The US Army and the Department of Defense on Monday posted a large, color photo of Joachim Peiper, a Nazi officer and war criminal who massacred captured US troops, in Facebook posts commemorating the Battle of the Bulge.
The posts have been deleted amid the furor, but only the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps, which first posted the photo along with apparent excerpts from Peiper's diary, has offered an explanation — that it was part of a weeks long effort to retell the story of the battle.
The XVIII Airborne Corps, which has said that its aim is to "tell the full story of the Battle of the Bulge," did not mention the massacre of 84 American prisoners of war in its Facebook post for December 17, the 75th anniversary of this war crime.
The Corps' edited post, however, still features questionable lines like calling Nazi Germany a "beloved nation."
The US Army and the Department of Defense are facing a furor for posting to their official Facebook pages a large photo of Joachim Peiper, a Nazi officer and war criminal who brutally massacred captured US troops in the battle they sought to commemorate in their posts.
The Army's XVIII Airborne Corps posted the photo of Peiper on Monday with a story detailing the inner thoughts and feelings of the infamous Panzer tank commander and Waffen SS leader as part of an ongoing effort by the Corps to retell the story of the Battle of the Bulge day-by-day on social media for its 75th anniversary.
The photo of Peiper was also shared on the 10th Mountain Division and Department of Defense Facebook pages with varied context. The Pentagon did not respond to Insider's request for an explanation for the sharing of the photo.
—Brian Fickel (@USArmyPAO) December 16, 2019
In a post that began the battle's retelling, titled "December 16, 1944: 'Today we gamble everything,'" the XVIII Airborne Corps wrote a story of Peiper's activities prior to the battle. "He paused at his desk. He hated to be alone with his thoughts, with the feeling of uncertainty he'd been trying to avoid for weeks," the Corps wrote. "The others were confident. They believed in der Fuhrer."
The post featured actual excerpts from Peiper's diary.
"We regret the use of the photograph of Joachim Peiper," the Corps said in a statement posted to Facebook after the post of Peiper and his musings was deleted.
"The intent was to tell the full story of the Battle of the Bulge, which will continue here, by explaining the incredible odds that were stacked up against the American Soldier," the Corps explained.
'His beloved nation'
The Corps released an edited version of its initial post that removed some of the narrative of Peiper pondering before the fight.
The edited post, however, still features questionable lines about Nazi Germany:" "The mission was called 'Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein' ('Operation Watch on the Rhine'), and Joachim would lead it. The fate of his beloved nation rested on his ability to lead his men through the American lines."
It remains unclear who wrote this post and who reviewed it before it was published to official Facebook pages.
On December 17, 1944, Peiper's forces murdered 84 captured Americans in an incident known as the Malmedy massacre, and they were also responsible for the deaths of another 19 American prisoners of war elsewhere in Belgium.
The XVIII Airborne Corps, which has said that its aim is to "tell the full story of the Battle of the Bulge," did not mention Malmedy in its Facebook post for December 17. Furthermore, no American officer has received the same treatment in follow-on posts that Peiper received in the Corps' first post.
Peiper spent more than 10 years in prison after being tried by an American military war-crimes tribunal. After his release, he was killed in a gunfight in France.
Social-media users have sharply criticized the posts by the Army units and the Department of Defense, calling them "vile and disturbing," according to The Washington Post. One user said the US military was "glorifying a Nazi war criminal."
"How about removing the romanticized description of the evil guy and featuring the US Army and Allied troops who managed to beat them back," one commenter wrote on the Corps' post. "We don't need to have him be the first-named individual in this piece."
The photo of Peiper itself interesting in that it is in color. While the National Archives has one in black and white, the photo posted on social media by the US military says "colored by Tobias Kurtz."
Journalist Corey Pein, as The Washington Post and others note, discovered a Deviant Art account believed to belong to Tobias Kurtz that featured several images of Nazis, as well as comments that spoke positively of Hitler and the Nazis.
A spokesman for the XVIII Airborne Corps told The New York Times that the photo was purchased from an image-sharing website called Ipernity.
That spokesman explained to Insider that the Army officer and historian who obtained the image had an account on the paid site and used his access to acquire colorized photos for the Corps' project.
The Corps has posted colorized photos of American forces as well in the days since the original post. It is unclear if those originated from the same image-sharing site.
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