On Tuesday, October 15, Carol Kuruvilla of The New York Daily News reported that a funeral mass held at the Lefebvriani Chapel in Albano Laziale, Italy for the convicted Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke was called off after fighting broke out between protesters who objected to the ceremony and Priebke supporters.
Hundreds of people had showed up to protest the funeral. Tom Kington of The Guardian reported that some of them punched or kicked the hearse that transported Priebke's remains to the chapel. Some of the demonstrators carried a banner that read, "Priebke Boia", which means "Priebke Executioner."
The funeral was intended to be a ceremony held behind closed doors for a small group of close friends and relatives. Protesters on both sides had other ideas.
According to Kuruvilla, "Priebke’s lawyer, Paolo Giachini, said that funeral was called off after scuffles erupted between protesters and the right-wing extremists who were trying to get into the building."
Giachini added that he thought anti-Priebke protesters were also trying to get into the building so they could take his casket and desecrate the remains, much like how the body of Benito Mussolini was hung upside down at a service station in Milan after the Fascist leader was killed by partisans in 1945.
"... The commotion over Priebke’s funeral came just one day before Italy’s National Holocaust Remembrance Day. Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of the roundup of Jews from Rome's ghetto for the Auschwitz concentration camp," Kuruvilla said.
Earlier on Tuesday, October 15, Kington reported that Priebke's remains arrived at the chapel with a police escort. That was necessary because Priebke was infamous for his role in an incident at the Ardeatine caves outside of Rome that resulted in the deaths of 335 Italians during World War II. Priebke was an SS captain at the time.
In an article reporting on Priebke's death that appeared in The Guardian on Friday, October 11, Lizzy Davies offered more details about the incident.
According to Davies, "The men and boys who died in the Ardeatine caves massacre on March 24, 1944 came from all walks of life. Almost a quarter of them were Jewish, and the youngest was 15 years old. The execution had been ordered after a partisan attack on Nazi soldiers the previous day and the working logic, as Priebke would go on succinctly to tell [a] television crew in Argentina, was that 'for every German soldier, 10 Italians had to die'."
Kington added that Priebke was serving a life sentence for his role in the massacre when he died in Rome at the age of 100 on Friday, October 11. The Roman Catholic Church had denied Priebke a church funeral in spite of protests by his lawyer and his surviving relatives. On Tuesday, October 15 a controversial Catholic sect offered to hold a funeral for him anyway in spite of the church's ruling.
According to Kington, "... on Tuesday the Society of Saint Pius X, which has split from the Vatican over its opposition to the modernisation of Catholic doctrine and its outreach to Jews, offered Priebke a funeral at its church in Albano Laziale, close to Rome.
"The group gained notoriety in 2009 when a British member, Richard Williamson, denied the Holocaust had taken place, claiming: 'I believe there were no gas chambers.'
"As the hearse containing Priebke's remains tried to enter the church on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by a police escort, protesters kicked it, yelled 'Assassin' and tried to attack a priest. Riot police separated the crowd from a small group of right wing extremists, some hooded, who gave the fascist salute."
Davies explained some of the reasons why people were protesting Priebke's funeral.
According to Davies, "In Italy there has been a sense for years that Priebke... never faced the justice he deserved. After fleeing Europe in the years following the end of the war, he lived for almost 50 years in Argentina as a free man before being tracked down by a US television news crew and, in 1995, being extradited to Italy.
"He was sentenced to life imprisonment by an Italian appeals court in 1998 but, due to his age, was placed under house arrest. When he turned 90 he celebrated with dozens of friends and supporters at an agriturismo outside of Rome, a sight that provoked revulsion among victims' relatives and Jewish groups who accused the Italian authorities of handling the war criminal with kid gloves.
"In his final years, Priebke was free to go out for tasks deemed indispensable to his everyday life. In his final years he was filmed or photographed taking a stroll, eating in local restaurants and going to the supermarket. When he turned 100 in July there were concerns that the occasion could give his fans a chance to show their support once again."
Kington added that Albano Laziale's mayor Nicola Marini tried to keep the coffin from entering the city for the funeral, but he was overruled by the local government prefect.
Priebke's body was cremated, but it is unknown at this time where his ashes will finally rest. Kuruvilla reported that Rome, the Vatican, Argentina, and Priebke's hometown in Germany have all refused to offer his remains a funeral or a burial. Kington added that Marini does not want him to be buried in Albano Laziale either.
Giachini has argued that Priebke deserved a Catholic funeral because he was a practicing Roman Catholic and he had been absolved by a priest before his death. It will be interesting to see if that argument eventually persuades somebody to accept Priebke's remains or if outrage over those killings in 1944 continues to keep his ashes from being properly buried.