Italy contacts Germany amid Nazi war criminal furore

16th October 2013, Comments 0 comments

Italy said it had contacted Germany on Wednesday over what to do with the body of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke, as Rome commemorates the 70th anniversary of the round-up of its Jewish community.

Clashes erupted in a town near Rome on Tuesday as a Catholic ultra-conservative sect tried to stage a funeral for the unrepentant former SS officer who was convicted for a massacre of 335 civilians.

The funeral was cancelled by a police order after some neo-Nazi sympathisers broke into the seminary in Albano Laziale and tried to stage a rally as hundreds of protesters outside shouted "Assassin!"

The coffin was then driven to a military airport outside Rome during the night after Priebke's lawyer and friend, Paolo Giachini, gave up his power of attorney for the funeral arrangements.

"We are planning to resolve the situation today. We are in contact with Germany," Rome prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro told reporters on Wednesday.

"We had to cancel the funeral yesterday because there was a risk that it could have become a neo-Nazi demonstration," he said.

The German foreign ministry said it had received no official request from Italian authorities to take in his mortal remains.

But a spokesman for the mayor of Priebke's birthplace of Hennigsdorf, near Berlin, told Germany's RBB radio the town would refuse the body.

There were angry scenes during the halted funeral in Italy on Tuesday, with police detaining at least two people and protesters seen fighting with bottles and chains.

A rock was later thrown at the windscreen of the van driving Priebke's coffin to the airport.

Protesters had earlier kicked and spat on the hearse as it arrived for the start of the funeral.

The Holocaust denier died on Friday at the age of 100 and has provoked outrage even in death with the Vatican issuing an unprecedented order forbidding any Catholic church in Rome from holding his funeral.

He had been living under house arrest in the Italian capital after being extradited in 1998 from Argentina, where he had fled with a Vatican travel document soon after World War II.

Priebke had wanted to be buried in Argentina next to his wife but the government there earlier said it would not accept the body.

Jewish groups and relatives of the people he executed said he should be cremated and his ashes scattered to erase every trace.

There is concern that a burial could create a pilgrimage point for neo-Nazi sympathisers.

The furore comes at a particularly sensitive time in Italy on the anniversary of the round-up of the Jews from the Rome Ghetto on October 16, 1943.

More than 1,000 Jews were taken away to concentration camps and only 16 returned.

As Rome held a day of remembrance, mayor Ignazio Marino said Priebke was "a violent executioner".

"Rome could not accept the funeral of a man who actively took part in the massacre of 335 people, shooting them in the back of the neck," he said.

The Gestapo ordered the mass killing in the Ardeatine caves near Rome as retaliation for a partisan attack which killed 33 German soldiers.

They shot 10 Italians for every dead German, and five more brought to the caves by mistake.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, wearing a white kippah skullcap, attended a solemn ceremony at the Ghetto synagogue with Holocaust survivors, as the head of Rome's Jewish community called on Italy not to forget its past.

"The Italy which gave birth to Fascism has a duty to nurture memories, for itself and Europe," Riccardo Pacifici told hundreds gathered.

He also called on parliament to approve a bill outlawing Holocaust denial.

Later Friday officials are due to place a plaque at platform one at Rome's Tiburtina station, where -- six days after the round-up -- 1,024 Jews were put on trains for the camps.

The ceremony will wind up with a torch-lit procession around the Ghetto, organised by the Sant'Egidio Catholic community.

"Today is the day to remember what happened 70 years ago, to remember the wound, the tragic moment in the history of our city," Marino said.

Pope Francis also issued a message saying: "We must not lower our guard against anti-Semitism and racism wherever they come from".

© 2013 AFP

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