Notorious Nazi Erich Priebke Causes Uproar Even in Death

Notorious Nazi Erich Priebke Causes Uproar Even in Death
Notorious Nazi Erich Priebke Causes Uproar Even in Death (ABC News)

The death of a notorious Nazi war criminal from World War II has ignited a new battle in Italy over where and how he can be buried.

The uproar over Erich Priebke, who died On Friday at the age of 100, comes as the country is about to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day in Italy on Wednesday. This year, the date will mark the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Roman Jews in 1943, many of whom died in Nazi concentration camps.

Priebke was an unrepentant SS officer who spent 50 years after the war living openly in Argentina until ABC NEW's Sam Donaldson tracked him down on the street of the town of Bariloche in 1994 and asked him about the massacre of 335 Italian civilians, including 57 Jews, in 1944 at the Ardeatine Caves in Rome.

Priebke's casual admittance to taking part in the slaughter -- retaliation for the killing of 33 German soldiers -- and dismissal of his responsibilities caused shock and an indignant response around the world. He was extradited to Italy soon afterwards.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 by an Italian military court, but allowed to serve the last 17 years under house arrest.

Priebke continues to incite anger and protests even in death. Anti and pro-Priebke graffiti has appeared in Rome as the debate rages here as to what to do about his funeral and where he should be buried. The tenor rose when his lawyer released a video and a seven page written message Priebke had left as "testament" in which he denied the Holocaust and the Nazi gas chambers and again showed no remorse for his actions.

The Rome Vicariate, which overseas churches in the city and province, promptly announced in a statement soon after his death that no public funeral would be granted to him in the city or outskirts of Rome. Officials cited canon law which states that a funeral may be denied to "manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful."

The chief of police, Fulvio Della Rocca, said that no public funeral nor public funeral procession would be allowed for reasons of public order.

The Rome vicariate later announced a "private and discreet" ceremony will be held in a "place that does not disturb anyone" so as to "allow relatives to gather for a moment of prayer."

Priebke's lawyer released statements saying that "a large part of the Italian people are concerned that religious rites be refused to a dead person" and said he would hold the funeral in the street if no church would allow the funeral.

"Priebke", he said "received confession regularly and was absolved by the clergy."

Even if a funeral is settled, Priebke's burial is not settled.

Argentina, his home for 50 years after the war, has said they do not want him. His birthplace outside of Berlin, Hennigsdord, say there is no room for him in the cemetery. Rome's Mayor Ignazio Marino said it would be an offense to Romans if he were buried in a Roman cemetery.

Some have suggested he could be buried at the German military cemetery in Pomezia, south of Rome, but the town's mayor quickly ruled this out.

"The Pomezia German cemetery is only for Germans who died in the war. Criminals from the Nazi regime are an indelible mark of our history, and those who committed such crimes must be tried and then cancelled from our collective memory. Pomezia will never accept any of them," the mayor said.

Priebke's son, Jorge, who still lives in Argentina, is quoted in the Italian media saying what happened to his father "an injustice" and said that "the trial against my father was all invented by the Jews." He will not attend the funeral wherever they take place. "Apart from the fact that I have health problems, we do not have the money for a ticket. I receive a minimum pension in Argentina, " he said.