One detects an inability on the part of authors like Westemeier to grasp the nuances, to read between the lines, so to speak. Peiper could either have been unaware of his administrative induction into the NSDAP alongside other LSSAH and SS-VT officers in 1938 and 1939 or he could have simply decided to refuse to recognise the legitimacy of his membership. There were plenty of Nazis who never joined the party back then, just as there are plenty of Nazis today who prefer not to be members of any movements or parties. Peiper might have opted to be economical with the truth over his NSDAP membership but if so, it cannot have been from any desire on his part to downplay or deny his Nazi beliefs, as the 1967 newspaper interview proves. Westemeier's thesis, therefore, makes no sense, unless one chooses to interpret it as an attempt to make Peiper look bad to modern readers.


And as far as Peiper bearing witness to early events that later morphed into the nazi holocaust, Jochen Peiper was a 2nd Lieutenant (SS-Untersturmführer) when posted as Adjutant to Himmler's staff. It is hardly as if Himmler, Wolff, Heydrich and the others turned to him when making or executing policy and said: "Hey, Jochen, what do you think we should do about those Jews over there?" or "Should we turn a blind eye when the lads pack a load of natives into a barn and burn it down?".

From Westemeier's viewpoint, it seems that Peiper is to be "damned if he does, damned if he doesn't": Peiper's request to be released for combat duties in the spring of 1940 indicates a glory-seeking opportunist worried that the war would end before he could get his share of booty and medals. His recall from combat duties to resume his adjutant post means that he must be held accountable as a main player in the implementation of genocidal policies, though he neither ordered them or personally carried them out.
Was Peiper responsible for his circumstances at the time? Could he have risked compromising his career by refusing the order to report to the staff of the Reichsführer-SS? Formed as an adult and army officer in Hitler's Germany, could he have stood up and shouted: "No, Reichsführer! You cannot let those Jews be shot. It is a war crime! Think of posterity!". Given than they tended to believe that posterity would be theirs for a thousand years, the notion is unrealistic.

Did Peiper order, in the heat of battle and in desperate hours not only for his men, but for Germany, for individual POWs or others to be shot? It certainly seems likely. Is he, or the German military, unique in this reprehensible action? Hardly, as many objective accounts of Allied treatment of Germans or Japansese reveals the same things occurring, and far more routinely than many would care to admit. Should Peiper have been held accountable for his orders? Absolutely, and he did claim responsibility in the case of Malmedy.

At what point do we back off and murmur to ourselves: there but for the grace of God go I? How sure are you - anyone reading this - that you would have been brave enough to say: No, I refuse to go along with this! Very, very few people were that brave.

Indeed, in another private correspondence the reserve Bundeswehr officer Westemeier points out that he had made Major by 34 and Lt-Col before 40, apparently a meteoric progression in today’s Bundeswehr. Is it plausible that, in the modern Germany, with its constant paranoia about Nazism and neo-Nazism, that someone "got to" Westemeier and "suggested" that he "correct" his Peiper book, on pain of messing up his career? It certainly seems possible, as the vast majority of footnoted sources in the new book were available to Westemeier before he published his very different first book, if one goes by dates of letters and interviews. If so, it puts the author in a similar position as his own subject, who, 60 years earlier and in the early stages of a promising military career, “went along to get along”.

Westemeier goes on to say that he felt betrayed after his first Peiper book and that he had to change every page, which may explain why this second one can be interpreted as nothing more than an exercise in vengeance, carried on the back of a man who has been dead for thirty-one years and cannot defend himself anymore. If he feels that he was duped by various witnesses and sources when he wrote the first book and that a revision is necessary, that is fine. But it is a bit risky to set out to write an historical narrative when one is fuelled by feelings of anger, betrayal and a desire for some sort of vengeance. And it is all too easy to judge men like Jochen Peiper from today's perspective, especially when one is a guilt-ridden German. There is bound to be the risk of a tendency to make the facts fit the narrative rather than the other way around.

In other words, as an objective historical biography, “Joachim Peiper” is flawed from the start because of the author's motives for writing it or, rather, rewriting his first book.
[/quote]

Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Fri Oct 12, 2007 1:47 am

This is an excellent and balanced review of an unbalanced book and it is good to see it pubished here. The book certainly has its good points and the author is an erudite individual. However, it is let down in places where Westemeier, one feels, tries a bit too hard to demonise Peiper. It is a near-total volte face from the position he took in his first Peiper biography, which, conversely, was interpreted by some pundits as an exercise in apologia.

PK

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Post by sid guttridge » Fri Oct 12, 2007 1:55 am

Hi pzrmeyer,

Your objection seems to be to the interpretation Westermeyer places on the information before him.

