Body of Nazi war criminal held in storage on Italian military base
Lefebvre community pulls back from funeral service for Erich Priebke following angry scuffles
Policemen in riot gear chase protesters outside the Society of St Pius X headquarters, a schismatic Catholic group, where the funeral of former Nazi war-criminal Erich Priebke was scheduled to take place in Albano Laziale, on Tuesday. Photograph: Riccardo De Luca/AP
There was no indication last night, one week after the death in Rome of notorious Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke, of where and how the former SS captain might be buried and/or given a funeral service.
Last night, Priebke’s body was in cold storage in the Italian military base of Pratica di Mare, close to Rome.
The body was moved there under police protection from the village of Albano Laziale, south of Rome, at 1am yesterday following a failed attempt to hold a service for him in a church administered by the extremist Catholic group, the Saint Pius X Confraternity.
News that the “Lefebvre” community was willing to hold a “private” funeral service quickly spread on Tuesday afternoon, prompting scuffles between outraged Albano residents and neo-Nazi sympathisers. Such was the ensuing chaos that the funeral was cancelled.
Priebke is something of an Adolf Eichmann-type figure for Italy in that he played a major role in the March 1944 “Fosse Ardeatine” reprisal massacre in which 335 Italians including 70 Jews were executed, close to Rome. Many Albano citizens fought in “partisan” ranks against Nazi-Fascist forces and one Albano citizen was among the 335 killed.
The Italian interior ministry faces a difficult dilemma given that the obvious choices for a funeral and burial appear to be disappearing. In the last few days, not only Albano but also both Pomezia and Cassino, home to two Germany military cemeteries, have made it clear they do not want to bury Priebke.
Likewise, the Argentine foreign office (Priebke escaped to Argentina in 1946) and even Priebke’s “home” town of Henningsdorf, near Berlin, have also expressed unwillingness to bury him. One possibility could be an after-dark cremation in Rome, with his ashes consigned to the Mediterranean sea.
For Rome’s Jewish community, the Priebke controversy could not have come at a more topical moment, given that yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of 1,023 Roman Jews (only 16 returned) to Auschwitz .