ROME (Reuters) - Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke was secretly buried in an anonymous grave in a cemetery inside the walls of an Italian prison complex, an Italian newspaper reported on Thursday.
La Repubblica said the coffin of the man convicted of one of Italy’s worst wartime atrocities was taken from a military airport and buried on the grounds of the undisclosed prison late last month.
It said the grave was marked by a simple wooden cross with no name but merely a number so family members would be able to identify it. The prison graveyard had been abandoned for years and was overgrown with weeds, the paper said.
Priebke’s lawyer did not respond to several telephone requests for comment. Italian officials had no comment.
The former SS officer died last month, aged 100, in Rome, where he spent the end of his life under house arrest for his role in the killing of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves in Rome in 1944.
The Catholic Church denied him a public funeral Mass and neither Italy nor his native Germany wanted the body, fearing his burial site could become a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis.
Priebke, who called himself “the last prisoner of war,” was extradited to Italy in 1995 from Argentina and definitively convicted in 1998 after several appeals.
An aide to the Gestapo chief in Rome at the time of the massacre, Herbert Kappler, Priebke admitted to helping draw up a list of the civilian victims, ticking their names off as they were shot in the back of the head, and to personally shooting two of them.
The executions were in reprisal for a partisan bomb that had killed 33 German soldiers a day before.
Priebke said he had had to obey the orders or he would have been killed.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Patrick Graham