“The fate of his beloved nation rested on his ability to lead his men,” the XVIII Airborne Corps wrote on a Monday Facebook post featuring the striking photo.
But the description wasn’t detailing the heroics of an American general poised to destroy fascist German forces. Instead, it seemingly celebrated the strategic mind-set of Nazi war criminal Joachim Peiper, an infamous German commander who ordered the massacre of 84 U.S. prisoners of war during the Battle of the Bulge.
The Army unit posted a glamorous, colorized photo of Peiper alongside an intimate narrative depicting the Nazi writing in his diary. The photo was also shared on the Facebook pages for the Defense Department and the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
The backlash was swift. Critics in the Facebook comments accused the post of “glorifying a Nazi war criminal,” called it a “‘fanboy’ flavored piece,” and described the photo as “vile and disturbing.”
Shortly after a public affairs officer for the Army criticized the posts on Twitter, the photos disappeared. The Defense Department and 10th Mountain Division deleted their posts, and the XVIII Airborne Corps removed the photo of Peiper from its lengthy narrative.
“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 wrote on Twitter.
An Army spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment. Pentagon officials also did not return messages about the posts late Monday.
But the XVIII Airborne Corps, based in Fort Bragg, N.C., did respond to some critics in Facebook comments, some of which are still visible on its edited post about Peiper.
“Sometimes in movies, the movie will create a sense of tension by introducing a bad guy,” the Army unit wrote in response to someone who suggested the photo appeared to lionize the Waffen-SS, the military arm of Hitler’s Nazi party. “It is a technique of effective storytelling.”
Another person said he did not “understand the fascination with” Peiper, who ultimately did not win the battle and was later tried for horrific war crimes. Peiper led thousands of German troops who descended on unsuspecting American soldiers in the dead of winter. On Dec. 17, 1944, he ordered his soldiers to slaughter 84 American prisoners of war who had surrendered after the surprise attack in what is now known as the Malmedy massacre.
“He had a good first day,” the XVIII Airborne Corps replied. “Not really his fault that the initial push failed in the North and center (as we’ll see tomorrow).”
In a now-deleted tweet, the unit called Peiper a “terrible person” but an “effective combat leader” who “rocketed through the ranks during the war, racking up medals, & promotions.”
The XVIII Airborne also assured critics that the post was “just the first day of a continuing series.”
Officials for the Army and Pentagon have yet to explain why the photo was chosen, or how it was vetted for publication. But the origins of the image raise more questions about the thinking behind the controversial Facebook post.
In the lower right-hand corner of the photo, a historic image rendered modern through digital editing, a watermark reads, “Colored by Tobias Kurtz.” The same watermark is visible on an identical image uploaded to the Deviant Art gallery of a user who goes by “kapo-neu” and identifies himself on his “about” page as Tobias Kurtz. The connection was noted by journalist Corey Pein, who tweeted a link to the image posted by Kurtz on Sept. 21, 2014. Kurtz did not immediately return a request for comment.
Kurtz’s Deviant Art and Flickr accounts say he is a Slovakia-based gamer who likes photography and graphic design. He has also shared an image of Hitler laughing as a group of German soldiers prepare to execute a kneeling man and ‘favorited’ an illustration Hitler punching an American soldier while Nazis cheer. “This photo have my 👍,” Kurtz wrote in the comments of the drawing.
It remains unclear how Pentagon and Army officials cleared an image apparently created by an artist who celebrates Nazi propaganda online to be published alongside a tribute to the American soldiers who fought and died to defeat a fascist regime 75 years ago. But the misstep is just the latest in a month of embarrassing incidents for the U.S. Army, which has been recently slammed with multiple allegations of white supremacist activity.
On Dec. 5, ESPN revealed that the Army football team had been flying a flag printed with the initials “GFBD” for decades, apparently without realizing that the slogan, “God forgives, brothers don’t,” was popularized by the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white supremacist prison gang.
On Saturday, during the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, two U.S. Military Academy cadets and a Naval Academy midshipman allegedly flashed the “okay” hand signal that has been used, in some instances, as a hate sign affiliated with white supremacy and the far-right. The Army and Navy both told The Post on Monday that investigators were looking into the incident. Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, the Army’s superintendent, said in a statement the Military Academy is “fully committed to developing leaders of character who embody the Army values.”
Earlier this year, a doctor serving in the Army Reserve became the subject of yet another internal investigation after HuffPost revealed his alleged connection to the white nationalist hate group Identity Evropa. Lt. Col. Christopher Cummins allegedly shared a username, home state and lived in the same town as an anonymous user who posted on the group’s now-defunct Discord server, boasting about spreading white nationalist fliers in Mississippi and Jackson, Tenn.
An Army spokesman told The Post on Dec. 6 its investigation into Cummins’s alleged connections to Identity Evropa concluded earlier this year. Cummins is still a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. The spokesman declined to share the results of the investigation.
“Action taken to address the findings of an administrative action is subject to the Privacy Act,” Army spokesman John Bradley told The Post in an email. “The Army Reserve takes allegations of involvement in extremist activity seriously and is committed to promoting good order and discipline within its ranks.”