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“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the dividing line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?”
—ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN, THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO
All men dream: but not equally.
Those who dream by night
in the dusty recesses of their minds,
wake in the day to find that it was vanity:
but the dreamers of the day
are dangerous men,
for they may act their dreams
with open eyes, to make it possible.
—T. E. LAWRENCE, SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM
DREAM OF THE REICH
IT WAS ONE HOUR BEFORE MIDNIGHT ON NOVEMBER 9, 1935, WHEN JOACHIM Peiper swore absolute allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
A tolling bell from the baroque Theatinerkirche across the square signaled the event. The bell tones resonated through the cold foggy air, invisibly moving the witnesses to the solemn occasion. In the quiet of that Saturday evening, amid the towering marble columns of Munich’s Feldherrnhalle, the torch flames bathed the hallowed war memorial in a fiery orange glow. Great red chalice-like torches—pylons fifteen feet high, adorned with menacing eagles—stood on the elevated marble stage above the huge central square of the Odeonsplatz. The cupped flames blazed brightly on each pedestal, spreading the faint odor of burning kerosene. To the rear a backdrop of red curtains, twenty meters high, hung from the curved ceiling, which loomed above. Two massive stone lions glowered from the altar onto a “sea of black steel helmets” in the great plaza. The mass of uniformed SS troopers, ordered in rows and columns, strangely reflected the blood-red glow of the torchlight.1
More than a thousand men stood outside the monument in precise lines on the crowded plaza floor. Great stone columns rose out above the stairs, spreading into huge arches above the memorial. The square glimmered in the dark, covered with the pine bough wreathes and ornate Teutonic decor. The quiet panorama was interrupted only by the measured tolling of church bells.
The appearance was completely fantastic—a surrealistic military spectacle so portentous, so moving, as to provoke emotion, emotion none of the young stonyfaced candidates, helmets lashed onto their jaws, could be seen to acknowledge. Each wore the Großer Dienstanzug, the black uniform of the recently consecrated military branch of Hitler’s fashionable Praetorian Guard, the Schutzstaffel, or SS.2 A black tunic and trousers composed the basic dress uniform; the collars were embroidered in white with the victory sign of double S Sig-runes from the old Norse alphabet.3 Placed together, the runes looked like lightning bolts. On the left arm of each man was the bold black swastika on an armband of red and white. Gleaming black boots, knee high, stood heel to heel in perfect symmetry. At the end of the hall a giant swastika adorned the huge red flag of National Socialism, hung symbolically from the highest tier facing the ocher-shaded Theatinerkirche across the street. Other diaphanous wafting ribbons of red, illuminated by spires of light hung from buildings on both sides of the plaza, reached back on the Ludwigstrasse as far as the eye could see. If anything could rouse the spirits of ancient Germanic warriors, this panoramic scene could. It all took on an orchestral military beauty, an incarnation of Siegfried’s Funeral March and the Immolation of the Gods. It was like a specter of the Götterdämmerung!
Joachim Peiper was one of the officer candidates standing in the lined up formation among the multitudes and witnessing the fantastic choreography that night. He was a twenty-year-old staff sergeant—SS Scharführer—in the SS Verfügungstruppe—the VT or “Readiness Troops.” A native of Berlin, he was being promoted to cadet on this day. He stood ramrod straight, shoulder to shoulder with the precisely ordered rows of other black-uniformed troopers all bathed in the eerie light. The impact was undeniable.4 Peiper likely knew little of Hitler’s artistic intention: the fiery ritual was a spiritual celebration, a Wagnerian homage to the blood of the Teutonic Knights. A central credo of Hitler’s new SS was the Blood Myth, which evoked the twin visions of racial fastidiousness and combat on a cosmic stage. It was an idea familiar to all Germans from the ancient fable of the Nibelungenlied, in which Siegfried slays the dragon and bathes in its blood to remain invincible. Blood was the new holy water, the entire ceremony exuding medieval overtones of sacrifice and racial purity, central to the aims of National Socialism. Perhaps more importantly, however, the pageant elicited the SS oath of absolute devotion to Hitler as the Führer—the anointed leader of Germany.
