No Quarter for Former SS Captain, Reviled Even in Death

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ROME -- The death on Friday of Erich Priebke, the former SS captain sentenced to life in prison for helping to organize the execution of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves in Italy in 1944 during World War II, has barely dimmed his notoriety.

Mr. Priebke, who turned 100 in July and was the oldest surviving convicted Nazi war criminal, was serving his sentence under house arrest in Rome. He is unwanted here, and elsewhere, too. Indeed, undertaking a funeral for Mr. Priebke -- let alone finding a final resting place for him -- has become an especially contentious undertaking.

Rome's mayor and the city's top security and church officials have officially banned any public form of funerary celebration for Mr. Priebke. Officials in Argentina, where he lived until he was extradited to Italy in 1995, are refusing to take him back. The authorities in his hometown in Germany have likewise declared him cadaver non grata.

"There's a corpse that no one wants," said Riccardo Pacifici, the president of the Jewish community in Rome. "This is a cadaver that is unlikely to have any peace."

The firmness with which Roman officials have closed doors to any official form of commemoration denotes that the memories stirred by the events at the Ardeatine Caves continue to reverberate in the Italian capital, which this week is observing the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the city's Jewish population during the Nazi occupation.

The 335 victims were shot in reprisal for the partisan attack a day earlier in March 1944 on a police regiment that killed 33 policemen. The site of the massacre, in a Rome suburb, has become a national museum and memorial cemetery.

Over the weekend, Italian security officials expressed concerns about possible disturbances linked to a public funeral. Fears have also been raised that Mr. Priebke's grave could become a gathering site for supporters, much as Mussolini's tomb in the town of Predappio in central Italy draws thousands each year.

For now, and until the situation is resolved, Mr. Priebke's body lies in the city morgue.

Mr. Priebke lived for decades in Argentina, where one of his two sons still resides. Last week, his lawyer said that Mr. Priebke had hoped to be buried next to his wife in Bariloche. But on Friday, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said on Twitter that the body of the "Nazi criminal Erich Priebke" would not be allowed to return. "Argentines will not accept this kind of affront to human dignity," the post said.

On Monday, a German news agency reported that officials in Hennigsdorf, Mr. Priebke's hometown, had explained that he could not be buried in the local cemetery because he was not a resident of the town and his family did not own a tomb there.

The mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, said Monday that he agreed with the choices expressed by Rome's police chief and its prefect "to ban any sort of public and solemn commemoration" for Mr. Priebke's death.

"Rome is proud of its history, " Mr. Marino added in a note published on the city's Web site, and for the recognition it has achieved for its "courageous fight against Nazi fascism."

The Roman archdiocese also reiterated Monday that the city's ecclesiastical authorities would not allow a public funeral in any of its churches.

"Considering all the circumstance of the case," the archdiocese said in a note, officials "believe that the prayer for the deceased and his entrustment to the mercy of God must take place in a strictly private form." Church officials had suggested that prayers for Mr. Priebke, "which had not been denied," should be held in "reserved and discreet form" in the house where Mr. Priebke had lived and died, the residence of his lawyer, Paolo Giachini.

His lawyer "refused that proposal," the archdiocese said, noting that all "Catholic ministers in the Diocese of Rome" would adhere to its dispositions.

Mr. Giachini said that the ban was unfair and that Mr. Priebke had the right to a funeral. "Given that the Curia, the mayor, security officials and the Jewish community have just said no, no, no," he said, "well, they can tell us where he can go, and based on that we can accept or not."

Mr. Pacifici, of Rome's Jewish community, said the archdiocese's decision "gave a strong signal" that confirmed the positive steps "made in recent decades" in the dialogue between Christian and Jewish officials.

Warning that a tomb could become a gathering point, Mr. Pacifici said the best solution would be to send Mr. Priebke's remains to Germany to be cremated in the manner of "our ancestors," a fitting end "for a Nazi criminal."

But Mr. Giachini said he was ready to challenge the ban. "Funerals have to be done in a house of God, not underground, like the catacombs. We're in 2013 after all," he said in a telephone interview, pledging that even though Mr. Priebke had been a Catholic, he would search for a house of prayer not affiliated with the diocese of Rome.

"There are Protestant churches, Muslim mosques, private spaces; we can set up a field camp church if necessary with a willing minister," he said angrily. "Italy's Constitution guarantees the right to religion to all people, so we're asking for the right to a funeral."

Mr. Giachini said that he had not made any formal requests for the service or a possible burial space because mortuary officials had not released the body.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 15, 2013 2:01 PM


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