David Thompson wrote:
tonyh -- I think the situation could be more accurately summarized this way:
(1) There was an order for the Ardennes offensive. The command units involved issued orders to their subordinate units. In accordance with this practice, the SS 6th Panzer Army issued orders to its subordinate units, including the SS Ist Panzer Corps, the SS 1st Panzer Division LAH, and Kampfgruppe Peiper. After the war, no copy of the written order from the SS 6th Panzer Army, could be found. (Your statement, "assuming that it existed," suggests that a veteran commander of an Army-sized unit of the Waffen-SS might not have committed the Ardennes offensive plan to writing when he instructed his subordinates how to carry out the attack. Can you think of a single example of a commander over the last 150 years who directed a major offensive operation solely on the basis of easily misunderstood verbal orders?)
(2) Dietrich, commander of the SS 6th Panzer Army, Fritz Kraemer, chief of staff of the SS 6th Panzer Army, Priess, commander of the SS Ist Panzer Corps, Peiper, commander of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment and Kampfgruppe Peiper, and Peiper's former adjutant, Gruhle, each independently and at different times gave affidavits describing the contents of the lost order. They agreed that the order stated
"that a wave of fright and terror should precede the attack, and that the enemy's resistance was to be broken by terror."
"Also, I am nearly certain that in this order was expressly stated that prisoners of war must be shot where local conditions should so require it."
(3) Peiper, and four members of Peiper's command, testified that Peiper passed this order on to his subordinates. Four non-defendant witnesses -- mebers of Peiper's command -- testified that Peiper verbally added
"Drive on recklessly, give no quarter, and take no prisoners."
(4) Other witnesses said that Peiper was present immediately before the murder of US POWs at Baugnez crossroads, and had personally ordered the shootings of American POWs on two other occasions. On both occasions Peiper's order was carried out.
(5) Later, when they were charged with war crimes and put on trial by an American military tribunal at Dachau (not the IMT, as your synopsis has it), Dietrich and Peiper retracted their statements as they pertained to the question of responsibility for the cluster of murders of POWs and civilians which occurred over a 6-day period in and around Malmedy.
(6) Dietrich was sentenced to life imprisonment, while Peiper and others were sentenced to death in Jul 1946 for their involvement in the murders of American POWs and Belgian civilians. A year or more later, after the verdicts and the death penalties were confirmed, some of the prisoners raised questions about their confessions and their treatment by the US Army.
(7) The US Senate (not the US Army, as your synopsis had it), held a series of hearings on this topic. Both US personnel and German POWs had their statements and claims reviewed by the US Senate subcommittee investigating the issue. The US Senate subcommittee found that the prisoners had not been tortured into making their confessions, but that the US Army interrogators had used dubious methods such as falsely informing defendants that they had been implicated by others, and "mock trials" to induce some of the confessions. (Note that these allegations do not pertain to the 4 non-defendant witnesses against Peiper, nor do they necessarily establish that the factual claims in the other statements given by the defendants were "false.").
(8) As it became apparent that the "cold war" was going to be a long running show, the co-operation of West Germany became more important to the western allies in presenting a united front against communism in Europe. Beginning in late 1950, the US began to commute the sentences of many German war crimes defendants, including those in the Malmedy massacres trial.
(9) You said:
I still see no real concrete evidence against Piper for such a sentence. Just hearsay and some very dubious "statements", extracted under very dubious circumstances.
The expression "hearsay" means an unsworn or out-of-court statement of someone who cannot be cross-examined (because they aren't available as witnesses), made to show the truth of a matter. The statements in this case were made under oath, and most of them were made in court, so they cannot fairly be characterized as hearsay.
The purpose of this section of the forum is to present facts and reasoned discussion on issues of WWII history. The goal is to present the readers with the best information on which to come to a conclusion. Having made that point, I think that the questions of whether Peiper ordered the killings of POWs and Belgian civilians by his unit around Malmedy, whether he subsequently changed his mind about continuing this course of conduct when it became clear to him that the offensive would fail, whether Peiper did anything to punish the men in his unit who committed the war crimes, and whether he is probably guilty or innocent of the charges against him, can now be left to the readers to decide