IT WAS TEN O’CLOCK WHEN THE FÜHRER’S GLEAMING MERCEDES BENZ ARRIVED at the courtyard of the Wittelsbach Palace. And then Adolf Hitler himself, revealed in the brilliant torchlight, strode confidently onto the portico. The band struck up the German leader’s signature musical entrance, the “Präsentiermarsch.” Reaching the podium, the man stood historically positioned. To his right was a larger-than-life bronze statue of Tzerklas Graf von Tilly, the Teutonic hero of the Thirty Years War; on his left was another Germanic champion, a hulking metallic likeness of Karl Wrede, the famous Bavarian field marshal. And Adolf Hitler stood right in the middle!
He raised his hand in salute. “Heil, SS Männer!” the German leader barked. “Heil to you, SS men!” The microphones boomed Hitler’s voice, echoing down the streets of Ludwigstrasse. The SS men roared back with an even louder unamplified response: “Heil, mein Führer!”
Then the unlikely looking leader of the Schutzstaffel raised his sword to signal a stop in the music. He moved up to the podium. This was Heinrich Himmler—the Reichsführer SS. Here was a thin, bespectacled man with a receding chin line, thin colorless lips, and a scant moustache that gave him a mousy appearance. His complexion looked pale and even unhealthy. This man, who some thought looked vaguely Asian, bade the assembled German youth at ease.5 In unison all of those he commanded moved as one—hundreds of steel helmets removed. To set the new mood, the band moved onto a solemn number, “Wir treten zum Beten”—the Old Netherlands “Prayer of Thanks.”6
Now came the oath. If not charismatic, Himmler dutifully uttered the binding oath as he looked out across a thousand raised arms. The men to be sworn in repeated Himmler’s words line by line. The Reichsführer’s commands echoed across the square as he presented the SS Leibstandarte (Bodyguard) formation to the leader:
I swear to you,
Führer and Chancellor of the German Reich
Loyalty and valor.
I pledge to you
and the superiors appointed by you
Obedience until death,
So help me God.7
A crescendo of affirmations ended with helmets donned once more—the Führer would speak! The mustachioed leader of the Third Reich quietly stepped up to the podium.8 His few words were measured, almost quiet, with their careful choice adding to the sanctimonious atmosphere. He concluded his short remarks with a rejoinder of oath: “I expect you to remain ever true to the motto of the Order to which you have the honor of belonging. Your honor must always and under all circumstances be loyalty.” And then, in the final admonition, he reminded the cadets “of their duty to be prepared to die for him at all times.”9
At this, Himmler, standing behind him, nodded, and the SS band took up an old German spiritual, “Wenn alle untreu werden,” adopted as the SS song of loyalty. The SS men sang along in a resounding chorus:
When all become disloyal
We remain loyal
So that on earth a flag will wave for you . . .
We don’t want to break our word,
Not become like boys,
And we want to preach and talk
Of the “Holy German Reich.”10
Hitler, head held high, proudly descended the steps, moving down the long lines of men below to review his new recruits.11 From right to left he passed by the assembled troops. When that was complete, the Führer re-ascended the steps to the Feldherrnhalle as the Reichsführer called everyone to attention: “Eyes right!” The band again stuck up the Präsentiermarsch.
