Roman funeral for Nazi war criminal ‘intolerable’
Mayor concerned burial of Erich Priebke could become an occasion for Nazi fascism
Erich Priebke, the former Nazi SS captain who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in one of the worst atrocities by German occupiers in Italy during the second World War. Photograph: Plinio Lepri/AP Photo
The mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, has said it would be “unacceptable and intolerable” were the Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke to be buried in the Eternal City.
Priebke, who died in Rome last Friday at the age of 100, played a major role in one of the most horrendous Nazi-fascist massacres of the second World War. That came in March 1944 when 335 Italians, including civilians, partisan fighters and Jews, were killed by way of a “reprisal” killing at Fosse Ardeatine, Rome, a “reprisal” allegedly ordered by Adolf Hitler and prompted by the killing in the city of 33 German soldiers blown up by a partisan bomb.
Priebke, who was present at Fosse Ardeatine for the massacre, had been responsible for overseeing the list of those to be shot. Furthermore, during questioning when briefly held in a British prisoner-of-war camp in Italy in 1946, he had admitted to having killed two of the victims.
Having escaped from that camp, Priebke travelled to the Vatican where he was able to secure himself a safe passage to Argentina, thanks to the infamous Odessa ratline. It was only 50 years later, in 1996, that he was discovered in Argentina by an ABC television crew. He was extradited to Italy where, after bitterly contested hearings, he was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 by a Rome military court.
It was Priebke’s former defence lawyer, Paolo Giacchini, who sparked off furious polemics last weekend when he announced that the war criminal would be buried “somewhere in central Rome”, probably tomorrow. With the Jewish community, the Association of Partisan Fighters and others ready to protest, the vicariate of Rome issued an unprecedented statement saying no funeral for Priebke would held in a Roman church.
While the teaching of Pope Francis has clearly identified “mercy” as the spiritual rock bed of his pontificate, the vicariate pointed to article 1184 of the code of canon law. This states that a funeral may be denied to “manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful”.
Furthermore, a proposed burial comes close to the 70th anniversary of the deportation of 1,024 Roman Jews to Auschwitz concentration camp on October 16th, 1943. Only 16 of those deported returned from Auschwitz. Meeting with a delegation from Rome’s Jewish community last week, the pope recalled the deportation, saying: “It’s a contradiction for a Christian to be anti-Semite. To some extent, a Christian’s roots are Jewish . . . ”
Both Mr Marino and the city police authorities are worried a funeral for Priebke may become an occasion for Nazi fascism. Already “Honour to Priebke”, accompanied by a swastika, has been painted on the house in Rome where Priebke spent much of the last 17 years under house arrest.