ROME (Reuters) - Civil and church authorities have moved to prevent a funeral in Rome for Erich Priebke, a Nazi war criminal convicted of one of Italy’s worst wartime massacres, who died last week at the age of 100.
Priebke, who never apologized for his role in the killing of 335 civilians in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome in 1944 and who denied the Nazi Holocaust ever took place, was serving a life sentence under house arrest in the Italian capital when he died.
His death, like his 100th birthday in July, has brought into the open some of the deep tensions that remain in the aftermath of World War Two in Italy, which came close to civil war after the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini collapsed in 1943.
Rome daily Il Messaggero showed a graffito painted outside Priebke’s Rome residence saying “Honour to Priebke” in Italian with a Nazi swastika alongside.
The former SS officer’s lawyer Paolo Giachini told Reuters on Sunday the family would ask to have Priebke buried in Rome as soon as the formal registration procedures were completed and the body was released, but there was immediate opposition.
Ignazio Marino, the center-left mayor of Rome, said it would be an insult for Priebke to be buried in the city.
“I will do everything in my power to prevent the burial of Erich Priebke in Rome,” he said in a statement.
Church authorities also said he would not receive a religious burial in Rome.
“There are no plans for any church funeral in Rome for Erich Priebke,” church spokesman Walter Insero was quoted as saying by the Catholic daily Avvenire.
In March 1944, Priebke was in charge of SS troops who executed the 335 people in retaliation for the killing of 33 German soldiers by a partisan group near Rome.
After the war he escaped to Argentina but was deported to Italy after he was interviewed on U.S. television and admitted his role in the massacre, which he said had been conducted against “terrorists”.
The Argentinian government has also refused to allow his body to be returned to be buried next to his wife.
Giachini said no formal request for a funeral had been made as yet and the family could decide to bury Priebke elsewhere.
“Burial in Rome would be the obvious thing. They wanted to bring him to Rome and when someone dies somewhere it’s normal to bury them there but we could also bury him somewhere else.”
Reporting by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Roche