An immaculately adorned SS honor guard presented arms before the stage in front of a red flag and the black flag marked with white SS runes. Two SS officers, swords in hand, crossed their blades by touching the poles of the dipped flags. At that, Hitler ceremoniously accepted the red Blutfahne—or blood flag—from the SS bearer. Nazi legend claimed that the colors of the flag were stained with the gore of men killed during the Munich Putsch, when, in 1923, Hitler led a contingent of about two thousand men in an attempt to seize control of Munich, only to be put down by police, who killed sixteen of the Nazis during the confrontation. Regardless of whether this legend was factual, the grim artifact had become the crucifix of the Nazi movement. Hitler dutifully accepted the blood oath from the bearer. “I vow to remain true to my Führer, Adolf Hitler. I bind myself to carry out all orders conscientiously and without reluctance.”
The men of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) were expected to be equally willing to give up their lives as the sixteen men who fell for Hitler at this site twelve years earlier. And only the men of the SS personally made this oath before Hitler. All volunteers and handpicked, each was expected to be mindful their decision bound them unconditionally to Hitler’s will and fortunes.12
With this rite satisfied, Obergruppenführer Josef Dietrich, the paternal leader of the Leibstandarte, joined the Führer. Standing at Hitler’s side with Himmler on the other, the three solemnly descended the steps of the Feldherrnhalle. With this, the accompaniment shifted to the holy anthem of National Socialism, the Horst Wessel song “Die Fahne hoch, die Reihen fest geschlossen”—“Flag high, ranks closed.”13 Over them wafted a euphoric mood as “millions, full of hope, look[ed] up to the swastika.”
Hitler bid the men good-bye by raising his hand in salute. Himmler was at his side as they entered the car at the courtyard.
For the struggle now, we all stand ready.
Soon will fly Hitler flags over every street
The mood was ghostly, almost supernatural. “We had no personal aspirations,” Peiper later remembered. Our “vision was always the Dream of the Reich!”
Denn heute da hört uns Deutschland und morgen die ganze Welt!
(Because today we are heard in Germany and tomorrow the whole world!)14
Later, the young soldier would meet Hitler face-to-face for the first time. During a review Hitler passed a group of officers with which Peiper was standing. Hitler then turned and looked directly at Peiper and faintly smiled. There were those shining blue eyes—the Führerkontakt. “This look changed my life,” Peiper said of the first encounter, “He looked at me and I was ready to die for him.”15
Joachim Peiper’s father, Woldemar, had fought for Kaiser Wilhelm II in World War I. He had nearly given his life in the fighting in colonial Africa, where he was wounded. Beyond that the war clearly marked him.16 Indeed, the Captain’s third son, Joachim, was born at 3:30 a.m. on January 30, 1915, just as that war moved into a critical phase. Young Joachim had two brothers, Hans Hasso, five years his elder, and Horst, born in 1912. Peiper’s father had wanted to name his youngest boy Dixmundieus after the village in Belgium that had been such a scene of climactic fighting in October 1914.17 Yet even if the scene of battle forged an epiphany for Woldemar, Peiper’s mother, Charlotte, prevailed—that was no name for a son!
Their third child would be branded with a full family name: Joachim Sigismund Albrecht Klaus Arved Detlev Peiper. He would go by Joachim—although his young friends soon called him Jochen. The boy would be baptized at the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church on his sixth birthday. By that time his father was home from Germany’s capitulation after the First World War. It was an unhappy time all over Europe.
