Erich Priebke: Nazi war criminal

1996 file photo of Erich Priebke at a court in Rome
Image caption Erich Priebke lived as a school teacher in Argentina for 50 years before his arrest and extradition to Italy

Erich Priebke was born in the small German town of Hennigsdorf, north of Berlin, in 1913 and joined the Gestapo in 1936.

During World War II he served as an SS captain and was sent to Rome in 1941.

Three years later, he was involved in what came to be described as one of Italy's worst wartime atrocities.

On 24 March 1944, 335 Italian citizens - 75 of them Jewish - were rounded up and taken to the Ardeatine Caves just outside Rome. There they were murdered.

Adolf Hitler had reportedly ordered the deaths of 10 Italians for each of the 33 German soldiers who had earlier been killed in a bomb attack planted by partisans in Rome.

Priebke was one of the SS officers in charge of the operation, personally selecting some of the civilians to be killed and, it emerged later in court, shooting two of them.


After the war, Priebke managed to escape a British prisoner-of-war camp in Italy and fled to Argentina with a Vatican travel document.

For the next 50 years, he lived quietly with his family in the mountain resort of Bariloche, teaching in a German school.

His years of anonymity came to an end in 1994, when investigative journalists from US television network ABC News tracked him down.

Interviewed outside his school, the elderly Priebke, looking like any other pensioner, in a black hat and grey jacket, began answering questions about the massacre.

Image caption Priebke was a frequent sight around Rome - infuriating many who felt he should have been locked away for his crimes

"Yes I was there," he said in English. "But that was a thing that was ordered by our [commanders].

"An order was an order... I had to carry it out."

The interview led to his extradition from Argentina to Italy and, in 1998, he was sentenced to life in prison.

However, by now in his 80s, he pleaded that he was too old and sick for jail, and was soon allowed to switch to a regime of house arrest.

For well over a decade he has lived on the top floor of an apartment in a quiet street near to the centre of Rome, enjoying a roof terrace and escorted visits to shops, parks and restaurants.

Such treatment infuriated many of his neighbours, particularly members of Rome's Jewish community who would see him in the streets.

Priebke's refusal to show any remorse for his wartime actions - and only recently called the Holocaust an invention - has inflamed emotions over what to do with him in death.

Rome's mayor said it would be an "insult" to bury him in the Italian capital; Argentina has rejected Priebke's own request to be buried alongside his wife; and Hennigsdorf officials have said they "have no interest in burying a war criminal here".

For now, the 100-year-old's body lies in a military airport near Rome.

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