ROME (Reuters) - Italians shouted abuse and kicked the hearse of a Nazi war criminal at his funeral ceremony on Tuesday, held near Rome despite attempts by the local mayor to prevent it.
Former German SS officer Erich Priebke had been serving a life sentence under house arrest in Rome for his role in the killing of 335 civilians in 1944 in caves near the capital, one of Italy’s worst wartime massacres. Priebke, who died last week aged 100, never apologized.
Scores of protesters shouting “Executioner! Executioner!” rushed at the funeral car as it passed through the gates of the Italian headquarters of the fringe right-wing Catholic Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) in Albano Laziale, television pictures showed.
Lines of riot police struggled to hold back the crowd outside the private ceremony, which took place 20 km (12 miles) from the site of the massacre after the police chief overruled a banning order issued by the local mayor Nicola Marini, Italian media reported.
Priebke’s body was expected to be returned to Rome to be cremated.
“He should be cremated and chucked out to sea. There should never be a place where this person can rest in peace,” Bruna Bernardini, a resident of Rome’s centuries-old Jewish ghetto, told Reuters.
The head of the traditionalist SSPX in Italy defended his organization’s actions, saying every Christian had a right to a funeral. Rome’s centre-left mayor Ignazio Marino had said Priebke’s burial in the capital would be an insult.
The rebel SSPX, which is at odds with mainstream Catholic teaching and has strained relations with Vatican, has been associated with far-right views in the past.
Its British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, since expelled from the group, denied the Holocaust in an interview just before Pope Benedict lifted his excommunication ban in 2009, sparking a wave of criticism.
The government in Argentina, where Priebke escaped to after the war, had earlier refused to allow his body to be returned.
The town hall of Priebke’s hometown of Hennigsdorf near Berlin also ruled out burying him there, fearing his grave could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.
About 40 neo-Nazis, some wearing Priebke masks, held an unauthorized torch lit ceremony in Hennigsdorf last year to mark the war criminal’s 99th birthday.
In March 1944, Priebke was in charge of SS troops who executed civilians in the Ardeatine Caves in retaliation for the killings of 33 German soldiers by a partisan group.
Adolf Hitler had ordered occupation forces to respond by executing 10 Italians for every German killed. The victims were rounded up from jails, streets and homes.
Priebke was deported from Argentina 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”.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Italy in 1998.
Additional reporting by Cristiano Corvino in Rome and Madeline Chambers in Berlin; Editing by Andrew Roche