Living in the upscale Wilmersdorf district in Berlin, the Peiper flat at Zähringerstrasse 17 was only a few blocks from the famous Kurfürstendamm promenade. Raised by the stern retired captain, the sons grew up on stories from the Great War. The glorious adventures of fighting for the Fatherland in exotic Africa seemed far from the center of Berlin near Wilmersdorf. Yet his father’s tales of wartime glory always came to the same ill end, for Germany had lost the war and, seemingly, its grip on global aspirations. During Peiper’s early years a devastating depression swept Europe in the late 1920s, leading to widespread disillusionment and gloom within German society. Six million were unemployed. To become a soldier seemed appealing.18
Woldemar was a completely convinced devotee of Hitler’s National Socialism, but that was not true for the larger family. The Peiper ancestors had originally come from Protestant Lutheran roots, fleeing Flanders in the mid-1500s. Yet Berlin, where the two arms of the family had coalesced, was hardly a natural spawning ground for the Nazis, with its left-wing traditions, a vibrant Jewish community, a gay subculture, and a cosmopolitan elite. Yet Peiper’s father evolved (as did many others in the city) into not only a convinced National Socialist but, even more, an acerbic anti-Semite.19
Even so, one side of the family tree, under Dr. Herbert Peiper, had warily viewed the embrace of National Socialism by Woldemar’s wing of the family. His branch of the family tree was peopled with doctors, the well educated, and artists—often the groups the Nazis targeted. Even worse was that Woldemar’s sons were in the SS—Jochen with the Leibstandarte and Horst with the Totenkopfverbände—Death’s Head units. Neither had a soothing reputation. Then, in 1938, it became widely known in family circles that Jochen Peiper was now adjutant to Heinrich Himmler. Herbert Peiper suggested his boys not associate too closely with Woldemar and his kin. “Das wird ein böses Ende nehmen!”—“This will end up badly!”20
In the early 1930s, liberal Berlin still seemed to embrace the freedom for which it was famous. The colorful Wandervögel (literally “Birds of Passage”) generation had just passed, transforming the next propagation of young German males into fervent nature lovers.21 Youth movements sprouted all over Deutschland. Typical German boys, Joachim and his brother Horst relished the outdoor life. In nature they could discuss ways to elude the stodgy social conditions of the day, organize treks to explore the beautiful German countryside, and toughen themselves in personal challenges. They hiked over the hills, with cookouts in the Prussian pinewoods, followed by sleeping under the stars.
It was the pure notion expounded by Hermann Löns, the German Thoreau. Löns extolled a simple life within nature—wild, unvarnished by modern trappings, and embracing hardship as a test of personal power and self-worth. And if not hiking in July, they enjoyed afternoons on a small family sailboat on the nearby dark waters of Lake Wannsee, where the mood was festive if understated: Coney Island, Berlin-style. Even though the waters were cold and somehow vaguely smelling of old leaves, the Peiper boys loved swimming there. Every outdoor challenge was welcome.
So it was not at all surprising that in 1926, after attending Halensee Elementary School, the eleven-year-old boy followed his brother Horst and became a German Boy Scout. He later rose to squad leader during his time at the Goethe Technical High School in Wilmersdorf, although he found himself also interested in German history, foreign languages, music, and the humanities. With a student pass to the Schiller Theater, he and his classmates enjoyed many of the classical works of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Molière.
Yet, although absorbed by literature and the theater, he had become more intrigued with scouting and sports. Increasingly accomplished at swimming, fencing, and handball, his interest in academic subjects may have flagged—an affliction common to many boys his age. In any case, he did not achieve the Abitur, a required final exam taken at the end of secondary school, which would have allowed him to attend a university.22 The Abi was easily within reach; he had only six months to go at school. Why? “From early youth it was obvious to me to become a soldier,” the nineteen-year-old Peiper wrote when applying for consideration as an SS officer trainee just before Christmas in 1934.23 Getting away from home may have been a motivation.
The Peiper household was often unsettled. Unlike his younger brothers, Hans Hasso was not interested in the outdoors, preferring literature and the arts. As an aesthete among manly egos, the eldest argued frequently, both with his brothers and his father. Indeed, although unsaid, it seemed that Hans Hasso was not only an aesthete or Schöngeist but also a likely homosexual—with all the condemnation that descended on that group within the new National Socialist regime.24 Even young Jochen did not see eye to eye frequently with his demanding father, but the unrelenting criticism was too much for Hans Hasso, and his mental situation frayed. While in high school the eldest boy attempted to kill himself.
