A colorized photo of the war criminal Nazi Waffen-SS officer responsible for the deaths of American prisoners of war during World War II was posted to U.S. Army and Defense Department Facebook accounts commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
The image of Joachim Peiper — a Panzer tank commander involved in the deaths of 84 Americans in what is known as the Malmedy massacre — was originally posted to Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps and subsequently shared by the Department of Defense and the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
The image featuring the Nazi commander generated massive push back on social media with some describing the post as “vile” and “disturbing.” The post included a narrative featuring excerpts from Peiper’s journal entry that some commentators on social media described as a “fanboy” account of the Nazi commander’s exploits during the Battle of the Bulge.
“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,” the now edited narrative reads.
“This surprise western counteroffensive Peiper was set to launch was the only hope for the survival of Nazi Germany,” the narrative states
The image has since been removed from the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps Facebook post and it’s narrative of the Battle of the Bulge has been reedited.
The DoD has yet to explain why the colorized image of a Nazi war criminal was prominently placed on its social media accounts. Military Times reached out to the Pentagon Monday evening and was told that the DoD currently had nothing to provide.
“I’d point to the comment at the bottom of the post. That it’s a series of historical posts that begin here and will tell the entire story of the Battle of the Bulge through January 22nd,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Military Times.
The Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps apologized on Twitter for using the image of the Nazi commander.
“We regret the use of the photograph of Joachim Peiper. 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 by the time the reserve was called in on 18 Dec,” the Army airborne unit tweeted Tuesday morning.
“In an attempt to tell the full story of the fight, we also presented the perspective of the German commanders involved in the counterattack. This was in no way intended to glorify the German forces, but to fully portray the odds stacked up against the Americans by December 19th,” Army Col. Tage J. Rainsford, the director of public affairs for the XVIII Airborne Corps told Military Times in an emailed statement.
The thread sparked outrage even among Army public affairs personnel.
“I am dumbfounded by the decision to prominently display a Nazi on military social media on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge," Lt. Col. Brian Fickel tweeted.
“I was surprised to see this “fanboy” flavored piece was written by 18th Airborne Corps. I was all like, wut”," one person wrote in the comments section of the Army’s Facebook post. “This piece fanboyed the hell out of Pieper [sic], a convicted war criminal who’s men murdered four score American soldiers. Do you expect something similar where Osama Bin Laden or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi are lauded?”
“I sure hope you understand how vile and disturbing that pic is!!!," another Facebook user commented.
The Washington Post reported that the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps deleted a tweet where the unit described Peiper as a “terrible person” while calling him an “effective combat leader” who “rocketed through the ranks during the war, racking up medals, & promotions.”
However, not everyone was outraged by the posting. Boris Stern, an Army veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, told Military Times he was not really concerned about the posting after learning about the incident.
Stern was a sergeant and infantry squad leader in the U.S. Army when Nazi Germany made a surprise last offensive against the Allied forces in World War II.
“I was sleeping around 5:30 a.m. when I heard very powerful explosions and I knew something was wrong. They were shelling the hell out of us," Stern said, recounting the early hours of the fight. “We didn’t know what was going on.”
“We lost a lot of guys,” Stern said. Now 94, Stern resides in Tampa Bay, Florida.
The bottom right corner of the image features a watermark that states, “Colored by Tobias Kurtz.” The same image and watermark appears on a website called Deviant Art and posted by a user who goes by the name “kapo-neu." The “About” section for Deviant Art claims the he is “Tobias Kurtz and I’m young boy what does he like Photography, Games, Sport, Graphic Designs etc. For now I’m living in Bratislava ( the capital city of Slovakia).”
The Deviant Art gallery includes scores of colorized photos of Nazi soldiers during World War II and Nazi propaganda including an image of Adolf Hitler laughing as German soldiers are about to execute a kneeling former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was in in Bastogne, Belgium, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.