Are there any demonstrable errors factual inaccuracies in the book?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by Annelie » Fri Oct 12, 2007 3:42 am

An author when relaying facts of history should
be impartial and his own feelings on the subject
should not be blatant.

I too have the book and after only the first page
his distain for the subject is easily read.
Annelie
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pzrmeyer2

Post by pzrmeyer2 » Fri Oct 12, 2007 6:48 pm

sid guttridge wrote:Hi pzrmeyer,

Your objection seems to be to the interpretation Westermeyer places on the information before him.

Are there any demonstrable errors factual inaccuracies in the book?

Cheers,

Sid.
Sid,

the problem is not whether or not there are "demonstrable errors", it is one of presentation.

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Post by sid guttridge » Sat Oct 13, 2007 4:15 am

Hi pzrmeyer,

Perhaps Peiper really was as despicable as you say Westermeier says he was?

If there are no demonstrable errors in his book, Westermeier certainly seems well qualified to make such judgements.

It is often the case that a first book provokes a lot of new information that changes appreciations enormously. Look at the Breaker Morant books.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by M.H. » Sat Oct 13, 2007 3:22 pm

I missed that! :D

pzrmeyer2

Post by pzrmeyer2 » Sun Oct 14, 2007 5:29 am

sid guttridge wrote:Hi pzrmeyer,

Perhaps Peiper really was as despicable as you say Westermeier says he was?

If there are no demonstrable errors in his book, Westermeier certainly seems well qualified to make such judgements.

It is often the case that a first book provokes a lot of new information that changes appreciations enormously. Look at the Breaker Morant books.

Cheers,

Sid.
...or perhaps he was the angelic hero that Agte says. After all, the actions one may find despicable, another may view as God's work.

As an aside, I'm curious about your reference to the Breaker Morant books. tell me more.

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Post by Jan-Hendrik » Sun Oct 14, 2007 5:51 am

.or perhaps he was the angelic hero that Agte says
Who believes a man whose real Hero is Heinrich Himmler? :shock:

Jan-Hendrik

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Post by Andy H » Sun Oct 14, 2007 6:27 am

This book and its raised issues and topics were discussed in part in this now locked thread.

http://www.feldgrau.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=25416

Regards
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pzrmeyer2

Post by pzrmeyer2 » Sun Oct 14, 2007 7:19 am

Jan-Hendrik wrote:
.or perhaps he was the angelic hero that Agte says
Who believes a man whose real Hero is Heinrich Himmler? :shock:

Jan-Hendrik
well, if you're talking about Peiper, a young, up and coming officer in the 1930s, having Himmler, arguably the most powerful man in the Reich, as your "hero" and trying to follow in his footsteps would not be such a bad idea, would it?

Or are you applying post 1945 hindsight to the situation?

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Post by Jan-Hendrik » Sun Oct 14, 2007 10:14 am

No, I am talking about Agte and his hype for the Reichsheini's esoteric pseudo-germanicum :D :D :D

Jan-Hendrik

pzrmeyer2

Post by pzrmeyer2 » Sun Oct 14, 2007 10:35 am

Jan-Hendrik wrote:No, I am talking about Agte and his hype for the Reichsheini's esoteric pseudo-germanicum :D :D :D

Jan-Hendrik
Thanks, for clarifying J-H. I dont know about that. What apparently many folks have a hard time dealing with is that Westemeier is so heavily biased against his subject that it has seriously detracted from the history in his book. As I advised independent-thinking readers in my original review, they would be wise to read both Westemeier and Agte and decide for themselves which is the more accurate ad/or more commonsense depiction of Peiper or blend elements of both and form their own opinion.

Best wishes...

Erik

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Post by Richard Hargreaves » Mon Oct 15, 2007 1:06 am

Why does this biography and Peiper in general create such a divided opinion? And if Peiper was ein Brutale, hell say so. I mean, you wouldn't approach a biography of Himmler with anything but contempt for the subject...

Putting a moral hat on for the moment, whatever Peiper's qualities as a soldier, surely these are outweighed by his criminal actions which, to me, are far greater a measure of the man.
No-one who speaks German could be an evil man

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Post by sid guttridge » Mon Oct 15, 2007 2:37 am

Hi Guys,

An aside on Breaker Morant. (The following is from memory).

Morant was an Australian volunteer executed by the British Army for summarily executing a Boer prisoner during the Boer War.

As a result of a book on the incident, a film was made some 25 years ago (starring Edward Woodward) in which Morant was portrayed as rather a sensitive soul and as a victim of the British military establishment. (Whether he was or wasn't is not my point here).

However, subsequent to this, the author of the original book was inundated with information that portrayed Morant in a far less forgiving light. A second book was written, but no new film.

Cheers,

Sid

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