Jewish leaders urge Germany to take back body of Nazi criminal
Rome refuses to bury former SS captain, who died there.
ROME - The late Erich Priebke, a former Nazi officer who took part in Italy’s worst wartime atrocity, should be buried in his native Germany, the leader of the Jewish community in Rome said in an interview with DPA on Sunday.
Since his death at age 100 Friday in the Italian capital, Priebke’s status as an international pariah has been reinforced. Argentina, where he escaped to after World War II, ruled out the option of his burial in Bariloche, where Priebke lived until his extradition to Italy in 1995.
A day later, Italian police said they would ban any form of public funeral for him, while the Vatican said no ceremony could take place in churches in central Rome. The mayor of the capital, Ignazio Marino, also said he did not want Priebke to be buried there.
The head of Rome’s Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, said: “There is only one solution - logic demands that he return to the country where he was born, that he return to Germany and be buried in the town where he was born.”
The former SS captain came from Hennigsdorf, a town of around 25,000 in the East German state of Brandenburg. Following the controversy over his remains, he was expected to be given a private funeral, but it remained unclear where and when.
Failing that, Pacifici said there were other options.
“Allow me a provocation, which is not that far from my actual beliefs: Perhaps we should do what the Americans do with some characters - cremate them and disperse their ashes at sea,” he said, evoking the method used to dispose of the remains of terrorist Osama bin Laden after he was killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan.
Priebke, who remained loyal to Nazi ideology until the end, admitted in a statement published after his death that Jews were persecuted by Germans, but denied the existence of gas chambers. Despite his views, he had some fans in Italy.
His lawyer Paolo Giachini praised the man’s “courage, coherence and loyalty,” while someone laid flowers outside his home and scrawled “Honor to Priebke” and a swastika on a nearby wall. On Facebook, an Italian tribute group had over 150 members.
Pacifici said a public funeral in Rome would have been an “unparalleled injustice,” providing a “golden opportunity for those whom I call ‘Hitler’s little grandchildren’” to organize a pro-Nazi rally.
He thanked Italian and Vatican authorities for respecting his community’s sensitivities, particularly in the run-up of the 70th anniversary of the wartime deportations from Rome’s Jewish ghetto, which falls on Wednesday.
Priebke was serving a life sentence under house arrest in Rome when he died. He was convicted in 1998 for his participation in the 1944 mass killings at Fosse Ardeatine, a cave on the outskirts of Rome, where German soldiers shot dead 335 civilians.
The victims included 75 Jews and at least one child. The massacre was thought to have been ordered by Adolf Hitler in response to the killing by Italian Resistance fighters of 33 German soldiers a day earlier.
In a 2003 interview with Italian state television station RAI, Priebke described the mass execution as “a personal tragedy” but did not ask for forgiveness. On other occasions, he repeated that he was simply following orders.
Speaking after taking part in a wedding anniversary attended by two daughters of a Fosse Ardeatine victim, Pacifici said that Italy, which was Nazi Germany’s ally until 1943, still needed to confront its wartime past.
He urged the Italian parliament to approve a draft law criminalizing Holocaust denial, noting that similar legislation was already enforced in 14 other European Union nations, including Germany, Austria and France.