Italy contacts Germany amid chaos over Nazi war criminal

16th October 2013, Comments 0 comments

Italy contacted Germany on Wednesday over what to do with the body of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke who has caused outrage even after his death in Rome at the age of 100 last week.

The furore comes at a particularly sensitive time, on the day that Italy commemorates the 70th anniversary of the decimation of Rome's historic Jewish community after a raid by Nazi troops.

"We are in contact with Germany," Rome's prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro told reporters.

German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer confirmed there had been "informal contacts" but no "official request from the Italian side" for the body to be sent back to Priebke's native land.

Schaefer said it was up to Priebke's family to decide what to do with the body, which is currently at a military airport near Rome.

Media reports said it would likely be kept there overnight.

Priebke's lawyer Paolo Giachini said the disposal of the remains was a problem for Italy alone.

"Italy wanted him, had him extradited, tried him, convicted him and kept him for years. Now let (Italy) keep the hot potato," he told AFP.

Under Italian law, decisions on what to do with the body have to be taken by direct heirs but the ANSA news agency reported that neither of Priebke's two sons had travelled to Italy or contacted Italian authorities about their wishes.

One of the sons lives in the United States, the other in Argentina.

Giachini said they wanted him to be buried in Catholic tradition and his remains "respected".

Clashes erupted in a town near Rome on Tuesday as a Catholic ultra-conservative sect tried to hold a funeral for the unrepentant former SS officer who took part in a 1944 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!"

Police detained two far-right activists.

The coffin was then driven out in a van in the night as a rock was thrown at the windscreen.

Protesters had earlier kicked and spat on the hearse.

The Holocaust denier died on Friday and the Vatican issued an unprecedented order forbidding any Catholic church in Rome from holding a funeral.

Pope Francis warned that the "atrocity beyond words of the Shoah" must not be forgotten. Humanity must also forever be wary of racism and anti-Semitism, he said.

The possibility of Priebke being buried in a German military cemetery in Italy was mooted but then rejected because Priebke did not die in wartime.

Day of remembrance

Priebke 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 has 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.

A spokesman for the mayor of Priebke's birthplace of Hennigsdorf, a Berlin suburb, told Germany's Rbb radio they would refuse the body.

The row coincides with 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 the city "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".

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

They shot 10 Italians for every dead German, and five more who were brought to the caves by mistake. There were 75 Jews among the victims.

President Giorgio Napolitano, wearing a white kippah skullcap, attended a synagogue ceremony with Holocaust survivors, as the head of Rome's Jewish community urged Italy not to forget.

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

© 2013 AFP

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