Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Death of Erich Priebke

Today's photos:

1. The entrance into the Fosse Ardeatine.

2. The tombs of the victims.

3. Erich Priebke at his trial.

4. The piazza in the Ghetto named after the infamous date.

5. October 16, 1943 in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome.



On Friday, October 11, 2013, Erich Priebke died in Rome at the age of 100. For the last seven decades of his life, Priebke was a thorn in the side of almost all Italians. His death, however, has not calmed the waters or ended the controversies which have swirled around him for the past seventy years; on the contrary, it has intensified them.

If you know anything about recent Italian history you will recall that Priebke was a Nazi SS captain who played a leading role in what is known in Rome as the Slaughter of the Fosse Ardeatine, a Nazi atrocity committed on March 24, 1944, which left 335 Italians brutally murdered.

At the time, Rome was in the grips of a ruthless occupation by German troops lead by SS Colonel Herbert Kappler. Priebke was his second in command and took an active part both in the round-up and the brutal execution of the 335 victims. This execution took place at the direct orders of Hitler as a reprisal for an attack, the preceding day, by Italian partisans on a squad of marching German soldiers which caused the death of 33 of them.

Adding to the horror of this atrocity is the fact that Erich Priebke, serving a life sentence in Rome since 1998 (in house arrest due to his age), never repented of his role in the massacre. In fact he left a shocking video last will and testament in which, according to reports, he not only repeats his claims of innocence (he was following orders), but also denies the existence of German death camps during World War II.

A fierce controversy has been raging since his death four days ago. It revolves around plans for the funeral and burial of the former Nazi official. The mayor of Rome has announced that "no public space" in the city can be used for the funeral and burial of Priebke. The diocese of Rome, with the approval of the Vatican, has announced that no church in Rome may celebrate a public funeral for the man. The pastor of the parish, within the boundaries of which Priebke spent his final years in house arrest, has announced that he would, if asked, perform a private funeral service, not in the church, but in the home where Priebke lived.

There are immediate family members of the victims still living; they have been among the most vociferous in demanding that the man not be buried in Rome. Also raising its voice on the subject is the Jewish community in Rome. Seventy of the 335 Italians killed in the massacre were Jews. In addition to Italy, a burial site for Priebke is being denied by Argentina where the Nazi war criminal lived for many years after the war, and by Germany, his native land.

The latest word is that a private religious ceremony will be held today in his home, following which his body will be cremated. It has not be announced how his ashes will be disposed of.

I would refer you to the following three sources to read related articles about the Fosse Ardeatine in general and Erich Priebke in particular. Two of them are former posts on this blog:

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011: Erich Priebke – Former Nazi SS Captain 

Sunday, August 26, 2012: Don Pietro Pappagallo.

The third source is from my book entitled: Rome: Sights and Insights, Chapter 10 – Le Fosse Ardeatine.


OCTOBER 16, 1943

It is no coincidence that I am posting this article on October 15. This is the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the infamous round-up of the Jews on October 16, 1943 during the Nazi occupation of Rome. Over one thousand Jews were deported to the Nazi death camps; only sixteen returned alive after the war.

Tonight in Rome, on the eve of this sad anniversary, the annual silent march will be held to honor the hundreds of innocent Roman Jews who were sent to their death on that occasion. The march begins in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere and crosses the river at the Tiber Island, to finish in the Jewish Ghetto behind the synagogue. It is appropriate that the march should begin in Trastevere because after the round-up, the victims were first brought to a military base in this neighborhood before being shipped to the death camps.

You can read a little more about this infamous incident in my book: Tiber Island and the Basilica of St. Bartholomew, pp. 48-49.



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