Army Facebook post featuring Nazi war criminal sparks pushback

"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," an observer said.
Prisoners of war were evacuated as part of the Ardennes-Alsace Campaign in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images file
By Tim Stelloh and Ben Collins

An Army Facebook post about the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge sparked fierce pushback on Monday over its display of a Nazi war criminal.

The post appeared on the verified Facebook page of the XVIII Airborne Corps — which fought in the monthlong battle between Allied and German forces in 1944 — and featured a prominent photo of Joachim Peiper, a Nazi SS-Standartenführer, roughly equivalent to a colonel.

Peiper, who led thousands of men in Germany's last major offensive, was convicted of war crimes for a massacre of U.S. prisoners of war during the battle.

The post was followed by a description of Peiper's mission during the battle — although it didn't mention his role in what became known as the Malmedy Massacre.

The post, its author explained, was the first in a series marking the battle's 75th anniversary.

Scrolling through his Facebook feed on Monday night, an Army public affairs officer based in Pennsylvania saw the same three pictures of Peiper.

The officer, Lt. Col. Brian Fickel, posted the screenshots to his personal Twitter page, adding that he was "dumbfounded by the decision to prominently display a Nazi on military social media on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge."

Within hours, Fickel's post had received thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets. In comment threads, dozens of people echoed Fickel's criticism.

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After an NBC News reporter contacted the administrator of the Facebook page seeking comment, the photo of Peiper appeared to have been removed.

In an earlier comment thread, a moderator responded to criticism by saying Peiper had been featured because it was a technique used in "effective storytelling."

"Sometimes in movies, the movie will create a sense of tension by introducing a bad guy," the moderator wrote.

In a tweet, the Airborne Corps added that Peiper was a "terrible person" but an "effective combat leader."

"A teenager when Hitler come to power, Peiper joined the SS after serving as a member of the Hitler Youth," the corps said. "He rocketed through the ranks during the war, racking up medals, & promotions."

A spokesman for the Airborne Corps, Tage J. Rainsford, said in a statement to NBC News that he regrets the use of Peiper's photo.

"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," he said.

Tim Stelloh

Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News, based in California.

Ben Collins

Ben Collins covers disinformation, extremism and the internet for NBC News.