Even if the motives were not completely clear, the result was more certain. Although failing suicide, Hasso’s oxygen-starved brain sustained irreparable damage. In 1931 the youth was placed into Berlin’s St. Joseph’s Hospital for Gentlemen with Emotional and Nervous Disorders, where his saddened mother frequently took him food for nourishment even though the long S-bahn and tram ride to the other side of Berlin often took more than an hour.25 What the younger brothers thought of the tragic episode is not recorded, but each was close to their adoring mother.
Two years later, on January 30, 1933—Jochen Peiper’s eighteenth birthday—Adolf Hitler took power.26 The occasion became a state holiday: the Machtergreifung. At a time in history when the conjunction of events was often imbued with near-mystic relevance, for Jochen it may have seemed to portend an augury of life-long devotion. To the young man, as with many Germans of that time, the Fatherland at last had its spectral leader. Adolf Hitler, the inspiring and confident Führer, had emerged from obscurity in Austria to a vaunted position as Germany’s anticipated head of state. One had only to listen to a song now being recited by young men of the Jungvolk at the Sonnenwende summer solstice celebration to sense his near-messianic influence:
Adolf Hitler is our savior, our hero,
He is the noblest being in the whole wide world
For Hitler we live,
For Hitler we die.
Our Hitler is our Lord,
Who rules a brave new world.27
As the SS taught it, through the ideology of their Weltanschauung—“world vision”—the German nation would claim its rightful inheritance as the racial superiors of the human species. And the SS men would be the unquestioning protectors of what Hitler already referred to as the Third Reich. As it evolved, the organization was to represent both an ideal police organization and one that would be armed to ensure obedience at home. There was to be no repetition of the Communist upheaval within the Fatherland like that of 1918, which, together with the Allied onslaught, doomed German fortunes at the end of World War I. Even more, the SS would eventually furnish a small elite combat force to assure success in any future armed conflict. After Himmler’s SS had proved its worth in putting down an attempted revolt in 1931, Hitler delivered an accolade of praise to the embryonic organization. “Your honor is loyalty,” he told them. It was a phrase soon embossed on every SS man’s belt buckle.28
BEYOND A SUPERIOR POLICE AND ARMY, HIMMLER SAW THE SS AS A PRECISE embodiment of the hope of spawning a new European race to exemplify the highest standards of Aryan purity while also unflinchingly eliminating what he saw as mongrel human elements. These, National Socialism preached, were the great enemy. “We create an order which will spread the idea of Nordic blood,” he would later inform his SS recruits, “so that we can attract to ourselves all the Nordic blood in the world, denying it to our adversaries, so that Nordic blood will not fight against us. We must get it and others cannot have it.”29
Himmler further invoked the “blood and soil” ideal of his mentor, Richard Walther Darré. Both Darré and Himmler knew much about livestock breeding and planned that the SS would be used to genetically engineer an elite racial aristocracy. This would be accomplished through voluntary selective breeding, taking evolution of the National Socialist vision to its logical climax: the racial zenith of the pure Nordic man. So important was this task that Himmler saw to it that a special SS Race and Settlement Office was set up to supervise the planned human breeding transformation.30
The fate of what the SS saw as less desirable types of human beings in the Nazi machine was a problem yet to be resolved.31 But what that meant took little imagination. Peiper and the rest of Germany could not avoid seeing the signs that sprouted all over the German road-scape in the 1930s: “Juden sind hier unerwünscht!”—“No Jews wanted here!”
Indeed, the SS Reichsführer endeavored to foster an esprit de corps among his SS by encouraging Jew-hatred. Accordingly, in 1934 the Leibstandarte received its own chief educational leader, SS Hstuf. Georg Weibgen. There were daily lectures with anti-Semitic themes (e.g., the dangers of Freemasonry and Bolshevism) as well as propaganda movies and a glorification of war in the style of Ernst Jünger. Many of the guest lecturers were men who would later lead killing squads or guard concentration camps.32
- On Sale
- May 24, 2016
- Page Count
- 480 pages
- Da Capo Press